Pain d’habitant is plain, white homemade bread made in Québec, Canada.
Baked in bread pans, the dough is proofed as two rounds of dough in each pan, that rise to join together and form one loaf with an indent in the middle.
Traditionally, Pain d’habitant is baked in brick or stone ovens outside the house, and moved about inside the ovens using baker’s shovels. Many of the brick ovens are still present in villages along the route from Québec City to Ste-Anne de Beaupré.
The essential recipe for the dough is perhaps no different from white bread made outside Québec or the north-eastern United States. The bread ovens made the difference however, staying in use well into the 1900s, long after Québec’s neighbours had long abandoned theirs for “modern,” indoor ovens.
For the settlers of Québec, besides the wonder of fresh bread on a regular basis, there would have been two significances to this Pain d’habitant baked in the new country:
It was made with white flour. Though fashionable to look down on white flour now, there was no such nonsense in the 1600, 1700 and 1800s: white flour was pure, and a status symbol. If you were able to eat bread with white flour, that raised you up on the social scale.
In addition, in France, people had been forced to use communal ovens, and pay for the privilege. In Québec, people had the freedom and convenience to have their own ovens.
At Christmas, Pain d’habitant used to be made at least 10 loaves at a time.
“Habitant” was the word used for “settler.”