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I have lived in Japan for 1 year now, but I cannot find French bread - baguette - in Tokyo like the one we have in France.

Their bread is not crunchy nor crispy at all, and it's chewy, I kind of feel like I am eating a sponge... like old bread.

What is the difference between the bread made in Japan and the one we have in France? Do they use different flour, different way of baking? Do they wait for the bread to become chewy before selling it?

  • Have you considered looking for a Vietnamese shop? They usually have very nice French bread (for bahn mi). (In the US, at least). – Catija Jul 8 '15 at 3:03
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    In most Asian countries I find they have a preference for softer, sweeter breads. I'd wager they are closer to a brioche than regular bread. So literally, it's a different recipe, it's not just water, flour, salt and yeast, – Megasaur Jul 8 '15 at 3:26
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    If you're from France, surely you've had an awful lot of kinds of bread, not just baguette. Have you really never had any soft bread? (Like brioche, as Megasaur mentioned?) Asking about the difference is still a fair question, of course, but the way you've written it seems odd. Do you possibly mean you're buying things that look like they should be crunchy/crispy/crusty bread but are chewy instead? – Cascabel Jul 8 '15 at 5:07
  • @Jefromi yep, that's what I mean... I buy at the supermarket or in shops bread which looks exactly like french bread in appearance but they're all spongy so I do not understand why the look is the same but not the crunchy... it is not really about taste, more about texture – Steven Jul 8 '15 at 6:48
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While I am not 100% sure what you are eating and looking for and am relatively new to bread making myself, I'm going to guess that what it comes down to is a matter of fat content in the bread.

What gets called "French Bread" (in the baguette sense) is usually a mixture of flour, water, salt, and yeast (similar to the recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice). It uses a pre-ferment (usually pâte fermentée, which is itself just flour, water, salt, and yeast) in combination with a mixture of flours to produce the final loaf.

Variations on this (e.g., pain de campagne) which maintain that characteristic texture still basically come down to a mixture of flours, walter, salt, and yeast. These are what can be characterized as lean breads: breads with very little (if any) fat added.

My guess is that most of the "chewy" breads you are encountering have a higher fat content. These are more like what in the US we'd call an "Italian" bread (which is frequently shaped in a similar manner to some french loaves, another example would be breads like Challah bread) all the way up to something like a brioche (which has a very high fat percentage). The fat adds some flavor and can provide a sort of softer mouth feel, which is what I suspect you are picking up on.

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One of the best known (if not the best known) breads in Japan is, in fact, very much like a brioche. Japanese Milk Bread contains butter and egg, it also contains a fair amount of sugar. The Japanese think of bread more like a sweet than a staple. Another sweet bread known in Japan is Maple Bread, it's even sweeter and really does taste like maple syrup.

If you are looking for something more like a French Baguette, Catija's advice in comments is excellent. The Japanese aren't big into sandwiches. The Vietnamese, however, have a huge French influence (whether they want it or not). The bread traditionally used for Banh Mi is a short baguette. If you ask for Banh Mi in Tokyo, someone will know just what you mean.

  • Also very popular in Japan is メロン・パン, "Melon Bread". Sweet, with a outer crust that resembles a melon. – user3169 Jul 8 '15 at 19:07
  • Thanks for introducing all these products, but as I told you, I live there, so I already now what they are selling. What I would like to know is why the bread which looks exactly like french bread is all so chewy and spongy, what are the differences in the cooking process or preserving process ? – Steven Jul 9 '15 at 2:57
  • @StevenBENET I want to know if you have asked for Banh Mi. I also have lived in Asia. I wouldn't have written the answer if I didn't think it was a key point. – Jolenealaska Jul 9 '15 at 8:07
  • Well, i tried in france... not yet in japan. – Steven Jul 9 '15 at 9:00
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I think that different countries (including France and Japan) use flour with different ash and protein content.

eg. I cannot create the proper chewy/crunchy texture for baguettes, using the kind of flour commonly available in my own country. (And actually, I can't make very soft Japanese bread with our flour either).

French flour for baguettes use type 65 flour, which is high in ash and protein. It helps create the chewy, strong texture of the bread you are used to. I suspect the French type 65 flour is not commonly used or available in Japan. The characteristics of the standard flour used in different countries vary a lot, producing very different textures in baking products, even if they are called similar/same names (eg.'bread flour'). I think Japanese (and Asian) flour has a composition that can only produce very, very soft style breads and cakes.

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