Depending on who you ask, talking about France may conjure images of chic Parisian boutiques, romantic picnics by a river or perhaps snooty waiters in Breton stripes and berets.
One thing that is impossible to contest? The sheer delight that is French cuisine. Between buttery pastries (des pâtisseries), crispy, sweet and savoury crêpes, delectable regional wines (du vin – 7-8 billion bottles each year, in fact) and somewhere between 350 and 450 distinct types of cheese, what on earth is there not to love?
Perhaps the most difficult part of eating French food is knowing where to start. Together with some foodies from The Bag Broker (who provide custom branded packaging for all kinds of culinary delights), we’ve whittled down a shortlist of the best French puddings that will have you dropping your doughnuts tout suite.
Let’s start with the basics: Crêpes. It’s fundamental that you get one from a street stand, and even more important that it’s made fresh (there is nothing less authentic than a pre-made crêpe simply being warmed up and handed to you. Bleugh.) You should be able to watch the chef make your order from scratch.
At home, you might enjoy your pancakes covered in chocolate spread, fresh fruit or even bacon and maple syrup. To some people, it almost seems like a challenge to come up with the most inventive and delicious ways in which to enjoy a crêpe, but if you’re serious about eating them in the French way, beurre-sucre (sugar and butter) is the only way to go.
We’ve all seen these brightly-coloured little dessert sandwiches that line the windows of any self-respecting cake shop or patisserie, but despite their cute appearance, a shockingly low number of people claim to actually enjoy eating macrons. The mistake here is simple, you’re not having good ones.
Not to be confused with macaroons (misshapen coconut-covered lumps), macarons should be meringue-y and airy. So airy, in fact, that you barely notice eating one and end up bankrupting yourself by eating twenty (side note; this is not the French way to do it). Don’t expect them to compare to a loaded milkshake, decadent cupcake or any other absurd monstrosity of a dessert – macarons are dainty, simple and chic.
The drawback of macarons is that you absolutely cannot purchase them from a supermarket, and you should steer clear of overly-gimmicky flavours. They need to be created by an expert with a discerning palette, and it’s essential to enjoy them fresh.
Next on the list has to be madelines. Rather than ‘simple’ or ‘boring’, I like to think of these small, seashell-shaped sponges (try say that quickly) as ‘understated’. Originating from Commercy and Liverdun in the Lorraine region, these palm-sized delights are made from a genoise batter, making them both fluffy and buttery all at once.
Madelines are surprisingly simple to make at home, but the real joy is in the fact that unlike macarons, you can actually buy genuinely delicious ones in bulk at the supermarket from the Bonne Maman brand.
Gâteau au yaourt
I was introduced to this recipe as ‘yoghurt cake’, which obviously sounds nowhere near as fancy as it looks in French. Disarmingly simple, gâteau au yaourt is essentially sponge cake that uses a pot of yoghurt (and some oil) in the mixture to add flavour and keep the whole thing moist for much longer than a British recipe might.
It’s so easy to make at home as all of the measurements are based on the size of the yoghurt pot you use, and once you’re comfortable with the basic method you can start to experiment with different flavoured yoghurt for a subtle twist. I’m a huge fan of using toffee or coconut yoghurt, but the French often choose lemon.
Galette des rois
Literally translating as ‘tart of kings’, galette des rois is a sweet treat you can only really enjoy once a year. A kind of flat, round pastry filled with frangipane (that’s almond paste, kind of like a creamy marzipan), it’s traditionally served on January 6th – Twelfth Night – to celebrate the end of the festive season.
While the cake is delicious, the tradition that comes with it is perhaps the best part. Firstly, it’s important to note that every galette des rois is served under a golden paper crown (literally), and that baked somewhere into its mixture (the cake, not the crown), is a small charm, known as a ‘féve’. Whoever finds the charm in their slice is deemed to be the king or queen, and gets to wear the crown for the rest of the day.