Want to taste different types of French bread? From the famous baguette to the lesser known ones like Fouée or Pain d’épices, this article has them all!
One of the things France is famous for is bread! If we were to compare, bread is what is to France as rice to Asian countries.
The French take bread very seriously and it’s one thing they can eat every day at all meals without getting tired of it.
To make sure that everyone in France has access to bread, hundreds of thousands of bakeries are spread all around the country.
To give you an estimate, France has more than 30,000 independent bakeries (boulangeries in French) which means that there’s a bakery for every 2,000 people which most people would urge that it’s nearly not enough.
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And for remote places where bakers are not keen on opening bakeries, you’ll find instant bread machines (specifically for baguettes) to make sure that locals never miss out on this delicacy.
While most people are familiar with the baguette, there are so many other types of French bread that come in different shapes and flavors.
Some are traditional to specific regions, some have been made popular by certain bakeries, and others are a modification of the traditional ones.
So, whether you’re in the country and just want to try out some of the different types of French bread but don’t know what to ask for when you go to the boulangerie, or you just want to learn more about them, this article will show you all the famous French bread and what makes them unique.
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Types of French Bread
If you ask any local at a grocery store or boulangerie for a loaf of bread, they might look at you confused and ask you which specific one you’re looking for.
Considering the hundreds of French bread types with a fair share of sub-types available at local markets, they would be justified.
As per the data gathered, there are more than 100 types of French bread, with distinct variants popular in different places. These can further be divided into sub-categories like wheat flour bread, sourdough, yeast bread, and many more.
But for today, we’ll look at just the 17 most famous types of French bread.
A quintessential bread that is synonymous with France is the baguette. In fact, it is the most famous bread in France.
Though there are several types of baguettes mostly based on region, one classic that stands out is the traditional baguette.
The traditional baguette is protected by French law and the ingredients used to make this classic thin bread with a crispy crust are defined by a law called Décret Pain.
This law specifies that traditional baguettes should be made in the same place they are sold and they can only be made with 4 specific ingredients; wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast.
This baguette should also meet specific size requirements and not be frozen or contain any additives. This means that its shelf life is one day.
The French take their baguettes so seriously that a competition called Le Grand Prix de la Baguette is held every spring in Paris since 1994 to crown France’s best baguette!
They also officially submitted the baguette to UNESCO to give it heritage status.
You can find the baguette in all bakeries in France and several supermarkets. You can even ask for Une demi-baguette (half a baguette) at bakeries if a full one is too big for you.
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Another famous French bread is Brioche. It is lightweight and airy and often has a high concentration of butter and egg compared to other types of French bread to give it a soft and flaky texture.
Brioche can be considered a bread-pastry hybrid and comes under the category of a viennoiserie like croissants since it’s too sweet to just be bread but also not sweet enough to be considered a cake or pastry.
It can be made with savory or sweet fillings — think chocolate filling or even ham or sausages depending on preference but the most popular are the plain ones with no fillings at all.
This bread can be relished for breakfast, as a snack but also as a dessert.
3. Pogne de Romans
Each bread from this type of French bread list has something different that it brings to the table (pun intended).
What makes Pogne de Romans unique is the addition of orange blossom and sometimes rum.
Its texture is like brioche, but the only difference is that it’s shaped like a crown and sometimes bakers even make cuts on the crust reminiscent of hot cross buns.
A specialty of the town of Romans-sur-Isère in South-East France, this bread was made especially for Easter since the use of eggs wasn’t allowed during Lent in the middle ages.
While listing different types of bread in France, it is hard to exclude the faluche. This white bread with a yellowish tinge was traditionally prepared in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais in Northern France.
It is usually eaten for breakfast with butter or jam or as a savory snack with salmon and cream cheese.
Faluche is somewhat round in shape, reminiscent of an Indian puri if you are familiar with it though slightly lesser than an inch in thickness.
Like the fouée, which you will read about later in the article, faluche is also baked when the oven is heating up.
Another French long bread is the Ficelle. Its name translates to “string” in honor of its shape.
If you are looking for a longer and thinner version of the baguette, then Ficelle is your answer.
Its crust is crunchy, partly due to the addition of cheese (and sometimes sesame seeds), but it has a softer texture inside.
Bakers make it out of white wheat flour and sometimes with sourdough and semolina.
Given the Ficelle’s characteristics, it is ideally used as a French crouton due to its crunchiness. It can also be eaten as an appetizer or enjoyed with dips.
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6. Pain au Son
Pain au Son is slightly different from the other types of bread in France since it is made with whole wheat flour and has high bran content giving it a dark brown color.
As a result, this bread has a distinct taste and is also healthy due to its high fiber content.
If you’re looking for a healthy version of bread, this is the one you want to pick up. In addition to the usual ingredients used to make bread, honey is also added.
Plus, the shelf life of Pain au Son can go up to a week.
7. Boule de Pain
Boule translates to ‘ball,’ so you might have already guessed its shape, achieved by keeping it in a round basket.
The word boulangerie (French for bakery) was probably derived from this bread. It is made by folding the corners into the center.
Although this bread and the baguette are similar in taste and can be had at any meal, they differ in appearance.
Boule de Pain is larger, rounder, and not as thin as its counterpart. It also doesn’t get chewy as fast as the baguette due to its size.
This rustic loaf is crunchy on the outside with a spongy and airy interior.
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8. Pain de Campagne
Pain de Campagne, also called French sourdough, is the French version of country bread.
Traditionally, it is made with whole wheat flour or rye flour, and the resulting dough is left to ferment for several hours before baking.
This large bread is round with a dense center and a slightly hard crust. Given its size, it would feed a family for days in the olden times.
It is usually preferred for lunch and dinner given its sour taste or ideally used as breadcrumbs in salads or as a base for a sandwich.
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Fougasse originated in Southern France, specifically in Provence. It’s different from other types of French bread since they add ingredients like cheese, olives, sundried tomatoes, and garlic to it.
Herbs like thyme, rosemary, etc., can also be added which gives it its herby flavor. Given its taste, it is commonly used to make French calzones.
In the past, bakers would traditionally make this bread to test a wood-fired oven’s temperature and that’s where the phrase ‘il ne faut pas brûler la fougasse‘ (do not burn the fougasse) originated from.
It is similar to the Italian focaccia, although both are baked differently.
10. Pain de Mie
Many French bread names are derived from the shape of the bread or its characteristics, which makes it easy to identify and convey which bread you prefer and Pain de Mie is no different.
Its name literally translates to soft bread due to its soft crust. Think of it as your regular sandwich or toast bread that can be found in all supermarkets as rectangular slices.
This bread can be found completely with no crust or with a thin layer.
11. Pain d’épices (Spice bread)
Pain d’épice looks like gingerbread, although it does not taste like one. Of the different French breads, this sourdough bread stands out because it is made using rye flour, honey, and spices. It is then cooked in loaf molds to give it its shape.
The ingredients and aroma of this bread might remind you of the Fall season. In some places, like Alsace, a pinch of cinnamon is added to it too.
The Pain d’épices owes its popularity to King Charles VII because when people heard that he liked it, they started to make it even outside its origin in Reims.
12. Pain Couronne
Couronne translates to ‘crown’, so you might have guessed its appearance. Pain Couronne, like Pain de Campagne, is a loaf of circular-shaped sourdough bread.
And like the other bread made from this dough, its peculiar taste comes from that.
Bakers perfected the art of creating this bread with its unique ringed shape (think of it like a large bagel). Balls of dough are attached to one another before being covered thinly by more dough and baked.
It pairs well with cheese or even any sweet spread.
13. Pain Brié
Pain Brié which translates to pounded bread is a traditional bread from Normandy.
The name is derived from the bread-making process, which involved beating/pounding the dough for a long time. This ensured that the dough tightened, and, as a result, the bread became heavy.
Normandy is known for its famous coastline, and its sailors and fishermen required bread that they could eat while out at the sea.
Hence, this dry, unsalted bread was made, to which they could add salty sea water for moisture and flavor before consuming.
In fact, everything about this bread is dedicated to sailors, including its hull shape.
The process or the reason behind may not be the same today, but the resulting bread is.
Fouée, also known as Fouace, is a flaky, light bread usually with some filling inside, often goat cheese, or pork rillettes and preferably consumed when warm or hot. Think of it like pockets of bread folded, reminiscent of pita bread.
Like the fougasse, its origins date back to when a baker wanted to test the oven heat and stuck pieces of dough on the edges.
This bread was popular in rural communes, where villagers would gather around community ovens to get their goods baked.
Think of Miche as a larger, rounder form of Boule de Pain but as a variant of sourdough bread.
It is made using a combination of different flours, giving it a unique taste compared to the other French bread types.
Given its ingredients, this rustic country bread also has more fiber content. Because of these characteristics, it would provide a hearty meal for families over several days.
Miche was made popular by Parisian baker Poilâne at his eponymous bakery in Paris.
16. Pain Aux Noix (Nut Bread)
Of all the different types of French bread, Pain Aux Noix is unique because it is a whole grain loaf with pieces of chopped nuts kneaded into the dough. As a result, the bread has a nutty flavor to it.
The most common nuts added are walnuts and hazelnuts, with the former being the primary choice.
This bread is made with whole wheat flour and has a dark brown crust with a spongy interior.
Because of its inherent sweet flavor, it is often paired with savories like butter and cheese, but it is not uncommon to find someone having it with jam.
Final Thoughts on the Best French Bread Types
Some of these different types of bread in France have been made since medieval times. From soldiers at war to sailors at sea, these bread types have been around for centuries.
I hope this list of the best French bread types has helped you narrow down the choices for your subsequent boulangerie visit.
Do you have a favorite French bread? Do let me know in the comments below.
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