Food is arguably the greatest of French icons, with baked goods being paramount among them. It's impossible to visit the country without sampling crusty baguettes; buttery, flaky croissants; luscious, cream-filled eclairs and the like. For author Susan Hochbaum, these pleasures became more than experiences, rather a way of life that inspired her new book "Pastry Paris."
Hochbaum, whose background is in graphic design, illustrates how the French patisserie is as much a source of art as a museum. She draws comparisons between food and portraiture, architecture, landscapes and fashion. Bonus: it's all edible.
Read our Q&A with Hochbaum, then take a look at the gallery below to see excerpts from "Pastry Paris," available in bookstores October 11. You'll never see lemon meringue pie the same way again.
In 2009, my new beau and I found ourselves in an enviable position — his work was portable, and after a great deal of hand-wringing, I granted myself a sabbatical. I rented out my home, we packed our savings and we moved to the corner of Rue de l’Esperance (Hope Street) and Rue de la Providence (Luck Street) in the 13th arrondissement of Paris.
What was the inspiration for “Pastry Paris?”
I arrived in Paris determined to live with as little guilt and self-recrimination as I could manage (not easy). The French government wouldn’t allow me to work while I was there, and I had no idea how I would fill a year’s worth of days.
Before I left a friend gave me a book called “The Patisseries of Paris,” and it seemed like as good a way as any to organize my exploration of the city. Each morning I’d chose a patisserie and set out to explore the neighborhood around it. To me the pastries were as beautiful as the sculptures I was seeing in the museums, real works of art that you could eat! So I bought one (or two) every day. It became an obsession.
At first I used a pocket camera just to document the desserts I was eating, simply setting them down wherever I happened to be to take a snapshot. Hunting, shooting and eating became my routine.
How did you go about matching-up pastry with Landmark?
The exact moment when the light bulb popped up over my head came while I was eating a Gérard Mulot cone-shaped pastry in the Place des Vosges while staring at a conical shaped topiary tree. From that moment on, I began to see pastries everywhere I looked: the dome at Invalides, the bateaux mouches, Man Ray’s grave at Montparnasse, doorknobs, everything in Paris looked like dessert. I did this almost every day for an entire year and I was never bored. It was a daily treasure hunt for pleasure.
What’s your favorite Parisian pastry?
I have always loved chantilly and would eat an old shoe if it were covered in whipped cream. One of my favorite pastries is the St. Honoré, named after the patron saint of bakers. It is heavenly. The combination of soft, fluffy cream against delicate puff pastry with the slight crunch of caramel is truly a religious experience.
Photos courtesy of Susan Hochbaum