Looks Can Be Deceiving

February 13, 2007 at 12:59 pm | Posted in backstory, food | 20 Comments

Introducing the Most Expensive Donut I Have Ever Eaten:

donut?

Two euros. That’s about $2.60. Can you even imagine spending that on a single donut? Even the incredible donuts at Allie’s are only a buck each.

So why did I buy it? Well, those who’ve known me a while know I have a thing about donuts. You might even call me a connoisseuse. And this donut?

bad donut

Not a donut. They were so close, though, weren’t they? From the top, this really looked convincingly like a plain, old-fashioned chocolate-glazed donut. But what’s going on with the bottom? We’ve got a rock-hard protective chocolate casing here, as if they were afraid the tender donuty flesh might get damaged by the unforgiving display shelf.

And it doesn’t stop there:

donutesque

The interior here is much too dense, too pastry-like to make a convincing donut. This example makes even Dunkin’s dry, dense monstrosities seem light and airy.

How could they go so wrong? I have a theory. I’ve noticed in the past that the French have a tendency to get obsessed with certain typically American foodstuffs, and go crazy trying to reproduce them. But at each turn, it’s like they’ve only ever seen them on tv or in a magazine — they frequently produce a convincing facsimile of the outside, but totally miss the boat on innards, bottoms, taste, or texture.

The last time I noticed this was with chocolate-chip cookies. I was about eight years old when we first started seeing chocolate-chip cookies in French supermarkets. At first we avoided them — we didn’t come all the way to France to eat some Chips Ahoy knock off. But eventually we succumbed to curiosity: had the French really figured out the secrets to this most American of delicacies?

Answer: no. But what was truly odd was that they weren’t chocolate-chip cookies at all. They looked like chocolate-chip cookies, but when you bit into them, there was one solid chunk of chocolate hiding in the interior. Seriously, it was as if they had wrapped some cookie dough around a hunk of chocolate, then scraped away the dough in places to give the appearance of evenly distributed chips. Crazy!

Anyway, after the donut debacle, I went looking for these cookies, but happily they are no more: I guess someone finally tipped the French off as to the nature of a “chip”. But it’s not like the French are the only ones guilty of judging a pastry by its cover — I’ve noticed that Americans do the very same thing with chocolate éclairs. Americans do an excellent job reproducing the external appearance of éclairs, but for some reason they are always stuffed with white cream (or worse, whipped cream). Where did people get this idea? Because I have never encountered this in a French éclair.

In France, the outside of the éclair always tips you off to the inside: chocolate icing means chocolate cream, coffee icing means coffee cream, etc. The proof:

eclair innards

See? Chocolate. So I hereby call on the pastry-chefs of both nations: for the love of all that’s sweet, don’t try to reproduce a confection you’ve never tasted.

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20 Comments

  1. I miss donuts. Sigh.

  2. YUM.

  3. You kill me, Amy! And so true, so true… It’s amazing how much they can charge you here for a single donut or supposed “brownie”!

    Then again, in the States we would pay a fortune for a “pain au chocolat” that simply cannot be reproduced by American bakers either.

    I was an idiot in January: I never managed to pick up a few donuts while I was back home. (The bagels though: check and double check!) I think I might have considered it at one point, even the Entenmann’s crumb version, but I was craving more along the lines of Krispy Kremes, and the shop near my parents’ place had closed. Oh well, there’s always next time!

  4. Alice, I’ve never been brave enough to try a French brownie… are they as awful as I suspect?
    *
    And the thing that makes me crazy about American pains au chocolat is that they are almost universally called “chocolate croissants.” What the heck is that? They aren’t even crescent shaped!

  5. My favorite knock-offs are Japanese curry and Chinese chocolate. What are these foodstuffs? Then again, I do like a lot of modifications–like some Chinese “French Toast” I had in Sichuan. Deep fried and dipped in sweetened soy milk. Yum.

    I guess one of the differences with the chocolate at least is that even the Chinese don’t (didn’t?) like their own chocolate. I was always amazed by the question “Why do Americans and Europeans like chocolate so much?” until I actually tasted what they had to offer. Yech. This was 10 years ago, so likely it has improved. At that time I just splurged to buy some great imported Thai chocolate. Mmmmmm….

  6. A whole nation of bad chocolate? How terribly sad.

  7. Actually I got the same question regarding corn. Until I was given Chinese corn and realized they were eating what we call “cow corn” and use for feed. But all the other food was so amazing, who needed to eat corn and chocolate anyway. OK, maybe chocolate…

    Oh, how I miss Chinese fried potatoes, noodle bars, peanuts, almost all Chinese breakfasts. But not the corn, chocolate or attempts at western pastries.

  8. That’s wild, and here I assumed the French could do no wrong when it came to pastries.

    Oh how I love donuts, they’re probably my very favorite sweet thing.

  9. To be fair, Michelle, it was still pretty good. It just wasn’t a donut. But hey, the excellent eclairs more than compensate!

  10. You are killing me I’m laughing so hard. I’m working on a doughnut recipe right now and fussing with it. But I’ve had the same experience when abroad and I start to wonder if that is why they don’t like us. I love the post made me laugh.

  11. Husband – Making your own donuts! Hats off to you. I hope you’ll fare better than my poor patisserie on the corner.

  12. I laughed when I read this! Très bien fait! Et c’est seulement trop vrai, votre opnion.

    “Chocolate croissant”…I still want to correct people! Does that make me wierd?

  13. Only as weird as I am, Petite.

  14. I tried to make “crèpes” one time when I was living in the US, and it was a complete failure. I think it doesn’t matter who’s the pastry-chefs is nor how good is the recipe, those stuffs HAS to be cooked in their home country.
    I could kill someone for a maple bars but I would never try one from a french patisserie.

  15. Ha ha! You’re so right! French cookies, donuts and brownies are awful!!! I really miss REAL donuts and ice cream!!! 😉 It has to be something with the flour… Mais aux Etats-Unis ce qui me manque c’est le pain!!! Une bonne baguette! HA! 🙂

  16. you know what? the chocolate chip cookies at “bonne journée” (you know, the sandwich shops found in most RER stations) are actually really, really decent fascimiles! They even get the chewy texture down. Astonishing!

    And you can find decent sugar donuts in the cafe at the BNF, should you ever find yourself there…

  17. Hey, thanks for the tip, Maitresse. Never know when I’m going to get a donut craving…

  18. Mmm…I really miss Allie’s donuts too.

  19. Moëlleux are the bomb.

  20. […] I love about France, and so many things I love about America, but I have generally found that we don’t do each other’s things very well.  I felt a sort of pang when I read that French chefs were […]


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