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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)!

 I 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 French coffee.

October 29, 2008

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