Appears in

The French Market

The French Market

By Joanne Harris and Fran Warde

Published 2005

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French tradition uses desserts sparingly, but to effect. Most families will usually end a meal with cheese, fruit or yoghurt during the week, but at weekends, the celebratory dessert comes into its own. Every village has its pâtisserie, and on Sunday mornings the shop window will be artfully crammed with cakes, tarts and pièces montées – those elegant mountains of choux buns mortared together with caramel and chocolate.

The first impact is always visual. The shapes, colours and designs of the French pâtisserie take the concept of dessert far beyond mere appetite and into performance art. The jewelled cakes are lifted carefully into their presentation boxes, decorated with paper flowers and long curls of multicoloured ribbon. This takes time; it demands reverence. There is an unspoken etiquette both in the buying and in the eating of these little pieces of whimsy, a general understanding of the work that has gone into their creation. Still, for me the real delight is the atmosphere of the place: the mingled scents of caramel, of fruits preserved in Armagnac, of chocolate, mocha, vanilla and freshly baked croissants. And the anticipation of flavours – fresh fruits on pâte brisée and crème anglaise; bitter chocolate sprinkled over the bright-green icing of a Salammbô; a fat baba soaking regally in sugar and dark rum...