I loved 2014 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross so much that I thought it should be highlighted with both drink instructions AND a pastry recipe. The drink this time is simply black tea â€“ but made properly, soothingly, with a kettle, teapot, loose leaf tea and all the rest. While protagonist Maude Pichon does mention drinking and fantasizing about a â€œbowlâ€ of hot chocolate more than once, and two of the wealthier characters drink coffee a couple times, tea is by far the most commonly enjoyed hot drink in this novel, mentioned more than twenty times. The eats? A recipe for the beloved pastry of Maude’s close friend Marie-JosÃ©e: pain au chocolat, of course!
As Hub bloggers Alegria Barclay and Anna Tschetter have respectfully already thoughtfully reviewed Belle Epoque and interviewed author Elizabeth Ross, I will only provide a brief outline of the novel here. Set in 1888, it is narrated by protagonist Maude Pichon, a sixteen-year-old who has run away from her home in Brittany to start a new, self-determined life in Paris. Desperate to make ends meet, she takes a position as a repoussoir at an agency, serving as a hired â€œbeauty foilâ€ for the wealthy. Supposedly plain-looking women such as Maude are paid by this agency to accompany wealthy women on social outings, with the idea that the women’s plainness will make the wealthy clients appear attractive in contrast. Maude often finds her work degrading, and yet, eventually becomes a bit enchanted by the world of her main client. In doing so she risks ruining meaningful new friendships and a possible love relationship. In our appearance-obsessed 21st century culture, it is impossible not to identity with Maude’s experiemce on some level.
A bit of casual research on my part appears to indicate that black tea is the most popular variety in France, with Breakfast, Earl Grey and fruity black tea blends often being found on salon de thÃ© menus. This coincides with Marie-JosÃ©e’s humorous dismissal of herbal tea when she describes a client outing which she did not particularly enjoy: â€œ â€˜But no, this client had me stuck in the back corner drinking a tisane… not a foot set on the dance floor, herbal tea, and my talents wasted.’ â€
Making a Pot of Black Loose Leaf Tea
- Pour the number of cups of water that you desire into the tea kettle (one cup of water makes one cup of tea).
- Put the kettle on a stovetop burner. Turn the burner up to its highest setting.
- Meanwhile, warm your teapot by filling it with hot tap water and letting it sit covered for a while.
- Once the tea kettle is boiling, empty the teapot of warm water. Measure into the teapot one teaspoon of loose leaf tea for each cup of water that you have boiled.
- Turn off the kettle and pour the boiling water into the teapot and place the lid on it.
- For black tea, let the teapot sit (let the tea â€œsteepâ€) three to five minutes. Longer steeping time leads to stronger tea.
- After this time is up, for each cup of tea, place a strainer on top of the tea cup and pour your tea through this so that you catch the leaves.
- Remove the strainer from the tea cup, add anything to your tea that you like (honey, sugar, milk, etc.) and enjoy!
But what really makes a French morning or afternoon tea special are the distinct pastries. In Belle Epoque, Marie-JosÃ©e sometimes brings boxes of pain au chocolat â€“ delicious flaky pastries filled with chocolate — for all her colleagues at the Durandeau Agency to eat. Enjoying these together helps to ease Maude’s entry into the group when she is new and also later provides Maude and Marie-JosÃ©e a reason to start talking again and possibly repair their friendship.
Below is a recipe for pain au chocolat that I have adapted from a simple prize-winning recipe created by Constance Ipema and listed on “Foodista.com â€“ The Cooking Encyclopedia Everyone Can Edit.” Here is a link to the Creative Commons license for Ipema’s recipe.
Pain au Chocolat
Makes 8 servings
- 1 packet frozen puff pastry sheets (17.25 oz) thawed
- 2 cups chocolate morsels (16 oz)
- 1 egg beaten
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 2 baking sheets.
- Unfold one pastry sheet on lightly floured surface. Roll out to make a 10-inch square. Cut this into 4 equal squares.
- Place 2 tbsp. of the chocolate morsels in the center of each square.
- Brush the edges of each square lightly with beaten egg and fold to form a triangle. Press the edges down to seal.
- Place these pastry triangles on the baking sheet about two inches apart.
- Repeat steps 2 through 5 with the other pastry sheet.
- Brush top of each pastry triangle with beaten egg.
- Bake for 15-17 minutes or until puffed and golden.
- Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, remove to wire racks to cool completely and then enjoy!
I truly hope that you enjoy this French afternoon tea and of course the wonderful Belle Epoque. Please leave a comment telling us about any drinks and or treats that you’ve made or plan to make in the spirit of your favorite reads!
-Anna Dalin, currently reading poet Victoria Chang’s Circle