Surprising Stories: Hot Chocolate fit for Kings and Queens

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De Smaak, Jacob Gole, 1695-1724, Rijks Museum

With the cool airs descending on Paris as winter approaches, there’s no tastier way to warm up than with a thick cup of chocolat chaud. The history of hot chocolate in France began over four hundred years and involves two foreign queens. Digest the delectable history behind French hot chocolate as well as discover the best places for hot chocolate in Paris in the latest instalment of our Surprising Stories series.

Chocolate was first brought to Europe by Spanish Conquistadors and it was appreciated as a delicacy at the Spanish court. The Spanish royalty, who valued its fortifying and aphrodisiac qualities, jealously guarded the new drink as a state secret. When Philippe III of Spain’s daughter Anne of Austria, left for France to marry Louis XIII in 1615, she brought her favorite beverage with her as a wedding gift. The bride met her husband in Bayonne, a port city in the southwest of France, which is still internationally recognized as the capital of gourmet French chocolates.

Chocolate Pot by John Fawdrey, Victoria & Albert Museum

From Bayonne to Paris, chocolatiers would roast the cocoa beans in ovens then, after cooling the beans in canvas bags, they would pound them in to a paste on a heated stone. Before mechanical processes which separated bean from butter, it took up to an hour of pounding before the paste could be rolled into a sausage-like dough. The chocolate roll was then cut into slices and placed into a chocolatiere, a coffee pot with a wooden handle. By adding warm liquid, or heating from below, the brew was whipped with a wooden handle into a more or less homogenous brewage, a frothy hot chocolate.

An eighteenth-century recipe book gives us some idea of how hot chocolate made for kings:

“Place an equal number of bars of chocolate and cups of water in a cafetiere (coffee pot) and boil on a low heat for a short while; when you are ready to serve, add one egg yolk for four cups and stir over a low heat without allowing to boil. It is better if prepared a day in advance. Those who drink it every day should leave a small amount as flavouring for those who prepare it the next day. Instead of an egg yolk one can add a beaten egg white after having removed the top layer of froth. Mix in a small amount of chocolate from the cafetiere, then add to the cafetiere and finish as with the egg yolk.

Source: Dinners of the Court or the Art of working with all sorts of foods for serving the best tables following the four seasons, by Menon, 1755.

Hot Chocolate at the Court of Versailles

While this recipe sounds like a power drink, French confectioners added additional ingredients like coffee, vanilla, and cloves to subdue what must have been a rather bitter taste. When Marie-Antoinette married Louis XVI in 1770, she brought her personal chocolate-maker with her to the French court. The queen was one of the first to add sugar to her chocolate, and her official chocolatier created new recipes combining chocolate with orange blossom or sweet almonds.  Ultimately the queen preferred a dollop of cream—perhaps recalling a Viennese recipe—to help sweeten her drinks.

debauve et gallais marie-antoinette

Debauve et Gallais, Pistoles de Marie-Antoinette

The Queen’s love of chocolate was well known in Paris and Versailles. An enterprising pharmacologist, Sulpice Debauve, established an apothecary in 1778 in the fashionable Saint-Germain neighborhood. Here he experimented with chocolate paste that was like an early bonbon or candy. He mixed a headache remedy with coco butter, which he then offered to the Queen. He baptized these medallions ‘Pistoles de Marie-Antoinette’ and he was awarded the title of the first official chocolatier for Louis XVI. The pistoles are still sold today at the historic boutique rue des Saint-Pères.

Photo: Angelina Rivoli

Although hot chocolate has changed since its arrival in the French capital, there are a number of excellent places to sample modern takes on this historic beverage. Here are some of our favorite places:

  • Angelina: Paris’s most famous venue for hot chocolate, the original tea salon on rue de Rivoli has expanded with different outposts around the city and at Versailles where you won’t have to wait as long in line. Take out and make at home kits available. See all branches here.
  • Un Dimanche à Paris: This tea salon and pastry shop boasts divine hot chocolate and a unique location in the historic lane, down from Paris’s oldest existing café and with the remains of a watch tower from the Medieval city walls. Take out also available. 4-8 Cours du Commerce Saint-André, 75006 Paris.
  • Carette: This chic salon de thé overlooking Place des Vosges has decadent hot chocolate best served with a side of their fresh whipped cream and refined pastries. 5 Place des Vosges, 75003 Paris. They also have a location in Place du Trocadero, near the Eiffel Tower, and a takeaway shop in Place du Tertre in Montmartre.
  • Jean Paul Hevin: This renowned Paris chocolatier sells make at home hot chocolate mix as well as take away usually in winter at his various shops, including one in the north Marais on rue de Bretagne. See all locations here.

Please contact us to book or for further information.

 

A Garden of Scents: Pomades, Pastilles, and French Perfume

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Left: Roses, Jill Wellington / Pixabay. Right: Jasmine, watsilchum / Pixabay

Smell is perhaps the most ephemeral of the five senses. Our noses can detect thousands of odors, which we unconsciously categorize as pleasant or repellent, information which is stored in our minds for the rest of our lives. While we easily identify our favorite scents, we tend to forget that perfumes have their own histories, which are often rooted in gardens. For centuries flowers have provide the source material for a range of products, from pomades to soaps, and they continue to be inspire fragrance creators to this day.

A perfumer in the 18th century. Perfume Foundation.

This fascinating image of a seventeenth century printed personification of a perfumer is a veritable walking cosmetics stand. His wares include vials of essences (scented oils or waters), pomades hailing from Rome and Florence, soaps and savonettes from Naples, and an array of eaux de senteurs, all inspired by a thousand flowers.  Although we don’t have many accounts of how people actually used perfumes—as they were applied to the body, hair, and skin—we can trace how some early perfumes were manufactured.

Pomades were made by pressing flowers into animal fats. Distillation, heating petals to capture the fragrant oils released from flowers from the vapor produced  ‘essences’ such as rose water.  Infused oils were also considered perfumes. In the eighteenth century, treatises gave readers ‘recipes’ that instructed them how to make perfumes. For example, in his recipe for rose water Polycarpe Poncelet recommended that one gather roses ‘two or three hours after sunrise’ and then ’crush them in a mortier’. The crushed petals should then be placed into an alambic to distil them, which would produce a rose water with a ‘marvelous scent.’

Lavender fields. Hans / Pixabay

Perfumers worked like apothecaries, stressing the medicinal role of these early perfume recipes. At a time when unpleasant smells were considered signs of diseases, vinegar and spices were used to try to ward off sickness or clean wounds. Our perfumer sold products to cure bad breath that contained the likes of anise, mint or thyme—antecedents to today’s toothpaste.

Daffodils. SanduStefan / Pixabay

Daffodils. SanduStefan / Pixabay

The emergence of France as a capital of perfume production went hand-in-hand with the creation of French gardens. As Louis XIV expanded his gardens at Versailles, he developed a keen interest in floriculture. In order to supply his gardens in both Versailles and Paris with sweet smelling flowers, he established a botancial garden in Toulon for the importation and acclimation of flowering bulbs from across the Mediterranean, especially daffodils and hyacinths.

While the gardens at Toulon did not survive past the Sun King’s reign, this appreciation of heavily scented flowers gave a boost to the perfume industry. Since the middle ages, the town at Grasse, located not far from Toulon, had developed a local flowers, including roses, jasmine, lavender, myrtle and wild mimosa, into a small industry. The guild of glove perfumers was established in the town and the perfumers began marketing ther most prized asset: their  flowers to the court. Today, Grasse is still considered the center of the French perfume industry.

Perfume Making Workshop in Paris

Today’s trends in aromatherapy and  scented candles can be traced to the connection between gardens and perfumes. If you would like to learn more about the history of flowers and perfume, we offer the following thematic experiences in and near Paris:

  • History of Perfume Tour and Workshop: Our 4-hour  tour focus on how flower gardens have supplied the perfume industry for centuries. We visit two historic perfumeries in the Marais before trying your hand at the art form during a perfume workshop where you can make your own fragrance.
  • Visit to the Osmothèque: Not far from the Palace of Versailles, the Osmothèque (from the Greek word to preserve) isperfume archive that contained over 3,000 perfumes. This living collection of existing or no-longer available perfumes protects the world’s fragrance heritage. Private or group tours can be arranged upon request.

Please contact us to book any of these experiences or to work with us to design a custom Paris perfume experience.

 

New Exclusive Versailles Tours & Experiences

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Apartments of the King Versailles

Private Apartments of the King Louis XV, Versailles

As an art historian, a specialist on Marie-Antoinette and the gardens at Versailles, I am particularly pleased to lead tours that provide exclusive access to the Private Apartments of King Louis XV or the Private Apartments of the Queen Marie-Antoinette. Learn more about these special Versailles access experiences below.

Private Apartments of the King, Versailles

Private Apartments of the King Louis XV, Versailles

Rococo Splendour: The Private Apartments of King Louis XV

Designed by Louis XIV this suite of ten rooms reveals how Louis XV repurposed and luxuriously decorated rooms for intimate dinners, musical performances and gambling! We will visit the ‘cabinet secret’ where the king met privately with his network of spies. Access to this series of rooms is ideal as an add-on to our main palace tour. 

This VIP experience requires advance booking of 6-8 weeks and may incur additional reservation fees.

Private Apartments of the Queen Versailles

Private Apartments of the Queen Marie-Antoinette Versailles

Private Apartments of the Queen Marie-Antoinette

On either side of Marie-Antoinette’s sumptuous bed in the ceremonial apartments, hidden doors lead to her private apartments. The queen retreated from public life to her library, small salon, and boudoir, where she received courtiers in more intimate settings. This special access tour can be included on a customized half-day tour or a full-day tour of Versailles.

This VIP experience must be booked 3 months prior to your visit and incurs  additional reservation fees.

Versailles

Temple of Love, Petit Trianon, Versailles

The Domaine de la Reine Marie-Antoinette

A special tour entirely dedicated to the queen’s gardens. We begins at the Petit Trianon, where we see how the queen redecorated her villa, developed her English garden, and created her own village and private hamlet. We come to understand how the queen’s gardens became the most enchanting and misunderstood sites in French history.

Please note, there is limited access to the interiors of the Hameau and reservations must be booked at least 3 months in advance.  Please let us know us if you would like to include a visit to the interiors as part of your tour so we can arrange the reservation which will incur additional costs.

Molly Wilkinson Marie-Antoinette pastries

Marie-Antoinette pastries

Let’s Eat Cake!

For those clients passionate about pastry, we also offer a special event  tastings pastries that the queen Marie-Antoinette would have found delicious. In partnership with cordon bleu pastry chef Molly Wilkinson, we discuss gourmet history followed by a tasting of  the queen’s favorite cakes specially prepared for you.

We look forward to sharing these unique Versailles experiences with you. Please contact us to book or for further information.

 

Surprising Stories: Albert Kahn and his Gardens

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Jardins Albert Kahn

Although his name is not familiar to many today, Albert Kahn was the Bill Gates of early 20th century France; a financial wizard who speculated in international finance, he dedicated his fortune to philanthropy. Kahn inaugurated two exceptional projects, a photographic collection called the Archives of the Planet and his private estate where he designed the Gardens of the World, two legacies that survive today at the Musée Albert Kahn in Paris.

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Nature into Art: Wax Tulip Mania

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Mona Oren, Wax Tulip Mania

The second of our series dedicated to reappraisals of picturesque—how nature becomes art—reviews an exhibition at the Avant Galerie Vossen entitled From the Tulip to the Crypto Marguerite. The show suggests that art is a constantly fluctuating value, linking today’s bitcoin speculation to the tulip mania that consumed seventeenth-century Europe. While the tulip is the subject of many of the works in the show, including several painted works, Mona Oren’s Wax Tulip Mania project particularly addresses how natural materials morph into digital formats.   Read more

Surprising Stories: Les Champs-Elysées, from Allée to Avenue

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Les Champs-Elysées with Christmas lights, Photo: Wendi Halet/Flickr

This year the city of Paris will be ready for the holiday season: the colored lights will illuminate one of the most  beautiful avenues of the world, adding a special allure inviting strollers (albeit safely distanced and masked) along the festive avenue. The Christmas market will be virtual and the crowds will wait to bring encouraged to ring in the New Year with restraint, but the Christmas light are a Parisian traditions, like the Tree in Rockefeller Center, inaugurating a  holiday season unlike any other. Strolling the Champs is a walk through French history that entices Parisians and tourists alike at every season. But did you know it was inspired by garden design? Read more

Les Potirons, France’s History and Love of Pumpkins

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While pumpkins are generally associated with the Americas, and rightfully so, the French have a particularly strong affection for this New World vegetable. Although you will never find a pumpkin pie served for dessert in a French home, in autumn the country’s markets abound in every shape and size of pumpkin. Here is how this fondness of potirons came to be and a recipe for the preferred way for the French to consume pumpkins, in a velouté, a thick and creamy soup.

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Vaux-le-Vicomte and the Famous Fête which Sparked Versailles

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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Photo: Jebulon / CC

Of the dozens of castles around Paris, the château de Vaux-le-Vicomte holds a very special place in French history, not only because of its innovative design, but also for the legendary palace it inspired: Versailles. Commissioned by Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finance under Louis XIV, for the first time a castle’s architecture, decor and gardens were designed in unison, resulting in an architectural masterpiece of the Baroque era. The splendid castle was unveiled during a sumptuous fête which took place on August 17th, 1661 in the presence of the King. However, the young Sun King was not one to be outshined and Fouquet would not be able to enjoy his exquisite residence. We journey back to that fateful night to discover how reaching for the stars led to Fouquet’s downfall.

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Surprising Stories: Marie-Antoinette at the Hameau de la Reine

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Maison de la Reine and the Tour de Marlborough. Photo: Daderot / Wikipedia

One of the most unexpected visits when touring the gardens of Versailles is the discovery of the Domaine de la Reine where queen Marie-Antoinette commissioned a fake village, called le hameau or the hamlet. Built to resemble vernacular architecture with half-timbered houses, thatched roofs, and stucco walls, the queen entertained friends and family, sometimes impersonating a milkmaid, serving cheeses, milk and creams from her farm. Today’s visitors marvel at the incongruous setting: how did the queen fail to understand that her countrified farm was a parody of most of her subjects’ villages?  This Surprising Story reveals a different interpretation of the queen’s hamlet, suggesting that she built a model village in order to demonstrate her trendsetting good taste and the prosperity of the nation.

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Surprising Stories: Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais: Resistance and Sacrifice

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The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin at the Rodin Museum. Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr

Today, perhaps more than any other time in recent history, we are aware of the fragility of the human body. The ongoing Covid pandemic and the worldwide protests against police brutality, makes it clear that how we view our bodies is changing how we view the world. This week’s Surprising Story looks at Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of the Burghers of Calais from 1895, one of his most inspiring monumental works of public sculpture that epitomizes how artists cast the human form to inspire social change.

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