We were the first to arrive at the metro Louvre-Rivoli. The scheduled meeting time was 10.30, but we were raring to go. An American lady approached, looked us squarely in the eye and said one word - ‘chocolate?' Over the next 10 minutes another twenty sweet-freaks swelled our ranks. We were on a mission - “The Paris Chocolate Tour” - devoting the next couple of hours to the dark stuff, a liberal sprinkling of history and anecdote mixed with chocolate and pastry tastings.
Iris, our guide, like a celebrity gossip columnist, bought historical personages to life, dishing the dirt on their relationship with chocolate. Queen Marie Thérèsa, the wife of Louis XIV, consoled herself by drinking chocolate while the Sun King neglected her. Mixing her ‘chocolat chaud’ with spices, sugar and nuts, she consumed such vast quantities that it rotted her teeth, but allowed her supporters to claim that the dark-skinned child she is rumored to have born illegitimately was literally chocolate colored.
By now we were crowded around the window of Boulangerie Gosselin. Iris stepped inside to take charge of our box of tiny little ‘opera’ pastries. Saying that such exquisite delicacies deserved to be eaten in an elegant spot, she indicated that we should follow her, and off she went, hugging the box close to her chest, dodging pedestrians on the narrow streets. She stopped at the aristocratic Galerie Véro-Dodat. Surrounded by paneled shop fronts and marble columns, we bit into the dainty pastries. Cake soaked in aromatic chocolate with layers of ‘crème de café’ in between - two distinct tastes one after the other. Topped with flakes of baker’s gold, these cakes looked almost too good to eat. But we managed.
Sighing with contentment we entered the Palais Royal, the former residence of Cardinal Richelieu. Another chocolate nut, Richelieu neatly side-stepped the rights and wrongs of drinking chocolate (church officials were confused by such a hedonistic concoction - was it a food, an aphrodisiac, a medicine?) by claiming he drank it for medicinal purposes only. (Problems with his spleen!) We popped into the Côte de France, a classy shop within sight of Palais Garnier, for our second tasting. We sampled a ganache (chocolate filled with creamed chocolate), as well as a praline (chocolate and nut paste), a dark chocolate exterior filled with a chocolate walnut paste, an echo of maple syrup and a sliver of walnut on top. Delicious!
Our footsteps were getting heavier, but the third stop was close by. At Chocolat a chocolate fountain released a heady aroma; we were eating, smelling, drowning in chocolate! Here we sampled wonderful éclairs - a slightly salty choux pastry with a less sweet crème filling than tradition dictates. We were also given tiny take-a-way bags (just in case we were approaching what the French call a ‘crise de fois’ - liver crisis, a gorgeous term they have for eating or drinking too much) containing a salted butter caramel and a half slice of orange dipped in chocolate - a favorite of Louis XIV’s!