Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Sweet Side of Europe

Paris, Bruges and  Brussels seem to form a triangle of sweet delights in Europe. Beside the fact that these cities hold a wealth of history, they are also a paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth like me: pastries, macarons, muffins, cupcakes, sweets, cakes... The lists seems to be endless and I am discovering new hidden jewels of the mastery of confisserie everytime I stumble upon a new coffee or sweets shop in one of these cities. On top of that, being from Vienna I seem to have inherited a sweets and pastries radar from growing up with Viennoiserie for kindergarten snacks and cookie baking for Christmas. It comes in handy a lot these days because I definitely think that the pastry culture is part of the experience when going on a trip in any of the Benelux countries as well as France.

On my last trip to Paris in February this year, my friend and I made a beeline for the La Durée shop in 21, Rue Bonaparte. We fell in love at first sight. The contrast between the vintage, pastel interior design and the colour explosion of the macarons was magical. That and the fact that my friend and I decided to settle down in the Jardin des Tuileries to get our first taste. Our verdict: delicious, although we recommend to stay away from any petal flavours like "fleur d'orange". They tasted decidedly like soap, yet I have to say that they made for a fun experience.

Which brings me to Bruges, where besides the big selection of pastry delights you can even get soap in the shape of an apple cake. Now that shows true devotion to the sweet bakery arts of Europe. While the soap was an exciting find, since I absolutely love quirky decoration goods, it was the cupcakes on our way to the Begejinhof and the hot apple tarte I had for tea that melted my sweets-loving heart. By then the Belgian hot chocolate I had with my slice of apple tarte was the veritable, calorie-heavy cherry on top. I guess, I have to confess now, that I only admired the cupcakes at the de Proverie Tea Room and the "Alice in Wonderland"-sweets paradise at Zucchero, but managed to pass by without trying them out. A good tipp for sweet toothed travelers: At Zucchero they had sweet making demonstrations. The place was packed during those, so you better come early, if you wish to see one.

Finally, Brussels wowed me with its abundance of choice in the department of sweet shops with a tradition. Leonidas is the name for Belgian chocolate in the Brussels capital and they really deserve their title. Their chocolate melts on your tongue, dissolving into a symphony of chocolately sweet notes. When in Brussels, you obviously can't miss Belgian waffles which are sold both in shops and coffee houses as well as by street vendors. You can find them in a multitude of varieties on practically every corner in the city center of Brussels. I also discovered a shop of La Cure Gourmande on my way to the Grand Place and while I didn't fall head over heals for their cookies, I was struck by their packaging. I just had to get myself a cookie box, which is now proudly sitting on my kitchen counter.

It reminds me of the colourful sweets and the fantasy worlds the interior of some of these shop evokes. While I miss the Belgian chocolate I luckily discovered a La Durée shop in the center of Luxembourg. It has become a pilgrimage point on most of my weekends, although I spent more time admiring the pretty shop window decorations than actually buying macarons, which is probably better for my teeth anyway. When you get the chance to visit any of these beautiful, historical cities, I recommend also keeping an eye out for the sweets. I promise you will discover a hidden, European candyland behind the beautiful facades of the pastry, coffee and sweet shops of Paris, Brussels and Bruges.