French Bread, not what you think?

I'm about to do a terribly dangerous thing. I'm going to pass comment about French bread, in fact I'll make a very general sweeping comment that will probably enrage millions of Frenchmen into some sort of organised Jihad against me. Here I go: French bread isn't particularly good.

There, I said it, but I feel a lot better having this out in the open. OK, let me explain. I recently spent a week in the the southern french Alps, a short kayaking break with some friends. It was great, and I was hoping for some good baking along the way, but that didn't happen. I probably visited at least 10 different bakeries, all calling themselves Artisan and all producing the same mundane stuff. At times it was hard to tell the different between the bakeries, the same loaves, all looking the same and all tasting similar. It was bread that was fairly quickly mixed with not a lot of per ferment (or any for that matter) and shaped into different shapes. Nearly every loaf I tried, despite it's name, was the same basic white dough. 

One of the more interesting looking loaves we came across, a massive 2KG+ dark baked loaf, alas the inside was the same dough as everything else. It was good, however, to feed 9 hungry kayakers for lunch. 

One of the more interesting looking loaves we came across, a massive 2KG+ dark baked loaf, alas the inside was the same dough as everything else. It was good, however, to feed 9 hungry kayakers for lunch. 

It was OK bread, maybe a 5 out of 10 and much better than anything your local Tesco can produce but it wasn't anything special. It was formulaic and repetitive and standardised, perhaps a product of the strict french attitude to food. Which is something we don't have to stick to. 

If you visit my friend Paul's bakery in Macclesfield (it's called Flour Water and Salt), which you should do immediately as its excellent, you'll find a baker using the same flour suppliers as me, baking sourdough but producing wildly different bread. His bread isn't better or worse or the same as mine, its different. We're both self taught and we've developed our own style without following any strict rules, we're not hampered by the "correct way of doing things" which for both of us is great. It's this freedom that allows bakers the chance to bake interesting bread.

Now I can't say all French bread is crap, i'm certain there are many great bakeries in France producing wonderful bread, but the current trend in start up bakeries in UK, particularly of self taught bakers, is producing something wonderful, it's producing unrestricted difference.