An American in Paris, indeed. Southern Californian Frank Adrian Barron wrote a captivating love letter to the City of Light in his debut book, Sweet Paris: Seasonal recipes from an American baker in France (Harper design). This beautifully styled hardcover is full of stunning photography by Joann Pai that pairs perfectly with Barron’s charming lyrics. He shares his culinary know-how, travel tips and over 60 spectacular recipes. For anyone who has fallen in love with France, dreams of vacationing there, enjoys cooking or eating desserts, this is a captivating dream book escape. Consider it a particularly delicious Mother’s Day gift.
Barron moved to Paris in 2012 with his partner, who was offered an interesting job. Their stay, which was meant to be temporary, shifted to an engaged status, altering Barron’s life – and the lives of those in his stellar orbit. At the beginning, there were important adjustments: learning the French language, making new friends. Embracing so much new, however, didn’t mean Barron was forgetting the old. He had a crush on France, but he missed America. And at that crucial point of cherishing the zest of both worlds, a pivot emerged, turning Barron into an unexpected career. Sweet Paris stirs up a compelling story with a bit of fairy tale allure.
In Paris, Barron is surrounded by bakeries and pastries layers of brioches, butter croissants, éclairs, macaroons, madeleines and Mont-Blancs that he devoured daily. Over the months, “…after gorging myself on all the French specialties…, I was ready for tastes that reminded me of home,” he explains. Barron was homesick for classic American sweets, such as banana bread, buttercream filled layer cakes, cheesecakes, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, lemon bars, his mother’s brown sugar and cinnamon muffins and Bundt cake. Unable to find these edible comforts in Paris, Barron brainstormed, impressively learning to cook, gradually attempting more complicated feats until his results became masterful. His goal: To design desserts that — so! — are amazing combinations of the finest French and American ingredients and influences.
His path widens. He hosts baking evenings with friends, organizes cake decorating workshops in his apartment in the Marais and takes orders from cafes and shops. As word of mouth sang, food publications took notice, applauding Barron’s skills and thrills, momentum and enthusiasm. His @cakeboyparis Instagram was born – and a dedicated following grew faster than an oven full of soufflés.
Paris unveiled many lessons for Barron, which readers might consider incorporating into their own trajectories. His the best of the best Tip: Just say the word Yes, as often as possible. Expressing this affirmation – to surprise opportunities, to travel, to discover new interests and experiences – even if you are initially unsure, propels you forward and broadens your horizons. And this is a good thing.
Barron sets a compelling scene, setting the theme and pace of the book: The difference between American and French grocery stores is the attitude to seasonality. In the United States, especially in large cities, virtually any food imaginable can be available year-round. We are fortunate to be able to source, for example, fruit and vegetables not only from our orchards and farms, but also as imports from distant countries. Succulent carmine-red strawberries in the heart of winter? For a price, in America, they are accessible. In France, not so easily – and therefore the rhythm of French cuisines is perfectly adapted to the change of seasons and what is superior when. The French respect these rules. Thus, French strawberries, expected during the cool seasons, are even more enjoyed under the welcome warmth of spring and summer skies.
“Cooking according to the season taught me the pleasure of savoring the most delicious ingredients,” says Barron. “But it also taught me the art of anticipation – and the fun that comes with getting excited for what’s to come.”
Barron organizes Sweet Paris in chapters that salute the four seasons, highlighting recipes and activities — and in each section, it offers fun suggestions: scavenger hunt at Paris flea markets, shopping smarter like a Parisian, selecting and arranging flowers with brilliance , choice of cheeses and search for essentials. visits not to be missed. There is a useful list of favorite Parisian addresses for drinking excellent coffee, nibbling on fine chocolates, sipping aromatic tea, locating exemplary baguettes, as well as buying kitchen utensils, household items, candles, jams, linens and literature.
Among her dozens of wonderful recipes are Cherry Pistachio Tea Cake, Sakura Financiers, Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake, White Peach Tart, Lavender Honey Madeleines, Opera Cake, Summer Berry Pavlova and Coconut and Passion Fruit Cake. He writes invitingly about excellence in buttercream, concocting glittering cake decorations and giving festive gifts to family and friends. There’s even a thoughtful passage about creating a cookbook in the time of COVID.
In the spring, he encourages a day trip to the exquisite Château de Chantilly, a huge estate that houses one of France’s greatest art collections. Its French gardens dazzle. Travel also via fast train to the nearby Palace of Versailles, where, from April to October, the Grandes Eaux Musicales showcase extravagant fountains, their spouts spouting and splashing in unison to the music.
The famous April in Paris? “Here, spring reveals its goodness layer by layer,” he explains. “I stroll through my neighborhood market…with a patient smile, knowing that color and abundance will eventually end up in my basket…I know I’ll have to hold out longer for the ultimate ‘La Vie en Rose Moment’ – when cherry blossoms explode into bloom, promising picnics sprinkled with soft pink confetti in places like the Palais-Royal.
“Signs seem to indicate that the best part of the season has arrived,” continues Barron. For spring, “the heat remains for more than three days in a row. Fuchsia magnolias are beginning to bud on the Champs-de-Mars… And, at my favorite markets in town, from Marché Bastille to Marché Saxe-Breteuil, I spot the biggest signals of all — the very first sightings of vibrant rhubarb and plump blackberries, ripe apricots, cherries and, yes (finally!), decadent strawberries. They will be the basis of the pastries that will soon fill my oven, my kitchen and the hands of friends who join me for a to taste [tasty snack] under rows of pastel-petalled trees or simply gathered at my table, next to an open window, the afternoon breeze dancing through it.
Lingering among the serene and uplifting pages of the book might make you wish you could be one of Barron’s friends, sitting at his table, too. For the time being, Sweet Paris will almost make you feel like you are.