Millefeuille and sparkling wine

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Here’s a photo of a millefeuille. Millefeuille means a thousand leaves, as in the multiple layers of delicate puff pastry interspersed with layers of pastry cream, which is really a delicious custard. The top layer is always glazed with icing in alternating colours. Despite the green-coloured icing, this one is not pistachio-flavoured. I’m beginning to wonder if pistachio millefeuille ever existed in the bakery at the end of my street.  Every time I go in and ask for one, the woman says there are none left.  Was it a flaky figment of my imagination?

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Drinking chilled crémant is an alternative to drinking tea with French pastry. From only 5 to 7 euros a bottle, as opposed to 33 euros for a good bottle of champagne, I pick up a bottle of crémant at the supermarket like I pick up a bottle of wine. It makes a delicious apéritif with a splash of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) thrown in.  For purists, however, it’s nice on its own.

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The best example of sparkling wine is champagne from the Champagne wine region of France but, as you know, under AOC regulations (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), all sparkling wines using the champagne method but produced outside of the Champagne region, are forbidden to use the appellation “champagne.”  Yes, the French are highly protective of their regions.

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Sparkling wines called crémant are so named because their lower carbon dioxide levels give them a creamy rather than fizzy mouth-feel.  In France, there are seven appellations for crémant (an appellation is a protected geographical region):

  • Crémant d’Alsace
  • Crémant de Bordeaux
  • Crémant de Bourgogne
  • Crémant de Die
  • Crémant du Jura
  • Crémant de Limoux
  • Crémant de Loire

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4 p.m. on a wintry Sunday afternoon

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I usually resist the temptation to run down the street to the boulangerie at the end of my road to buy a French pastry.  Because I’m exercising something that’s called willpower. Juliet, you don’t need a pastry, my voice of conscience gently admonishes.  But I know that the boulangerie-patisserie at the end of my road is open on Sunday afternoons.  And this knowledge weakens my resolve.  And besides, this isn’t a question of need.  I want a French pastry at 4 p.m. on a dull, gray Sunday afternoon.  And why shouldn’t I have one?I’m a good girl.  I deserve it.

So out I ran, amidst gently falling snowflakes, clad in sweatpants and an old sweater, hair unkempt and no makeup (oh, the shame! Quelle honte !)  No time for lipstick.  OK, I made up for my negligence by throwing on at the last minute the woolly bonnet I bought last month in Brussels and my Montreal mink.  (Yes, all you fur haters, I unapologetically bought a long raincoat lined with mink ten years ago in Montreal when it was minus 30 degrees celsius outside.)  It has a mink-lined hood, called a capuche in French, that I particularly like.

I knew exactly what I wanted: a pistachio-flavoured mille-feuille.  I’d had one before from this place and it was divine.

“Bonjour, Madame”, I said, running into the shop as if on an urgent mission.  “Je voudrais une mille-feuille pistache, s’il vous plaît.”

“Il n’en reste plus !” she replied.

Huh?  None left?  I stood in my mink, my fluorescent pink and green running shoes, and my Tibetan hat feeling bereft.  Don’t you hate it when you’ve got your mind fixed on one thing and then you learn that it’s unavailable?? I gazed wildly at the other pastries in the display case. “Errrrr…..well, OK, I guess I’ll have a religieuse then. One chocolate and one coffee. Please.”  I was obsessed with these eclair-like cakes when studying French in Montpellier a hundred years ago.  The name means “nun” and is supposed to represent a tubby nun in a habit.

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The best accompaniment to French pastry, in my opinion, is jasmine or rose petal tea.

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Next week I’ll post a photo of a pistachio mille-feuille.