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Eighteenth Century French Breads

Pain Mollet et al

  • Pain de fantaisie
  • Pain fendu
  • Four breads in one session
  • Pain à la Montauron
  • Pain à la Duchesse
  • Pain bourrelet
  • Pain de mouton
  • Pain chapelé

  • Pain mollet 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 la Maréchale, etc.

    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.

    Several 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.

    Malouin 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

    2 pounds

    Legrand says that in 1782 the smallest (for the table) weighed a quarter of a pound, the heaviest a half-pound.

    The Encyclopédie gives recipes for both the “half-soft” (demi-mollet) version and the pain mollet:

    Pain demi-mollet

    Only 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.

    Pain mollet

    Take 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.

    Otherwise, 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.

    Pain de fantaisie

    (Fancy bread)

    Pain de fantaisie is a category for bread, referring to breads made out of the ordinary way (such as pain mollet). 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.

    Confusingly, 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.

    Pain fendu

    (Split bread)

    The “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:

    Take 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:

    It 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.

    To 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:

    In 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 these breads.

    An 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.

    The 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.

    Salt 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.

    A 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

    (Coffee breads)

    Pains à café were rolls eaten with coffee.

    One 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 very filling.

    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,

    He 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.

    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.

    A 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.

    USING 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.

    Pain de festin (Party bread) or Pain à la Reine (Queen's style bread)

    Malouin treats pain de festin and pain à la Reine as synonymous.

    THEN 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.

    Others 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 fendu, that is a split bread (like the pain de fantaisie shown earlier). The pain de festin is said to be cut “in/on the top” with a long and glazed with eggs, cooked in an open oven.

    The Encyclopedie gives these somewhat more ornate instructions for the pain de festin;

    Take 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 a in/on 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.

    Pain à la Ségovie/Sigovie

    (Segovia bread)

    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.

    THEN, 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.

    Pain cornu

    (Horned bread)

    FINALLY, the Pain cornu 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.

    Pain artichaut

    (Artichoke bread)

    When the pain cornu had more than four “horns”, it became a pain artichaut,whose 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:

    It 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 air.

    Some other pains mollets or pains de fantaisie would have been made in a similar way:

    Pain à la Montauron

    (Montauron-style bread)

    Also called Pain a la maréchale

    (The Marshal's' Wife-style bread)

    Here is Chomel's explanation of how to make Pain à la Montauron:

    That 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 bake it.

    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.

    M. 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 of "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 "gants, et fichus, a la Montauron" a new caleche, less cumbrous and more elegant in form, was "« la Montauron." In 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."

    In 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

    (Duchess-style bread)

    One 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 bread.

    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:

    Duchess Bread.

    Make 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. (Narbonne)

    Perhaps this gave rise to the association of soft bread with a duchess?

    Pain bourrelet

    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

    (“Mutton bread”)

    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)

    Pain chapelé

    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 milk. (Diderot)

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