Paris Candy, High and Low
If you dream of beautiful chocolates, Paris is the place to be. Any street worth its commercial zoning will have at least one place storefront dedicated to the pleasures of cacao.
And here I offer my Candy Professor confession: I don’t actually love chocolate that much. I’ll enjoy something exquisite, but Hershey’s is good too. I’m the same with coffee: that paper cup from the street cart tastes just fine to me. Reverse-snob effect, I suspect.
So when I was in Paris this past fall, the siren call of the chocolatier was drowned out by the tacky lure of the candy stand:
I ran across this stand at the Odeon metro stop on the Left Bank. Who’s more excited, me or my seven year old? There were gummies, marshmallows, licorice, caramels, and lots of strange new candy creatures I couldn’t identify but just had to try. This was the Paris version of the penny candy counter.
Two things I learned: 1. Don’t buy chocolate anything from the cheap candy stand. I suppose if I were paying more attention to chocolate (see above) this would have been obvious. 2. European cheap candy is way more interesting than the American equivalent. The variety of shapes, flavors, textures, and sugar effects was stunning. Maybe I’m just jaded by over-familiarity, but my impression is that the contemporary American equivalent candy array has less raw variety and the choices are more like: which color M&M, which flavor jelly bean.
But despite my reverse-snob candy attitude, I wasn’t going to completely miss out on the best Paris has to offer. One confiserie (fancy French word for “candy store”) that I didn’t want to miss was A La Mere de Famille. This is one of the few candy makers in Paris that specializes in non-chocolate confections. They are especially known for their caramels, pate de fruits, calissons, and marshmallow. The original shop opened on Rue de Faubourg Montmartre in 1761 to serve fashionable Parisians who wanted to eat candies like the court at Versailles. It’s still there, so I made a candy pilgrimage.
Displayed here are marshmallow in a variety of flavors (lavender, apricot, anise) and below, dragees. These dragees are the descendants of one of the oldest festal candies, known in English as “sugar plums” (I wrote about these for TheAtlantic.com). I spent a lot of money in this shop! The most interesting thing I tried was something they called “harlequins,” a sort of candy sandwich with pate de fruits between two layers of flavored marzipan. Pretty and delicious!
I was always impressed with the beauty of display at Parisian candy and chocolate counters. In the U.S., dragees or comfits are mostly confined to Jordan almonds as wedding favors and those hard sugar balls we sprinkle on cakes. But in Paris they are popular and beautifully presented, as in this display of dragees and sugared flower petals at the food hall in Bon Marche department store:
And here are some gorgeous Japanese chocolates which suggest painting as much as eating. Flavors include passion, yuzu, and sesame:
I suspect that for Parisians, this gorgeous candy is as much about looking as it is about eating. Truth be told, I never did see anyone eat the stuff.