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Home Baking: The US and France

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Dear Dorie,

Thank you for your always generious and informative participation on eGullet--and for the wonderful collection of cookbooks you have given us already.

In a general way, do you perceive a difference in what people bake at home or how much they bake at home between the France and the US? Would you say what and how the French bake at home has changed in the years you are familiar with or have learned of through speaking with natives there?

I know sometimes my relatives and friends in Austria are bemused (or amused?) at some of the Austrian tortes and pastries I make at home because there they can buy excellent versions from bakeries in Austria or order them in restaurants. I, of course, generally need to make them if I want to eat them in the US! I suspect there is a similar dynamic at work in France although I'm not sure how much it would vary between larger cities and the countryside or if it has changed over the years. Maybe it is too difficult to generalize, but I would be intrigued to hear your thoughts.

As an aside, are any of your cookbooks published in French?

Thank you!

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I think I can best describe the difference between home baking in America and France by telling you a story. When I was working on Paris Sweets, I was so excited to get a cake recipe from Laduree that I went back to our Paris apartment and made it right away for a dinner party I was having that night. The dessert was a chocolate cake layered with a fresh raspberry and chocolate ganache and finished with a pure chocolate ganache. I brought the cake out and all my very polite French guests oohed and aaahed and when I finally mentioned that I'd made the cake myself, I was surprised by their reaction. Instead of a round of applause, I got a bunch of questioning looks. Finally, someone said, "You made the cake?" And when I nodded, she asked, "Why??"

No French people I know would make a cake like that. Like your Austrian family members, they'd buy it. There are wonderful pastry shops everywhere in Paris and French home cooks usually go to the patisseries to buy dessert.

There are French desserts that are made at home, but they are very simple -- creme caramel, chocolate mousse (often made from the recipe on the back of the Nestle's dessert chocolate bar), floating islands, clafoutis, far Breton, yogurt cake and fruit tarts made using all-butter crusts bought, already rolled out and cut to size, in the supermarket. (I have recipes for many of these French homemade desserts in my new book.)

I don't know if things have changed over the years -- it's only 10 years that I've been living in France and eating often in French people's homes -- but judging by the kinds of desserts that I see made at home, my guess would be that not much has changed.

In answer to your question about any of my books being published in French -- the two Pierre Herme books have been translated into French.

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