Good Bread Is Back

A Contemporary History of French Bread, the Way It Is Made, and the People Who Make It

Good Bread Is Back

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 46 color illus. Published: December 2006

Cultural Studies > Food Studies, General Interest > Travel, History > European History

Good Bread Is Back is a beautifully illustrated book for foodies and Francophiles alike. Widely recognized as a leading expert on French bread, the historian Steven Laurence Kaplan takes readers into aromatic Parisian bakeries as he explains how good bread began to reappear in France in the 1990s, following almost a century of decline in quality.

Kaplan sets the stage for the comeback of good bread by describing how, while bread comprised the bulk of the French diet during the eighteenth century, by the twentieth, per capita consumption had dropped off precipitously. This was largely due to social and economic modernization and the availability of a wider choice of foods. But part of the problem was that the bread did not taste good. Centuries-old artisanal breadmaking techniques were giving way to conveyor belts that churned out flavorless fluff. In a culture in which bread is sacrosanct, bad bread was more than a gastronomical disappointment; it was a threat to France’s sense of itself. With a nudge from the millers (who make the flour) and assistance from the government, bakers rallied, reclaiming their reputations as artisans by marketing their traditionally made loaves as the authentic French bread.

By the mid-1990s, bread officially designated as “bread of the French tradition”—bread made without additives or freezing—was in demand throughout Paris. What makes this artisanal bread good? Kaplan explains, meticulously describing the ideal crust and crumb (interior), mouth feel, aroma, and taste. He discusses the breadmaking process in extraordinary detail, from the ingredients to the kneading, shaping, and baking, and even to the sound bread should make when it comes out of the oven. He offers a system for assessing bread’s quality and a language for discussing its attributes. A historian and a connoisseur, Kaplan does more than tell the story of the revival of good bread in France. He makes the reader see, smell, taste, feel, and even hear why it is so very wonderful that good bread is back.


Good Bread Is Back will become the canonical book on 20th century French baking, not only in English but in French too.” — The Fresh Loaf

“[F]or anyone with a broad interest in bread, the book is an excellent and comprehensive look at the product and how it has shaped, and been shaped by, French society.” — Bakers Journal

“[Kaplan is] not just the leading authority on French bread but the conscience of French baking—a conscience that does not hesitate to tug. . . . Good Bread is Back [is] a punchy, compendious account of how French baking returned to its artisanal roots and sparked a revival in quality crusts.” — Michael Steinberger, Financial Times

“This is very much a bread nerd's book. . . . It is a fascinating story, and Kaplan is the person to tell it.” — David Auerbach, Independent Weekly

“A good baguette is as integral a part of French cultural heritage as Paris and Lacan, and this beautiful book forms a fitting tribute, researched, written and illustrated with finesse.” — French Book News

“Professor Kaplan’s new book is a tasty meditation on the many pleasures of good bread, wrapped in an object lesson on the evolution of artisanal production. Many readers who do not share the author’s passion for the technical aspects of breadmaking will nonetheless be impressed by it. And anyone who has ever stood in a French bakery savoring the scent and admiring the array of delectable brown loaves will be heartened by his optimistic conclusion that good bread will always drive out bad. It is, as Kaplan might say, a delicious book with a beautifully gilded crust and a pearly, chewy crumb.” — Steve Zdatny H-France, H-Net Reviews

“Steven Laurence Kaplan raises powerfully important questions about the proper scale for an economy—about how big is too big, and how small is impractical—that go well beyond both France and bread. Indeed, Kaplan’s book spurs thought about what a postmodern economy might look like, and whether it might be possible for it to deliver satisfaction instead of simply piles of stuff.” — Bill McKibben, Books & Culture

“Students of French history and food will find [Good Bread is Back] completely absorbing and it should be required reading for any professional.” — Library Journal

“Throughout this work, Kaplan powerfully demonstrates the symbolic charge of bread as it is ‘’deeply bound up with the basic values of sociability and well-being, with sacred and secular in communion’ (304). . . . Kaplan reminds us through bread, that bread sums up the human experience.” — Samuel Snyder, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

"[A] book every serious American bread enthusiast ought to read. . . . A good storyteller, Kaplan describes his large cast of characters in sharp detail, with numerous protagonists and antagonists, and does a fine job of capturing the center of good in each of them." — Peter Reinhart, Gastronomica

"A magnificent combination of polemic and scholarship, it asks how the superlative French bread of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries gave way to the disappointing industrial loaves of the 1960s onwards; and how these in turn, have been happily supplanted by a new generation of artisananal baguettes, batards and boules." — Bee Wilson, TLS

Good Bread Is Back is a fascinating book that sums up the history of bread baking in France over the past several centuries. The author does it lovingly in a style that will move you to repair to your kitchen and oven to make bread that ‘sings’ as the golden yellow crust crackles as it cools, and a bite of it does not melt in the mouth right away but reveals the force of its taste only gradually as you chew. It is a welcome addition to the libraries of those seriously into breadmaking who wish a deeper understanding of the why and wherefore of their own French bread recipes.” — Bernard Clayton Jr., author of Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads

“Like its subject matter, this book is a delicious and irresistible labor of love. Steven Laurence Kaplan has distilled his vast knowledge of France and French bread into a delightfully readable story that is also a brilliant, illuminating model of how to write contemporary social history.” — David A. Bell, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University

“You will never look at a French baguette in the same way again. Chock full of delicious details about every aspect of breadmaking, prepared with verve and loving devotion by a master of his craft, this book has something to appeal to every reader. Bread will never again seem a simple food; Steven Laurence Kaplan uses it to open up the deepest secrets of French life in the modern world.” — Lynn Hunt, coauthor of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Steven Laurence Kaplan is the Goldwin Smith Professor of European History at Cornell University and Visiting Professor of Modern History at the University of Versailles, Saint-Quentin. His many books include a guide to the best bread in Paris, Cherchez le pain: Guide des meilleures boulangeries de Paris, and The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1770–1775, also published by Duke University Press. The French government has twice knighted Kaplan for his contributions to the “sustenance and nourishment” of French culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction 1

1. Good Bread: Practices and Discourses 13

2. Bread: The Double Crisis 63

3. White Bread: A Western Story 100

4. The Enemy 122

5. Bakeries and the State 162

6. Bound to Quarrel, Condemned to Get Along: Millers and Bakers 212

7. Rue Monge Rivals and Other Mavericks 258

Conclusion 304

Acknowledgments 325

Notes 327
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5924-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3833-8
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