Snails for breakfast

Gastropods are not for me. There’s enough food in my world not to have to resort to dragging a lump of snot out of a shell and eating it. I mean, have you seen what a whelk actually looks like?

However, there is one type of ‘snail’ that’s got me bang to rights with this latest instalment of WordPress’ ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’:

“Simply irresistible. Tell us about your favourite dish or food that you cannot turn down.”

Bread is an integral part of the French way of life, Almost every village can boast of at least one boulangerie and there are few things more typically French than walking down the street tearing bits off the baguette tucked under your arm and stuffing your face.

Perhaps surprisingly for such an ostensibly standardised foodstuff, the individual characteristics of bread from different bakers are quite marked and people will often drive straight past their nearest shop and go miles for a particular boulanger’s product.

Some boulangeries also advertise themselves as patisseries, which means that they make cakes too. The range of these can be awe-inspiring, going way beyond the standard fare that might be familiar outside France – tartes au citron, macaroons and eclairs – to include exotic confections of pastry, cream and chocolate such as religieuses, Paris-Brests and St Honorés (as well as the rather less exotic-sounding gland). However, scrumptious though they are – and have been on the rare occasions I’ve succumbed to their come-hither wiles – as a general rule I can take them or leave them.

No. Although my wants might sometimes a little complicated, my needs are simple, and even the humblest boulangerie will sell not only bread (albeit in a baffling number of variations on the basic pain – ‘tourné’, ‘rustique’, ‘couronne’ to name only a few) but also the breakfast standards of croissants and pain au chocolat.

As well as – and here we get to the ‘simply irresistible’ heart of the matter – pain aux raisins. You can see why these are commonly called escargots – snails.

Come to daddy...

Come to daddy…

There are two crucial elements to the perfect escargot:

  • Firstly, while the periphery ought to be as flaky and buttery as a croissant, it is essential that the centre is soggy – puddingy, almost. There are few things more disappointing than an over-baked escargot.
  • Secondly, a big part of the whole package must be soft, juicy raisins – the more the better.

I have always had a weakness for what’s known generically as ‘dried fruits’ (although dried is absolutely the last thing they should be). This goes back to my childhood, and an abiding memory of ‘helping’ to bake cakes or make Nana’s ambrosial bread pudding. Eager to be of assistance, I would happily volunteer to put the bags of currants, raisins and sultanas back into the cupboard when they were done with. Somehow, though, there never seemed to be quite as much left by the time it got to the cupboard as there was when I was handed it to put away.

In the interests of what I like to think of as quality control, I have sampled the escargots of just about every boulanger for miles around, and in a blind tasting I could probably tell you the individual provenance quite easily. It’s all ultimately a matter of personal taste of course, but at the top of the leaderboard currently (sic) is, rather surprisingly, the Carrefour supermarket version, as illustrated above. Buy-one-get-one-free last week as well.

Truth be known, I should probably call these things ‘temptations’ rather than escargots.

Because, like Oscar Wilde, I can resist everything except temptation.



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