Allyson Gofton in France: Chocolate here is essential
While you are still basking in sunshine, we are celebrating the arrival of rain which brings smiles to farmers and ski operators alike. When it rains in the valley, the Pyrenees get snow, and as it’s school holidays again — they arrive every six weeks — the area is inundated with skiers from all over France.
Five hundred Euros (NZ$750) gets you all the gear, a week’s ski pass for four and two hours’ ski lesson for two children for the week. There are endless piste for kids’ adventures, leaving time for parents to apres-ski toute la journee — all day!
However, here 1800 metres up, the daily routine of morning coffee and three-course lunches is only punctuated by the all-day availability of vin-chaud for we non-skiers. Despite a nine o’clock opening you have to wait until lunchtime to get food or simply take it yourself.
Along with homemade duck sausage rolls, chocolate in some form is essential, and these tarts have become a favourite with my clan. The French love their chocolate, though their consumption falls behind the UK, Germany and Switzerland. That said, in supermarkets chocolate is next on the list after sales of pasta, oil and sugar, even outdoing cheese!
At my local supermarket chocolate appears in several locations. The gift section features individually wrapped or boxed chocolates — a common and appreciated gift. An entire aisle is reserved for chocolate bars with a confusing array of flavours and brands, including Fair Trade, organic, estate-grown and more. Lastly comes the lolly section, but it’s so small, if you blink you miss it; chocolate confectionery, as we know it, hardly exists here.
When it comes to eating chocolate, the French like it dark and bitter. Of their almost seven kilograms’ consumption per person per year, 30 per cent will be dark, compared to an average of 5 per cent in most other countries. It’s less sweet than our chocolate too, with bars up to 99 per cent cocoa solids — very bitter.
Milk and white chocolate varieties are in the minority. Luckily for us, a few valleys to our west is the rustically beautiful historic city of Oloron St. Marie, now best known for its beret making factory (using only New Zealand wool) and the Lindt chocolate factory, which produces the second most consumed brand in France.
You enter their supermarket-sized seconds or factory shop with a trolley and are transported to chocolate heaven, with all the forms and varieties the company makes for local or export consumption; for Olive-Rose it’s better than any toy shop.
Back home in Maubourguet, at Boulangerie Griffon, Pascale — owner and baker — offers chocolate croissants, eclairs aux chocolate or a ganache-topped genoise sponge gateau for sale. He crafts beautiful chocolates for fete days, but you won’t see the never-ending options of chocolate muffins, cakes, slices and biscuits we expect; nor will anything be made of an inferior quality chocolate. France is truly a chocolate lover’s paradise.
As cutting the baking paper to fit small tartlets for baking blind is so tedious, do not discard after cooking. Store with the blind baking material for reuse. Get the recipe