The French Bread Machine

I was a little surprised when I moved to France and learned that bread machines were popular here. I was equally surprised to see a generous selection of frozen breads at Picard, the chain of stores that spans across France which sport a comprehensive, and somewhat impressive, selection of frozen entrées, appetizers, main courses, and fancy desserts. Out of curiosity, I’ve tried a few things, and came to the conclusion that most of it tastes like the food you hoped to be served on an airplane, and might be if you were seated in business class.

Interestingly, I have not met a French person that ever had a bad think to say about Picard. In fact, a survey showed that it’s the most popular chain in France. Even people I know who are accomplished home cooks rave about it. I have to say that I like the frozen pitted sour cherries, and the corn kernels taste good to homesick Americans, especially when sautéed with ancho chile powder, butter, and cilantro, but I don’t crave frozen sushi nor do I need (or have space in my freezer for) a bag of already chopped onion pieces.

I think I can explain the appeal of the bread machine. French people are attracted to novelties and although they haven’t reached SkyMall-style proportions—you won’t see any uvula sterilizers or Big Foot lurking in the Luxembourg Gardens, things like tabletop machines that make raclette (when a regular skillet does the same thing), a toaster that sits high on stilts so the toast drops out of the bottom, requiring twice the usual amount of room (a real boon for space-challenged Parisian kitchens…), and serving food in bite-sized amuses-bouches resting in spoons or teensy-tiny casseroles, make folks smile with delight.

They find them all vraiment sympa. A French friend who lives just outside Paris in the suburbs explained to me that people who reside in the countryside don’t have access to fresh bread, so the frozen loaves are a godsend for them.

(Which doesn’t explain why the 108 Picard stores in Paris are so well-stocked with frozen bread. But each time I see les bagels in their deep-freeze chests…well, a little voice inside my head, that I’ve been able to ignore, has begged me to bring a package home.)

I’ll admit to giving precious real estate in my always-packed freezer to bread myself, albeit fresh loaves I’ve purchased, for a variety of reasons:

One is that I have certain favorite boulangeries where I get my bread and 2) I can’t get to them daily, 3) If I ate a whole loaf of bread everyday, people would think I was enceinte (pregnant), and 4) Bakeries by law close two days of the week, and those are usually the days I happen to always find myself out of bread.

Bakeries also close for les congés, which are official vacation periods. Normally bakeries work in tandem with the other bakeries in the neighborhood—and with the government, so that we, the people, don’t have to go too far for fresh bread. Although the other night, it was about 11:19pm and I realized that there was no bread for the next morning, and the two bakeries on my block were closed.

Luckily there is a branch of one of the major French supermarkets, that opened smaller shops dotted throughout the city that are—get this—open until midnight. Yes, that’s right. And they’re quite busy, from the moment they open right up to their midnight closing time. Romain calls them “the stores for les célibataires” since come dinnertime, there’s always a long line of young single people just coming off work and still in business attire, lined up at the checkouts, clutching salads and sandwiches packed in plastic boxes, which have been neatly pre-packed in individual portions.

But everyone, single or otherwise, has the right to fresh bread, even if they have to suffer the indignity of buying five leaves of lettuce with a plastic packet of dressing and calling it “Salad for One.” And when I saw this giant machine, the size of a small truck, right in the store, I had to try it out. You drop in a €1 coin, wait about 60 seconds for the bread to bake, then it cools the bread for another 30 seconds. A touch screen lets you monitor the progress every second of the way. It also lets you know the ingredients&Mdash;but would it kill them to put in a window? I’d love to what’s going on in there.

Then it’s ready and you slide the door open and pull out your presumably fresh, hot baguette du jour. I won’t comment on the taste or texture, but I don’t think they’re going to put any bakeries out of business soon.




Other Interesting Machines in France

Raw Milk

Bread

Vegetables

Frites

Pizza

84 comments

  • I never have understood the appeal of Picard in France, it just seems so contrary to the way most people that I know there cook. That baguette machine is a little scary, 60 seconds???

  • Haha, I love it! I think that’s really interesting about the frozen prepared food. I would think many French would shun it, too, but I guess you have the time-crunched yuppies in Paris like any other city! I hate that we don’t have boulangeries here in the US. Some gourmet stores (Fresh Market) sell good baguettes, but it’s not the same. I’ve had French gas station baguette sandwiches on better bread than what some other stores sell here. I have a dream of opening a boulangerie in Knoxville, but I’m not sure the cultural practice of buying fresh bread daily would translate here. For now, I just keep the good baguettes I do find in the freezer– the texture is affected once defrosted, but it’s the closest I have! Eat a baguette slathered in butter for me today, David!!

  • Kristin: I’d like to know if the bagettes are already partially cooked, or frozen, or what. Which is why I’d love to see what’s going on in that machine. I get invited to trade shows from time to time here (which I find fairly depressing with their automated crêpe-making machines and bread pastry mixes), but next time I might go and see how this machine works inside.

    Food Hound: Yes, everyone works so much, they don’t have the leisure time to go to the market, and I think they just want something they can pop in the microwave after work. I don’t know how much space people have in their freezers (most freezers in Paris are tiny) so I think people must stop into Picard after work. I do buy frozen fruit there because raspberries and blueberries are outrageously expensive in Paris, even in season (and at the markets, they’re not the handpicked ones from the countryside, but from big commercial growers), but I don’t think I’m the target consumer for a lot of the other offerings there.

  • I do a lot of shopping at Picard – with the way my job is (traveling ~2 weeks per month), I don’t always have time to 1) buy fresh produce and 2) use it up before my next trip. So all of their frozen, chopped veggies have been a lifesaver for me, especially since otherwise I would probably just get takeout pizza – but now I can make a healthy meal in minutes. I also like their frozen bread for the days when I’m too lazy to run to the boulangerie (and the bagels make great sandwiches at lunch). But then again, we have a freezer the size of an American fridge, so we’ve got the room…

    We also have a bread machine that I use quite frequently to make brioche, whole wheat breads, sweet breads, etc. It’s great to be able to set it at night and wake up to the smell of a piping hot loaf of bread. (ie instead of having to get dressed, do my hair, & put on my make-up and run out in the cold to the bakery).

  • Maybe inside or behind the bread machine there is a guy (or gal) sitting with a bunch of fresh loaves and a timer:)

  • On the cooking sites here in the states, I see that many people use the bread maching as a mixing and proofing device but form and bake the dough in regular bread pans more often than not. The shape of the loaves that are baked in the machines are so big and round and odd looking! Now, that coin operated bread baker that you picture here is quite the machine! It must use a brown and serve sort of loaf, don’t you think? Was the crust crisp like from the bakery?

  • I spotted a similar ATM type automated machine here, that served pizza. And although we were curious we didn’t try it before the restaurant closed.

  • I get the stuffed turkey for Thanksgiving at Picard and really like it although I miss the huge amount of white meat you find on American turkeys-the Mae West of the species. They also have a champagne ice cream that comes in little plastic champagne-shaped bottles and I occasionaly get some frozen Chinese food for times my frig is empty. I like their Coquilles St Jacques as well. I think gourmet frozen food is an amazing idea and their prices are very reasonable. I haven’t tried their bread though. My husband always goes to the boulangerie each day.

  • They must be mostly baked and then heated to make people think that they’re fresh. But really, you don’t have to be a professional baker to know that bread takes longer than 60 seconds to bake.

  • I have also seen a similar machine for pizza in France. I wanted to try it, just for the novelty of it, but alas, my American credit card did not have the mandatory “puce”, same reason we found the “velib” style rental bicycles off limits :(

  • As idyllic as it may appear to be, living in the French countryside has its downsides.
    There’s only one boulangerie in my village and if its offering were any good, I wouldn’t mind the daily drive for a fresh baguette or two (although it wouldn’t be “green”, but that’ another discussion altogether!).
    Unfortunately, it only sells bland “industrial” bread and the few croissants and pains au chocolat always seems to sell out before the sparrows fart…
    As the nearest alternative requires a 15 km drive, I simply choose to make bread and brioches at home, using either a MAP ( machine à pain) or a recipe from Bread in 5 (which I’m confident you know about).
    I’m sure a lot of women who own and use a MAP (yes, the users are mostly women) do so for the very reasons mentioned by ksam above.
    When Aldi and Lidl in France sell bread-makers which cost less than 50€, it becomes that much easier to discover the possibilities on offer and hopefully progress from bread mixes to mixing your own.

  • Wonderful film!

    I think the early 1970s, when I was living in Paris, are now widely considered to have been the nadir of both French and English bread-making. Certainly you almost never saw anything other than industrial baguettes in France, and in a restaurant they were the default bread that was served. And we will not even think about the disgusting English white loaf of the era…. Suffice it to say, I am glad that times have changed in both countries!

    I do make my own bread, but it’s not great for sandwiches, so only once a week.

  • Oh mon Dieu, j’y crois pas! I sent this post to my Dad (French Canadian heritage) in Massachusetts who is going to start a Baguette business in his retirement, at least there are some purists left in this world! Great post, so enlightening and thanks for sharing this!!

  • Hmmm. It would not surprise me if a baked loaf was simply zapped with an infra-red heat source to quickly warm it up all the way through.

    My cheapo bread machine from the Aldi is on the way to Emmaüs after a few years of use. Not only is the nonstick tin coating scratched from the hard crust on the kamut loaves I always baked but I have learnt that kamut and spelt must be handled very gently and certainly not kneaded because their short/delicate gluten structure collapses otherwise. Great to finally find out why my loaves always collapsed and became so dense.

  • “Normally bakeries work in tandem with the other bakeries in the neighborhood—and with the government, so that we, the people, don’t have to go too far for fresh bread.” I’ve shared with my students that there has to be at least one bakery open every day because it is a right for the French people to have fresh bread and that this stems from the Revolution. Une française told me this, but I can’t find an actual law. Do you know if there is a law, or is it just a suggestion and/or good practice? Merci, d’avance.

  • Interesting…and love the video! I’m guessing the machine is half freezer and half oven. There are machines like that in the States…and as you can imagine, nothing terribly good comes out of them.

  • As I read your blog I am eating a fantastic baguette from the Sullivan Street Bakery in Little Italy… Crusty and delicious.. Best to you Dave.. You ROCK my world !!!

  • Sousceyrac in France: I find it interesting that in the countryside, it’s hard to find good bread (as you mentioned) but that in Paris, the bread is generally very good. I don’t understand why that is, but whenever we go out to the countryside, we always bring loaves of bread with us from Paris because the bread out there is invariably that puffy, industrial stuff. It’s so unfortunate and you’d think out in the countryside, there’d be better bakeries. But perhaps people out there aren’t into baking bread anymore or there isn’t the demand.

    Kim: I’m sure it is indeed a law, which is probably written on the official signs that bakeries put in their windows when they close. A commenter down the row here posted a link to it.

  • No, you can’t see inside the machine because then you’d see the little man they’ve locked in there baking bread in 30 seconds flat. I am disturbed by such a machine but it cannot begin to compete with the fake, processed crap that is passed off as food here in the US now. Pop Tarts, anyone?

  • Poor David, missing your authentic bagels! I hate to tell you this but I made a load of them yesterday (from scratch of course). Lovely, chewy bagels, mmm.
    I hate to think what sort of bread is turned out by the automatic dispenser! I used to use a bread machine mostly to make dough but it got that it was too small to cope with our needs and now I just use a Kenwood stand mixer. Making my own bread and such (including Danish and proper buttery,flaky croissants) is a passion. Needless to say, people tend to pop by around coffee time…..let me know if you are near Alicante any time!

  • Quelle horreur ! Et elle était mangeable cette baguette?

  • A baguette vending machine-what next?! A croissant-o-matic? Mom wants to get rid of her bread machine, I’m thinking of asking for it, just to speed the rise process of homemade bread. Can’t stand the “propellor” hole left in the bread if you bake it in the machine.

  • I’ve been to Picard a couple of times, when I absolutely had to have real lamb fillets, because they’re the only place I know of that stocks them (frrozen, from NZ of course, but a damn sight better than nothing).

    Frozen fruits rouges and such are convenient, but we’re lucky enough to live somewhere we can go and pick blackberries in the autumn, so that’s what goes into the freezer – when there’s any left. Along with puréed apricots and nectarines in season for a charlotte au fruits et fromage blanc.

    Otherwise I have to say that the pictures on the Picard sachets do look attractive, but then I weigh the 300gm pack in my hands, look at the €15 price tag, and think WTF? And I’d much prefer to buy noix de St Jacques (even frozen ones at Carrefour), flambé the poor suckers in whisky and finish them off in white wine and cream with garlic and chives …

    It’s sadly true about home cooking here though. A lot of city-dwellers seem to have decided that they simply don’t have the time to cook and consequently buy frozen crap to reheat: which is a shame because it’s cheaper and not really any more complicated to eat well. Does require a bit of organisation though, I admit

  • Trevor: I’m always surprised at how loyal people are to Picard, and how much they rave over the food. Yes, it’s convenient and it’s not bad, it’s still frozen food and I’ve never had anything there that was especially wonderful. (The frozen fruits, and some vegetables are fine, and the ice creams are good.) There’s kind of a joke that when people have parties, they rush downstairs to toss the Picard boxes before guests arrive.

    I miss all those lovely berries. When I go to the markets outside of the city, I always buy as many as I can eat. If I had a bigger freezer, I’d stock up even more. So I guess like Les Halles was “The Belly of Paris”, Picard is “The Freezer of Paris.”

    la cochinera loca: Pas de tout!

    sandra: There are a few people here that make good bagels and surprisingly, a few stores sell frozen H&H bagels from New York. And what’s even more surprising, is that they’re cheaper than if you buy them at the store in New York.

  • When I was a poor student in Paris, I found that buying a bag of ready to cook veggies in Picard was actually less expensive than buying them from the greengrocer. Silly but there you go. Having said that, my Mom – an outstanding cook – loves their fancy cakes and sauces that she can work upon as a base. A trip to Picard when I get back to France is quite a psychedelic experience for me (as are the dairy products aisles in any French supermarkets!)

  • Allo! I’m the Dad Nicole talked about and this story heartens me to stay the course on my mission of equipping people to bake their own baguettes. I won’t put my url here in deference to your policy but I invite you to check my site for more info on my work! And I’ll look for a comment from you for what you think!
    Meanwhile I look forward to following your work.

    Robert

  • Interesting post David. I was a bit amused and bemused by the content. I, having only been to France once, was under the impression that fresh baked bread was happily consumed by all.

    I’m a breadhead so I must say it’s a bit disappointing, but considering our cultures tendencies to go fast, not all that surprising. I had just assumed France was still behind the times in the fast food wars. Should have known better. I had a bread machine in the 80′s, actually burned it out from over use. It made passably good bread, but you can’t make a baguette in it.

    That said, there’s been a huge renaissance in breadmaking here in the states over the last few years. From Peter Reinhart’s recipes which will make you understand the science and patience of making a quality bread to Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois’s Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day and many others, it’s a good time to be a bread baker.

    Thanks for an interesting take from the other side of the pond.

  • Glenn: There’s still plenty of outstanding bread to be had in Paris (I know, because I eat it every day) however there’s a certain amount of mediocre bread, and Harry’s Bread (which they call “American Sandwich Bread”) and according to their website 2/3rds of French households consume their products.

    I think Americans are now baking bread because it’s harder to find good bread in the states; in spite of the fact that there are excellent bread bakeries in the US, there’s not a bread bakery on every corner like there is in Paris. I do know some people in Paris who make their own bread because they like to do it, and they prefer it to the bread they can get in the bakeries. But I don’t think people here feel the need to bake bread at home when they can get it so easily at the bakery.

    (Plus there isn’t that DIY movement that’s taking place in the states happening here. Someone asked me recently if people in Paris has chickens in their back yard, for example…um..)

  • The apparent acceptance of these various sorts of convenience foods just points to what I’ve always thought–French culture is complex and pretty much unfathomable!

    I was interested to learn that food markets stay open late and apparently attempt to accommodate customers there. When I lived in Germany, admittedly several decades ago, ALL stores closed up tight by suppertime–a law, I think. Plus, they were all closed on Saturdays, except for one Saturday a month–which was called “lange Samstag,” “long Saturday.” Of course, the crowds were enormous. It was a nightmare for working women–maybe even was instituted to discourage them from working!? After four years of that, when we returned to the States for about a year we would go to shopping malls in the evening and just revel in leisurely wandering around!

    Noticed you were following–thanks a lot!

  • David, this was both enlightening and depressing. I like to imagine that all French food is artisan quality. Alas. But, since I think the Slow Food movement originated in Italy, countries everywhere are dealing with this same issue.

    I was interested to see that that machine indicated the bread contains gluten. Is gluten-free becoming a trend in Paris like it is in the States? We’ll be visiting in June and I am wondering how difficult it will be to find gluten-free items. Thanks for the slice of life!

    • Stephanie: There’s not much attention paid to gluten-free issues that I’ve seen although perhaps that’s changing and many of natural food stores and some supermarkets carry gluten-free products. You can read more at my post Gluten-Free Paris.

  • Thanks for your response David. I knew there was great bread in France, because when I was there, I was in heaven. While traveling we stopped in a little village 30 or 40 kilometers from Paris, and I had a hollowed out baguette with a sausage in it-it was an unreal experience.

    I make my own bread out of necessity-we live in the Adirondacks and there is nary a bakery to be found (or a decent pizzaria for that matter). We’d have to travel too many miles. Hence my exploration into breadmaking over the past year or two.

    Now about those chickens………

  • Nancy, I’m pleased to report that my local German supermarket is now open until midnight Monday-Saturday – and I’m not in a particularly hip or touristy city. Now, if you run out of milk on a Sunday afternoon, on the other hand…

    (I bake bagels, but nothing else – I can make decent bread but there’s so many good bakeries around here, I don’t see the point. I cycle past the best one in town on the way to and from work, so I don’t even have to go out of my way.)

    Will be in Paris for a few days next month, so a bread comparison should be interesting.

  • Don’t be suckered into the Picard bagels! We tried them, and they taste a lot like Lenders Bagels, which isn’t surprising since they’re frozen. We’ve had to make our own if we want a decent bagel.

    We do love our tabletop raclette maker, thought. And the fondue pots, and the crepe maker. It’s just so nice to sit at the table as a family and cook your dinner, as opposed to running in and out of the kitchen, especially with crepes and raclette, which get cold so quickly. The kids love it!

  • Good heavens. I find this machine very disturbing indeed – and in France no less! The bread has to be pre-baked and just heated up. What next??

  • Love your description of Picard food, I am not a big fan myself, it quite accurately tastes like business class food, in the best of case. But I do admit that I’ve been very tempted to try the bagels… :)

  • David, were did you get the ancho chile powder, please?
    I am dreaming of ancho chiles.

    A lot of people here have a bread maker. I don’t get it, bakeries have very good fresh bread even on Sundays. I’d rather bake lemon bars. ;-)

    Btw, I miss some of the bakeries in Washington, DC, Firehook Bakery, Uptown Bakers, Marvelous Market and the Breadline near the White House. They make excellent artisan breads.

  • Just to chime in about Picard: I do think they have some great products! I used to go there every now and then to buy a variety of things, like fruits, chopped vegetables, mini-pizzas for an aperitif, ice creams, moelleux au chocolat… Never tried their bread there though. I now live in Boston, MA, and I have to admit that I miss Picard! (among other things, like boulangeries, of course, oh my god, I miss good bread so much)

  • I have a confession to make: I did fall into Picard’s net for a while. It must have been some temporary incapacity of some sorts, I guess, but when it opened in Milan I went crazy about it – somehow I found its ice cream irresistible, and I loved the escargots. What really won me over at first was the sheer variety. I must have been a bit mad – at a given point I realized it was just expensive frozen food with pretty pictures on the package.

    Had I not seen the movie, I wouldn’t have believed your story about the bread automatic machine. So cute that the baguette comes out with no wrapper at all, to be brought around under the armpit, real French style :)

  • he,he, I’m sadly going to admit that I like the bagels;-) To add insult, my daughter puts peanut butter and jelly on them in the morning. I’m also guilty of the cut up onions! Two kids, no nounou and a husband on the road every week, makes Picard my go to store on a regular basis, I know the cashiers, that’s so sad and comforting at the same time;)

  • I’ve never understood Picard’s popularity either, but every French person I know LOVES Picard—or says they do. I think it’s because it’s expensive and attractively packaged, and of course, convenient. I tell friends that home cooking in much of modern Paris is back a bit, like the US in maybe the 70′s when convenience foods were still seen as liberating and time-saving. The current generation’s mothers raced home from work at 7 and still had to prepare a meal from scratch by 8:00. They don’t have to, so they don’t. What I don’t get is why go to Picard when you could get delicious take out from a charcuterie or other store in your neighborhood. Is it cost?

  • things like tabletop machines that make raclette (when a regular skillet does the same thing)

    That’s interesting! My only experience with raclette was twenty years ago sitting around a table with friends in Dijon using a tabletop machine, and it’s never occurred to me that there’s any other way to have it other than by using a machine. What I thought they did with raclette before the machines were invented I have no idea:).

  • I think it would be quite great, although I have not eaten a baguette from this gadget, a part of me admires how we French like to preserve (cooking, baking methods)… but, I think if the gadget doesn’t compromise the taste… thumbs up?

  • I must admit that I almost always have frozen fruit (and sometimes vegetables) in my freezer. There are times when the convenience over-rides other things. I’ve never bought frozen bread, but unfortunately we use it at the restaurant where I work. We make our own breadsticks, but buy frozen baguettes. I understand why we do it, but I wish we had enough staff to make our own!

  • We have that other well known French chain – Carrefour – here in Dubai, and it’s nothing to write home about (except for the occasional cheese) and the bread is really bad.

    I’ve never liked bread machines for the home. The principle of bread making is that you put the risen bread into a very hot oven and the bread maker warms up slowly to give a really strange texture.

    I keep meaning to be organised enough to stock my freezer with my own bread all the time. Alas, a few rolls seem to be the best I can manage.

    Interesting post – very revealing about the French.

  • LOVED the bread machine video! Who knew? I thought some of the vending machines in Asia were wild and innovative, but this takes the cake (or the baguette as the case may be). I love that they include the ingredients as well. So ‘continental’. Thanks for sharing the experience with us.

  • David, sadly, the bagels in the US have gone on a downward spiral. I don’t know how H&H Bagels are (I recently learned that the H&H in midtown, which I have tried, is not related to the one on the upper east side) but if Dean & Deluca carries them, they must be better than average. Ed Levine wrote a very interesting article in the NY Times years ago called “Was Life Better When Bagels Were Smaller”. (You can find it through Google.) It’s very sad, but Bruegger’s Bagels are more authentic than most you find in NYC these days.

  • Merde! You know, the sad thing about French bread machines and Picard is what they represent, at least to me. For years now I’ve been reading (with some alarm) about the disappearing cafe culture in France, and now I suppose I can lump the eventual demise of the friendly neighborhood boulangeries and bistros into that depressing mix. Is it because we, as a global culture, are becoming more social online than we are in person? Are we rushing home after work so that we can check Facebook for friend requests and then Tweet about our day, instead of hanging out at the local bistro to catch up in person?

    It’s been a bit over 2 years (long ones) since my last visit to Paris. While I don’t expect that it will seem too different the next time I’m in town, I do worry that someday I’ll get there only to feel like the Paris I know and love is gone.

  • Don’t understand the french fidelite to Picard – I think Susan’s right – the packaging and the price. It’s buying a little treat, shopping therapy? Much more Parisian than South of France I find.

    I was in mid cooking lesson last fall when my French assistante(?) said “no-one in Paris would ever do this – they would just go to Picard.” Merci!

  • David, don’t run out of bread again.

  • Different cultures are so interesting! My husband and I have travelled extensively in France and even the smallest village usually had at least one good bakery. It was noticeable in more recent years though that the quality of the baguettes and croissants could vary considerably.
    Here in Spain, there is little in the way of what I would class as artisan bread, hard to find good bread with seeds or grains, sourdough or anything like that.
    In the UK, I did try bagels from the supermarket (an upmarket one) but they were horrible, tasteless things only suitable for using as frisbees. Knowing that Americans are so fond of their bagels and feeling I must be missing out, was what got me to try making my own.
    I still have variable results baking baguettes, but domestic ovens are not geared towards doing those properly.
    One curious thing I have found – our local spanish supermarket sells small cubes of compressed yeast, next to the butter. They must sell a reasonable amount of it but I have never seen anyone but me reach for it! (Must be an army of baking pixies going in at night….:)

  • Tricia: I wonder if the other part of the appeal of Picard is that they’re really clean, the people who work there are pleasant, they have sturdy plastic bags and pack your groceries for you..and most of all, they don’t give you a hard time if you don’t have exact change.

    Will: I think part of it is the ‘novelty’ factor and the other part is, like America in the 50s-90s, everyone was in to convenience over taste. Plus it’s just much easier to get your groceries in a large hypermarket if you live in the countryside, where they have parking and you can buy all your stuff in one place, or in Paris, if you get off work at 7pm and the supermarkets close at 8pm, I think the last thing people want to do is stand in line buying groceries.

    merisi: I buy it at Central Market when I’m in Texas and bring it back to France with me. Korean red pepper powder (called gochugaru), available in Asian markets in France, is very good. And of course, so is pimente d’Espelette from the Basque region.

    Gavrielle: I was at someone’s house who had one and she said she loved it and it was a lot of fun. I can see sitting around a table sharing raclette- am not sure I would want to do it around a machine (and I barely have space in my apartment for another dozen eggs)–but they haven’t invited me over yet for raclette, so I guess I should reserve my judgement :

  • Parisians have a right to fresh bread due to a law dating from the FRENCH REVOLUTION. That same law regulates how bakeries are to stay open during July and August, you will find details as the time comes in newspaper Le Parisien but also on the city of Paris website http://www.paris.fr (comes with a page in English)
    How can a bread machine be a novelty I just do not believe it.
    But PICARD is as his wife once told me a “true liberator of women”.
    I absolutely love its impressive varieties of lush vegetables
    mushrooms, berries, soups, sauces, let alone luxuries such as foie grasfilled chapon or pintade.Desserts are famous such as the fondants au chocolat.
    Monsieur Picard himself born l955 has now sold the family business to the British food industry which does not promise well for the future.
    As is the fashion of not a few very well- to- do´s these days he is devoting himself to cultivating wine, having bought two vineyards in the Bordeaux district.
    .

  • David: The village boulangerie is consistently full between 11:45 and 12:15, Tuesday to Sunday. Its popularity owes nothing to the quality of the bread on sale and everything to the scarcity of any competitor.
    From a commercial point of view, there is little incentive for a new business to open or for an existing one to seek a growing base where a lot of their potential customers do not indicate a need for better or more.
    It is a story repeated through all areas removed from the tourist trail.
    If you have the time and opportunity during your next travels to the Lot, take a drive to the less popular areas to the north and experience for yourself what daily life is in the French countryside… but bring your own bread!

  • Do all the bakeries take their congé at the same time? I went round to our local bio boulanger only to see the same note on the door……I’ve just had to have a slice of that disgusting white sliced bread that my husband likes for his toast and marmalade in the mornings…….’cause thats all there was in the house and its Monday morning and all the other boulangers have the day off!

  • Have now read more comments and am feeling left out that I’ve never been to Picard and hadn’t heard of it until a friend mentioned it to me when I was looking for Cranberries for Christmas, but I don’t even know where the nearest one is…….does that make me ‘Provencial’ (‘scuse the pun!)

  • Do Picard charge higher prices in Paris or something? I’ve always found them very reasonable. I’ve never travelled business class, but the few ready meals I’ve had from them were perfectly acceptable, a lot better than any airline food I’ve ever had, and not expensive at all. Wouldn’t serve them to guests though — except maybe some of the desserts, which are really very good.

    As far as other stuff goes: you can’t get soft fruit around here at any time of year — or if you do see any, they are charging 5 euros for a punnet of ten raspberries. So I’m glad I can buy frozen ones from Picard. I can buy souris d’agneau there too — good luck getting those from the local butcher! My aunt buys the chopped red peppers for making chutney — they save time and are often cheaper than fresh. And as you said, they are clean, reliable quality, and have friendly staff. So there are quite a few good reasons for going to Picard.

  • That is hilarious. Please – oh – please, can you give me the name and location of that store where the bread machine is? I want to bring my bf and show him so he can laugh his little French cul off!

  • That video was fun to watch… thank you for sharing it. I learn so many things here!

  • The second bread machines became available in the US, sometime in the 80′s, I think, I had to have one. I used to use it quite a lot, but than abandoned it completely in favor of making bread by hand. I have a new one, I never use, but I might drag it out just for rising. That’s a good idea. I’m in love with the Sullivan Street no-knead bread recipe and make that quite often. It never fails.

  • …and here I am with my “Pasta Madre” ,(sourdough ?) in the fridge!

  • Well, now here I sit trying to consume the most revolting protein shake ever (is there a good one?) dreaming about even a bread machine baguette! I vote with the crowd that thinks the technology is little workers inside the machine – but I thought in France they were all animated rats!

    Oh culture – where have you gone?

  • My daughter and I stayed for a month across from a Picard In Montmartre……and so enjoyed the accessibilty to the wonderful, sterile, clean store, which is good when one is talking “food”. We were overwhelmed at whatever we purchased and loved it. It was sweet to see the doggies sitting outside waiting for their masters to shop. After a lunch at Laperouse, we might have a plum tart from Picard, for our evening snack. I thought Picards was an incredible place….the cleanliness, the choices were extra ordinary and the prices………..so fair. I LOVE PARIS.

  • The French eat frozen sushi? This is shocking. My french friends stateside refused to try my raspberry vinagrette because it is too sweet and “in France our friends would laugh at us if we like the Americains.”

  • Thank you, David! :-)

  • I’m French and I am no exception: I love Picard. Their desserts, ice creams and entrées are delicious. Their fish and herbs, frozen fruit and veggies are very good too, when you want to cook from scratch on a weekday, but don’t have the time to run to the poissonnier or the primeurs, or missed the sunday market.

    Some commenters seem to believe these automated bread selling machines are a common sight. Be reassured: they’re not. At all. I’ve never seen one, in Paris or anywhere else. The traditional bakery is far from dying. You should see the lines at virtually every bakery before closing time on weekdays!

    I’ve seen an automated pizza machine, though, on a street in downtown Cholet, and I remember taking a picture of it because it reminded me of the machines on the streets in Japan selling anyone from coffee cans to cigarettes to underwear or umbrellas. I was not courageous enough to try ordering and eating one of the pizzas, I have to admit!

  • i have to admit i’m amazed. a fresh bread vending machine? wow. while i’m sure the quality is not that great, you have to give it for the french for taking their bread seriously enough to require something like this. beats wonderbread any day!

  • Here in Melbourne, Australia you can find delicious artisan breads and a few bagel shops in some select suburbs. Some of the bagel shops sell their wares at the local supermarkets now… but of course they NEVER taste the same. I think if it’s not fresh, no matter where it comes from, the bread will be deficient.

    Being a bread making enthusiast from the age of 8, (now 41) I recently discovered that I’m allergic to WHEAT. How I miss my wholemeal breads… and lebanese pizzas… greek spanakopita… pasta… muffins… donuts… cakes… so much sadness. The world is a wheat lover’s paradise.

    I love reading your recipes that happen to be wheat free because they’re meant to be, not because they’ve been adapted.

    NB: A trick my family used to do with day old or frozen bread was to heat it in the oven for a few minutes and eat it hot.

  • Here in SW France, we still have good boulangeries in the countryside – enough that we buy some types of bread from some boulangeries, and other types from others. And, of course, vienoiserrie(sp?) from somewhere else. But even so, I still bake bread myself from time to time, because I can’t find certain types of bread here, anywhere. One recipe in particular (a rye) is out of a book on French bread, supposedly from Honfleur, bit I haven’t seen it anywhere. I have made some changes to it, and can almost do it by memory. Also, I make an Italian pannetone that is much better than what you can b uy at LeClerc or Carrefour.

    Frozen food, however, is still a mystery for us, except for the bags of mixed small seafood that we use for risotto – just right. We need to check out a Picard.

  • Okay, I might have to pick a fight with your suburbanite friend! There used to be three bakeries in the nearby village, population 1050. There are now two. Each has its thing it’s better at. That’s one village, in the other direction there’s another bakery. The baguettes taste distinctly different at each one. While I think very generally speaking that baguettes aren’t what they used to be across broad swathes of France (a creeping uniformity brought on by flour sourced from the same mega-producer?), I do not think that the French suffer in the countryside, assuming we aren’t talking extremely isolated spots. They don’t have the enormity of choice Parisians do, but they do have choice. If some choose to freeze, it is generally speaking because they like the convenience, which is another matter.

    In the Cevennes, croissants are not automatically pur beurre, a traditional preference brought on by Protestant stinginess in this, one of the historically and currently poorest regions in the country. They add their own pat of butter to their croissant here. I say Beurk! to that. I chatted up my favorite baker, who explained that he once tried selling pur beurre croissants. They remained on the shelf and customers complained about the high price. So he went back to making them the way (most of) his customers like them. Which is where Picard comes in. I am generally underwhelmed by Picard, but I keep going for their mini pur beurre croissants. Seriously? So good. And small enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed. Just the thing to perfume the house when your overnighting, Parisian friends wake, hungry for breakfast.

    PS: also good at Picard: the tarte fine with creme fraiche, jambon and tomates cerises. Put your empty baking tray in first to properly preheat it, and once it’s nice and crispy, have this with a luscious salad. Such zingy flavors and crispness, better than anything I ever had in business class. Fin du pub…

  • You’d be amazed by how little most Parisians cook. Many, many people only have room for a tiny fridge, a 2-burner tabletop range, and a microwave. If they have an oven, it’s usually a mini-oven. I can see how Picard is a lifesaver to many, especially working parents. Even those who do cook will rely on their frozen soups and vegetable purées and so on. I like their frozen peas, artichoke bottoms, wild mushrooms, berries, puff pastry, and am very happy to have their fish on hand for a quick meal.

  • Haha, a baguette vending machine – only in Paris!
    I agree, it needs a window. I suspect that it’s par-baked, then refrigerated. It didn’t look very dark, maybe it just gets sort of toasted in the 60 seconds? Still very cool though!

    p.s. Please post more videos if you can. It’s so great to see the things you write about come to life!

  • LOVED this post!!!

  • I had been hearing about Picard for a long time, and decided to try it on this past trip for our jet lag night dinner – just last week. We loved it! Swanson it was not. I had rabbit in olive sauce with wild rice; my husband had the beef tongue with pommes purées. We bought a dessert, which we ended up having the next night for Valentine’s (home cooked meal that night, though) which was also pretty good. I’m not saying I would want it all the time, but I so get why Parisians love it.

  • Hello David, Interesting about your friend’s take on Picard in the French countryside. The countryside is where we live, and I can tell you there isn’t a Picard store within 25 miles of our house. Picard stores are located in large towns and cities. So we certainly can’t count on Picard for our bread.

    A lot of people out here in the country buy their bread, including baguettes, pains de campagne, and boules, at SuperU, Intermarché, or other medium-sized grocery chains.

    Here around Saint-Aignan, we have 6 or 7 boulangeries, but all of them are a 2, 3, or 5 mile drive from our house. But wait — we have bread delivered to our house by the closest boulanger, and delivery happens four days a week. The porteuse de pain is one of our favorite people. Delivery was 5 days a week until a year or so ago, but then they canceled the Monday delivery because they weren’t selling enough bread to make it worthwhile.

    The boulangerie in our village just outside the town of Saint-Aignan is open 6 days a week. It closes only one day — on Wednesdays. Other boulangeries all around are open that day. But with delivery, we don’t get to try them very often. I wonder if there is a national law requiring boulangeries to be closed 2 days a week. Or maybe there’s an exception for boulangeries that are the only ones in their village.

    I’ve heard boulangers say they are glad people are interested in and enthusiastic about bread machines. It means people still want bread every day. And for the boulanger, that means that customers will be buying bread from them still, despite having a machine à pain à la maison.

  • Hi Ken:

    Well, since you live in the country, you probably know that you often have to drive 25 miles to go certain places. So it’s not all that far to go to stock up that freezer! : )

    But that bread in the supermarkets is really awful stuff, and I think I would prefer the frozen loaves from Picard. You’re fortunate to have good boulangeries where you are, especially one that delivers. Where I go visit family in the summer, in the country, a truck drives up the street 2 day a week blaring its horn, to let folks know it’s there, then returns a few minutes late and folks run out of their houses to buy bread and pastries from them. The bread is okay, but I love the idea and always buy a loaf or two to support them.

    As to your wondering whether bakeries have to close two days a week—a bread baker here in Paris told me that he was not allowed by law to be open 7 days a week. So he has to rent a storefront a block away and sells bread there on the two days that he has to close his regular bakery.

    (He’s still allowed to bake any day of the week, just not sell bread on the premises.)

  • I don’t drive the 25 miles very often. I wonder if bakeries that have no employees are required to be closed two days a week. In other words, if the place is family-operated. I know our boulangerie is open 6 days a week.

    And that’s the way the bread delivery works here. The woman drives up and blows her horn. If you want anything, you go out and buy it. No need for a standing order or anything like that. We buy every time she comes by to encourage the baker to continue the service. Otherwise, a lot of days we’d have to fire up the Peugeot and drive the two miles to town or to the village center just to buy bread. That could get old really fast, and be expensive.

    Like boulangerie bread, supermarket bread really varies. Some breads are much better than others, and it varies from supermarket to supermarket of course. I don’t really buy it, unless I’m really in a bind.

  • One of my fondest memories of holidays in France was years ago, when we used to camp every year. On one of our favourite campsites, the local boulanger would actually drive his van around the campsite, between the tents. No vulgar horn-blowing — he wound his window down and shouted “Oh-é, boulanger !” — and we would all dash out to buy our breakfast.

    We had 6-day a week bread deliveries here till a few years ago, when the bakery burned down :( They made fabulous sourdough, too. The bread from the local supermarket is better than our current artisan boulanger’s.

  • The préfectures are responsible for drawing up the specifics so different places may be operating under slightly different rules. The principle of the law is that all employees are entitled one day of rest per week, and out of fairness, all establishments are subject to this principle, not just small operations with a small number of employees. Same goes for the summer holidays. Because of the essential nature of boulangeries, they are required to file their weekly closing day and holidays with the mairie, and to list the nearest open boulangerie.

    The laws go on to say that the name “boulangerie” is restricted to places that make their own bread from basic ingredients, including kneading, fermentation, shaping and baking. Freezing is not allowed at any stage of the process. “Baguette de tradition” is also subject to strict legislation regarding ingredients (or absence thereof) timing and technique. Bread is no joking matter in these parts…

  • Love this, David. I used to giggle every time I walked past Picard when I lived in Paris… I remember my first Parisian boyfriend taking me into the store to “show it off.” It’s ironic how the French love a store chock full of frozen food (with all those tiresome fresh veggie, meat, cheese, etc. markets :)

  • If our bread lady just sang “Oh-é boulanger” out the window of her little white van, nobody would hear her.

  • An earlier commenter said “Interesting post – very revealing about the French.”

    I would counter, “No, very revealing about what American foodies think about the French”. An image that apparently is dated by 30 years or so. It could use some refreshing.

    Picard responds to a real need in a modernizing french society and does it so well, it’s almost frightening. Frozen food is a second-best but acceptable substitute when you just can’t make it down to the ole farmer’s market. And ole farmer’s market, in France, at least, doesn’t have many farmers any more — they’ve been replaced by négociants — mostly mom and pop resellers.

    That mythical local guy with the bushy moustache, beret, baguette seamlessly ensconced under armpit is great for tourist photos, but I doubt if you’ll find him during your next trip here.

    And finally, (grrr), bread-making vending machines are just local technologistes flexing their design muscles. I’ll bet David Leibovitz stumbled on the prototype during a Parisian stroll. I’ll also bet that there aren’t 2 in all of France.

    Bon appetit, all.

    • Thankfully, I don’t see this kind of machine taking off on a large scale in France, even though I think the machine was invented or is made in France. (This was one in a very ordinary neighborhood in Paris, an area that sees few tourists.) Luckily there are still plenty of great bread bakeries in Paris and many of them are profiled in my Paris Bakery Archives.