Sunday, July 21, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Visiting the patisserie

For today's combined Weekend Cooking/Paris in July post, I thought was would share a passage from the Provence Cure for the Broken Hearted by Bridget Asher.

As a bit of background, Heidi is going to spend a few months in France. She used to go regularly as a child with her French mother but she hasn't been for many years. Two years ago, her husband died and she is taking a very long time to be able to get back into what other people consider to be a normal life.
The Julien referred to in the passage below was the boy who lived next door to their house in France. 

The quote comes from pages 206 to 209.
We stepped out of the car and into the small patisseries-boulangerie, a stone building with a green awning, which sat at the end of a row of houses with their big wooden shutters. A bell on the door alerted the baker, who was a lean man in his mid-sixties. He stood behind the domed display cases, wearing a crisp white shirt and a fine chain with a delicate silver medal, plain and circular, with an inscription too small to read. He spread his broad hand on the counter and leaned on it, bantering with Julien, the medal glinting now and then.

I gazed at the glass-encased flans topped with berries, the croissants spotted with chocolate, the miniature glazed cakes. 

"We came here as kids," I said. I remembered Veronique and my mother bickering over who would pay for what.

"Yes," Julien said, "we had your birthday party."

Once - it was that last visit, when I was thirteen - we'd arrived in France early enough in June to hit my birthday and had a small party. This was where we'd bought the goodies for it. I remembered thinking I was too old for a party with little cakes.

But still, I remembered this shop exactly. And now I knew what all of the cakes were. I knew some of them quite intimately. Suddenly I wanted to hear the words in French. I pointed at one of the beautiful, exquisitely detailed desserts,. "Qu'est-ce quec'est?" I asked. What is it?

"Americaine?" the baker asked.

"Oui," I said.

The baker grew serious then. He looked at me and then at Julien. He seemed to want to ask a question - something about Daryl Hannah? - but he didn't. Instead he described the framboise, a raspberry mousse with pistachios and two layers of genoise soaked in a raspberry syrup.

I pointed to the next and asked again.

He described, patiently and reverently, the tarte citron, a lemon curd in a sugar pie crust.

I asked about the next and the next - the tiramisu, where the almond jacond was soaked in coffee syrup; a pear pin-wheel, poached in white wine; a hazelnut meringue with buttercream and chocolate ganache; a white circular mango-topped cake that involved rum, sauteed mango, and toasted coconut; truffles with spongy layered centres and bitter dark-chocolate ganache; and tarts, one with chocolate, nut, and marzipan.

I repeated the words in a quiet voice, almost mouthed them. I loved the feel of the words themselves: framboise, mousse, pistaches, citron, coco....

I remembered working in the kitchen with my mother, after her lost summer when she'd come home, her hands dusted in confectioners' sugar as she rolled out fondant, whipped cream, separated yolks with the delicate back-and-forth between cracked shells. My mother worked frenetically until I dipped around her elbows. Elysius disappeared with her friends, but I stayed with my mother in the steamy kitchen as much as possible, dizzy from the scents of the cocoa, caramelized sugar, and cakes, all of it billowing around the kitchen in gusts.

There was a bakery not far from the house I grew up in, the white cardboard cake boxes tied with string, curved, clear display cases, and little glass figurines that you could buy to put on top of a birthday cake, women in white uniforms who took our orders and wrote our names on the cakes in swirling letters right in front of us. And eventually, when my mother's obsession with baking came to its end, we went there only for birthday and graduation cakes. But I always had the desire - so strong and fixed on each beautiful cake, my hand pressed to the chilled glass - to be back in the kitchen with my mother, to witness what must have been part of some kind of healing process, to witness a woman who'd come home, yes, but who was then returning slowly to herself.

I wasn't sure what had come over me here in this little French bakery. I felt light-headed and hungry - but in a way I hadn't felt in a very long time - a hunger as restless as my guilt. I nodded along with the baker and found myself saying, "Une of those. Trois of those. Deux of those. Non, non, quatre."

The baker kept glancing at Julien as if asking if I really had permission, if I was sane. Julien kept nodding. Yes, yes, do as she says.

I felt absurd driving home. With the backseat filled with bags from the Monoprix, I had to stack the boxes of pastries on my lap. They were so high, they blocked my vision. I wedged loaves of bread between the door and the passenger's seat. "It's part of our French education," I said.

"No need for a rationale," Julien said. "But that was..."

"What?" I said. "It's just my contribution."

"Exactly," he said. "I understand. But that was..."

"Joyful," I said. "It was joyful. I'm working on joy, right? That's what people are supposed to do, according to you, when they're miserable."

"It was.."

"What," I said. "What was it?"


"I raised my eyebrows. "Don't be so French about it," I said, smiling a little.

"I'm not being French. That was the international language. It was erotic."

I sighed. "I was overcome."

"Yes," he said. "That's what it was. It's a start."

"A start of what? Am I living a little?"

"Yes," he said, "just a little, but a start."

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Paris in July is hosted by  Tamara at Thyme for Tea and Karen at Bookbath.


  1. What a fabulous passage! I miss the French bakeries in Guernsey. I wonder if they are still there or if the island has become touristy since the 80s.

    1. It made me want to stand and stare at a cabinet full of pastries for sure! I am sure that there would be some still there...if you know how to find them!

  2. I love that excerpt! I can see it in my mind's eye, and the food looks fabulous. Or should I say, sounds fabulous? Mmmm...

  3. Something tells me she's going to meet a handsome Frenchman before too long. Either that, or go crazy in the patisseries for the rest of her visit... ;)

  4. Lovely excerpt! The food sounds delicious. As a foodie and France nut, I think I may need to read this book...

  5. Raspberry mousse with pistachios? Oh yes, please.

  6. I think reading this book would make me hungry!