In the second of her guest posts this month, Joanna Masters-Maggs talks more about her recent culinary discoveries in France, as we ask her, “Is the foodie capital of the world everything it’s cracked up to be – or does the emperor need to put his clothes on?”
“I’m tired of these perfectly-glazed French tarts”, my husband declared last night. “I want a big, fat, English pudding.”
I looked up sharply. Was he making some untoward comparison between chic French ladies and less well-presented English women, such as myself? I hoped not, for his sake. But he was ruefully regarding the Mille Fueille on the plate before him.
“Some custard too. That would be nice.” He looked at me sadly.
I wasn’t sure how to react. “Get me some Golden Syrup and I’ll make steamed pudding,” I offered. Sixteen years overseas, but how English we are!
Just desserts…every Sunday
We have only been in Aix for six weeks and have held to our plan of finding the best food and drink it has to offer. Part of this includes buying a cake or tart from a patisserie each week for Sunday dinner. I reflected on what we have so far sampled: a chocolate Opera for the weekend of my daughter’s birthday, an open apple tart, another filled with patisserie cream and topped with fruit and, yes, glaze. We tried the Tropezienne which hails from St Tropez and was named by Brigitte Bardot.
Now this “thousand leaves of pastry” sat before us. Like its predecessors, it was pedigree in origin. Only the most shameless “bring–a-dish” guest would try to pass this off as homemade. Perfectly cut, evenly browned, you just knew it would not suffer from a soggy bottom or any similar such indignity.
So why is it that with these desserts fastidious restraint is so easy to find? My husband is right. If we had a steamed syrup pudding and some custard before us, we would have been slavering for second helpings. With this aristocrat, to do so would seem uncouth and unnecessary.
The proof of the pudding…
Perhaps, dare I even suggest, in terms of flavour and texture, if not the skill required to make it, Syrup Pudding and its like are superior as a pudding to their French counterparts. I am ducking the missiles I feel may be coming my way. But if I am unrefined in my tastes, surely I cannot be alone? Syrup Pudding may be simple, comfort food but it is also a divine comination of textures and flavours. The addition of custard, Crème Anglaise if you will, serves to cut any possible cloyingness of texture or the risk of oversweetness. Surprisingly light, but pleasingly substantial, there always seems room for another serving.
I have, on occasion, offered to clean up after dinner, singlehanded. Not some heroic act of self-sacrifice, offered at the shrine of my family’s comfort. Rather, the siren call of the dish the pudding was steamed in, enticing me to scrape it out. Can the same be said for the tin in which a Tarte Tatin was made? I fear not.
Leave it to the experts – or leave it to Mum?
I have been told that no French person would take along homemade pudding as a contribution to a dinner to which he or she had been invited. Such a thing would be to insult the host with a poor quality, amateur offering. Why take some ramshackle amateur affair when there are professionals to do a proper job?
It seems that we English – well, at least, my husband and I – feel differently. The “homemadeness” is what we enjoy. The time spent making it, the compliment to the host. As I cast my mind back to adverts for cakes and packaging for various factory-made cakes and puddings, it is clear that supermarkets and manufacturers are keen to stress their product is “Just like home” or “What Mum used to make.” The Brits will remember Mr. Kipling and his extraordinary cakes, which he liked to bring out for village fetes and cricket matches. It’s just that Mr. Kipling was a factory, somewhere fairly industrial in England, churning out Battenbergs by the thousand.
I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy my foray into French patisseries. However, I feel it will not end my love of the home-baked, and what I will enjoy in most French bakeries are the comfortable croissants and brioches.
The best of both sides (of the English Channel)
For me food seems less about style and more about comfort and general “toothsomeness”. Is this another difference between England and France? I think it may be. I count myself lucky that, at the moment, I can enjoy both attitudes. But this weekend, my husband will get his syrup pudding and custard. Not, not just custard — make that “Crème Anglaise”!
Finding Paradise in Provence, Part I: An expat foodie’s views on French cuisine for the very young
Displaced Q: in modern French cuisine, who wins the race — the slow-food tortoise or the McDonald’s fast-food hare?
When a Julia Child-like curiosity about French cuisine leads to a displaced life — bienvenue au October theme
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