To celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, my husband and I decided to make a nice French dinner at home here in France. I drew the lucky straw and got to come up with dessert and the sparkling wine. On the other hand, my husband spoke up for the main dish – God bless him. He had been wanting to try a recipe from one of our vintage French cookbooks – Veal Scallops with Tarragon. So I said, “Vas-y”. “Do it!” “Go for it!” I thought, how can you miss with a recipe that includes beef broth, tarragon and brandy? Simple answer, you can’t. It was divine.

Then for the dessert. As my French Affaires’ French Cookbook club friends and guests know, my French culinary roots run deep. I would have been game to try a challenging dessert recipe. Goodness knows, the French offer quite an array of sweets choices from every region of the country. But on Tuesday, I was running errands in our neighboring village of Milly-la-Forêt… mini-market for a few staples, boulangerie for baguettes, pharmacy for aspirin. And then, I remembered THE CAKE.

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For months, I had been wanting to try the signature local dessert from the Milly pâtisserie (pastry shop) called Le Pavé de la Halle. Also named le pavé de la Halle, this gâteau (cake) is a dream – rich butter pound cake laced with candied orange peel and candied bigarreau cherries and infused with cherry liqueur… then the whole thing is enrobed in a luscious layer of marzipan. Wow. Why had I not tried this before? I think I just had gotten distracted by the various French tartes, desserts and pâtisseries from other pastry shops in town. So I thought, THE special cake for the special day – le jour de Saint Valentin.

So I marched straight over to the pastry shop and said, “Bonjour Madame, un pavé de la Halle, s’il vous plaît.” Of course. She scooped it up from the pastry display case and placed it carefully in the square box made for this ultra-special, original cake. She gently handed me the dessert box. It was nice and heavy, and it just felt delicious. Then she said in French, “Be sure and cut it into tranches fines (thin slices). It tastes better that way.”

On Tuesday evening, I served the lovely cake chez nous with a nice crémant de Bourgogne (champagne-like wine from Burgundy). It was out of this world. With marvelous flavors and not too sweet, the taste was satisfying in every way. And in true French fashion, not only was it a culinary masterpiece, but it had special cultural meaning as well. For in honor of the pastry shop’s location facing the 15th century market in town, they had named the cake a ‘pavé de la Halle’ – a paving stone from the market square . The shape of the cake itself is formed to look like a square cobblestone. In addition, they modeled the almond marzipan on top to resemble many little paving stones. You’ve got to love France – they’re always putting great cooking, culture and history together with outstanding results. Here’s a great old postcard photo of the Milly 15th century market with the signature paving stones all around it. Looks a bit like the top of the cake, no?

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Our French Valentine’s Day gâteau has stretched into the Valentine’s week cake – we’ve enjoyed a wonderful tranche fine every day. And we’ve appreciated the thought and meaning behind this local specialty tied to the local architecture and history. Whoever said history was dry and boring wasn’t thinking about France! So next time you’re in or around Paris, you might think about making a detour by the delightful town of Milly-la-Fôret for a taste of this fabulous local dessert – and there are other great sights to see here too. Bon appétit et bonne visite!

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