But I, when I undress me
Each night, upon my knees
Will ask the Lord to bless me
With apple-pie and cheese.”
― Eugene Field
people, I enjoy sweets and I am very partial to chocolate ones. But, in the United States, I would often skip dessert not for just the added pounds but because I do not long for them as much as I would for a well-done burger or General Tsao’ shrimp.
It’s a different story in France.
Here, patisseries have equal standing with boulangeries. Having both within walking distance creates an atmosphere of abundance. Although the smell of bread baking
wafts into the air and tempts passersby and residents within sniffing distance, patisseries are feast for the eyes. Walk into any one of them, and the glass enclosed cases beckon then confuse because of its dazzling array of éclairs, tartes,
macaroons, gateaus, and similarly alluring pastries. We stare and stare until our tummies signal our brains to make a choice. Then indecisiveness happens. So we do the next best rationale thing, we point to something familiar
Sometimes we take chances. We discover a pastry never before seen or tried and we timidly ask its name. This question will reveal the answer; often, it may also lead to a narrative of ingredients, cooking
style, where it originated, how it tastes, etc. Too much information for our appetite driven, elementary French language minds to take in all at once. But the enthusiasm of the proprietress gives us the confidence to go for it despite barely
grasping the information given.
It is the same experience in the supermarkets. In the refrigerated section, one finds a number of cold desserts that have familiar, fancy names. Ile Flotantte, Tiramisu, Mouse au Chocolat,
Crème Caramel, Crème Catalan, Riz au Lait, Bavarois, among others. It’s mesmerizing. I stand in front of these shelves wondering where to begin. The first time I reached for the Ile Flotantte, it was a package of
two servings on sale for euro 1.30. I figured that if it did not turn out good, I wouldn’t feel bad about spending the money. But it was heavenly. The little packet of caramel syrup is used to drench the meringue and the crème
anglais. And the combination is superb. It is also addictive. I had to return, again and again, to replenish the supply in our dormitory-sized refrigerator.
At restaurants, I eat my meal slowly, chewing every morsel
and concentrating on my digestion so that I can order the café gourmand dessert (espresso with a selection of bite-sized pastries). I go for tarte tatin, the French version of apple pie, with a scoop of vanilla glace when I see it on the menu.
If Charlotte aux Frais is offered, I ask for a slice. The Moelleux Chocolat au Coeur Coulant, with the dark chocolate melting inside the cake, is always a favorite. And heaven help me when soufflés are on the menu. It’s
so emotionally satisfying that it justifies the additional weight gain. Or so I reason.
One can argue that these pastries and desserts, or some variation of them, can be found all over the world. I do not disagree. But,
like cheese, consuming these as one of the meal courses or even a mid-afternoon treat is almost an individual right. The assortment available for consumption guarantees that no man would be left deprived. There is always something to please each
and every personal taste. As there are many choices to tempt the curious and the daring. Like us. Because what would life be without choices, without curiosity, without the willingness to go bravely where others have tasted and eaten