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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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