Window shopping is a sweet surprise in Paris.
Pâtisseries offer a hefty dose of happy,
a honeyed narcotic that you'll never want to kick.
A bite of cake is a reward - a standing ovation - for celebrating a birthday
or an anniversary, getting married, or just surviving a tough day.
When it comes to French cakes, you get a full-frontal view of a nation's food culture.
Cakes (gâteaux) represent France's inspired cuisine -- the care, the quality,
the beauty and the passion of French food architects.
Yes, architect -- one who plans, designs and makes.
A French pastry chef (pâtissier) is a virtual builder of mouthwatering temptations,
creator of triumphant finales that put the legend in the legendary French dining experience.
Much too much of a good thing.
That's when you'll realize you need your math skills after all.
If you have seven days in Paris, how many different tastes can you experience?
Hint: You'll need all your fingers and toes -- at the very least.
Here's the short list of tempting creations:
Dacquoise - layers of almond & hazelnut meringue topped with whipped or buttercream
Moelleux - similar to a fondant or molten lava cake, soft & flourless
Croquembouche - little choux pastry rounds piled high, held together by threads of caramel
Financiers - very small cakes flavored with buerre noisette (browned butter)
and ground almonds, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside
Baba au rhum - small yeast cake doused in rum & filled with pastry cream
Bûche de Noël - Christmas specialty frosted & rolled again & again, a
fancy sponge cake that screams holiday, decorated to look like a yule log
Mille-feuille - sometimes called a Napoleon, it translates to cake of a thousand sheets - layer after layer of puff pastry and pastry cream, the poster-child of pâtissiers everywhere
Gâteau Basque - chewy and handheld like a cookie, the Basque specialty is filled
with either cherry preserves or pastry cream -- a personal favorite of mine,
I once ate three in one day and had a stomach-ache for two. Buyer beware!
Paris Brest - made to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race in 1910,
the wheel-shaped choux pastry is filled with luscious praline cream
Petits Fours - petite iced cakes meant for small bites
Saint Honoré - choux (cream puffs) dipped in caramel on top of a pastry base
Opèra - sponge cake layered with coffee & chocolate buttercream and glazed
in gleaming chocolate - quite decadent, it's the picture of sin
Forêt-Noire - Black Forest Cherry Cake
Gâteau Breton - a specialty of Brittany, made with the region's famous
salted butter, a bit like shortbread with French flair
Madeleines - small spongecake baked in a shell-like mold. This is the famous
treat that triggered Marcel Proust's memory in "Remembrance of Things Past"
Marjolaine - similar to the dacquoise but long & rectangular with almond and hazelnut
If la cuisine francaise is a portrait of Lady France,
the irresistible cake is surely her eyes, window to her soul.
So much of the sensation is in the look, the presentation.
Expressive, colorful and dramatic, this portrait is a masterpiece.
I'm a fan of Gérard Mulot, Ladurée, Dalloyau and Jacques Genin.
Knowing Parisians' love of sweet endings, I realize there are dozens of
new shops to try and shouldn't exclusively stick to the tried and true.
So next time, I'll try something new, perhaps from this list:
La Pâtisserie des Rêves, Sadaharu Aoki, Des Gâteaux et du Pain,
Carl Marletti, Gontrain Cherrier, Blé Sucré -- and that's just for beginners.
I'm sure you have a favorite, too.
A special place where you almost made it past the window.....
You knew you were looking at "art" and couldn't help yourself....
my first impression of a French cake wasn't so rhapsodic.
Twelve-year-olds from America expect a birthday cake covered in
oodles of icing and rosettes, sweet and intoxicating.
My French aunt didn't go to the pastry shop that day, hoping to show her love
and generosity with something made from scratch in her own kitchen.
Parisians don't often make their own desserts since it's so easy to find
something deliciously ready-made just down the street.
I was pretty excited, knowing that it would indeed be exquisite -- after all,
Tata's cooking was fantastic and I'd have bragging rights at home with tales
of my very own French birthday cake. This was kid-cloud-nine.
Imagine my surprise when she presented a rather plain and homely looking
one-layer yellow cake -- naked (no icing or decoration of any kind).
It even looked a little burned around the edges.
Remembering my manners, I said merci and smiled as I took my first taste ----
I grew up a little that day and learned a valuable lesson.
It was the best cake I had ever tasted in my life.
Even without icing, chocolate or sprinkles, it was delightful.
Quality ingredients coupled with technique, tradition and know-how
play a bigger role than an overload of sugar and embellishment.
So you're probably wondering, what kind of cake was it?
It was the old fashioned, very traditional, easy-to-make French Yogurt Cake.
You don't even need a mixer to make it, just quality ingredients
like good French yogurt and farm fresh eggs.
Trust me, your family will think you're a pastry genius once they bite into this.
The French yogurt cake is a pâtisserie's ugly little sister --- the one that
surprises you with her ingenuity and charm.
or prefer perfecting your own special French recipe at home, you'll enjoy the end result.
Celebrate the good life and give in to the French Cake Cure.
The Cure involves a different taste every day.
What could be more simple -- or delicious.
Respect for quality ingredients coupled with matchless technique,
the French have perfected this divine taste of heaven.
With each bite, they engage our endless passion for fine food.
Just part of The Paris Effect.
Self indulgence is a specialty of Paris, a joyride around every corner.
So go ahead, give in to your lust and take the Cure.
Pleasure and contentment sometimes come in small packages.
Cake, the uncommon cure for just about anything.