Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tasty cakes

Cakes in the window of the "artisan patisserie/boulangerie" across the street from my place.

Paris_Cakes, originally uploaded by david_stirling.

I knew that if I added a review of French pastries to my in-progress surveys of French wine, bread, and cheese, there could be some serious repercussions girthwise. So, with very few exceptions, I completely avoided purchasing anything from the patisseries that wasn't a baguette. A couple things made this easier. For one, all those lovely dainty cakes and tartes are crazy expensive. Second, I am something of a confections philistine--for me dessert is really all about delivering chocolate to my bloodstream in the most concentrated form possible. Cremes and layers and flaky crusts are just complications. Even the budget-priced "pain chocolat" is too much about the "pain" and not enough about the "chocolat," in my opinion. If I'm going ingest those calories, I'd rather devote them purely to the chocolate and not the buttery pastry surrounding it.

That all changed when I tried a "pain suisse." The clever Swiss have upped the ante by adding a slathering of custard to the chocolate before folding over the pastry dough. Now it is no longer a croissant with some chocolate added as an afterthought. It is a performance-enhanced chocolate-creme tastebud bunker buster. All I can say is I'm glad I didn't know about these things until the last few days of my trip. I was able to limit my research to two samples, equally amazing, from two different patisseries.

And it's fortunate there were multiple patisseries in the neighborhood, because the one where I took this photo was the scene of another unfortunate language-gap mishap early in my trip. I had gone in to the store to buy a baguette, and I asked if they minded me taking photos of the pastries. After getting the green light to shoot, I commented jokingly that taking photos "costs less" than eating them, while patting my midsection. The owner asked if I liked the cakes, and if I was planning on "trying" them. I said most definitely, one day I'll try them, but "there are risks, so I'll venture forward prudently, ha ha." At this, she tersely explained that her husband had taken twenty years to learn how to properly make pastries and it wasn't something you just did. She was smiling, but her eyes flashed at me in anger. It was then I realized that she had misunderstood me and thought I was implying her cakes were overpriced so I was going to take the photos and go try to make my own cakes. I rushed to backpedal, but in France there is no such thing as a simple misunderstanding that you just laugh off, so I meekly bid them good day and went home to add that store to my list of "places in Europe I am no longer welcome."

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