The French, arguably the best cooks in the world, have taken up a fascination with American cuisine. What from the land of McDonald's, Twinkies and Spam could possibly appeal to the greatest gastronomes on earth?
In France, where I currently reside, there are biscuits flavored with anisette and orange flower water and, of course, the traditional meringues. But they aren't "cookies." When the French say "coo-kee" — the accent approximating that of the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street — they mean only one kind: chocolate chip.
The French are nuts about chocolate-chip cookies. One popular brand has a label that depicts a Texas longhorn and a likeness of Wyatt Earp. What longhorns and Earp have to do with chocolate-chip cookies eludes me, but the French are also wild about the American West. So apparently this is a logical association to a Frenchman and no doubt a coup of marketing genius.
For those here who are too busy to make chocolate-chip cookies from scratch, there are packaged mixes. I've seen an ad on television for one brand claiming to be "just like in America." It has raisins in it. Every do-it-yourself recipe I've seen here for "cookies" has raisins in it.
Recently I decided to take it upon myself to bake my French friends a batch of authentic cookies, the recipe for which can be found on any bag of chocolate chips in the United States. But they don't have chocolate chips where I live in France. They have pépites — sad, wrinkled balls that resemble chocolate-covered raisins but are half the size. This mystifies me, as the French have a passion for chocolate, and their "black chocolate" is a luxury, even by gourmet standards. Chocolate was imported to France from the New World in the 17th century. That's 400 years they've had to figure out how to make chips.
So I bought a block of black chocolate and started chopping. The rest of the ingredients posed their own challenges. French brown sugar is dark enough to be molasses. Light brown sugar is not brown but blond or red. French vanilla is a disappointing sugary syrup. I had to shell and chop the nuts myself by hand.
At last I presented the fruits of my labor. My friends had never tasted real homemade chocolate-chip cookies. They raved. They wanted more. I wanted more. Made with French chocolate, the American classic soared to new heights.
One rainy spring day, there was a tap on my door. It was a neighbor, Madame Remaury, who, with her customary politeness, asked if I could help her bake "coo-kees." She was having company for dinner and wanted something très chic for dessert.
The cookie-baking enterprise was well under way at her home by the time I arrived. Madame Remaury's daughter and her daughter's college friend Anne were assisting. Anne, it turned out, was engaged to an American and had helped bake cookies in the United States. "Do you know they actually eat the raw dough?" she said, her face screwed up in a look of total disgust. I shrugged. I have a friend in Washington who never bothers to turn on the oven. A bowl of dough in the refrigerator can be pilfered just as easily as cookies in a jar. Hey, Anne: it beats eating garden slugs.