The recent poll examining which nation makes the best bread is now closed. Ladies and gentlemen, scores on the door please:
France – 38%
Germany – 20%
UK – 15%
Italy – 15%
Other – 7%
Sweden – 4%
USA – 2%
So, what does this say? Is it just that we travel to France more and so are more familiar with French bread or does this confirm that the Western world (bulk of our readers) really prefer fluffy white bread and so vote the land of croissants, pains au chocolat, baguettes and brioches top of the heap? I don’t know – you tell me?
Our natural prejudices are coming out here because, althrough the four aforementioned French breads are very nice, they are all rather limited to, well, white wheat flour and, in three out of four cases, the copious use of butter. Yum – but is it bread as we know it or more like a rather less naughty version of cake? Of course, Poilaine has come out of France and very good it is too but I don’t think it is as widely available in France as it is in the UK!
To be honest, this poll result does give us the opportunity to deliver one of our favourite rants: Bread in France (as opposed to French bread anywhere else) is pretty dreadful. Large industrial millers and flour manufacturers actually provide the vast majority of bakers (in Hypermarket and out) with the premixed bread dough in 50 kg sacks that is used to bake. Add water and stir baby. Sliced white bread in a sexy baguette shape. Shocking, I know, but the truth is that even bakers who are called “artisinal” are using bread mixes. Further, when you go from region to region, you will see “cooperatives” of bakers – all of whom buy their flour (bread mix) from the same miller. So, although they are not chains in the true sense of the word, because they are independently owned and run, they may as well be chains because they sell a uniform product.
The flour selection in French supermarkets is extremely and surprisingly limited (although buckwheat is widely available, don’t know why) and a large proportion of the flour that is sold is actually bread mix (with yeast and preservatives included in the bag!). There is almost no tradition of home baking in France because there are so many bakers and because the price of bread in bakeries is tightly controlled. Bread is cheap – and the quality reflects that. The people who have not figured this out are the French. When you live somewhere and eat the same thing every day it is hard to notice a deterioration in quality. When you only go to France from time to time, it’s easy. I only go to France from time to time and, believe me, I find it hard now to get a croissant that is really worth eating, or a baguette that resembles the baguettes of my early adulthood when I first went to France. In actual fact, a lot of the French bread that is available outside of France is better than that supplied within.
There is great bread to be had in France and it is at tiny stalls in the farmers’ markets. There you will find rye, whole wheat, and spelt bread in lots of different shapes and forms. There you will also find buttery crossants that explode in a shower of flakes and crumbs and beg to be smeared with butter and apricot jam before being dipped into a bowl of hot, milky coffee. There you will find baguettes that are crispy on the outide and light as a feather on in the inside with the real flavours of earth and wind and water. There you will find brioche that you can cut with a spoon, lightly toast, and gently coat in foie gras or soft cheese. If you think you love French bread and have never been to the depths of the country side to find bread at a market you have a real treat waiting for you. There you will find bread that is worthy of being called bread.
So, here is the question: For those of you who voted for French bread, where are you getting your bread? Please tell us the name and location of the shop or market. We would like to spread the word. Thanks.