May 05, 2014

French Sweets

Fancy pastries. Gourmet chocolate. The colourful macaron.

France has long been associated with the finer things in life, whether it be fashion, wine or cuisine. On a visit to the city of Lyon, the capital of French gastronomy, I was eager to tour the food market where local chefs do their shopping, Les Halles Paul Bocuses. And the tempting array of tarts and cakes kept me busy taking photos. Unfortunately, I was so busy preserving the images that I neglected to sample the goods.

Displays of Tarts and Cakes at Les Halles Paul Bocuse, Lyon

The Coussin de Lyon

A specialty in the city of Lyon is the Coussin de Lyon. The word 'coussin' means cushion. These sweets are made of marzipan and chocolate ganache flavoured with Curacao (an orange-flavoured liqueur). I didn't taste these little goodies either. What's wrong with me?

Coussin de Lyon

The Calisson

By the time we arrived in Provence I had learned my lesson and I bought two packages of calissons, one for immediate consumption and another to take home. According to legend, the calisson was created in Aix-en-Provence for the wedding feast of King René in 1473. This traditional Provençal candy is made of ground almond paste, sugar and candied melon, and topped with a layer of royal icing.


Patisserie Béchard on Cours Mirabeau, Aix-en-Provence

Statue of King René on Cours Mirabeau

The Macaron

Better known worldwide is the cheery macaron. Unlike the North American macaroon made of coconut, the French treat consists of two meringue cookies with a ganache filling. They come in a wide range of colours and flavours and are generally sold by the kilogram.

Colourful Assortment of Macarons

The macaron was created by French patisserie Ladurée in Paris. The shop on rue Royale (on the Right Bank near place de la Madeleine) includes a tea salon dating from 1862 and we stopped in here for a taste of their most famous offering. We enjoyed a sampler of the pistachio, blackberry, raspberry and caramel flavours.

Ladurée on rue Royale, Paris

The Patisserie at Ladurée on rue Royale, Paris

The Macaron Sampler at the Ladurée Tea Salon

Gourmet Chocolate

The art of making chocolate is well-established in France. While visiting St. Remy de Provence, I sampled some chocolate flavoured with lavender at Joel Durand Chocolatier. The taste was subtle but delightful. Some of the innovative ingredients being used at Joel Durand include olives; Szechwan pepper; herbs like basil, tarragon or rosemary; and rose petals or saffron pistils. Each unique flavour has its place in an alphabet of chocolates.

Joel Durand Chocolatier, St. Remy de Provence

An Alphabet of Chocolate at Joel Durand Chocolatier

"L" is for Lavender

Maison Auer,  in the Old Town of Nice on the Cote d'Azur, has been making chocolate and candied fruits since 1820. The lavish Florentine-style interior of the shop has been used as a film set and Queen Victoria is known to have been a regular customer.

Maison Auer Chocolatier, Nice

Chocolate Bird House at Maison Auer

And we must not forget an old French classic, the flaky, buttery croissant. I enjoyed the chocolate variety in the photo below as fortification for my climb to the top of the Tower of Notre Dame Cathedral. Similar to the croissant is pain au chocolat. I have one for breakfast whenever I'm in France. (Well, perhaps more than one.)

Chocolate Croissant and Café au Lait

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

Pain au Chocolat (far right) for Breakfast in Monte Carlo

Another classic, the versatile crepe, can be savoury or sweet. We sampled both varieties during a special crepe luncheon on a French river cruise. The dessert crepe was smothered in delicious vanilla sauce and berries.

Crepe Luncheon on a Rhone River Cruise

Dessert Crepe With Berries and Vanilla Sauce

Whatever your preference, from a simple breakfast croissant to a prize-winning gourmet tart, there's surely a French treat for the sweet-tooth in us all.

Bon appetit!

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