Why French bread is so good—an interview with Parisian Boulanger Guillaume

By Ilse Verdel on June 9 2020 in Food

We are a bread-loving country. The average Dutch person eats 4 slices of bread a day and 49 (!) kilograms a year, making us one of the bread-loving gluttons of Europe. We eat and make a lot of different kinds of bread, yet France still seems to be the European country most well-known for its bread. Why are the French so good at making it? 

I set out to answer this question by interviewing our in-house Boulanger and Patissier Guillaume. Guillaume worked in a large artisan bakery in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, called Boulangerie Béchu. Boulangerie Béchu is over 100 years old and one of the most well-known bakeries in Paris. However, when you’re a Boulanger in France, you cannot be a Patissier at the same time. That’s why Guillaume decided to come to the Netherlands to expand his repertoire, and maybe start a bakery.

Guillaume's loaves of bread

So what makes French bread so good?

According to Guillaume, it’s three things: ingredients, methods, culture.

Ingredients

Guillaume is attentive to the ingredients. He selects flour that is pesticide-free and goes for quality rather than the organic label. Regular flour usually has a lot of additives that ‘correct’ the bread when you’re baking it. When using high-quality flour without the additives, it’s your job to fix it if something goes wrong.

Methods

The French are very meticulous when it comes to making bread. Guillaume states that if you want to make a good product, you roll the dough for two hours if you need to. It takes as long as it takes, even if you need to spend 14 hours on it. If you spend less time on it, the bread can still taste good, but not as good as when you spend 14 hours on it. That makes it a question of effort; do you want to put in the hours or be a bit lazy?

Culture

The French are meticulous about bread because it has been part of their alimentation since the 18th century. A period of famine was one of the causes of the French Revolution, and as a result, the new government at the time started supplying bread to the people as a sign of political fitness. After wheat gluten was associated with several nourishing elements in plants by French medical chemists, it received the reputation of being indispensable to one’s health. In turn, the people became very concerned about the quality of their bread, which resulted in the meticulous methods the French apply to their breadmaking to this day.

The versatility of brioche

The art of bread and pastry making is a continuous learning process. You give it a try, you test it, and then you improve. That’s why brioche is Guillaume’s favorite to make. You can do a lot with brioche. You can create 100 variations with the same base; create different textures, different flavors, different shapes. That’s why Guillaume wants to share his recipe for traditional brioche with you. A recipe for vegan brioche is in the works; Guillaume’s next challenge! 

Guillaume’s recipe for sinfully good brioche

Ingredients

🥖 1 kilo of T45 flour
🥖 500 grams of milk
🥖 150 grams of eggs
🥖 30 grams of yeast

🥖 120 grams of sugar
🥖 20 grams of honey
🥖 20 grams of salt

🥖 200 grams of butter

Directions

1️⃣ Mix the flour, eggs, and milk, and yeast for 10 minutes.

2️⃣ Add sugar, honey, and salt. Mix for 10 minutes.

3️⃣ Add the butter and mix for 10 minutes.

4️⃣ Let the mixture stand overnight in the fridge.

5️⃣ The next day, weigh to the desired size or shape.

6️⃣ Leave the dough to rise for 2 hours.

7️⃣ Bake at 160 ° for 30 minutes

8️⃣ Et voilà! You did it! Enjoy.

Brioche