In with the new – let’s celebrate the café gourmand. The proof’s in the pudding says cake monkey Lucy Pitts as she investigates the trend of café gourmand in France – an indulgent upstart on the cuisine scene – the serving of coffee at the end of the meal with a selection of delicious and petite little deserts…
I’m a traditionalist. It’s one of the reasons I love France so much. For instance I love the fact that the whole country downs tools in August and heads off on holiday. I love the fact that if a public holiday falls on a Thursday, you can more or less forget doing business for the rest of the week. And I love the fact that unlike us Brits who make do with a soggy sandwich and a limp cup of expensive coffee at our desk, the French are still happy to ensure that each day at 12 noon they stop what they’re doing and head off to enjoy that wonderful beast, the long and lingering lunch.
Well actually, I can’t speak for other areas but they certainly do in the Vendée. And frankly I’m delighted, because what better lazy indulgence is there after all than to spend an afternoon politely working your way through a 4 course menu washed down with lashings of wine and caffeine?
Times they are a changing
But there’s a relatively new trend (if you can call something that’s been trending since about 2005 “new”) which I’ve come to wholeheartedly embrace and that’s the café gourmand. From the very first one I encountered, it’s been a love affair most profound and even the way in which the words roll themselves gently down the tongue and plop neatly into the waitress’s trusty memory has something deliciously welcoming about it.
The idea appears to have emanated from Paris as another stage in the gentle but steady erosion of our friend the long lunch. It was not so long ago after all that a French midday meal involved up to 6 courses which included everything from hors d’oeuvre to a digestif and included cheese and pudding along the way. But in a rare bow to convention and the demands of modern life, French courses and in particular dessert are slowly being abandoned, as lunch time belts are fastened and the idea of having a pudding has somehow evolved into a representation of 3 gluttonous sins: too fattening, too time consuming and too expensive.
Cue the café gourmand
This fusion of pudding and coffee is a wonderful way to indulge yet still lay claim to moderation. If you haven’t tried this bitter sweet mystery yet, prepare yourself for heaven, with 3 miniature mouthfuls of loveliness swept up in the arms of your espresso. A good café gourmand should be a delight to the eye and a mixture of beautifully coiffured and colourfully diverse works of culinary art.
You might expect a bite of chocolaty magic, a soupcon of crème brulee and a splash of something fruity but beyond that let yourself be surprised and delighted by this microcosm of a sweet feast. Perfect, for those of you that are indecisive or darn right ashamed of your lusting for a full blown pudding at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
Your just deserts
I know that there are those that don’t approve of this upstart of a course. It’s been accused of stealing the honour and pride of dessert and allowing the calorie conscious to steal a march on the pleasure of over indulgence. But I disagree. It’s “change” at its finest. A compromise on cost and calories but a more than civilized nod to, well to the gourmands amongst us. It seems to me to be a win win concept and I for one am delighted to see this Parisian trend spread its delicious tentacles right out to the Vendée and beyond.
And my personal recommendation? Well I’ve only been there once but it has to be an unassuming little restaurant in Coulon in the heart of Green Venice in the Deux Sevres, called La Pigouille. Their café gourmand is a one way ticket to pudding paradise.
Lucy Pitts is a freelance writer. She divides her time between the Vendée and the UK.