Paris Candy, High and Low

January 14, 2011 at 10:56 am 4 comments

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.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anita Baker-Blocker  |  January 16, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Hershey’s now has the texture of cheap, awful additives. Bring back cocoa butter, please!! I don’t think that American cheap candy is terrible, but Hershey’s took a great product & wrecked it.

    Reply
    • 2. Candy Professor  |  January 16, 2011 at 8:00 pm

      Ugh, you’re right. Cheap doesn’t have to be bad, but these days all too often it is! I have the Hershey bar of my mind, evidently my fantasy life is out of date.

      Reply
  • 3. Bill Wachsmuth  |  January 17, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    “It was the best of candy, it was the worst of candy.” (sorry – next time I’ll resist) In re your observation on the Japanese chocolates at the end: a colleague in Japan sent my children several boxes of candy from Mary’s (a Japanese confectioner). They report that there is more attention to visual pleasantry than to flavor. Give me a Cadbury fruit nut bar and I’m happy.

    Reply
    • 4. Candy Professor  |  January 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm

      I hope your kids got something yummy in the mix! Those Japanese chocolates in Paris did not tempt me in the least. I will not be fooled by appearances! But Japanese gummies and Hi-Chews…I’d swim the Pacific for those. (Not really, but it’s a safe wager since I’m normally an entire continent away from the Pacific Ocean.)

      Reply

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