Dessert diplomacy

How to win friends and influence people

June 18, 2007

Five years ago, when I moved from San Francisco to Paris, I arrived in the spring. The mild weather made strolling around the city and its monuments, boulevards, and cafés a sublime pleasure. I also loved the rooftop view from my apartment, and friends often came by to drink a cool glass of rosé and watch the expansive city below.

But summer passed and fall quickly blew through, and the curse of winter arrived. There was no warning; one day everyone simply vanished, and the Paris I was now living in looked nothing like the picture-perfect postcard most imagine it to be. As a Californian used to basking in fine weather year-round, the bone-chilling winter winds ripped right though my less-than-suitable clothes. So, like most Parisians, I went indoors, where I remained for most of the winter.

peach raspberry cobbler
Peach and raspberry cobbler is a tasty end to a summer meal.

However, once spring returned and the trees on the boulevards bloomed, the Parisians reclaimed the streets of their city. And in my case, the rooftop, where I decided to hold an all-American barbecue.

At first, my Parisian pals were taken aback by my platters of oven-roasted pork ribs and bright yellow ears of corn-on-the-cob. (My American friends, of course, were thrilled.) But most of mes amis quickly got the knack after their first taste of the crunchy corn (in Paris, available by the cob in ethnic markets) and the meltingly tender ribs. Now they hungrily chow down along with the rest of us.

Of course, a few bottles of chilled rosé always help, too.

The kebab shops of the Latin Quarter aside, Paris isn’t ever likely to become known as a grilling destination. Still, I’m doing my part to turn that reputation around. Like other expats, I often find myself craving a taste of home, and few things feel more American than gathering around the barbecue in the summer.

ice cream sandwich
End an all-American barbecue with chewy ice-cream sandwiches with coconut.

Being a baker, of course, I’m expected to pay extra attention to the dessert course, and I try not to disappoint. Since barbecues are all about finger food — or, rather, food you can eat, messily, with your hands — I like to wrap up my barbeques with chewy ice-cream sandwiches. My favorite combo? A freshly churned scoop of ice cream wedged between two soft, chewy oatmeal cookies.

And when it’s too hot to stay in my apartment, I head to my local outdoor market, where the summer fruits — peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines — are delectable. I try to get there early for the best selection, and I cradle each peach in my hand, inhaling the deep, nectar-like aroma of summer, before putting it in my market basket.

Depending on the season, there’s also cherries, raspberries, and — if I’m lucky — blueberries, although the eye-popping price of blueberries in Paris makes me wonder if I’m shopping at the market or on the swanky rue Saint-Honoré. (Copious and cheap quantities of summertime blueberries is something I truly miss about America.) Still, sometimes I just can’t resist, and into my basket those wildly overpriced blueberries will go.

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Those peaches and precious berries will most likely wind up in a warm fruit cobbler, topped with fluffy buttermilk biscuits. A scoop of homemade ice cream is, of course, the classic topper, although here in France, I often simply add a soupçon of crème fraîche, the rich top layer of cream.

If you can’t get crème fraîche, add a dollop of tangy sour cream. Or simply bring a pitcher of very cold heavy cream to the table and let everyone help themselves. That, in the end, may be the most diplomatic solution.

David Lebovitz is a pastry chef, food writer, and blogger. The Perfect Scoop is his latest cookbook.

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