Mon dieu! Did you miss it? I almost missed celebrating Bastille Day this year but remembered just in time to visit my favorite French bakery and share a bottle of wine with fellow Francophiles.Why Bastille Day? For the food, of course. You may not be aware that the French holiday, known in France as La Fête Nationale, commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, and celebrates the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. You may also not know that this anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress-prison is seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern nation, and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy, which preceded the First Republic. But surely you know how wonderful French cooking is. A la vôtre!
Which brings me to a growing crisis in the French bakery world. I mean the degradation of a classic French food item, nothing less than the increasing lack of caramelized sugar on the palmier.
What the heck is a palmier? It is a gorgeous, buttery swirl of puff pastry that, when made properly, is drenched in crispy, melted sugar. Or it was. Then one day perhaps two years ago, I bought one, anticipating that wonderful crunch and flavor, only to find it had none. Pah! I figured it was just that bakery, but after searching out two or three other palmiers from here to Boston, I found this to be a horrifying trend.
I refer all palmier makers to one recipe that states clearly, “This is not about sprinkling, it’s about an even covering of sugar.” Another recipe calls for “Lots of granulated sugar.” I am, therefore, reassured that I hadn’t somehow mistaken how they should taste. Sugar, people. And no skimping.
Not skimping is what French food is all about, am I right? Butter, butter, butter, incredible custards, rich sauces and lots of wine. Yes, we know you can’t eat that way every day. We spend most of our days eating low-fat, whole-grain fare. On Bastille Day, we want to indulge. So if you are going to claim to be a French chef, then no fair cutting back on the good stuff. If you do, ma cher, I might just take the All-American way out and wander off to the nearest doughnut shop to drown my sorrows in glaze. Do you really want that on your conscience?
Meanwhile, I will settle, I suppose, for that chocolate mousse cake, an almond croissant and perhaps just a few dozen of those éclairs with a café latte. Ah, le ciel. I’m unlikely to storm a Bastille, but if I don’t find a decent palmier soon, I may be found storming a bakery kitchen, armed with sugar.
Jean Gillette can be found waving her tricolore with sticky fingers and crumbs on her apron. Contact her at [email protected].