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Bakeries, a staple of French culture

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A boulangerie is a bakery, but it’s probably not like anything you’ve ever experienced in the U.S. After catching a whiff of the delicious aroma of fresh bread while walking on the street, when you enter a boulangerie the first thing you see is a magnificent array of perfectly assembled pastries such as éclairs, log-shaped pastries filled with cream and topped with icing; macarons, colorful, thin meringue cookies sandwiched together with different flavored fillings; millefeuille, puff pastry layered with filling such as custard or cream; and tartes framboise, peche, pomme, and fraise, raspberry, peach, apple, and strawberry tarts.

Look farther down, behind the counter and find an assortment of breads – from sweet breads, multi-grains, and white bread to round buns, square loaves, and long, thin slabs, the boulangeries have every type of bread you could desire, all baked from scratch mere hours earlier.

Bread is a specialty of France and in order to become a baker, you must attend two years of schooling and complete an apprenticeship– the French take their bread seriously. However, in order to become a boulanger- pâtissiers, a baker who can make bread and pastries, an additional year of schooling is required. Most bakers are also pastry makers.

Bakers are hard workers, working nights and twelve to thirteen hour shifts. The large majority of boulangeries are family owned – one person (generally one of the parents) is a baker at night, their spouse works the counter during the day, and the children help out when they’re not in school.

The most common bread eaten in France is the baguette, a thin, crisp loaf measuring up to a meter in length. Consumption of bread is actually down in France, and nowadays the average Frenchman eats only a half of a baguette daily, compared to a whole baguette in 1970 and more than three in 1900!

It’s safe to say I ate my fair share of bread when I was in France. One time some friends and I even woke up at 6:30 AM just to be at the boulangerie when it opened – fresh, still warm baguettes are just that good.

Naturally when my parents came to visit me in France for three weeks in the summer of 2012, they were excited to eat at a boulangerie and experience the French specialties. As I always referred to bakeries in France by their French name, I called it a ‘boulangerie’ to my parents as well. They struggled to understand and remember the word – understandable as neither of them speak French. Within a few days, my dad was able to remember the word ‘boulangerie’ by pronouncing it as it sounded in English words – ‘blue lingerie’. “Man, I could really go for a pastry from the blue lingerie,” he would say, or, “So are we going to eat lunch at a blue lingerie today?” His inability to correctly pronounce the word hardly stopped him from requesting to go eat at a boulangerie, a testament to the deliciousness of French baked goods.

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