Without question, France is best known for its boulangeries and pâtisseries! On my trip to Paris and Provence last fall, one of the highlights was taking a walking food tour guided by a local chef and cookbook author. She took our small group of three to one of the oldest cake shops in town. Pâtisserie Béchard is located on the beautiful tree-lined street of Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence. This famous pâtisserie has been passed down from generation to generation since 1870 and still remains a family business.
I learned how much dedication and time goes into becoming a French pastry chef, especially in a famous location such as this one. To become an artisan at Pâtisserie Béchard, you must graduate from four years of schooling and on-the-job training. Then, you’d dedicate a year to master each specialty of chocolate, candy, sugar, cake, ice cream, and sorbet.
Who knew there would be so much history in this beautiful patisserie! And that France is famous for much more than macarons! We learned about and sampled the delicate and delicious calissons. Aix-en-Provence prides in concocting calisson candies, made with a thin, candied melon paste and ground almonds topped with royal icing. Calissons were created in Provence around the mid-15th century for guests at the second wedding of King Rene of Anjou. This famous recipe has remained unchanged since then!
Of course, I would have liked to sample everything, but our wise guide kept our calories to desserts that had a story to go with them. La Tarte Tropézienne (the Tart from Saint-Tropez) started in 1955 when Alexandre Micka opened his bakery in the streets of Saint-Tropez, where he offered a famous cake cream recipe taken from a grandmother. As Saint-Tropez became famous, with the cinema industry and superstars coming to town, the cream brioche started gaining notoriety. Among them was Brigitte Bardot, who suggested a name for this delicacy: "La Tarte de Saint-Tropez."
I still have not decided which was more amazing: the gorgeous displays or the mesmerizing smells. Regardless, the experience is definitely something I will always remember!
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