Le P'tit Déj'
In France, the morning meal tends to be a simple affair. While
dinner can span several courses and three or more hours, le petit
déjeuner (breakfast) generally consists of two things:
some sort of bread and coffee.
Of course, you can buy a variety of cereals at the grocery store
in France. But you won't see a 50-foot supermarket aisle with the
(over)abundance of cereal choices like you do in the U.S. The demand
just isn't there. And even though some French cafés and restaurants
serve breakfast à l'américain (American style)
with les oeufs brouillés et le bacon (scrambled eggs
and bacon), young and old alike tend to stick with les tartines,
a baguette that has been sliced in half and toasted. They then slather
the tartine with du beurre (butter) and de la confiture
(jam) and wash it down with un café crème (coffee
with hot milk) or perhaps un chocolat chaud (hot chocolate).
On the weekends, the French tend to splurge with croissants
or pains au chocolat (croissant pastry dough with a piece
or two of dark chocolate inside).
When in Provence not long ago, I had a wealth of bread choices at
the morning meal. I was seated on la terrasse at La Cabro
d'Or, a country inn near the hilltop village of Les Baux de Provence.
From un croissant to un pain au chocolat to miniature
baguettes, the basket of bread didn't stop there. I could also choose
toasted brioche or toasted slices of loaf bread. And the
golden brown fougasse with its signature slits was there
to remind me I really was in the south of France.
Fougasse, the French version of Italy's foccacia, is a flat
bread that is made in Provence in a variety of savory or sweet flavors.
The classic fougasse is known as the "pompe à
l'huile" and is brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with
powered sugar. It is served as part of the traditional Provençal
treize desserts (13 desserts) at Christmastime. Throughout
the year, you will often see fougasse with black olives,
with anchovies or with cheese. This breakfast version came with
a bit of fruit and was only slightly sweet-c'était délicieux
(it was delicious)!
also had breakfast one morning in St. Rémy. At an artisanal
pâtisserie (pastry shop), I picked up un sacristain,
an elongated version of an almond croissant. While its history is
uncertain, this pastry is thought to be named after the baton of
the church figure responsible for upkeep of the sacristy.* I headed
to the Café des Variétés and sat down at a
table amongst the St. Rémois (people from St. Rémy).
After ordering un grand crème déca (a large
decaffeinated coffee with milk), I savored the light puff pastry
with almond paste, sliced almonds and powdered sugar.* While scrumptious,
it was also rich-definitely not the breakfast of champions!
Some patrons of the café stood at the bar imbibing their
expresso and shooting the breeze with other regulars. And one or
two were starting their day with another type of French breakfast-un
pastis (licorice-flavored liqueur often drunk in the south of
France) and une cigarette. For my p'tit déj'
(the slangy, abbreviated form of le petit déjeuner), I think
I'll stick to une tartine et un crème-and maybe a
pastry treat every once in a while.
* La Pâtisserie Bergèse in St. Rémy
sells beautiful sacristains. They also have a
recipe for them (in French) on their web site.
* Cafés often sell croissants, pains au chocolat
et tartines to go along with coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Caveat
emptor: café pastries are usually mediocre at best. As breakfast
is such a non-event anyway, it's culturally acceptable to bring
your own croissant or pâtisserie from a fabulous
bakery to a café and enjoy it with the usually outstanding
October 29, 2008
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