In this current spell of cold weather, I am always starving and I hanker after a slice of decent cake – good old solid British cake – none of these fancy French pastries that just don’t fill you up.
The French call it « Gouter », which for want of a better translation would be « teatime » in English, however, depending of where you live in England’s green and pleasant land, « tea » can be one of several different meals.
When lunch is dinner and tea is not
So, I am not talking full blown « afternoon tea » – that meal in-between meals enjoyed mostly by tourists, neither am I talking « teatime », that term used in the North of England to describe what us southerners might simply call « dinner » – because in Northern England, « dinner » is actually your lunch.
Back to the French « gouter » which is no more than a couple of biscuits or a chocolate bar or some kind of sweet snack that kids wolf down when they arrive home from school.
It was on leaving the house that my daughter asked me (shouting from her bedroom) « dad can you bring back a cake (gâteau) for the gouter »
Give me decent cake!
A cake – oh please for a real, sensible cake! A Victoria sponge, a carrot cake, a banana and walnut, a Dundee cake, a Pound Cake – something copious, solid and sensible. This is France though, and the French don’t do decent cakes (I can hear howls of gastronomic Francophile anguish as I write) – Yes the French have Patisseries – icing-covered, cream filled creations hat are better to look at than taste. Oh the chocolate éclair – NO, that is not a cake! It’s an éclair – and worse the coffee cream éclair. I don’t want airy fairy fancy pâtisseries; I want a slice of carrot cake.
When Gateau is not Gateau
Of course, for the purposes of the « gouter », when the daughter says « gâteau » and I translate as cake, I should of course have understood « biscuit » – yep, this is the country where a cake can be a biscuit and a biscuit – well that’s something fancy that pastry chefs use in their pâtisseries. Confused – you should be.
To avoid confusion we use brand names in my house
At the supermarket – I wandered into that aisle where sweets and biscuits are sold, looking for a real cake. Ginger bread, Brownies, « English » fruit cake, but nothing that I would consider as a real cake in my very English definition.
I might get a « cake » at the baker’s, but the baker is a boulanger and not a pâtissier, though there are a few fruit tarts (referred to in English as pies) because when the French make an apple pie, it is an apple tart.
Oh for real cake!
Yes, I can get “almost real cake” in my corner of deepest France, though I have to frequent one of the plethora of French-owned tea rooms have opened up in my small provincial town, even then, the carrot cake on offer is a very small « ersatz » affair, and these tea rooms are no more than pale imitations of what a real tea room should be.
Let Them Eat cake
No decent cake. All this in the land where Marie Antoinette told the peasants to eat cake because they had no bread.
Lost in translation again. Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say cake or « gâteau » – she actually meant Brioche, which is Brioche, because we don’t have that in Britain because it’s French.
« Let them eat cake! »
Perhaps if they’d given the peasants a nice slice of Victoria sponge and a decent cup of tea, we would never have had all this revolution nonsense.
No Cheese Cake in a Cheesy Land
So in quest of real cake, and the hardest of all to find – real decent cheese cake. There is that famous quote by fomer president Général De Gaulle, as he lamented in 1951 just how difficult is was to run France
“How do you expect to govern a country that produces 265 different sorts of cheese.”
On the eve of the D Day landing in Normandy, in June 1944, De Gaulle is reported to have said
“A country that produces 365 different cheeses cannot lose the war.”
In France here are now over 1600 different varieties of cheese, but in this, the cheesiest of countries in the world, there is still no decent cheese cake