Talk about having all the fun. David Lebovitz is a pastry chef living in pastry chef heaven. He's based in Paris. His blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris, can drive you either to the kitchen or to buy a plane ticket. His latest book is Ready for Dessert.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Paris during the holidays. Am I over the top about this? I remember it being magical. Is it still that way?
It's a different kind of magical than a lot of people think. Because I live here I see how Christmas is more of a low-key day. I think people here tend to concentrate more on the food traditions and the slower-paced qualities rather than the commercial qualities. It tends to be a much more deeply felt holiday.
LRK: So it's not everybody running around with gifts and all that?
DL: No, you don't see people hysterically shopping and carrying loads of things and stampeding people in department stores.
LRK: But are they stocking up and cooking?
DL: Yes. Big time. The markets are very busy. What's wonderful is that this is the time the markets have game birds. You see things like goose and duck, lots of oysters, foie gras. People really go all out on holiday food, but it's family food.
LRK: How about the sweets? Do the French bake for the holidays?
DL: Well, people in Paris have little tiny apartments with little tiny countertops, and not everybody has a lot of space or time to cook an elaborate pastry. So most people buy their desserts.
Americans have a very strong tradition of home baking, whereas French people have more than 1,000 bakeries in Paris, and most of them are really good. It's just much easier to go buy something because the bakery usually does it very well.
LRK: What's in those bakery shops at this time of year? What are the special things for the holidays?
DL: A little before Christmas, you start seeing Buche de Noel, which means Yule log. It's a log-shaped cake, usually some sort of roulade or rolled-up cake, and over the past few years, the Parisian pastry shops have sort of tried to outdo each other by creating the most exquisite, the most bizarre, or the most outrageous cake. You'll see ones that have leopard prints, some that resemble an Hermes shopping bag or a designer purse. It's quite fun, and they're all in the window and they look magnificent.
LRK: What about cookies? Are cookies a big thing for the French?
DL: Not really. Cookies are something that you eat with tea or coffee. There's not that big cookie tradition.
Chocolate chip cookies, though, have kind of taken over Paris. They actually call them les cookies, and it only refers to chocolate chip cookies.
LRK: Do you ever do fruitcake?
DL: I do. There's a lot of derision toward fruitcake and I don't quite understand it, because usually they're full of wonderful things: candied fruit, nuts, chocolate.
I think people have made not-very-good ones, so I came up with one that was mostly dark chocolate -- really heavily dark chocolate -- with candied cherries in it and dried sour cherries. That's the best. I put a kirsch frosting on it that everybody loves.
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