French Bread

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

French bread is made mainly with soft (low-protein) European wheat, which gives a sweeter flavour than the hard N. American wheat used in e.g. Britain. It also absorbs less water, giving a drier loaf, and rises less. It is not meant to be buttered, as most English breads are.

The bread which is regarded as a symbol of France is the baguette, a long thin loaf, whose crisp gold crust encloses a characteristic open crumb with large holes and which can be seen standing in racks in all boulangeries. This is, however, a relative newcomer. French loaves were already taking on a long shape in the 18th century (a development which was criticized by some authorities as pandering too much to the love of Parisians for crust), but the very thin long baguette was only introduced in the 19th century and did not penetrate the provinces until the 20th century. (Oddly, as provincials took to this urban bread, city people started to demand rustic country breads.)