Eurofoods Part VII: French Bakeries

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

France is illuminated by  flashing lights screaming “Pain”. Famously there’s a sign at the bottom of the Tourmalet that reads “pain”. But these aren’t clubs for sadists, nor warnings for cyclists, but bakeries. Pain is French for bread.

The typical French bread is the baguette, meaning wand, as in magic. It’s a clever ruse since the bread is cut on the top meaning air goes in and it goes stale very quickly, forcing people to buy it fresh. But there are many other types, often regional specialities for example with olives near the Mediterranean or using chestnut flour in the Ardéche region. Indeed, there’s a huge abundance of bread everywhere and many village has a bakery. There are more bakeries than pharmacies in France, something impressive given the French are Europe’s hypochrondriacs, consuming more antibiotics and pharmaceuticals than any other nation. Do they consume more cakes than anyone else?

Spot the difference
It’s worth noting a linguistic difference. A boulangerie is a bakery but a pâtisserie is more a cake shop. Often a bakery will sell cakes and pâtisseries but not always and often a pâtisserie won’t sell bread.

Ravitaillement
The pâtisserie is both the cyclist’s friend and the sworn enemy. Even in remote rural areas you can count on a calorie-stuffed snack for less than one Euro, it’s enough to get you home if you blow up. But the combination of butter and sugar is risky for the cyclist, a mere croissant is loaded with fat and that’s before you try the daddy of weight-gain aids, the croissant aux amandes, a buttery croissant stuffed with almond paste.

Millefeuille, and a thousand calories too

For the foreigner the best thing is the price. What might be exotic and fancy in London, New York or Tokyo is every day in France. You’ll find elaborate cakes can be bought with small change and most bakeries offer single-sized portions to wolf down.

Another pleasant aspect is the artisan baker. There are chains of bakeries and if they offer reasonable quality, you will often find lone bakers offering better quality. Where I live I’m spoilt for choice but have one boulangerie that’s good for bread but prefer the croissants from another. At the risk of your waistline, you can find something to suit your tastes.

This is part of a series on European foods with links to cycling or simply for fuel:
Part I: Nutella
Part II: Pâte de fruits
Part III: Stroopwafels
Part IV: Coffee
Part V: Frites
Part VI: Pasta
Part VII: French Bakeries
Part VIII: Water
Part IX: Sirop
Part X: Pharmaceuticals
Part XI: Summary
Part XII: Esta Thé
Part XIII: Grated carrots
Part XIV: Speculoos
Part XV: Belgian beer
Part XVI: Oman Coffee
Part XVI: Italian Ice-cream

Ron January 26, 2011 at 2:22 am

Everytime I visit France, I long for a Croissant au chocolat! Bakers are revered and looked up at as a national institution. Viva La Boulangerie et patisserie!

bikecellar January 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Ron beat me to it!!!!

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