Eighteenth Century French Breads
Pain Mollet et
means “soft” (really “softish”) bread.
Cotgrave already defined it as “Pain mollet. A
very light, very crusty, and savory white bread, full of eyes,
leaven, and salt” in 1611, which is to say just well before the use
of yeast was approved by parlement (on March 21, 1670), and so it
must still have been made with old dough (though those who
favored using yeast were considered to be partisans of pain mollet,
since it would have made that bread much whiter and softer). In earlier times,
(when it was probably far less soft then after 1670), it had been
known as pain de bouche - “mouth bread”, possibly because
it was cooked near the mouth of the oven, though Legrand d'Aussy cites a statute from 1336 which distinguishes between the breads then used as plates (tranchoirs) and those for the mouth (that is, to eat during the meal), so one might readily see that as the origin as well.
A number of
eighteenth century breads are described collectively as being pains
mollets: pain blême,
pain cornu, pain de Gentilly, pain de condition, pain de Ségovie,
pain d'esprit, pain à café, à la mode, à
la Duchesse, à la citrouille, à la Montauron ou à
Note that this list - which appears verbatim in a number of texts - appears to have originated with Legrand d'Aussy, who wrote in 1782 that: "Most of these names no longer exist, because others have succeeded them, and in Paris, fashion is everything. But the use of butter, of milk, of salt, of brewer's yeast, still continues in the making of fine breads. These names are included under the general name of pains mollets". Unfortunately, several nineteenth century texts reproduce the list as if these breads were still current at that time.
of these appear to have been the same bread, renamed by fashion.
Others were variations on the basic soft bread, with more or less
butter, yeast or milk. All were also pains de fantaisie (fancy
breads; literally “fantasy breads”) - this was a category
of bread (breads made in non-standard ways), but then and later was
also used to refer to a specific bread.
Though the refinement of these breads was generally treated as an eighteenth century innovation, Legrand points out that butter and milk had been used (and outlawed) in earlier times. He also points out that the Gauls had used brewer's yeast for bread. So in fact the methods characteristic of the period's pains mollets were more revivals than innovations, even if few were aware of that at the time.
Throughout French history, the making of these breads was forbidden in times of famine or shortage.
gives instructions for making a subset of these, leaving the reader
to use this as a model for other variations. He does not, for
instance, give specific instructions for making the general pain
mollet, even though he provides several images of loaves
identified only as different weights of pain mollet:
Two of 1 pound and three of half-a-pound
Legrand says that in 1782 the smallest (for the table) weighed a quarter of a pound, the heaviest a half-pound.
gives recipes for both the “half-soft” (demi-mollet)
version and the pain mollet:
put a quarter of the dough with the leaven. Do not let it set too
long. When you see it is half ready, make set other dough with
yeast. When your leavens are ready, take slightly chilled water in
proportion to the mass of your dough. Make your dough a little
round, knead it two or three times. Take a little cold water,
which you will pour on your dough until it seems soft enough. Do
not let it start to ferment until you have shaped it. That done,
distribute it; cover your loaves with moist canvas or linen
covers. Your dough not taking in air, the bread will be that much
more yellow in the oven. Your oven must not be so warm as for gros
pain. Check the oven from time to time to see if your batch has
enough color. When it has enough color, let the baking finish with
the oven open.
some of the dough for pain
demi-mollet, a quarter of the
dough for the pain mollet
you want to make. Have dough mixed with yeast. Let the dough
ferment a little: then distribute it. For a one-pound baked loaf,
a pound and a quarter of dough is required; for a half-pound baked
loaf, ten ounces of dough are required. Take boards and canvas
called couches to cover; form the smallest loaves first, then the
others. Your oven must not be too hot for the last quarter.
pain à la reine is often said to be the same thing,
renamed after Marie de Medicis showed a preference for it and so the
composition would be the same.
Malouin provides (rare and valuable)
images of most of the related breads, though they do not always
correspond to other writers' descriptions of the breads and he does
not always provide instructions for those he shows.
de fantaisie is a category for
bread, referring to breads made out of the ordinary way (such as
The price for such breads was unregulated for much of French
history and so bakers commonly sold it underweight and at the
price they chose.
the term also has been applied to specific breads in different
eras. Malouin shows this image of a single pain
de fantaisie, even though
elsewhere he refers to a group of different pains
mollets as pains
de fantaisie ou de mode ("of fancy or of fashion"). He gives no
instructions for baking such a separate bread. However, the bread
appears to be a pain fendu
– that is, a split bread.
“split” in split breads was made in different ways at
different times. In the nineteenth century, when small pains
fendus were common in the way baguettes are now, the dough was
sometimes folded in along the middle. But the hand or arm was used
earlier, as explained by the Encyclopedie:
the scrapings of demi-mollet bread. Reinforce them with
flour.. Work them well, and break this dough into four pound
loaves, of two and one; always shape the smallest first. Split
these with the hand; the large with the arm. Put them in the
molds, and the molds in the oven in the first quarter of the heat.
For the same purpose, Jacques Mahou, a modern French baker, uses what looks like a pipe in this video on making pain fendu.
Four breads in one session
Malouin explains how to successively
make different specialty breads in the same session, offering these
as models for the many variations that existed:
would be still more superfluous to go into the details of making all
the different rolls, because they do not essentially differ, and
because.. custom changes, as a fashion. It will enough to serve as a
model to make small fancy breads, to offer the composition of the
four principle kinds of these breads, which are made almost at the
same time, and almost in the same way; that is, coffee bread, party
bread, or queen-style bread, Segovia bread, and horned bread.
make these fancy breads, one takes the best flour, which is that of
gruau; one spreads it in the base of the baking trough, at one end of
which, where one has made the fountain, one puts yeast and salt,
which are dissolved together in pouring there warm water and milk:
typically one puts as much water as milk.
Later he offers more specifics about
the ingredients, particularly in regard to pains
à café. But those for the others in the
group were probably similar:
general, an ounce of yeast is needed for each pint of milk. One uses
more yeast in proportion, when making less coffee breads; and to the
contrary less yeast is needed in proportion, when one makes more of
ounce and a half of yeast is needed when only a pint of milk is
used; and only nine ounces are needed with twelve pints of milk; one
puts in six ounces and a half in eight pints, and four ounces in four
pints: one always gains and in every way in working on a large scale.
quantity of salt must not be different, as I have just said must the
quantity of yeast, relative to the quantity of salt, or of the dough,
in proportion: which comes from the fact the action of the yeast is
greater in a large mass of dough than in a small, because a large
mass of dough rises more proportionately than a small.
does not have the same effect: its action is the same in a small mass
as in a grand, all proportions being the same.; if it is not that, as
in general all composition on a large scale gains more quality in
proportion than on a small, one can put in still less salt and yeast,
in this regard, in a large mass than in a smaller; it is why eleven
ounces of salt can suffice for twelve pints of milk, even though an
ounce of salt is the necessary amount for a pint of milk.
pint of three and a half pounds of milk takes about four pounds of
flour; and the whole together makes, twenty four rolls, at least; and
the most that one must make from this quantity of flour and milk, is
twenty-six rolls: the weight of each of these rolls must be a quarter
pound; and one must weigh five ounces two gros of dough to have four
ounces of this baked bread.
Pains à café
Pains à café
were rolls eaten with coffee.
spreads this mixture out towards the other end of the trough, and
there makes the coffee bread with the softest part. One makes
enter by means of yeast and salt, a lot of water with little flour
in the composition of coffee bread; this is why this bread is not
A later note says it is not
necessary to use butter for coffee bread, even if many think
Bouillard , a famous
baker, succeeded by doing this. Instead, by his own account,
blended yeast and salt in warm milk, without water. He only took
at first two thirds of all the milk he had to use; then he kneaded
all the flour in this part of the milk. He worked the dough more
than one normally does for these rolls, and he set it all to rise,
the better that it was less soft than if one had first used all
the milk to make it.
was the cream of the milk which he saved for last. When he was
ready to make his roll, he removed the upper part of the milk on
which the cream had gathered for seven or eight hours since the
milking. M Bouillard kept the milk in a vessel lightly covered
with clear linen, from around ten o'clock at night when he
received it, until he kneaded around two hours after midnight.
half-hour or three-quarters of an hour after having kneaded, he
blended this risen dough into the rest of the milk, and he formed
small loaves out of it. As soon as they started to rise, he put
them in the oven without letting them sit further. The warmth of
the oven finished making them rise, and it brought out, so to
speak, the cream, which put in at the end serves in place of
butter and is more appropriate. The baking gives a better taste to
the milk than the fermentation; it is why it is better to not
first put the milk to ferment with all the yeast; besides in this
method of M. Bouillard there is the advantage of softening the
dough in bassinant it and in re-kneading it with the remaining
third of the milk.
this method, coffee breads have a better taste and more of a look:
these three and a half ounce breads have more volume, than those
of four ounces, made in the usual way.
de festin (Party bread) or Pain
à la Reine (Queen's
treats pain de festin and pain à
one makes after the coffee bread, in going up, party bread, to
which one adds butter: most bakers also put in a little in making
coffee bread. In general, when one puts butter in any sort of
bread whatever, it is only used once the dough has been made.
say that the latter was less “seasoned” than the
former – meaning less salted? (Butter is sometimes also
referred to as a seasoning.) The pain
à la Reine
is defined as a pain
that is a split bread (like the
pain de fantaisie
shown earlier). The pain de
is said to be cut “in/on the top” with a long and
glazed with eggs, cooked in an open oven.
Encyclopedie gives these somewhat more ornate instructions for the
pain de festin;
a good yeast leaven. Put it in a third of the dough you have to
prepare. When it is ready, take chilled milk; blend your leavened
dough with this milk; work your dough a little, then take butter
and eggs. Add them to the dough. Do not let the dough be too soft;
make it solid and round. Let it rise a little, then shape it.
Shape the rolls first. Gently warm your oven. Once it is warm, cut
top of your loaves; gild them with eggs and put them in the oven.
When they start to brown, finish baking them with the oven open.
Several commentators say that pain à
la Reine was simply pain mollet, renamed to
reflect Marie de Medici's preference for it.
à la Ségovie/Sigovie
This was made with a harder dough
than those preceding (in general, the dough seems to get harder as
each successive bread is made.) It is sometimes described as
having a “head” in the middle, though Malouin's image
shows the corresponding bump at one end.
after the queen's bread, one kneads in the same way Segovia bread,
to which one typically gives some color by lightly moistening it
with a little water: there are bakers who blend a little egg yolk
into this water, it is with a sort of brush that one wets the
outside of the bread just before putting it in the oven.
In some places, where eggs were
forbidden during Lent, fish eggs were then used to glaze bread.
is from the firmest dough; it is made up of scrapings, gathered in
preparing the three other types of bread.
Of all the breads made in this
session, this and the artichoke bread were made from the strongest
and firmest dough.
Cotgrave describes it as ”a
loaf that is not round, but made with corners, or fashioned
ill-favouredly, and with uneven sides.“
Malouin's image shows what looks like four balls of bread stuck together, but the bread is often described as having four corners or even horns.
When the pain cornu had
more than four “horns”, it became a pain
rectangular “leaves”, which can be torn off, make it
look like an artichoke.
Malouin gives an image of the latter
but does not describe how to make it.
However, in his video (mentioned above) Jacques Mahou offers
this look at making the bread. A version using photographs is also available on the Ma Petite Cantine site.
Note that both create the form by rolling out a long
rectangle of dough, then scoring it halfway in along one side,
inch by inch. When the result is rolled up, it looks roughly like
an artichoke. However, given that period bakers made this out of
dough scrapings, they may have used a less elegant approach.
Malouin concludes this look at making
the model breads with this:
should only take two hours to make these four different sorts of
bread, including the time for baking; one puts these rolls on the
couche which separates them, as seen [in the plates]; one lets
them rise for half an hour or three quarters of an hour, according to
the quality of the yeast, and according to the temperature of the
Some other pains mollets or
pains de fantaisie would have been made in a similar way:
a la maréchale
Marshal's' Wife-style bread)
Chomel's explanation of how to make Pain
à la Montauron:
of Montauron is made by taking a bushel of the whitest flour you
can get, a quarter of which you will soak to make the leavening,
put in two handfuls of new yeast, or less if it is old and firm, a
handful of salt dissolved in warm water, and three chopines of
milk; an hour after, add in the rest of the flour which you will
knead very soft, you will shape the bread and put it to rise in
little wooden bowls, then put it in the oven, and when it is
baked, take it out and it cool on the side. An hour is enough to
Others say this bread was made with butter, showing how
imprecise some of these terms can be. Alternatively, others say
that the pain de Gentilly (Gentilly bread) was the same as
that of Montauron, but with butter added.
Pierre du Puget, Seigneur de Montauron was a famous financier
under Louis XIII; the name of the bread is of the same kind as
that of Oysters Rockefeller in modern times.
de Montauron was a native of Gascony. His magnificent style of
living, his profuse liberality and desire to excel in all things,
had gained him the sobriquet
"Son Eminence Gascone." So great was his celebrity that
shopkeepers named their best and finest goods, whether for the
table or for personal wear, " a
la Montauron." Richly-embroidered
gloves, the finest and most expensive lace kerchiefs or ties, were
et fichus, a la Montauron" a
cumbrous and more elegant in form, was "« la
short, this magnificent Seigneur de Montauron was the leader of
fashion, from gloves and fans, hats and feathers, glass, china and
silver plate, to the fine bread supplied for his table, which,
from its purity and whiteness, was called "pain
a la Montauron."
1754, the Journal oeconomique said
this bread was no longer made. But Montauron's name lives on nonetheless - Corneille dedicatd Cinna to him.
Pain à la Duchesse
makes the bread called pain à
la Duchesse with a little yeast, flour, milk and salt,
which is added to the normal soft dough, already made for soft
Malouin does not otherwise describe
this, but in later years at least this was often filled and in
fact may be the ancestor of the eclair. An English recipe gives an
idea of this:
the royal paste (No. 465), which you drop on a pasteboard in round
balls of an equal size, and then roll them lightly about the
length of a finger. Next lay them on a baking sheet, and with a
paste-brush dipped in milk wash them lightly over, and bake them
slowly; when done, open them at the bottom, and fill them with
sweetmeats, either apricot, barbary, or raspberry.
In 1783, it was already listed on a menu with other sweets and
Viard's recipe for the dough in 1806 is clearly for a sweet.
No explanation is ever given for this name, but in September
1740, the Duchess of Ventadour, being ninety, got special
permission to have soft bread at a moment when it was forbidden.
Perhaps this gave rise to the association of soft bread with a
Much like what would later be known as a “crown”
(couronne). It was broken up rather than cut to eat.
Malouin does not explain how to make it, but it was probably pain
mollet in a circle. Though his image shows a smooth ring, a
modern crown has indentations where the bread can be broken.
Pain mouton is
sometimes said to be a corruption of an abbreviation of pain
mutautus or pain molletum . However the image of
it as a little sheep corresponds well enough to a playful bread
made to be given as a gift at New Year's by servants to their masters' children (or, says Fournier, to poor children on their masters' behalf). It was basically a
standard pain mollet,
but glazed and sprinkled with wheat (some say to show that's what
it was made of, others that the grains symbolized the multiple riches to come.)
One dictionary says it was about the size of a tennis ball. (Guyot) Though it seems to have definitely been a bread, it was made by pastry-makers rather than bakers. (Savary des Bruslons)
This term refers not only to bread
that has been grated (see Period Considerations) but a type of roll, made with a
light, well-beaten dough, “seasoned” with butter or
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