In France, bread is a daily staple. Everyday mothers send the kids to the local boulangerie to pick up a baguette. (Sometimes one for breakfast, one for snack/dinner!)
But let’s start this French bread guide off with a pop quiz.
Which baguette is better? (more…)
If you guessed the one on the right, you were correct. If you guessed the other one, it’s okay, we still love you.
How do you know if it’s good bread or not?
Good bread is never uniform. See how the bread on the left is perfectly tapered, and has no awkward lumps? That’s a bad sign.
Now flip the bread over. Does the bread have little dots on the bottom? Bad sign. That means it was mass-produced in an industrial oven.
Start eating the bread. Can you gut the bread easily and pull out the white fluff, leaving only the crust? Bad sign. Good bread should be densely packed.
If it’s good bread, it will smell yeasty and soul-warming. If it’s bad bread, there won’t be much aroma and the bread will get stuck to the top of your mouth like Wonderbread.
How much does a baguette cost?
Buying bread twice a day helped me learn the bizarre French numeral system. In my old neighborhood we paid “quatre-vingt quince”, which means 4 times 20 plus 15, also known as the craziest way to say 95 cents ever created.
An inexpensive baguette is about 80 or 90 cents, and a pricey one is 1.30 plus.
How long does a baguette last?
Fresh bread lasts through the day, but that’s about it. We usually bought one baguette for breakfast, one for the kids’ after-school snack and one to accompany dinner. French bread is required by law to avoid preservatives, and as a result most breads go stale in under 24 hours. Neighboring bakeries coordinate their days off so that the neighborhood will never be without bread.
How do you order bread?
There are basically two ways to order your baguette:
“Je voudrais un baguette…”
a. Cuite (well-done)
b. Pas trop cuite (not as cooked)
It seems these days that softer, “pas trop cuite ” baguettes are more in style, and that mostly the older generation orders the bread “cuite”.
What is the quignon?
The quignon is the end piece of the baguette. It’s practically a tradition to tear off the quignon right after leaving the bakery, when the fresh from the oven baguette smells so heavenly and feels so warm against your body that you can’t resist taking a bite (are we still talking about bread?)
Other breads at the bakery
There’s a lot more to the boulangerie than baguettes (or so I’ve been told).
Boule – A round-loaf of bread that can be made with any flour.
Brioche – A rich, yellow bread that is always eaten for breakfast (we usually toast and butter it). The addition of butter and eggs account for its yellow color and crumbly texture, it’s a lot like hallah.
Pain au levain - a bread similar to sourdough.
Pain de mie - a rectangular-shaped that is a little sweet, and is usually for toasting or making sandwiches (Croque monsieur being the most notable).
Baguette de tradition – a more traditional baguette that is crunchier and lasts longer due to the added levain, a natural sourdough starter.
Pain aux céréales - a small, earthy piece of bread made with whole wheat flour and lots of seeds.
What do you like to order at the bakeries in France? Croissaints, sweets, breads?
Whenever I’m given a day (or night) off from nannying, I generally find myself my favorite Paris neighborhood- Le Marais. It’s a neighborhood with wonderful boutiques and restaurants, beautiful tree-lined streets and a lively bar scene.
It is also a neighborhood that has worn many hats in its day. (more…)
With its humble beginning as a marshland (Le Marais translates to ‘swamp’ in French) it later became the French nobility’s favorite place of residence. Its modern incarnation is a trendy gay and Jewish area.
Here are some of my favorite ways to spend a sun-dappled afternoon in Le Marais.
Rue des Rosiers
Falafel stands and traditional Jewish restaurants line the Rue des Rosiers, a pedestrian-only street in the heart of Le Marais. The street is the main avenue of the ‘Pletzl’, an area to which many Eastern European Jews immigrated during the early 20th century. The neighborhood was virtually emptied by the Nazis during World War II and then experienced a Jewish community revival in the 1990s.
Whether you are in search of a handcrafted menorah or a late-night pita, this is the street to stroll.
Metro: Saint-Paul (1)
Centre Pompidou is Paris’ premiere modern art museum. The exterior, a maze of multi-colored pipes and scaffolding, is just as remarkable as the interior, which features avant-garde works from Matisse, Munch and Picasso.
The best way to enjoy Pompidou is from the top floor. Equally impressive are the stunning views which stretch from the Eiffel Tower to the Sacre Coeur and thoughtfully curated exhibits with contemporary artists like Lucien Freud and Gerard Richter.
Place Georges Pompidou
01 44 78 12 33
Hours: 11am to 9pm, Wed-Mon
Metro: Rambuteau (11) or Hôtel de Ville (1, 11)
Mémorial de la Shoah
In memory of the 76 thousand Parisian Jews who were sent to concentration camps during Occupation, Mémorial de la Shoah was opened in 2005. (Shoah, which is Hebrew for ‘Destruction’, is another word for the Holocaust).
The crypt in the basement features a giant black marble Star of David, which contains ashes recovered from concentration camps and the Warsaw ghetto. Also moving is the children’s memorial, a series of photographs showing photos of the 11,000 French Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust.
Mémorial de la Shoah
17, rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier
01 277 44 72
Metro: Pont Marie (7) and Saint-Paul (1)
The delicious galettes and crêpes at Cat’Man Crêperie will make you feel like you are at a seaside café in Brittany (minus the Atlantic breeze, of course).
A galette is essentially a savory crêpe made with buckwheat flour, which gives the galette its dark color and nutty, earthy flavor. I recommend the galette complete, which comes packed with Emmental cheese, jambon de pays (country ham) and a fried egg.
For dessert order the crêpe au caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel crêpe). Cat’Man’s version is a perfectly cooked sweet crêpe drenched in salted butter caramel, and is the perfect combination of salty and sweet.
12, rue du Temple
01 42 74 43 32
Metro: Hôtel de Ville (1, 11)
Open for lunch and dinner
Picnic in the Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, is a beautiful park perfect for lounging and picnicking. Families and lovers lounge under the linden trees, often with baguettes and Pelligrino.
In Place des Vosges you can also find Victor Hugo’s house (the author of Les Misérables and The Hunch-Back of Notre Dame in case you’re rusty on high school English). Be forewarned of Hugo’s terrible interior design taste; inside the apartment the carpet matches the walls which match the ceiling.
Maison de Victor Hugo
6 Place des Vosges
01 42 72 10 16
Hours: 10am-6pm, Tue-Sun
Metro: Saint- Paul (1) or Bastille (1, 5, 8 )