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a civilized afternoon tea

The plan for the day is to lay low, watch Jon Stewart reruns on the internet followed by a nap and a civilized afternoon cup of tea.    Which requires a pastry, of course.   I’m totally excited.

In order to put my plan into action, I must visit the patisserie.  I’m getting the same heady rush I used to get when I went to Barneys with a loaded credit card.

But when I reach the bakery, I see it’s dark and there’s a note on the door.   They’re taking the day off.   Merde!   I feel as though I’ve been punched in the stomach. This seems like a personal assault. My fabulous plans ruined by the snotty French bitches who run the bakery. I bet they closed for vacation just to spite me.   The injustice of it all washes over me in a tide of unspeakable woe.   It starts to rain and I look up to the heavens, cursing the powers that have thwarted my plans.     I want to collapse in a puddle of tears.   But I pull myself together.   I don’t need them.   I’ll show them.   I resolutely head towards the train tracks.

My gut says Pontoise is my best bet.   They’ve got patisseries up the wazzoo.

The monitor tells me the next train arrives in 28 minutes. Damn! Why am I constantly thwarted! In 28 minutes I could loose my nerve and go back home. I pace the platform. I stroll out into the parking lot. I study the railway map and schedules posted, I curse my fate.

Finally, the listing on the monitor flashes “l’approche”. Ten minutes later, I’m in Pontoise, studying the offerings at the Patisserie near the train station. I’m almost giddy with relief. Which makes choosing from the lavish selection all the more difficult. I’m a little gun shy after my recent Fraisette disaster, and realize that this decision could impact the rest of my pastry tasting career.

My eye keeps returning to the “assiette” which is a plate with an assortment of 8 little pastries for 6.50 Euros. No, I can’t. The average pastry is about E2.50, so spending E6.50 is outrageously self-indulgent and decadent. On the other hand, I’ve suffered immensely. Don’t I deserve a little extra something? And getting the assiette eliminates the risk of total disappointment. I’m positive there are at least four pastries there I’ll actually like. Also, if I divide the number of pastries I get into the cost, it’s actually way more cost efficient to buy the assiette. And lets not forget that I’m eating pastry for humanitarian purposes, after all. That clinches it.

For the sake of mankind I order the assiette s’il vous plait. Any guilt I may be feeling is overwhelmed by a pavlovian rush of endorphins. I tuck the box under my arm protectively and hurry back to the train station like an addict rushing home to cook up a fix. It’ll be so civilized. A nice cup of tea and a pastry tasting.

But when I get to the station, I’m thwarted again! 31 minutes until the next train to Auvers. I feel my rage building again, until I remember my precious cargo. Maybe I’ll have just one while I’m waiting.

I consider the options carefully. A tart is a no brainer, I know I’ll like it. On the other hand, something chocolatey might be in order. But there are only two chocolatey things, and I don’t want to waste one of them on a train platform.

The yellow one and the green glazed éclair with chocolate sprinkles are out, I’ve never tried either, so all my concentration will be required. The trick is to make sure a representative sample of all flavors remains when I get back to Auvers and am able to try them in an appropriate setting. Finally I settle on the strawberry tart.

I take a bite and I’m sure my eyes are rolling back in my head orgasmically. This is perfection. The cream is thick and slightly lemony and juuuuuuust right. The crust has a hint of almond in it and is perfect buttery flakey consistency. The Strawberries are more delicious than any strawberry I remember and the pistachio adds just the right kick. This has got to be better than sex.

As the taste wears off, I almost wish I could burp so I can taste it again.   I begin to worry. What if the other pastries in the box aren’t as good as this one? I don’t think I can take any more disappointment. I open the box and look at them. There’s no doubt about it…the lemon puffy one will definitely be as good as the strawberry tart. I definitely have that one to look forward to. So I might as well eat the Kiwi tart since I know what a tart tastes like and I don’t love Kiwis. I might as well get it out of the way.

The kiwi tarte isn’t as good as the strawberry, but it’s still delicious.

But now I want something chocolatey. 15 minutes until the next train. Maybe the chocolate choux looking thing. I’ve had a choux before so maybe it won’t require all my concentration. It’s light, with a slighty crisp, buttery shell. Two shells, the smaller one on top, both filled with a dense chocolate creamy custard filling. The beautiful frosting on top is almost overkill.  I think the pleasure is giving me blackouts because it seems like hours have passed, but when I check the monitor, it’s only been two minutes.

What will I do for the next 13 minutes? I might as well eat the raspberry tart. I’ve had a gazillion. I don’t need a tea ceremony for a raspberry tart. Would it be over dramatizing to say these raspberries are gifts from God?

Looking at the remaining chocolate pastry, I begin to worry that it needs refrigeration. God forbid it should go to waste, so I eat it immediately to save it. It’s something between a truffle, custard and ganache. With a cherry on top. Chocolate rushes through my veins. I leap up to check the monitor again…10 freaking minutes…I’d pace or jump up and down, but I don’t want to disturb the pastry.

Maybe I’ll have just one more. The Salumbo (the green éclair) is delicious, creamy and a delicate mélange of vanilla, pistachio with a slight crunch of chocolate. Pure heaven.

I decide it’s okay to eat the tan colored pastries since it’s not a very appetizing color. The cafe éclair is as light and creamy as tiramisu.

The one with powdered sugar and almond slices is filled with a dense, but very light hazelnut filling and the shell has just the right crisp to it. The French would describe it as “tendre.”

Finally the l’approche sign flashes and I jump up and race for the edge of the platform to watch the train roll in. I jump up and down in anticipation until I remember my pastry. I fearfully open the box and notice a ding in the one pastry left…the yellow one. Shoot, it’s ruined. Might as well eat it now.

As my teeth sink into it, my brain short circuits with pleasure…creamy…lemony…creamy…lemony…custardy…

I don’t remember getting on the train.  I get off at Auvers carrying an empty box and a smile.    Just in time for tea.


Embarking on a life of crime (how I went to Paris and fell in love…with French Pastry)

Lesley’s pastry guide (my useful guide to French Pastry, a work in progress)


2 Responses

  1. I once took the F train all the way to Coney Island for a Nathan’s hot dog.
    Then i found out there was one at the Seaport a block from where I lived.

    My first night back from Nam I went to the Nathan’s in Oceanside nor far from where I grew up in Freeport. I met a guy there I had seen the day before in Nam.
    We cracked up. They had French pastries in Nam. Or, so I have heard. The closest I got was a piece of fruit cake that came in our C-rations.

    • A) no way the seaport hotdog would have tasted the same as the coney island one. You did the right thing.
      B) Fruitcake isn’t pastry. I’m not even sure if it’s food.

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