There’s an old dieters’ method that involves indulging in a single bite of dessert and tossing the rest. The idea is that nothing tastes as good as the first bite anyway, so you get your little indulgence without the caloric bomb and ensuing guilt.
Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of such tricks anyway. Smaller portions, sure, but if you put something delicious in front of me, I’m going to want to enjoy every last morsel of it. That being said, the sad truth is, most stateside desserts don’t pass the first bite test. The first bite really is the best. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s all downhill from there, but, by the time I finish a dessert here, I’m usually ready for it to be done. We part ways on friendly, perhaps-I’ll-see-you-again-sometime sort of terms.
But Parisian food is magical, and its superpower is making you lick the cardboard box in which you carried home the pain aux pommes. Or pick up the broken pieces of a raspberry tartlette from the floor of your hotel room and eating it anyway. Or get caramel au beurre salé ice cream (from Bertholli) followed by spéculoos & yogurt gelato (from Amorino) ten minutes later. Or stage a breakfast pastry and nutella heist on your last day at your hotel because you can’t bear to leave such delicious and decadent treats behind without one last forbidden tryst.
You see, Parisian food has the power to inspire passion, ardor — even pure, unadulterated lust. After much study, I believe I’ve grasped the Method of the Parisian Culinary Delight. While all Parisian food has its charms, this method of seduction can be seen and experienced most intensely, I’ve found, in the Parisian dessert.
When you first encounter it, you’re stricken by its straightforward beauty. The care taken to ensure it is aesthetically pleasing is a wonder in and of itself. It’s not fussy or pretentious; it’s not pretending to be something it’s not. It is, quite simply, well-presented. The appearance alone makes you want to know more, to see if what’s inside lives up to its exterior.
So you commit to a first bite, forking over the three euros. If you make a habit of indulging in these little rendezvous, you quickly learn to request them as “take away,” so you can get get to know one another somewhere private, without the pressure of fellow pleasure-seekers or, even worse, the creators of these little delights. I’m sure there are some folks out there who enjoy indulging their exhibitionist tendencies by sampling in public, but I am not one of them.
Once you’ve settled into a quiet space where you can focus without distraction, you have that first bite, careful to get a little of each component of whatever you’re eating. If it’s a tartlette, then you insist on some of the filling and some of the crust. If it’s something layered, like a macaron or a mille-feuille or, God help you, a religieuse, you go for a bit of everything. You’re not going in depth yet; you’re simply getting a taste of everything your Parisian dessert has to offer.
And this is where the Parisian dessert and the typical American dessert showcase their wildest difference. The American dessert boldly pulls out all its best moves on the first outing. The burst of flavor in that first bite may send you reeling, but when you go back for a second bite, your mind is no longer blown. You’ve seen it all, and there’s really nowhere to go from there. You enjoy its comfortable company while it lasts, but you both know it’s going nowhere. This is why the dieters’ dessert method, more or less the equivalent of a one-night stand, works so well in the States.
But the Parisian dessert! The first bite of the Parisian dessert engages you fully, but it doesn’t overwhelm you. It makes you think. The bright flavors and perfect textures come together in unexpected ways: buttery pastry, tart fruit, sweet custard… They all seem fairly straightforward, but somehow, in a Parisian dessert, their synergy elevates them. And you have to know more. The first bite is not enough. You’re hooked. And so you take a second bite. And the flavors intensify. They reveal more to you, which only serves as an irresistible temptation to dig deeper into the elements that make this dessert what it is. By the third bite, you’re an addict, driven only by the need to feel more. Logic no longer matters. Driven only by your desire, you become a full and willing participant in this dangerous liaison. You’ve crossed a line.
It’s the beginning of a lifelong, torrid love affair, made only more intense by the times spent apart. Every time you have a non-Parisian dessert, your thoughts will wander back, filling you with so intense a longing that it nearly breaks your heart. The non-Parisian dessert becomes a cheap substitute, something to get you by until you can, at long last, be reunited with your true gustatory love. Any moment with a Parisian dessert becomes filled with an intensity reaching desperation, a need to experience as much as you can while you have the opportunity.
And that, my friends, is how you end up ingesting one pain aux raisins topped with nutella and cream cheese, a bowl of granola & whole milk, two cookies, a caramel, a nougat treat, half a cheese panini, half a beef panini, half a préstige (pistachio & chocolate creme layered dessert), half a pecan-apple tartlette, half a baba rhum, a small ice cream, a small gelato, half a small quiche lorraine, half a baguette sandwich, half a chocolate tartlette, and half a rhubarb-apple tartlette all in one day. It is also how you gain five pounds in one week. But that’s another secret of the Parisian Culinary Delight — it loves you just the way you are and encourages you to do the same.