The foodies will tell you — eat what’s available, in season. North Carolina barbecue should be eaten in North Carolina, and Maryland crab in Maryland. This is my excuse for making a systematic tour of French pastries. It’s research, OK? Science!
In this latter day few French housewives make their own desserts. The ones available at the local boulangerie or patisserie are just too good. Why make your own shoes when Nike does it better? I am thrilled to learn that every shop has its own little specialty in addition to a suite of standards. And every region of France has its own favorite calorific treat. This is a deep and wide field, folks.
But I can report that, if the main goal of dessert is sugar and butterfat, there are three main vehicles in this country. Your pastry can be based on either meringue, the cream puff, or cake. Gaul is divided into three parts, and we can rapidly tour them.
As you may know, meringue is egg white beaten stiff with sugar and baked. It’s crunchy and white and very sweet. Once you have a meringue or two, you add stuff to make it into a Sucess or a Mervielleux. This one happens to be a Sucess, in which the meringues are stuck together with chocolate cream and rolled in chocolate bits.
These things are almost too sweet, and not very substantive. For more of that butterfat we need to head towards the cream puff. These are made with choux paste, which is egg, butter and flour. Cream puff desserts always involve lots of creamy stuff. This one is a current favorite, the religieuse, in which the cream puff has flavored cream and various decorations which are supposed to make it look like a nun.
This is a coffee flavored religieuse. They also come in chocolate!
The other major division is the cake or tart based dessert. At the top of this post you can see a magnificent raspberry tart, simply fresh raspberries piled into a cookie-like tart crust and glazed. Below is an Opera, which is layers of cake with coffee-flavored cream and frosted with chocolate.