In Dorie Greenspan’s new cookbook, Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere (HMH, Oct.), Greenspan celebrates French home baking with elegant but simple dessert recipes. PW caught up with the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author to chat about why the French don’t bake for fun, how women in France never say “non” to dessert, and one French take on a very American treat.
You planned to write about classic French pastry but ended up with a book about homemade French baking. How did that happen?
I had this idea that I was going to go back to school. I was going to work with great pastry chefs and relearn all the fancy stuff. And I quickly realized it wasn’t my style. It wasn’t what I loved. When I’m craving a pastry, I’m not craving a mille-feuille or a Gâteau St. Honoré. [W]hat I want every day, is a very simple cake, a great cookie, a small pastry, a financier, for instance. So I realized what I wanted to do was find out what French people were baking at home.
So what do the French bake at home?
Most French people don’t bake. There are pastry chefs for that kind of thing is what they’ll tell you. When I did finally get friends to give me recipes—and it wasn’t easy even though I knew them well—they would say, “No, no, this recipe is too simple for you. No, you wouldn’t want to know.” What I discovered was that they were wrong. I did want it. And they were right—they were very simple. And very delicious. And so I ended up gathering recipes, begging for recipes, flirting for recipes and getting recipes that I came to call French comfort baking.
It sounds like you had practically pry these recipes loose.
In many ways these desserts are private because in so many cases this is what someone’s mother made or somebody’s neighbor. For instance the Moka Dupont. I had heard about that recipe for years. My friend Bernard would always say it was his favorite, and it was what he had for his birthday. His wife Martine would say, “Oh you wouldn’t be interested,” and, finally, I said, “Hey, look, I’m writing a book about just these kinds of things. Come on--now’s the time, give me the recipe.” It’s essentially an ice cream cake.
This recipe from the book was a shocker--French Rice Krispies Treats.
It’s Desert Roses, the French version of Rice Krispies Treats. Every once in a while, I’d see something in a pastry shop, and it would look like a little hockey puck or a haystack, and it was covered with chocolate. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Sometimes it was made from fan-shaped very light wafers, and sometimes it would just be that cookie smashed. But sometimes, the pastry would taste like corn flakes. I would think. “It just can’t be.” And then I would talk to a friend and she would say, “Of course it is. It’s Roses des Sables,” Sand Roses or Desert Roses.
You mention that French women never say non to dessert, yet they’re so slender.
I sometimes look at French women walking down the street, and sometimes I think they were bred from racehorses. For most people there is a daily indulgence, but the portions here are so much smaller.
Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, by Dorie Greenspan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct. ISBN: 978-0-547-72424-9