Work is the meat of life, pleasure the dessert. ~ B.C. Forbes
You’re planning a trip to France, so why not take a French pastry tour?
Sure, sure, macarons in as many flavors as there are colors will call you to you at every turn from the moment you land at Orly. And, most of the time, you’ll answer.
Still, you’ll be in France for more than a week and don’t want to come home with your pores oozing almond paste. You also want a little something different than the fabulous éclairs and Napoleons you usually eat.
… every one of France’s 22 regions can boast of one or more unique pastries as fabulous as your familiar favorites. Île-de-France, where Paris is located, is only one of them.
So, how do you go about sampling the full range of pastries available in the remaining 21 regions of la belle France?
Your French Pastry Tour (& How to Swing It)
I propose two plans we’ll call “Plan A” and “Plan B.”
First, in “Plan A,” you remain in Paris. There you prowl pastry shops for regional specialties on sale most any time of year.
Then, in “Plan B,” you travel to the other regions and experience each pastry among the people who do it best. You enjoy the food and they get the joy of sharing with you some of what their craft and the local community is all about.
Of course, for you, my curious traveler friend, I recommend “Plan B.” And here is how to do it:
~ by planning one long stay in France OR a series of stays in which you resume each new trip at the point you left off the previous trip, AND
~ taking a clockwise route through each region, following a path and order similar to Paris’ 20 arrondissements.
Savor it all by taking this snail-like route at a snail’s pace. Here is what awaits you outside of Île-de-France, in France’s 21 other regions beginning with…
1) Tarte Tatin in Centre.
Butter. Sugar. Apples. Flaky Pastry. Layered. This upside-down apple pie has been making people happy since the late 1800’s. You may see variations on its traditional theme with pears and other fruit in place of apples . . . it’s all good. Tastes best warm with or without vanilla ice cream.
2) Corniotte in Bourgogne (Burgundy).
The sweet version of this three-cornered puff pastry is filled with fresh local cherries or black currants.
3) Pompe aux Pommes in Auvergne.
Happiness in the shape of a rectangle, with puff pastry and apples.
4) Clafoutis in Limousin.
A light batter poured over a bed of fresh fruit, this dessert (pictured at left) is found all over France and is easy to make.
Still, it’s worth going to Limousin to tour the ruins of the region’s medieval castles and to visit Aubusson.
Aubusson is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage city because of its excellence in traditional tapestry and an ideal place to see, first hand, fine tapestries being made today.
5) Noix Charentaise in Poitou-Charentes.
Fill a ball-shaped choux pastry with nutty buttercream, top it with a dark chocolate glaze, a single walnut ~ and voilà!
6) Brioche-Vendeenne in Pays-de-la-Loire.
Rich brioche or sweet bread.
7) Tarte Normande in Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy).
Normandy confections are apple-rich, so the Tarte Normande is an open-faced fruit pie rich with apples, custard, and sliced almonds.
8) Bourdelots in Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy).
How long has it been since you’ve eaten a baked apple?
Bourdelots, sometimes called douillons, are cored apples stuffed with butter and sugar, then encased in delicate puff pastry. Like the tarte Tatin, they taste best warm. Top with cream.
9) Gâteau Battu in Picardie (Picardy).
Gâteau Battu ~ Beaten Cake ~ is just as the name suggests: a cake made airy by beating up to one dozen egg yolks. You’ll recognize it by its chef’s hat shape.
10) Biscuits Roses de Reims in Champagne-Ardenne.
Here is your opportunity to celebrate two Champagne-Ardenne specialties together: By dipping one (or more!) of these crunchy vanilla-flavored cookies into a glass of champagne.
Biscuits Roses de Reims also go well with tea.
11) Galette de Besançon in Franche-Comté.
Thin and round puff pastry sprinkled with sugar, butter, and caramel.
12) Gâteau aux Noix in Rhône-Alpes.
Walnut cake. Made with honey, ground walnuts, topped with caramelized sugar. The walnuts are from Grenoble and among the world’s finest.
Heading SSW towards Spain, you’ll find
13) Crème Catalane in Languedoc-Roussillon.
This “cousin” to the crème brulée has a lighter texture, owing to the use of milk with or instead of heavy cream. In the end, it’s still milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla, with the right amount of cinnamon and orange zest thrown in. Look for it in Perpignan.
14) Croustade in Midi-Pyrénées.
The region offers more than one version of Croustade. In the eastern portion called the Tarn, you’ll bite into a flaky puff pastry called Poumpet. With sweetened lemon zest inside and crunchy sugared top.
Croustade à l’Armagnac is the version you’ll find in the western portion of Midi-Pyrénées called Gers. It’s apples and vanilla ~ mixed up with the local Armagnac brandy ~ sandwiched between layers of phyllo dough. You bite into it and . . . mmmm! Look for it in Auch.
15) Gâteau Basque in Aquitaine.
If you have a good appetite, this cake from the French Basque region is for you. It’s rich stuff, made with almond flour. Then, get this . . . they slice the cake in half horizontally and fill it with fruit preserves made with locally-grown cherries . . . sometimes. Other times, they fill it with pastry cream.
16) Kouign-Amann in Bretagne (Brittany).
Probably the richest butter cake you will ever eat is the Kouign-Amann in Bretagne, where butter is king: layers of fine sugar and LOTs of butter wrapped in dough that emerge from the oven flaky and caramelized.
17) Cramique in Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
Bun-shaped sweet bread filled with crystallized sugar and raisins, originating from Flanders.
18) Madeleines in Lorraine.
Madeleines are done well everywhere in France but you can still get a kick out of eating these spongy shell-shaped cakes in the place they originated nearly 200 years ago.
19) Kugelhoph in Alsace.
This bundt cake came to France from Germany via Poland. Crowned with powdered sugar.
20) Tarte Tropézienne in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
Buttery brioche sliced horizontally in half, filled with buttercream and pastry cream, flavored with orange blossom water.
21) Fiadone in Corse (Corsica).
Corsicans are just as crazy about this crustless cheesecake as Americans are about theirs. Fiadone is the lighter cake, made with brocciu, a local cheese with a texture similar to ricotta. Yet, unlike ricotta, brocciu is made with sheep or goat’s milk, so you can eat as much fiadone as you like even if lactose is not your friend. Flavored with orange zest and eau de vie, a spirit distilled from fruit juice, you will not want to miss fiadone when you visit the island of beauty that is Corsica.