Baguette bread has become a symbol of France, with its distinctive long shape. It is a staple of French diets and is sold all over France, the price being set by the government. In addition to baguettes, a traditional French boulangerie will stock dozens of other types of bread including flutes, pain de campagne, pain complet and ficelles. In the U.S., the term French bread has evolved to mean any loaf of a certain shape that has a hard crust and a soft center.
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Baguettes are long, thin loaves of white bread made from a basic dough. Slits are cut into the top of the loaf to allow it to expand and this gives the bread its traditional appearance. The dough is defined by French law and only minor variation is allowed. Two types of baguette are generally available in France: traditional and commercial. The traditional baguette, or "baguette de tradition française," contains only wheat flour, water salt and yeast. The crust of a traditional baguette is hard and the inside is a creamy color. These baguettes are often hand-finished in the traditional way and left to rise in woven baskets.
Commercial baguettes are sold in supermarkets and often found in restaurants. In addition to flour, water, salt and yeast, they also contain additives. The yeast they use is normally "levure" instead of the "levain" used in the traditional baguette. Levure allows the bread to rise much faster for commercial purposes and permits a higher turnover. Many people are sensitive to levure, which can cause indigestion. Without additives, baguettes do not keep well as they contain no fat. They should be eaten as fresh as possible, but may be kept in the freezer if necessary.
U.S. French Bread
In the U.S., the term "French bread" refers to a loaf of a certain shape, i.e., long and thin. The recipe is not defined and 'French bread' can be made with sourdough or even wholemeal or granary. American-style French bread also tends to be longer and wider than a traditional baguette and has rounded ends.
Other Types of French Bread
Outside the U.S., the term "French bread" can refer to a range of types of loaf, including baguettes. Common types include ficelle, a small, thin baguette about half the size of a standard one. Pain de campagne or boule are both large, round loaves that can contain sourdough and have better keeping qualities than baguettes. Each region of France also has its own specialty bread, including fig and walnut bread in the south, and milk bread in the north.