They say in Paris, everything looks like a dessert. Not surprising, considering there is a patisserie in every block, where pastries are sold all day to people who never seem to get fat. So if you are headed to Paris this summer and your muse is butter, cream and sugar, and if you would rather worship those sweet sculptures that rival the ones in the museums, read on to add to your calorie-laden lexicon.
Croissant: If there’s a national symbol of France, it would have to be the croissant. It is the iconic breakfast item of the land. Light, buttery and flaky, a croissant is the way to start a day of indulgence in a city where indulgence is the norm. One of the greatest pleasures in eating le petit déjeuner in Paris is the reckless tearing into a buttery croissant while telling yourself you’re only doing it to experience the local culture.
Brioche: The quote (falsely) attributed to Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake,” was actually “Let them eat brioche.” In fact, French law at the time obligated bakers to sell expensive breads like brioche at the same price as ordinary ones if the plain ones were sold out, so the remark may not have been as heartless as it sounds. It is a pastry akin to a highly enriched bread, with high egg and butter content.
Palmier: The palmier or elephant-eared cookie is made of hundreds of paper-thin layers of dough, prevented from sticking together by a heart-stopping amount of butter. The best ones are golden brown, caramelized, crackling and flaky, and collapse in your mouth at first bite. The distinctive curled-in/curled-out shape is a visual motif that shows up in many forms outside the kitchen: in box hedges of formal gardens, woven into tapestries and wallpapers, in decorative ironwork and on mosaic floors.
Canelé: The pastry known as canelé is officially known as canelé de Bordeaux. It’s shaped like a squat fluted column just a couple of inches high, with a thick, almost black, caramelized crust surrounding a custardy interior flavoured with vanilla and rum. Over three hundred years, alternate versions have sprung up. Flavourings like chocolate and orange were added, and this unregulated tinkering distressed bakers of Bordeaux. In the 1980s, an organization was formed to protect the original secret recipe, which remains locked in a vault.
Normandy Brioche: The rich, eggy and buttery Normandy brioche has been around since 1404. The tall, cylindrical brioche mousseline is made with double the usual amount of butter and is delicious with preserves, honey, chocolate—and more butter.
Religieuse: A pair of cream puffs, one on top of the other, bonded together with buttercream and coated with fondant icing. This pastry became known as the Religieuse—French for “nun”—because of its resemblance to a nun’s habit. One look at the silhouette, and you would also have to include the great domes of Paris among look-alikes.