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French Cake History | Charles Quint’s Finger

french cake history

There are some days when I think I’m actually “getting” France and some days when I realise I have so much to learn.

I went into a boulangerie patisserie in Beaurainville, Pas de Calais, last week. I often pop in there when I’m in the area – they make delicious cakes and bread on site – I honestly don’t know how it is possible for the baker to make so many different and wonderful pastries and breads. There is nearly always something new to drool over in the glass cabinets which hold the cakes like colourful huge jewels.

Last week there was a new cake I hadn’t seen before called “Doigt de Charles Quint”. A long sponge finger dipped in chocolate. I thought it was a bit odd to call a cake “Charles V’s finger” and asked the friendly server what it means “histoire” she said, something to do with history then.

So, I looked it up and what a surprise – Charles V’s finger is quite famous though I haven’t anywhere come across another shop selling a sponge finger replica.

It turns out that Charles Quint (or V) was one of the most powerful rulers of the Middle Ages. During his reign as Holy Roman emperor from 1519 to 1556, he controlled territories spanning the globe, from Asia and Africa to the newly conquered Aztec and Inca empires in the Americas. The poor man was known to suffer from painful gout though that was a term then used to describe a number of symptoms in those days, all of which seem to be associated with a gluttonous and lazy lifestyle. His suffering, which began at the age of 28, affected his ability to write and travel – both of which are fairly essential when you rule an empire. Eventually, this caused him to give up the throne at the age of 56 and he died of malaria two years later. Before he was buried in a tomb in El Escorial monastery in San Lorenzo, one of his pinky fingertips was cut off as a religious relic (they did that in those days). The mummified morsel has been held for centuries at the monastery in a red velvet-lined box.

The “doigt de Charles Quint” cake is in honour of the great man’s pinky…

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