I was recently given a 'French Rolling Pin' as a gift. To me, it just looks like a fancy dowel-rod. What exactly is it, and what is it useful for?
A French rolling pin is a real thing. It is also a very convenient thing. I find that I have much better control over my rolling using one rather than the foolish little pins with the handles that get filthy and hurt my knuckles.
As for the 'French' part of the name. I don't know, having never lived in France, whether they actually refer to that style of rolling pin as French. However, I find it extremely unlikely. Probably some English speaker coined the phrase to differentiate that style of pin as one commonly used in France. Hopefully there is a French speaker who can provide more insight. (If you didn't insult them with your question.)
The French rolling pin is a useful tool in the kitchen for bakers, especially those who like to concoct pastries, roll out sugar cookies, or make shaped breads and rolls. The standard pin is usually 2 inches (5.08 cm) in circumference, and can come in varying lengths; 18 inches (45.72 cm) tends to be the most popular length. What makes it different from other rolling pins is that it has no handles, and is tapered to a smaller circumference at each end. It’s essentially a round, usually wooden, stick of a certain thickness.
In professional baking circles, the tapered "French Pin" is best used to roll out pie and tart dough so that the center of the crust is slightly thinner than the outer edges. This way the crust is sure to be evenly baked. As for the French part of it, my French chef friends have never heard of a "French Rolling Pin", nor have they ever heard of a "French Knife", or "French Fries" for that matter. I believe that any culinary item that is slightly more sophisticated it is called "French ...". Probably because the French are reputed to enjoy a higher standard of culinary expertice.