Thursday, October 25, 2018


This is the ninth in a series of posts on the history of French bread. The preceding post was on eighteenth century bread. Further information on bread history can be found on Facebook in the Bread History Lounge. - If you want to MAKE medieval and Renaissance bread, click here.

On October 21, 1789, a baker became one of the first victims of the Revolution. Having been accused of holding back bread, Denis François unwisely invited a woman into his shop, where she found loaves he had kept for his own use. He was at once accused of being part of a plot to deprive the people of bread. Despite a hearing which showed his innocence, the crowd dragged him to the Place de Grève and hung him from the iron bracket there which usually held a lantern. Later his head was cut off and his pregnant wife obliged to kiss his bloodied lips.

This was only the first of several spontaneous horrors which preceded the more organized massacres of the guillotine. All other issues aside, it highlights the part bread – or the lack of it – played in inciting the Revolution. This was not the first time France had experienced desperate shortages, which would not end despite the coming of the Revolution. But a combination of circumstances helped make this one fatal to the Old Regime. For one thing, since 1725 various rumors of a “famine plot” – a willful attempt to starve the people – had reappeared, so that what had been accepted as natural catastrophes now were now viewed as something more sinister. The fact that many people believed there was an organized plot to deprive them of bread only highlights the suspicions and escalating distrusts of the period. More than once, such beliefs had come dangerously close to provoking outright revolt.

Later historians have even accused the Duke of Orléans – who would later vote for the execution of his cousin, Louis XVI – of having directed such a plot in 1789. His agents are quoted as saying, “We will do everything we can to make the lack of bread total, and so that the bourgeoisie be forced to take up arms.” Supposedly in October, after the women of les Halles had brought the royal family (“the baker, the baker's wife and the baker's boy”) back to Paris, he sent wagons full of grain after them, only to cut off the supply again soon after. In one account, François and another baker had been attacked, not because they held back bread, but because they had defied secret orders from his agents to do so.

The bread shortage which came to a head (as it were) with François' death had begun earlier. It did not help that Parisians at that point expected to eat white bread: “White bread is that which is most consumed in Paris because there is not a large enough disproportion between its price and that of white-dark bread. White bread is made with wheat flour and a quarter of that of gruau [that is, the most luxurious]."

Arthur Young, an English agriculturalist who traveled through France in the years leading up to the Revolution, made this observation: “The mass of the people, in great cities, are all alike absolutely ignorant of how they are fed; and whether the bread they eat be gathered like acorns from a tree, or rained from the clouds, they are well convinced, that God Almighty sends the bread, and that they have the best possible right to eat it.”

This was as true in London as it was in Paris, but in Paris the expected bread was in increasingly short supply; and not just there. In the spring of 1788 people in the provinces were using corn bread (always rare in France). One writer commented that this would have more taste had it been made with salt, but that that had become too expensive. Soon the Finance Minister Necker claimed that the King himself was having maslin bread served at his table out of solidarity with those who lacked wheat. Further, he wrote:
Bread, already very expensive in Paris, would have considerably climbed in price without the indemnities that the King granted the Bakers and which he continues to pay them. What is more, the King has, either in Paris, or in other places, had sold wheat which he has brought from abroad at prices which cause him immense loss, and these sales have contributed to moderating the claims of other sellers.
Young saw trouble brewing all through the country: “Everything conspires to render the present period in France critical; the want of bread is terrible; accounts arrive every moment from the provinces of riots and disturbances, and calling in the military, to preserve the peace of the markets;” “It was represented to [the king], that the want of bread was so great in every part of the kingdom, that there was no extremity to which the people might not be driven;” “The price of bread has prepared the populace everywhere for all sorts of violence; at Lyons there have been commotions as furious as at Paris, and the same at a great many other places: Dauphine is in arms: and Bretagne in absolute rebellion."; "The answer was in effect the same from all I put this question to: We are a provincial town, we must wait to see what is done in Paris; but every thing is to be feared from the people, because bread is so dear, they are half starved, and are consequently ready for commotion."

These words quickly proved prophetic.

Matters did not greatly improve under the Revolution. Bread was rationed for the first time in French history and it became necessary to have a “bread card” to receive one's ration.

The Revolutionary authorities eliminated the system of trades groups which had come to dominate all industries. This included bread-baking. But they soon found they had to re-institute controls and in July 1791 they passed a law "whose temporary application to baking," Bataillard wrote bitterly in 1869, "still has not been ended in the year of Our Lord 1869." This law reestablished price controls on butchers and bakers while banning them on all other industries. In July 26-28, 1793, the Law of the Maximum established the death penalty for those convicted of having “removed merchandise of first necessity from circulation, of having closed them up in any place whatsoever with putting up for sale daily and publicly.” Such limits applied between regions. A miller who had been storing grain to send to Paris was told Paris had no more right than Versailles to be supplied (he then said he was leaving the profession).

It was during this period that bakers began to put metal bars on their windows to resist assaults by the famished population. A baker's son wrote decades later: “Each bakery was, in a way, a fortress compared to other shops. It is that in fact bakers were obliged to defend themselves against sudden invasions by the people. I who speak to you, I have seen masses pour into my father's shop breaking down the doors to have bread.”

Otherwise, given how thoroughly the French revolutionaries sought to reinvent society – even changing the names of the months – perhaps the most striking thing about bread for much of the period is how little it seems to have changed. In 1794, as the Revolutionary armies invaded Belgium*, regulations for that country noted that “the penury of bread increases daily” and ordered bakers who had stopped selling bread to the public to continue baking. It also forbid people from profiteering; that is buying bread from bakers and re-selling it at a higher price. Yet the types of bread it named at this point were not greatly different from breads which had existed before: maslin bread, pain de ménage, even a type of bread called “Gonesse” (no doubt finer, but certainly not from the town of that name). In most localities, this seems to have been the case for several years. In the sixth year of the Revolution, bread in the Aube was still priced as white and dark (though the white may have been stale). There was however one major exception.

*The country was not created until 1830, but this term is indeed the one used in period accounts.

And now, the BOOK:

Before the Baguette: The History of French Bread

Also available as an epub : Smashwords ebpub version

Preview on Amazon's "Look Inside" 
or take a peek at the Table of Contents here:

Equality bread

In 1793, the Commune decided to establish the uniformity of bread because, they said “rich and poor must equally disappear in a regime of equality.” With this thought, the Commune took, on November 2, a decision which forbade in the future making two sorts of bread, a bread with the best flour for the rich, a bran bread for the poor: “all bakers will be required, under pain of incarceration, to make a single and good type of bread, equality bread.”

On November 16 (Brumaire 26, year II), the Convention ordered that only one type of bread be made: the pain d'égalité (equality bread). The idea was that all classes should eat the same bread. This was not merely an attempt to enforce universal equality; the hope was that eliminating variety in breads would increase supply. Nor was this an entirely revolutionary concept; Necker wrote in 1789: “I would already have proposed to His Majesty to order that only a single dark bread of pure wheat be made in Paris, by means of which the necessary quantity for thirty days supply would have sufficed for forty.” But rather than choosing a common, but average, bread like gros pain, or even the dark bread Necker had proposed, the Convention opted, not for the lowest common denominator, but for something slightly below it.

On November 26 (Frimaire 6), the General Council outlined more specific instructions to take effect on December 6:
Bakers will only cook a single type of bread.
The quality of this bread will be that resulting from a mix of three quarts of wheat and one quart of rye.
Bakers will cook loaves of 8 pounds, of 4 pounds and of one pound; they will not be allowed to use other divisions.
The price of equality bread is fixed as follows:
The 8 pound loaf, 1 livre.
The 4 pound loaf, 10 sols, 6 deniers
The one pound loaf, 3 sols.
By several accounts, the result was equality in at least one sense: people of all classes hated it equally. Several authors mention the expectation of even the poorest people that they would get white bread, at least since the start of the eighteenth century, and this bread is most succinctly described as brown bread (very bad brown bread). Nor can it help that it was said to contain a lot of bran – bran was used to make bread for dogs. Though at the start of 1794 – after a bad harvest –, the journalist Mallet du Pain did write:
In all the kingdom, except Paris, only a single bread is eaten, called equality bread; it is mixed with rye or with barley and bran. It cannot compare to the good soldiers' bread, but the city dweller and the villager are too happy to have this kind, and if a farmer or a burgher had the idea of making better bread for his use, in reserving the equality bread for his valets, he would be denounc'ed, inca'rcerated, pillaged and probably have his throat cut.
Note his unfavorable comparison to the good soldiers' bread. The latter was made in different ways over the decades, but one thing had always held true: it was considered the worst bread in France. Except, apparently, during the period of “equality bread”.

The fact that the sick and fragile were often excused from eating this bread may also be sufficient comment on its quality.

The nationally mandated bread was not the first to be made; several pains d'égalité had been declared in various localities almost from the start, made in different ways:  “As of August 1, 1789, our administrators have prescribed the making of a standard bread, with equal quantities of wheat, of rye and of rice, known by the name of pain d'égalité” In 1792, it was decided in Chartres that “bread must be the same for all; bakers must mix a sack of flour of superior quality, one of inferior quality and another of third quality, to make the pain d'égalité.” In 1794 (Nivoise 9, year III), Saint-Ybars ("Montybars", during the Revolution) in the Ariège, declared that:
No baker can make anything but pain d'égalité, which will be half wheat and half millet; that this bread will only be delivered for coupons for a pound and a half a day; that nonetheless the said bakers can make a quantity of white bread for the sick and the old only, a quantity which will be fixed for them by the municipality and that it will only given to the said sick and infirm recognized and as mandated, all on pain of fifty livres fine.
From November 1793, only equality bread was sold at Guingamp. It was a mix of rye and wheat and the same for all; in February 1794, the bread was made in Verdun with two thirds wheat flour and one third of barley flour; in January 1795, white bread was again made, in Clermont-Ferrand at least, and probably nationally.

The experiment with equality bread was relatively short-lived. The Revolution itself went through so many changes in a short period that it is hard to say if it would have succeeded had the context around it not shifted. But the bread seems to have been unpopular from the start and the experiment has remained unique in French history.

Meanwhile, in 1794, the problem got worse; wheat was even ordered from America, but took too long to arrive.

Pain bénit banned

It is not surprising that, when ordinary bread was reduced to its lowest common denominator, a luxurious bread associated with religion would be banned. For centuries, congregants had shared the pain bénit by one of their number to be distributed at mass. But in the same year, the Directory of the Department of the Côte-d'Or ordered that pain-bénit no longer be made, citing the population's “ill-founded” concern for shortages:
27 Brumaire, year II (17 November), 1793
Order by the Directory of the Department of the Côte-d'Or
The general Council... considering that in a moment where people are alarmed about subsistances, it is the administration's duty, although these alarms are ill-founded, to see to the conservation of flours which are rendered useless by some religious abuses;
That the oblation known by the name of pain-beni, is an abuse of this sort, since the quantity of bread consumed for this oblation comes to over two hundred thousand livres a year in the Department; that this very considerable consumption is a real loss, since it does not nourish a single individual;
That what is more, the oblation of pain-beni being required, by custom, from all the citizens who live in the place where a minister of the catholic religion resides, it can be contrary to the public tranquility in the Commune where one of them rising to the level of the principles of Reason, refuses the said oblation; that it is onerous for several citizens who take from their necessaries the expenses occasioned by this oblation;
Art. I – That starting on the day of the publication of the present order, the oblation of pain-beni will end in all the temples of the Catholic cult
Still, years of shortages and revolution had not made the French any less particular about their bread. On 5 ventose year II (February 23, 1794), a local group in the Var complained to their town fathers that the local baker made “an insipid bread, badly kneaded, badly risen and badly baked” and asked that he be replaced and the new baker obliged to make “a good household bread and not a luxurious one, but a republican bread.” In general, even as the Revolution gave way to an emperor, the French would remain unhappy about their bread for some time.


The end of the Reign of Terror brought some softening of controls but in October 1801, the prefect of police got permission from Napoleon (still First Consul) to put baking directly under the administration's control. In 1811, the old system of price controls was reestablished, to the enduring displeasure of Parisian bakers.

Otherwise, the period between the Revolution and the end of Napoleon's rule is something of a Bermuda triangle in French bread history. Details survive certainly, but none fully explain how different bread was in many ways before the Revolution and after Napoleon's time. A modern visitor to an eighteenth century bakery would have seen some bread that looked familiar, yet different, but still more that would not; the same visitor might give different names to some of those in a nineteenth century bakery, but would not for the most part find them unfamiliar.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Now that you're here, leave.

With all the wonders of this blog, you can now find related material in two other places: a video channel and a guest blog post.

The new YouTube Channel for A History of the Food of Paris has just been inaugurated with the first  video, Dining Out Before the Restaurant exploring how Parisians dined out before 1767, when the word "restaurant" was first used in conjunction with an eatery.

Ironilly, this comes fast on the heels of a guest blog post on the Historical Cooking Project blog, explaining why (believe it or not) the first restaurant was really no big deal.

Hopefully you'll find both well worth your interest. But hopefully, too, you'll be back here, soon enough.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A new blog about Paris food history

Having researched the history of the food of Paris for over a year now, I find myself with a wealth of material that did not fit into my manuscript and so I have started a new blog to delve deeper into some of these subjects. It is called, logically enough, "Paris Food History":

If you'd like to drop by and take a look.

Lover of Paris food history might also like the Facebook page:

and the site:

Monday, January 1, 2018

FRENCH BREAD HISTORY: Eighteenth century bread

This is the eighth in a series of posts on the history of French bread. The preceding post was on seventeenth century bread. Further information on bread history can be found on Facebook in the Bread History Lounge. - If you want to MAKE medieval and Renaissance bread, click here.

The eighteenth century saw several shifts which, taken together, brought bread much closer to today’s than to what had come before. These included the use of a softer dough, a preference for long over round breads and, closely related, a taste for crust. Other changes were more subtle, or behind the scenes, if you will. Notably, economic milling, a more efficient processing of grain, arose and the middlings – gruau – went from being a waste product to providing the basis for a luxury flour.

This century was also the first great century of documentation, with near-manic efforts to put even the most banal facts down on paper. Ultimately, this resulted in Diderot’s Encyclopedia, which remains today one of the prime sources on numerous trades. Where in the past these had often been recorded incidentally, or at best for practitioners, now they were methodically studied and recorded in accounts made available to anyone with sufficient means and education. A number of such works preserved useful details on period bread-making. But two writers in particular gave it careful attention: Malouin and Parmentier. Malouin's work was by far the most detailed. But Parmentier, who was Malouin's effective successor, wrote several works whose importance has endured. Malouin in particular left such a highly detailed account of bread-baking that even specialists today would be hard put to absorb it completely. This means that any brief summary of eighteenth century bread-baking necessarily omits a wealth of material available in the period.

These two admirable and even endearing men did not always agree and their disagreements have an important place in bread history. But they shared not only a passionate interest in the problems around creating the best, most flavorful bread, but a very real concern for those who often had no bread at all.

Over the centuries, royal taxation had also made salt – a native French product – dauntingly expensive. As a result, by several accounts, French bakers now used it less. Though opposing evidence exists, the overall impression from period texts is that French bread was often viewed as bland because it was so often made with little or no salt.

Yet Malouin boasted of, as in previous centuries, the superiority of French bread:
One finds French bakers in all of Europe; and it is certain that in no other country in the world in general is bread made so well as in France. Baking, like all the other crafts, is more perfected there than anywhere else.
A number of famines occurred in this period. The aristocratic monopoly on hunting prevented most of the poor from hunting their own meat, which at any rate had become impractical for residents of growing cities, as had foraging or farming, and so bread became central to the diet of the poor. The central importance of bread meant that “famine” typically was synonymous with a shortage of grain. In a time of increased research and experimentation, one side-effect of these shortages was to push figures like Parmentier to seek out alternative products, such as potatoes, for making bread.

Controversies over key ingredients

Salt, water and yeast are all simple, even elemental products, yet in this early modern century the use of each of these in bread was more or less controversial.

Yeast had become established in French bread-baking in the previous century (though sourdough remained the more common leavening method). Often, per Malouin, yeast and sourdough were used together:
Fermentation is not a simple dissolution, it is not a simple extraction; it is a more intimate division and at the same time a combination, from which a new composition always results: it is why to make good bread, one must use a leavening which successively produces these effects which are neither too prompt nor too slow; it is according to this principle that the bakers of Paris are accustomed to tempering the vivacity of yeast by mixing in sour dough to make softish bread, and to animate sour dough with yeast to make half-soft bread.
But he also wrote: “Today we have returned to the old feeling against yeast, and it is agreed today that it is even better to do without it in making bread.” Parmentier shared the older scholar's reservations about the use of yeast, yet adopted a more resigned tone:
Although I am certain that yeast rarely makes good bread, and that it would be desirable that its use be banned in Baking, I nonetheless cannot refuse to dedicate an article to this artificial leavening....; because, well-founded as my reasons are (as admit several Bakers enlightened by experience), I do not flatter myself to be able to turn around spirits decided on this subject; but what matter, useful truths must always be presented; there comes a time when the clouds which cover them dissipate.
Mercifully for Parmentier, he did not live to see the increased, not reduced, use of yeast in French bread. And yet even some artisan bakers today share his distrust of yeast.

And now, the BOOK:

Before the Baguette: The History of French Bread

Also available as an epub : Smashwords ebpub version

Preview on Amazon's "Look Inside" 
or take a peek at the Table of Contents here:

The role of water

Parmentier seems to have been particularly frustrated by the long-standing idea that the type of water mattered when making bread.
In vain has it been claimed that rain water is the best for making dough rise, because being lighter than that of the fountain that of river and fountain, it better worked its way into the bits of flour mixed with leavening, than hard and cold waters which had trouble warming, not being suited to bread, and that the variety of this food came from the diversity of waters used in it: this opinion is absolutely unfounded, we must see how ridiculous and abusive it is.
He then goes on at some length to describe the ways in which people would blame water for problems in baking without considering all the other elements in making it and reports his own experiments with the same flour in areas with different water. But the idea that the quality of the water affects the quality of the bread has never entirely disappeared.


Malouin complained about the reluctance of period bakers to use salt:
It is by economy that most bakers abstain from putting salt in the dough; and it is a false economy, because not only does the salt give the bread a better quality which makes up for the expense of salt; which is small, when it is used properly; but also because because salt making more water come into the dough, also makes more air come in, and so increases the quantity of bread.
According to Le Grand d’Aussy, the royal tax on salt (the gabelle) had made its use less popular in bread:
Before the gabelle had made salt as expensive as it is today, the general custom in France was to salt bread. … This is the custom of almost all the nations of Europe; and this is why when foreigners come to Paris, they at first find our bread insipid, even if in actuality it is better that that made where they come from.
(Note the stubborn French chauvinism at the end.) This may have been less of a problem for luxury breads, whose buyers did not consider cost. But it seems that ordinary French bread in this time was made with little or no salt.

Other grains

Le Grand d’Aussy points out that other grains, such as barley, had been used by the ancients and questions why French bakers had come to use their talents mainly on wheat. In regard to barley, he writes:
How has it happened that this grain, so known for its restorative qualities, that this grain which inspired from Hippocrates an entire book of praise, that this grain finally from which the Greeks drew not only their best porridges, but further these fine and nourishing drinks which they called tisanes, is only intended among us for the fattening of poultry, for making beer, and sometimes gruel? By what lack of skill have we come to make of it a bread that only the most unfortunate of peasants dare to eat, and when, after the famous winter of 1709, the people found themselves reduced to it, it was called famine bread...
But the century’s famines made some neglected grains, if not popular, necessary. In 1709, Madame de Maintenon had oat bread made for the poor and said that if oats were properly made, they could yield a very good bread. A great deal of rice was brought in from abroad in the same year; it was used again in 1768.

In the eighteenth century, a shift occurred which would have profound implications for luxury breads. Millers had long discarded the middlings, or fed them to animals. In French, these have the same name as gruel: gruau. As a result, one has to be very careful in reading French texts to consider the exact date of the usage. Even for part of the eighteenth century, gruau, when it did not mean “gruel”, referred to what was considered an inferior by-product of milling. Almost overnight however it came to refer to the finest type of flour. Here is one account (which however, like many such tales, should be regarded with caution):
During the shortage of 1709, a miller of Senlis, named Pigeaut, very profitably exploited a process known in his family. Towards 1725, a certain Marin went to set up a mill in Nangis, began to gather the fat bran which bakers did not know how to use, and to sell a flour which soon gained a reputation. This is not surprising: the reground gruau [middlings], yielded precisely what we call bread of gruau, the most nutritious and the most succulent of all, when it is sincere and well-worked. The fortune made by Marin awoke his competitors. For a quarter of a century, skilled people, calling themselves bran merchants, spread out around Paris: they bought the remains of bakers' sifting to profit from it, and as Messieurs of the Parlement began to recognize that the grutum is not a dangerous poison, the police closed their eyes to the violations which the new trade involved.
(Bord, Histoire du blé en France)

Economic milling

The recuperation of middlings for a new and superior flour helped make possible what become known as “economic milling”.

In 1760, many millers in the Paris region began to use this technique. The details are unlikely to interest anyone who is not actually studying the history of milling itself, but the gist of the method was to clean and sift the grains and flour as the milling occurred. Here is how Bouquet sums up the operations in economic milling:
The first is to clean and sift the wheat before it falls into the mill’s hopper: the second, to mill it so that it cannot heat, nor contract any odor or other bad quality, nor yield too much waste or evaporation: the third, to bolt while the millstones work, to separate the different qualities of flours and middlings: the fourth, to remill the different middlings, to get a new flour from them.
The most important result was that one got far more flour from a given amount of wheat, which Bouquet insisted would help eliminate shortages. While more than milling was necessary for that, this new method did improve the yield overall and became the standard one. The older method, with more separate steps, became known as “rustic milling” and continued to be used in the countryside for a long time.

Types of dough

For centuries, bakers had used what the French called “hard [or firm] dough” (pâte ferme). But by the eighteenth century, they had begun to use what was called “bastard dough” (pâte bâtarde), which was softer than pâte ferme but not as soft as the softest (pâte mollet).

Malouin gives an overview of these types of dough:
There are three sorts of dough in regard to consistency, that is, soft dough, hard dough, and bastard dough. Soft or sweet dough is that in whose composition the most water is used. Hard dough to the contrary is that in which the least is used. Bastard dough is neither hard nor soft, it has aspects of the soft and the hard: more water and less flour is need to make bastard dough than to make hard dough, as more water and less flour is needed make soft dough than to make bastard dough.
There is also brié dough which is the hardest of all, and on which one climbs, that is, it is kneaded with the feet.
Malouin said that far less breads were made with hard dough in his time and that most bread was made from partially soft (bastard) or soft dough. One incidental effect of this change was that it became harder to follow the requirement that one stamp bread with one's assigned mark. It was also true that larger breads were more likely to be made with hard dough, whereas softer dough was required to make the smaller loaves.

Types of bread

The bread of Gonesse had replaced the bread of Chailli as the best by the seventeenth century; but by the late eighteenth century, the bread of that name was made nearer to Paris; Le Grand wrote: “Today very little [bread from Gonesse] comes to Paris. That sold under this name is made in the suburbs of Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin”.

The old distinctions of color still applied. The three basic sorts of breads were still made, with the middle quality, once pain bourgeois, now called pain de ménage (household bread) and the worst simply called pain bis (dark bread). Malouin references these as, for white bread, the former bread of Chailli (the siligineus of the Romans); for dark-light, the old coquillé bread (secundarius); for coarse bread, pain bourgeois (acerious) and finally dark bread, once fetis or brode bread (furfuaceus). “One can even distinguish different sorts of bread by their various forms: there is round bread, long bread, horned bread, bread in bourrelet, bowed bread (called hemicycleus, he says, by the Latins).”
Formerly more round breads were made than long breads: today, it is the reverse, because the crust is preferred; in households where there are a lot of people, more three pound loaves are even taken than six: thus one can eat it fresh.
In regard to the whiteness of bread, the usage, at least in Paris, is to make dark breads of twelve, eight and six pounds, and always round: white-dark breads of twelve, of eight, of six and of five, and also all round.
The word miche has had a varied history in French and most often refers to the most common large loaf in a given time and/or region. Malouin defines it in his time as a small bread of one to two pounds.

Le Grand says that most of the fancy rolls in varied shapes from the seventeenth century – pain de Gentilly, pain à la Montauron, etc. – had fallen away “because others have succeeded them, and in Paris everything is fashion” but went on to say that butter, milk, salt and yeast were all still used in finer breads (though such breads were banned during famines such as that of 1709). In general these sorts of bread weighed from a quarter to half a pound. Malouin describes pain à la Reine, pain à la Segovie, pain caffé and pain cornu as examples of such breads in the eighteenth century; he also shows artichoke bread (with square “leaves”) in his images. As in the seventeenth century, these rolls were not subject to price regulation, and so bakers could set the price they chose.

Breads were also known by how they were used: coffee bread, soup bread, pottage bread (today literally also "soup bread", but then different). Pain de mie – crumb bread – was then used to produce crumbs for breading meats, for instance (today the term applies to white breads in the American style). Table breads were essentially rolls, included as part of the table setting.

Meanwhile, the most important change in standard breads was related to a change in taste.

Love of crust and long breads

Le Grand traces the growing love of crust (which had once been grated off in the best houses) to the increased use of softer dough. Malouin further traces the appearance of longer breads to the same development:
One can note that in general in the time when hard dough was preferred, or beaten bread, whose crumb is compact, less crumb was given to it by making it round or risen in a ball. Whereas when bread was made of soft dough, it was flattened to have more crust. And finally today softish bread is made long or "in bourlet", to give it the most crust possible, in increasing its surface.
And later:
It was at the end of the last century, that long bread began to be made to have more crust; before, the taste was to eat bread with the crumb, as today it is to eat it for the crust. Today more soft bread is eaten than hard bread; the crumb of bread from hard dough, of beaten bread, is hard, and it has much more flavor than the crumb of soft bread today, which leads to its crust being sought and the crumb being left.
Parmentier adds further notes on the same theme:
The round shape is equally abandoned, it is not currently used in Paris except for bread in hard dough and dark-light bread; the long form has been adopted, because it is more convenient to the oven, the bread bakes better and takes on more crust; but this shape has been abused in lengthening it into a flute, so that it is only crust rather than bread; these changes in shape and volume seem to be determined by the consistency of soft dough which succeeds infinitely better at a less considerable weight and in the long shape.
Parmentier may be the first here to use the term “flute” for the long loaves which became standard in this era. While the term “baguette” would not be used for similar breads until the twentieth century, the shift from round to long breads was already made in the eighteenth century; the term “flute” would be used loosely all through the nineteenth century even as more specific terms were used for the major long breads.

Split breads

Among long breads, another shape now emerged. Parmentier:
It is with [bastard dough] that one makes the large long loaves of four pounds, whose use is so common today in Paris and which are known by the name of loaf à grigne and split [fendu] bread, the one being put on couche and being prepared in stretching the dough and in bringing together the two sides, in the middle of which is thrown flour, lightly, to avoid their joining, one sets this dough on the side and on the upper part of the fold, which is what forms these toothed openings which are prolonged until the crumb; a similar method is used for split bread.
The split in the fendu would later be made, not by joining the two sides, but by pressing the baker’s elbow down the middle of the dough. In the nineteenth century, this was to become one of the most common types of loaf.

Bakery personnel

In earlier centuries, the main workers mentioned in bakeries were the baker him (or more rarely her) self and his or her “boys”. By the eighteenth century, the staff was more complex. Malouin outlines the positions in a bakery, notably one with a long and enduring history, and a virtually untranslatable name:
The geindre is the master-worker who watches over everything in the bakehouse; he delivers the flour, he pours the water and he measures it. The geindre determines the quantity and the sort of bread to be made, and he warns the other workers what they have to do. It is the geindre who judges the preparation of the leavenings and the dough; he divides it out and he weighs it. It is the geindre who heats the oven; then he puts the bread in the oven, and after he takes it out.
Formerly, it was the geindre who kneaded, and then he was not in charge of the work of others; it was even through this function he had formerly of kneading that he was named geindre, from the word gemere, geindre or plaindre [moan or complain]. The Master-Bakers like to hear their kneader moan when he works the dough. When they don't hear him while he is kneading, they are in the habit of saying: this guy isn't moaning; you can't hear him any more than a crackling in the kneading trough. When to the contrary they praise him as a good worker, they say that he raises the dough well, and he moans well.
Malouin goes on to explain that things had changed now that the Master-Bakers no longer watched over the work themselves. He gives an unusually detailed look at the process in an eighteenth century bakery:
The aide starts at the kneading trough while the geindre puts the bread in the oven. A short half-hour is needed to put it in; about an hour to bake it; a quarter of an hour to take it from the oven; and a half-hour or three-quarters of an hour to reheat an eight to nine foot oven; which all together makes at least two hours of hard work, over two and a half hours of fast work.
He only begins kneading when the leavening at the toupoint stage is ready, and when in his judgment the previous batch is baked and the oven reheated before the whole next batch he has to make is ready; he takes about an hour to knead.
The second aide brings the flour, he cleans the cauldron, he brings the water, he carries the wood, he splits it and sets it to dry. It is also the second aide who takes the bread off the cloth, and who puts it on the paddle when the geindre puts in the bread.
The third aide, who is the fourth worker, receives the bread as it comes out of the oven, and he sets it: it is the third aide who, when the bread has cooled, brushes it, then ranges it, and finally takes it to houses.
Malouin notes further that bakers from different regions had different reputations, those from Langue-Doc, Provence and Touraine thought good; those from Champagne, Brittany and Picardy to have a heavy hand. He adds later that that there were then more bakers from Auvergne in Paris than from any other region.

He also cites an article (XXIII) from the Bakers' Statutes of 1680 stating that no one can be received as a Master Baker if he is infected with a communicable disease. To which he adds that "there are workers whose sweat is so awful, or their breath so bad, that they spoil the leavenings." If this image is not off-putting enough, he goes on to say:
Normally those who knead sweat a great deal from the force of the work, and the sweat falls into the dough, if one is not careful to give them a rag to wipe themselves; I have sometimes seen them rub themselves with large flour sacks. In the King's bakeries rags are passed to the bakers; there is reason to believe they use them.
Unbelievable as this may appear to a modern reader, in the next century, this “flavoring” of the dough with the worker's sweat would be cited as a quality.


Ironically, Parmentier’s name has most endured because of his promotion of the potato. But his interest in what became a standard French food on its own grew directly from his work with bread. Ultimately, in his comprehensive work on the subject, he said firmly that it was NOT economical to make bread with potatoes, but that the food by itself was a promising and nourishing one. Still, he said, “some men must absolutely have bread, and if the food is not presented to them in this form, they do not think themselves fed. The people, in this as in everything else, are more attached to the form, than the reality, above all in times of trouble; they want their fundamental and habitual food, in the familiar shape, whatever the substance of it.” And so he presents several recipes for bread and even biscuits made with potatoes, with or without grains.

He was right to believe that potato bread would not displace wheat bread, even in hard times. Luckily, his pessimism about the French eating potatoes alone proved unfounded, and soon the French were eating them in a variety of forms and a variety of places. But this had little impact on their demand for bread.


As the Revolution approached, French bread had effectively moved into modernity. The distinction of bread by origin (Gonesse or Chailli) had faded. The long breads which would become the baguette were firmly established, even if darker, coarser bread continued to be sold in round (though not often spherical) shapes. The hard dough of the past had been firmly replaced by the softer “bastard” dough. A good crust had become one of the desirable qualities in a loaf. The split bread was now familiar, if not as common as it would be.  Economic milling was well on its way to being the standard method, as farine de grau was to being the standard flour for finer breads in the next century.

The nineteenth century would brings its own significant changes, but only after the brief and dramatic interlude of the Revolution.


Pierre Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d'Aussy, Histoire De La Vie Privée Des Français: Depuis l'origine ...,Volume 1, Issue 1, 1782

Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Tome second, Azyme-Cezimbra / par une société de gens de lettres 1751-1765

Denis Diderot, L'Encyclopédie. [45], Artisanats au 18ème siècle : [recueil de planches sur les sciences, les arts libéraux et les arts] 1751-1780

Paul-Jacques Malouin, Description et détails des arts du meunier, du vermicelier et du boulenger, avec une histoire abrégée de la boulengerie et un dictionnaire de ces arts, par M. Malouin, 1779

Antoine Augustin Parmentier, Le parfait boulanger, ou Traité complet sur la fabrication et le commerce du pain, par M. Parmentier,... 1778

Antoine Augustin Parmentier, Traité sur la culture et les usages des pommes de terre, de la patate, et du topinambour, par M. Parmentier, 1789

Gustave Bord, Histoire du blé en France: Le Pacte de famine; histoire--légende, 1765