La Poire Belle-Hélène is a delicious dessert made of pears poached in syrup and covered in liquid chocolate. Sounds tempting? It is a lovely way to end a meal as it is lighter than a pastry dessert, yet full of flavours. It was invented around 1864 by renowned French Chef Auguste Escoffier, and named in reference to an operetta composed at the time by Jacques Offenbach and named La Belle Hélène.
The 'quatre quarts', a classic sponge cake from Brittany, is a perfect afternoon snack, especially accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee, and is very much appreciated by children. The name 'quatre quarts' or pound cake comes from the simple fact that the cake is composed of four equally weighted ingredients (eggs, sugar, butter and flour), meaning each ingredient represents a fourth of the cake.
In Breton, Kouign means cake and Amann means butter, so from this you can tell lots of lovely butter goes into making this spectacular cake. This cake originated in around 1860 and is a speciality of the town of Douarnenez in Finistère. Legend has it, a baker, Yves Rene-Scordia, moved into the port town of Douarnenez and began selling the pastry in 1860. It is revered so much that local bakers formed an association to keep true "Kouign Amann de Douarnenez" recipe.
The exact origins of the crème brûlée (burnt cream) remain unknown. The first reference to it was made in a French cookbook from 1691, written by Francois Massialot, the cook of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans.
In his book, Francois explains how they did it at the time, adding a layer of sugar on top of the cream, taking a red-hot shovel from the fire and burn the top of the cream, so that it takes a nice golden colour.
Today, crème brulee is certainly one of the most emblematic French desserts.
Clafoutis is a dessert from the French region of Limousin, which first appeared in cookbooks in 1864. The name comes from the Occitan verb “claufir”, which means “attach with nails” or simply “to fill”. This refers to the cherries that you punch into the dough, like nails. According to the Larousse Gastronomique (French Cooks’ bible), when the French Academy defined clafoutis as a “sort of fruit flan” in the official dictionary, inhabitants of Limoges –capital of Limousin– took great offence and forced the institution to change the definition to a more acceptable “cake with black cherries”! It has become a great French pastry classic that people love to eat in May and June when cherries are ripe.
One of the most famous French desserts, the Tarte Tatin was invented in the 19th century by accident by two sisters, Caroline and Stephanie Tatin. The Tatin sisters owned a Hotel in Lamotte-Beuvron (Sologne region), where numerous hunters used to have a meal before or after going in the fields. On one particularly busy Sunday, the day of the opening of the hunting season, Stephanie Tatin started to cook some apples in butter and sugar to make a traditional apple pie. After getting momentarily distracted by the conversation of a customer, she came back to the kitchen and noticed the smell of the apples that had cooked for far too long!