Sugar and spice and all things nice
Visitors to France hanker after the boulangeries and pâtisseries found on every street corner of the country. The boulangeries, yes. The croissants, I understand. Macaroons, I LOVE, so I give them that too. These, after all, have become part of my holiday routine. And yet I rarely touched the things when I lived, worked, and immersed myself in French life. In a similar vein, afternoon tea is one of the great British traditions. It is a thing I love. And yet it is lamentably far from being a regularity in the British Isles. So how has this world of sucreries become such a reflection of French culture?
Whilst you will rarely hear me slandering France (the very thought!) there are a couple of French myths I refuse to fall for. I am prepared to accept that stereotypes come from somewhere and there is always an ounce (if only an ounce) of truth in them, however, this one, in my experience, is not one true to reality.
For those of you blessed (as I see it) with a dent sucrée, you have surely noticed the hundreds of books published on the French mademoiselle’s ability to give in to these simple pleasures without forfeiting their slender thighs. The real answer, in my humble opinion? I think they just don’t do it! They don’t give in. It’s as simple as that.
A fellow schoolteacher taught me in La Sarthe that hot chocolate was best made in a saucepan with cubes of chocolate melted into the milk. A great tip. (I also like to add cinnamon. Alternatively, go back to the Aztec age and add chilli, or do things the British way and add a dash of Baileys). La Durée, however, introduced me to great hot chocolate. The sort of hot chocolate you can only manage a small cup-full of. (Is this the secret to French women’s well-maintained physique?!)
The French manage these things extremely well. They stick to tradition and they do well to do so. I mean, what a veritable scandale when the automated baguette machine was created recently! Sacrebleu! Ça ne se fait absolument pas! I’d say sometimes it is worth sticking to your guns.
However, whilst the French have clearly whittled their chocolat chauds down to a tee (excuse the pun), their cakes cannot rival ours. Of course there are a few exceptions, however, try as they might, French cake is just not on a par with their tartes sucrées or pâtisseriesvariées. I realize that luxuries such as self-raising flour and baking soda are a rarity in France (which must make life a nightmare, frankly), but I advise disillusioned persons (such as myself) to stick to the real French recipes to avoid disappointment. But I guess this might be a prime example of a Marie Antoinette vs Queen Victoria moment, n’est-ce pas?
To date, my favourite tea-time/mid-morning stop-offs in France (forgive me if I limit this to Paris for the time being) are:
- La Durée: the décor and macaroons cannot fail to lure you in. Some say Angelina rivals this – I have to say that I entirely disagree.
- La mosquée de Paris (M Censier Daubenton): Delicious mint tea and Arabian pastries. Noisy but fun, and different.
- The Rose Bakery in the 9th, Rue des Martyrs – organic and truly creative and delicious (actually good!) tea and cake.
- Any of the pâtisseries off the rue des Rosiers (M St Paul) – very unhealthy, but sickeningly good Jewish pastries. Laced in sugary goodness. YUM.
I am always open to suggestion on this front, so please do add yours…