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I’m currently in the South of France, where the countryside in warmer seasons is saturated in lavender and olive, yellow and azure. But it is winter even here, and so the colours are more subdued–except in bakery windows!

On this vacation again I’ve pressed my nose up against the glass of many patisseries and boulangeries (they still make a difference here between which shops sell sweet delicacies and which yeasty breads). I’ve sampled my fair share as well, with more to come. And there’s one thing I’ve noticed over and again:

French baking always tastes as good as it looks.

This comes as a surprise to me every time I bite into a crusty croissant, flakes flying into the air, or lick a dollop of chocolate from a mousse cake, or crush the ripe raspberry of a tart, its flavour exploding in my mouth.

It surprises me that such beauty to the eye gives such pleasure to the taste buds, that the gastronomic reality is equal to the artistic presentation. (I sound almost sacramental here!) I have to admit that this is not the truth for most Canadian bakeries, where too often pristine cakes smothered in snowy icing and piped in berry blue taste of styrofoam wrapped in bitter lard–a temptation only to naive children who won’t believe for a while yet that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.

And yet here in France, it seems, every bite is true.

I see a philosophical corollary here, of course: Am I internally the person I attempt to project outwardly? Am I made of quality ingredients or substandard fluff? Does my character satisfy or disappoint?

But I have to be honest here. Call me shallow, but more important to me at this moment–as I wander the cobblestones and backstreets of a country where father taught son taught grandson the great culinary arts, where ingredients are treated as family secrets, where agriculture is a proud tradition and people shop the local markets daily–more important is my mouth.

French baking could almost convert me to hedonism.

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  1. Wayne
    Posted January 29, 2015 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    I love the imagery of this post. I hate to go there, but how are the prices for the French baked goods v. Canadian?

    • Posted January 29, 2015 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Wayne, the price of food (like breads and pastries, if not full meals) is extremely reasonable. You can buy the best croissant for $1US (or a dozen for 30 cents each), and a small baguette about the same. A raspberry tart (for two to share) is about $3.25 at a sit-down cafe, with an espresso under a dollar. Meals are another thing; unless you dine at noon on the “plat du jour” (almost always a deal, and delicious to boot), they can be as expensive as at home BUT always seem to taste infinitely better.

  2. Lorenda
    Posted January 29, 2015 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Thought-provokingly delicious.

  3. Posted January 29, 2015 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Okay, you sold me on it! My mouth is watering. You have an appreciation for beauty and able to describe it in such excellent terms! Having had the pleasure of having French pastry in France myself, I completely agree with you! I know what you are saying about some of our Canadian desserts. It fools me every time.
    Thanks for the post card of Picasso’s art plate. I think he did quite a number of them. France speaks art everywhere.

    • Posted January 29, 2015 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Mom! I think the reason for the exceptional quality of the French (European?) baking is often the ingredients used. I must say that I’ve had some wonderful desserts at YOUR table, and also from the kitchens of many friends who, like the French, pay special attention to details and quality of what’s going into the mixing bowl. But really, as far as store-bought goodies, the French have it all over anything I can purchase at home!

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