Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's in a Name? French Patisserie

Did you know that the name of your favorite mouth-watering French pastry may have a special meaning?

Let’s start with an easy one. Take a look at this picture...

Of course, you recognize the flaky, buttery French croissant, so named for its crescent shape. But did you know that crescent-shaped breads and cakes have been made in France since pre-Christian days? Once upon a time, they were made to honor the moon.

Now, let's make it a little harder. How about this one…
What do you see?

If you see a fat little nun, shuffling about the Abbey in her religious habit, you’d be exactly right. Because that is exactly what the religieuse, a puff pastry stuffed with chocolate or coffee cream, is meant to evoke.

What do you see in this image?

Do you see a thousand layers of puff pastry alternated with luscious sweet fillings, such as cream, chocolate, jam, almond paste, or a delectable combination of all the above? This is the mille-feuille, meaning ‘one-thousand leaves’.

And check out this yummy treat, from two perspectives…

What do you see? A wheel? A bicycle wheel?

That’s right! For this is the Paris-Brest, a pastry as delightful to eat as it is to look at. It was created by a pastry chef in Brest, France, in celebration of the annual bicycle race that starts in Paris and terminates in his home town. It is a ring-shaped pastry – fashioned after a bicycle tire – split and filled with praline buttercream.

My personal favorite! What’s yours?

(Stayed turned here for more French patisseries and the meaning of their names…)

Croissant, religieuse, and Paris-Brest, courtesy of Sarah B. Towle.
Mille-Feuille, courtesy of Miya.m and Wikimedia commons.