Want to Bake in France? Go to a Pharmacy, Of Course!

When I first moved to France, I wanted to bake cookies one night so I ran to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients. I ended up buying a special flour mix since I could not find baking soda. The cookies did not come out as planned, but at least they were edible. This experience prevented me from baking until now.

This past weekend I wanted to bake my mother-in-law an angel food cake since she is always bringing me over desserts. If you have ever made an angel food cake from scratch, you know that it requires cream of tartar.

Knowing the baking section of the grocery store does not go beyond chocolate and vanilla extract, I did some research online to figure out the mystery of where French women buy their baking supplies.

In larger cities, you may find some of these ingredients for baking in specialty grocery stores. But those in a typical city can find what they need in a pharmacy. Crazy, non? But it does not end there! Not all pharmacies will have what you need, or even know what you are talking about.

My husband called three pharmacies before finding one in downtown Caen that carried cream of tartar. I had searched the forums in advance to see what cream of tartar was in French and found 5 different ways it could be worded. I gave all 5 variations to my husband for when he called the pharmacies. The first two pharmacies had no idea of what it was that we wanted.  The pharmacy in downtown Caen understood cream of tartar as “potassium tartrate acide”. Yes, I know I have the best husband in France.

Doesn’t the photo here of my potassium tartrate acide look like medicine? Oh well, at least it worked! It was 3 euros for 30 grams, so a bit expensive. At least my recipe did not call for much of it. I would have uploaded a photograph of my finished angel food cake, but we ate it before I even had the chance. So instead, I had to post a stock photo. Next time!

If you are looking to bake in France, be patient and call several pharmacies before giving in to premixed flour. It is just not worth it.

Some words you should know:

Baking soda = soda à pâte or bicarbonate de sodium or bicarbonate de soude
Baking powder = poudre à pâte
Cream of tartar =  potassium tartrate acide or crème de tarter

Bonne Chance!

Image Credit: LadyInBlack on Fotolia

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  1. This article is a life saver! I’ve been limiting myself to recipes with flour, sugar and baking soda (I found that one at the bottom of the shelf in the baking aisle).

  2. found baking soda at E.Leclerc last week, under the name Bicarbonate Alimentaire! it was sitting on a shelf, beside the salt.

  3. I live in Auvergne and have been desperately looking for colored sugar crystal sprinkles. I can find nonpareils at stores but not the sugar crystals I am used to seeing in the states. I’ve looked at Auchan, Carrefour, Leclerc and Cora – to no avail. I don’t know of what specialty stores are out there or even what to look for should I Google them. Any ideas? Thx!

    • French Mamma says:

      I wish I could help you but I have no idea where you could find those. Hopefully, someone else who reads this and knows the answer will chime in. Also, you can ask on my Facebook fan page, http://www.facebook.com/FrenchMamma, since many of the woman who follow me there live in France.

  4. I do lots of baking here, and everyone loves my american cakes and cookies!
    Your advice ofr getting cream of tartar in a pharmacie is excellent, i’ll try it next time I run out! I usually bring it back from the states or it’s small and light enough that my mom sends it in a package.
    I usually buy baking soda in the pharmacie too, I never felt that the bicarbonate alimentaire had the right texture! I had a couple boxes from home, so I use those only for baking.
    But I have been finding baking powder at some of the area supermarkets. But I live in Ile de France, you can sometimes find Jello and Dr. Pepper too. It’s just that since it’s imported, it tends to be at the end of its shelf-life and when it’s past the use by date, it tends to not work as well… banana bread problems!

    For Jennifer, try the Alice Délice online store. They have a lot of things that I can’t find in regular french stores. I just recently discovered them. I have been looking for the colored sugar crystals, and I’ll just stock up on my next trip home. They were difficult to find at Tesco’s too on one of my business trips… so my next project will be to make colored sugar crystals at home!

    • Joseph565112 i agree with you! the communists killed more than nazis, its also true that jews were taking over germanys financial system ….. still not a juciifisatton for what happened though

  5. Christine says:

    I’m French, I live in Corrèze, am an English teacher and lover of British and American cooking! A few days ago, I baked my first angel food cake: fantastic!
    Anyway, a little help (or so I hope)
    Baking powder: levure chimique (most famous supermarket brand: Alsa, pink paquets)
    Baking soda: bicarbonate de soude ou bicarbonate alimentaire, in supermarkets, pharmacies or bio shops
    I’ve never found the French equivalent for cream of tartar, get mine from British friends 😉
    As for couloured sugar cristals, you can find something that might be approaching from Vahiné, in supermarkets
    Or if you don’t know it, there’s a great British shop online, reasonable shipping costs, called Squires
    Keep baking! That’s one thing americans, British and French people have in common!

  6. I was seuoirsly at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.

  7. Lorraine Edmunds says:

    Hi everyone, Just to let you know that you can go on Amazon.co.uk and buy all baking ingredients – if you search for stuff which is sold or despatched by Amazon Sarl (usually tick the prime box on the left hand side), they will deliver it by post in a couple of days. This includes baking powder (Arm & Hammer) and Cream of tartar.

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