Mr French decided that his birth day would begin the moment his mother stepped off a train from Germany. He was her first child and she was alone, obviously, she’d known he’d be becoming, but his due date wasn’t for another 10 days, so while it was a very welcome arrival, his timing was slightly inconvenient. Nothing has changed. His birthday is at the very end of August, when galleries are closed, artisans have fled the region and restaurants go under renovation. Not the easiest time of year to plan a birthday celebration. No matter how prepared I think I am, things invariably go awry. Every year. This year, Mr French’s favorite bakery was closed on his birthday.
Fortunately, France’s fetish for baked goods makes finding a cake very much like spotting puddles on a rainy day; hard to avoid. Even harder, on the rue du Bac, where several renowned pastry chefs have decided to open shop in the last several months.
I started my quest for le cake at the Bon Marché’s Grand Epicerie de Paris. It may be a grocery store, but they have a talented pastry chef who turns out playful, modern desserts in the kitchen downstairs. His pieces often come with a tasty surprise that recreates the feeling of being a kid in a candy shop. But Mr French already knows the cake the hides under a chocolate box, so I decided it was too common for this special birthday.
The next pastries were at an outpost of historic Angelina’s. They are famous for their Mont Blanc, a chestnut cream concoction that Mr French has never ordered, so I suspect it’s not his thing. The other desserts were dressed in delicate puff pastries, enrobed in pastel icing. Their cakes looked pretty, but a bit too girlie.
Next, I headed to Le Bac à Glace. If Mr French had his way, he’d have ice cream everyday, and they make their own ice creams on site, with a reputation for the best chocolate sorbet in Paris. I was hoping they made ice cream cakes. Perhaps they do, I never found out, as they were still closed for the holidays.
Not being a stickler for tradition, I headed up to Chapon, thinking a flight of shot glasses filled with a selection of their single estate chocolate mousses would be a fun, original alternative. It was August, they were mousse-less.
The favorite chocolatier of most chefs, Jacques Genin, also does wonders with pastry, making a remarkable lemon tart and an extraordinary napoleon. But again, I struck out, his shop opening has been post-poned to late fall.
Almost next door is Des Gateaux et Du Pain, the newest addition to the sweets of the street. I already knew Mr French adores their truly exceptional ice creams, but had never paid attention to the cakes. I eyed the pastry counter, full of sleek looking desserts featuring fresh fruits and unique flavors. Tempting, but I wasn’t sure which Mr French would love. I looked at the bread wall to think about it and there, I found what I’d been looking for! A peach tart, with juicy, large, peach halves with a verbena glaze. Feeling like Goldilocks, I ordered large cups of Sicilian pistachio and salted caramel ice cream to serve the dessert à la mode, savouring the Goldilock’s moment of having found something that I knew would be just right.
ps There is one more pastry shop on the rue du Bac, La Patisserie des Rêves. They’re famous for their Paris Brest dessert and breakfast pastries that tempt even the most disciplined Parisiennes.