The French and dessert


Asterix et Obelix: Deux Gaulois gourmands…


Fact: Les Français sont gourmands


Gourmand (goor-mahnd,)
noun
1.
a person who is fond of good eating, often indiscriminately and to excess.
2.
a gourmet, epicure.
3.
a person with a sweet tooth. 
(source: dictionary.com and French Girl in Seattle)

 

Asterix and Obelix, (our ancestors the Gauls,) many French leaders, le Français moyen (the average Jean/Joe,) could be described as gourmands. Who started the trend? Je ne sais pas. I do not know. But somewhere along the way, a national obsession with food – and good eating (a.k.a. gastronomy,) took over the whole nation. It has become a cliché of sorts. For millions of people around the world, France = good food (and wine.) 

 

 

Louis XIV – the Sun King – “un bon vivant…”
http://simonedecyrille44.blogspot.com/
Napoleon I (pictured on the right,)
had an insatiable appetite for… battle 

(James Gillray, 1805)
 

Le bon Roi Henri IV, (the good king Henri IV, a.k.a. Henri of Navarre) is remembered fondly in French history books as the monarch who insisted his people should enjoy “la poule au pot” (a rich chicken stew,) every Sunday. Sadly, he was not rewarded for his good deeds (he also advocated religious tolerance,) and was murdered by a fanatical Catholic (and chicken-rights advocate?) Ravaillac. R.I.P. Henri.

 

 

(artist unknown)
No matter how successful or competent, French leaders have always been more popular when they openly display a sound knowledge of  – and genuine appreciation for – good food. A famous example: 

 

Former French President Jacques Chirac has never met an appetizer he did not like…
(photographer unknown)
Notoriously unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy was seldom photographed à table (while eating.) Instead, he admitted to watching his weight  and was followed by an army of paparazzi on his weekly jogging sessions while millions of French people shook their heads…

 

“Sarko” – the “Hyper-President” stops by a neighborhood café
(Did he really need the caffeine boost?)

(photographer unknown)
 

President François Hollande is a notorious gourmand who followed a strict diet before launching into a fierce presidential campaign in 2012. The self-appointed “normal president,” quickly saw his approval ratings plummet. Nobody asked me, but I’d urge him to engineer an image makeover pronto. People have had enough of seeing him shake hands at outdoor markets! They want to see him EAT and DRINK! Then they will know they can trust him.

 

Hollande meets a French apiculteur and does not even sample honey products!
(photographer unknown)
François et (then) First Girlfriend, on their summer vacation, drink… Perrier?
B.o.r.i.n.g.!
(Call back Chirac tout de suite!)

(photographer unknown)
 

Truth be told, Monsieur Hollande will always be forgiven for going on a diet. This might even earn him points as many French people (men and women) follow draconian régimes (diets,) and lead a life-long struggle against la surcharge pondérale, (excess weight,) et les petits kilos (extra pounds.)

 

“French Women Don’t Get Fat,” claims a well-known non-diet book. Right. If you believe that, you still believe that les poules ont des dents, (mais non, I assure you, good king Henri IV’s chickens did not have teeth!)

Oui, les Français, ces gourmands, watch their waistline. And this brings me to today’s story… 

A few years ago, during my annual visit to France, I started noticing a new trend in many Parisian bistros and restaurants. It seems the trend has now reached other regions of France, but it is prevalent in the French capital. 

 

I give you: Le café gourmand

 

“Qu’est-ce-que-c’est?,” you ask.

 

A very clever invention launched by French restaurateurs. Take a look:

 

Café gourmand, Paris
In French restaurants, l’express (shot of espresso,) has traditionally followed dessert and capped the meal; the last step in a time-tested ritual before the waiter finally presents la douloureuse (the painful one,) a.k.a. l’addition (the check.)

 

This is demonstrated below with the (fancy) dessert a girlfriend and I enjoyed at the prestigious Café de la Paix in Paris, a few summers ago. A traditional French pastry – le Millefeuille – was followed by an express. 

 

Total cost: 18 Euros (about $23.)

 

Dessert au Café de la Paix: A decadent (and costly!) experience
 

Good times. 

 

Drawbacks: 1.Cost 2. Calorie intake 3.Portion size

 

Now take a look at le Café gourmand, in the first photo. 

 

A shot of espresso. Three or four mignardisesmini-desserts (as pictured here, a perfect balance of textures and flavors, with a refreshing fruit salad, a crème brûlée, and a scoop of ice cream.) 

 

Total cost: 8 Euros (about 14 dollars.) Not cheap, but cheaper than dessert + coffee, n’est-ce-pas?

 

Benefits: Lower cost. No decision-making involved (desserts often change daily and are selected by the Chef.) Surprise element. Fun and sophisticated. Guilt-free (after all, these are mini-desserts, oui ?) Time saver (dessert and coffee come to the table at once.) 

 

Café gourmand, Paris
Before I moved to the United States, many years ago, it was customary for Parisian cafés and restaurants to serve a small square of quality dark chocolate with a cup of espresso. We all felt the chocolate was the perfect way of wrapping up the meal. This was an opportunity to pass up dessert altogether, whatever our reason may have been (a way to save money and time, while controlling the calorie intake.) Sometimes, the square of chocolate would be replaced by a small macaron or a biscuit (Speculos, anyone?,) and they were equally satisfying. 

 

At some point, the recession-plagued restaurant industry saw an opportunity to seduce customers who, like us, would often skip dessert, especially at lunch time. The day of le Café gourmand had come! And what a clever concept, it is, so in tune with the French psyche. When food is concerned, the French are said to “manger de tout, avec modération.” Eat everything, in moderation. Small portions are the ultimate goal, and the best way for les gourmands to control their weight. 

 

In societies where abundance and a plethora of options make decisions an arduous process for some, being offered a chance to try several iconic French desserts at once, crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, apple tart, fruit salad, macarons, is a dream come true. 

 

Traditional (and full size!) crème brûlée
Restaurant Beau Séjour,  Gorbio
 

One question remains: Does this mean traditional desserts will eventually disappear from menus in France? Not so fast. I don’t know about you, but there are classics I will never be able to pass up when I go out with friends in my homeland – calories be dammed. After all, dessert or no dessert, sometimes, there just is no question.

 

Salted caramel crêpe with Normandy hard cider
 

Bon appétit, et à bientôt.

 

 

 

 

 

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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

59 Comments

  • As someone who often doesn’t have room for a full dessert but enjoys just a taste of sweet after a meal, I applaud the new tradition of café gourmand. We enjoyed this on several occasions on our recent trip to France. And it’s true, never trust a politician who doesn’t eat! ;-p

  • It seems like everything in France, from the culture to the food, is a class act.

    For years I have heard about French food being the most exquisite cuisine. I mean, it’s a known fact the French are complete geniuses when it comes to the culinary arts. But it wasn’t until I went to a French restaurant for the first time (for my mom’s 50th b-day) that I actually understood what all the fuss is about. It’s a real art.

    When I see French pastries and desserts, such as the ones you’ve pictured here, it makes me really sad and annoyed that so many Americans spend their calories on Little Debbies and Chips Ahoy. Personally, I’d rather gain a little weight eating hand-crafted French pastries than processed garbage. Because I wouldn’t regret a bite! 😉

    Fabulous post!

    • Welcome back chère Jenny.
      Little Debbies and Chips Ahoy, eh? You forgot to mention Hershey chocolate 🙂
      Whatever rocks your boat I guess, but I am afraid Little Debbies do not stand a chance when placed next to the Millefeuille pictured in the post.
      See, I told you… One more reason for you to visit France one day: Desserts!

  • Bonjour Veronique.. 🙂 What a scrumptious post this is. I have to say, the new tradition of the cafe gourmand sounds delicious and full of variety, (and better for my waist and thighs..) but i don’t think i could resist that final dessert either! There is just something about salted caramel. And with delicious hard cider?! My mouth is watering. It would be a struggle to forgo a grand dessert in favor of a small serving. Could i be sensible enough? LOL. Someday, we will see!

    • Well, Mary, I guess we will rename this post: “Le billet gourmand de Veronique” 🙂 I have never been able to resist salted caramel (or dulce de leche here in the US.) I do not have that many sweets – well, if you exclude the occasional spoon dipping in the Nutella jar that is – but caramel… Ahhhhh…

  • Ah c’est pas possible! Your pictures of desserts always hurts my feelings! I cant just get into my truck and find these desserts French girl! Thank you. You actually have inspired me to make some at home avec un cafe. Hey it might not taste the same but I can dream. =) Fun post.

  • Le Normal Prez, avant de le voir manger ou boire, on voudrait surtout le voir faire quelque chose d ‘intelligent, voire quelque chose tout court.:o)
    Je suis surprise par l’allure de ton mille-feuilles:dans le midi, le dessus est un glaçage blanc; C’est vrai, ton regard aiguisé a surpris une nouvelle tendance: bien vu le café gourmand!
    Je viens de finir “Une année en provence” (quel regal) et l’auteur partage ce point de vue ,sur les Français passionnés de nourriture.J’y ai réfléchi , et je me tourne vers l’histoire: des années de disette et de famine , peu de produits disponibles, ont peut-être généré un besoin de bien manger et une habileté à bien préparer tout ce qui nous tombait sous la main. C’est juste une hypothèse!
    A bientôt !

    • Pôvre Flamby. Il n’a pas la côte chez toi, on dirait, Marie? 🙂
      Pour le millefeuille, tu as raison, le glaçage est souvent blanc (c’est une de mes pâtisseries préférées avec le Baba au Rhum et la tarte au fruits.) Celui que nous avons dégusté ensemble place Gallieni était délicieux d’ailleurs…
      J’aime bien ton explication “historique” pour les origines de la gastronomie française. It makes sense, comme disent les Américains!

    • You are correct, Carol, and my friend and I did get plenty of atmosphere – and excellent service – au Café de la Paix. It did not hurt that the food was delicious too, but “le cadre” alone is worth a visit.
      La gourmandise describes the guilty pleasure of les gourmands (see definition in the post.) A famous French saying: “La gourmandise est un vilain défaut…” (not that it stops most French people from indulging in it…)

  • I love the post. I am a big fan of the café gourmand and order it without fail if it appears on the dessert menu. I keep trying to convince the chefs at our Bistro Des Copains that we should offer a café gourmand on our menu too. So far no luck. Have a good day.

  • Ah, the French version of high tea, n’est-ce pas? Yes, it’s about time–and so perfect.

    But the last couple of paragraphs of your post remind me of something I noticed in Paris last summer. It seemed to me that portion sizes had grown in the past dozen years since I’d spent time in France, approaching American-size “entrees” (not les entrées). I remember walking out of Parisian restaurants in the late 90s feeling satisfied, but not stuffed. Last summer les assiettes were so débordées, I frequently could not finish my meals! Is it age, my imagination, or have portion sizes in France really grown?

    • Alison, you may very well be right about portion size in France. It does not make any sense culturally (as explained in the post,) or even because of the recession that has been hard on restaurateurs, but I would have to agree with you. Portion size has definitely increased in some places. Come to think of it, the average Frenchman’s waistline has as well, according to recent statistics… Hmmmmm….

  • What a delicious post Veronique with very funny intro about correlation president-meal-trust. That’s the spirit!
    This last visit in July we splurged on patisseries (and baguettes by meters). Y-yes costly, but happiness is priceless, non? Just less spaghetti Bolognese and choucroute. Cafe Pouchkine was the best.
    Please visit the sweetest http://www.parispatisseries.com/category/pastry-reviews/?src=tab .
    This guy will flood you with inspirations for your next homeland pilgrimage.

  • As someone who is known for having a sweet tooth, this was the perfect post for me! I’m a fan of these mini desserts and I’ve enjoyed them in a number of restaurants – ideal when I can’t decide what to choose. However, one of my favourite occupations in France is to visit a salon de thé and have a full size millefeuille – the French certainly know how to make delicious pastries!
    http://missbbobochic.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Delicious post, Veronique! I will certainly miss your comments, but I will be sure to stop by Le Blog from time to time and see how things are going!! Let me know if you are ever in Philadelphia; likewise I will look you up if I ever venture to Seattle! (which I hope to do!) xo

  • Veronique, this post is bringing back memories of my years with a French boyfriend with Parisian parents… the saying around the table every night was “demain régime”… but tomorrow never, ever came. The mother, though, was always as thin as can be.

    I always loved that little bit of dark chocolate with my coffee… I guess I’ll have to bring my own in my purse the next time I visit…

  • Dearest Véronique,

    Great read and I LOVED to once more see the delicious (BIG) Tom Pouce dessert that we always used for treating colleagues. As said before, my Province of Limburg is known to be very bourgundian, something that remained after the French left…
    Hugs to you,
    Mariette

  • Dear Véronique,

    This post is absolutely “délicieux”. Which I would translate both by delightful… and – if you allow me this approximate translation – delicious 😉
    My mouth is watering just looking at all these photos. J’AI ENVIE DE TOUT!!! QUELLE TORTURE !!!

    About François Hollande: not sure his rating approval would go up even if he was eating and drinking like Chirac used to do when visiting street markets…
    About “French women don’t get fat”. What a great marketing success! No further comments…

    Have a great weekend,
    Anne

    • Bonjour Anne. Merci beaucoup. Virtual dessert eating: that’s what this post is about! Dessert without the calories:-)

      Good luck to Monsieur Hollande. He has been nicknamed after a famous French dessert, after all. Bonne chance, “Flamby!” 🙂

  • Great pics, I absolutely loved the caffe and those desserts, I love cooking and french cuisine it’s always an inspiration.
    Kisses
    city-aholic.blogspot.com
    I’m hosting a great INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY you may want to enter.

  • J’arrive bien tard, et en suis désolé… en fait, je viens de me faire opérer par laser les deux yeux, et j’ai dû passer un petit moment tranquil, avec moins de temps devant l’écran, je reprends petit à petit.

    Mais devant ces desserts j’ai les yeux gros comme des assiettes à soupe !!! 🙂 Ah, la mousse au chocolat, une bonne tarte au citron méringuée, des éclairs (café ou choco), et pourquoi pas un café liègois… j’aime tout cela ! La vie serait fade sans desserts de folie.

    Et en espérant que tu me pardonneras, je ne peux pas m’empecher de dire qu’à propos de M. Chirac, j’ai cru comprendre que oui, il adore manger, mais aussi il adore les poules, pas forcement au pot, et qu’elles aimaient le lapin chaud. 🙂 Mais bon, ce n’est sans doute que des bruits de couloir tout ça. Au moins il était plus discrèt que DSK, n’est-ce pas ? Sans parler de feu Mitterand, et ses appetits en dehors de la maison familiale… un gourmand lui aussi ! 🙂

  • Within a short walk from old historic downtown Monterey is a bakery, Parker-Lusseau and a crepes place at the entrance to the old wharf–both owned by men from Brittany…and very good. And a popular Paris Bakery…also enjoyable and festive. Am not that gung-ho on deserts and pasries….but appreciate something small, well done and French, of course!

  • I would definitely go for the Café Gourmand as I am more of a tapas girl about food. I would rather have many small tastes than a whole serving of anything. I love caramel au beurre salé macarons and I am dying to try that last dessert. There is a stack of crepes in my freezer that I made about a month ago and they are begging for that salted caramel! I am not so sure about the cider but willing to try.

    Poor Flamby…

    Bises,
    Genie

  • GREAT POST:)I will go to Nice(france) next weekend, Im very happy for it.
    Your blog is so wonderful and Im following…I hope you follow me also:)

    If you want some cute swedish decor inspiration…check out my blog:)

    Have a great weekend dear

    LOVE Maria at inredningsvis.se
    (sweden)

  • Hello Veronique

    A great post. I particularly love crepes and the last image has me wanting this.

    I am currently in Ireland and noticing how portion sizes have increased enormously. Is this the case in France too?

  • J’adore the cafe gourmand idea Veronique, such wonderful and as you point out, less expensive way to experience BLISS! I also read somewhere that the French public are not unhappy if their President has a mistress, if of course it is tres discreet…so very civilized haha!

    • I think French people have seen it all, bless them. They are pretty cynical about the personal lives of their leaders (and until recently,) weren’t really interested in them. Things are changing, though, and I fear there has been more and more scrutiny of politicians’ personal lives, especially with the last president and the current one… Dommage…

  • My favorite is the Tarte Tatin with Crème Fraiche! I have had it many times, in many different restaurants, and it is different in every one.

    Sandy

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