Breakfast in France
The Parisian cookbook writer Clotilde Dusoulier explains why the French prefer thoughtful choices for breakfast
What do you picture when you imagine the perfect breakfast. Thousands of French people have a very specific scene in mind, according to Breakfast: The Cookbook.
“Picture two little children, both adorable and very blonde, waking up bright and early in the morning sunlight,” writes the Parisian cookbook writer and food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier in her guest essay. “Together they toddle into the garden carrying the makings of a perfect breakfast - white tablecloth, stacks of bowls, jars of homemade jam, fresh brioche and bread, a jug of juice - to surprise their delighted parents. The entire family sits down happily at the table, takes great big bites of slathered brioche, and drinks from the great big bowls, laughing all the while and looking at each other fondly. Oh, what a glorious day it’s going to be!
“Sounds clichéd? Maybe because it’s taken straight from a 1980’s television ad promoting a French brand of instant coffee with chicory. Advertisements both reflect and direct our collective imagination, and this one was immensely popular in France. Two generations of French men and women still know the song by heart, and I would argue it continues to shape what we perceive as the ideal breakfast—and what it means to us and our families.”
The advert doesn’t capture everything on the breakfast table in this most culinary of nations. “It looks different from region to region and from family to family, and according to whether it’s a weekday or a weekend morning,” she writes, “whether we prioritize speed and convenience, or allow ourselves to linger longer, in the kitchen and at the table. But the intention is always the same: fresh and wholesome foods, pleasure and connection, a joyful start to the day.
“Some of my very favourite and most memorable breakfasts were served to me at a chambre d’hôte, the French version of the bed and breakfast, in Burgundy some years ago. It did not involve adorable children - I didn’t have any then - but was instead prepared by our hostess, who took due pride in waking up long before her guests to bake her own brioche, fry her own merveilles (fried strips of dough dusted in confectioners’ sugar), and pop into the garden to pick berries for the fruit salad.
“Every morning of our brief stay, my husband and I would roll out of bed and follow the smell of coffee down to the breakfast room, set up in a veranda full of greenery and flowers, eager to discover whatever delights our hostess had concocted for us that day. It was never anything showy or over-the-top, like you might get at a luxury hotel. These were time-tested, comforting preparations that seemed like they might be family recipes, honed and perfected over many years. Perhaps a cherry clafoutis with the stones in. Homemade bread with fresh butter from a nearby farm. A big puffy pancake. Scrambled eggs with local mushrooms.”
“It is those marvelous spreads that I think about to this day when I prepare a special-occasion breakfast for friends or family. Less is more, I remind myself. A hodgepodge of too many different things won’t do. Instead, I prefer a few thoughtfully chosen elements that will surprise and delight—almost as if some imaginary little kids had assembled them for us.”
A few of these dishes, such as freshly baked brioche, require adult levels of time and patience, but simpler French classics, like Café au Lait, are child’s play.
In a small saucepan, bring half a cup of milk to a simmer. It shouldn’t boil, but instead begin to steam. Then remove it from the heat, pour a half cup of freshly brewed coffee into a coffee cup and pour the steamed milk over this. Stir to combine. Stir in sugar to taste, if desired, then serve hot. That’s an early morning taste of La Belle France, no matter where you are in the world.
For more on the dishes featured, as well as plenty more besides, order a copy of Breakfast: The Cookbook here.