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Birthday cake of choice in France

  • Monica Mar 20, 2014 12:17 PM
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I guess popular Americans birthday cakes are sheet cakes...either yellow, white or chocolate with butter cream frosting(of course most places don't use real butter which makes the whole cake kinda nasty)...although cupcakes are very popular these days too.
What kind of cakes do French eat on birthdays? I am talking about a typical birthday cake at home.

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  1. Have you had a lot of American birthday cakes?

    3 Replies
    1. re: wally

      Yes I don't know anything about French birthday cakes, but that description sounds more like the cliched image of the cheap grocery store cake at a kid's birthday party than what most Americans I know actually celebrate birthdays with . . .

      1. re: cookie monster

        Have you seen birthday cakes sold at most neighborhood bakeries in US? Those cakes sold at grocery stores and local bakeries are apparently the most popular choice in US.
        Luckly, I work in NYC where I have more options but still, it's kind of hard to find great cakes and pastries in US.
        I am just wondering if there is a popular type of cake for birthdays in France.

        1. re: Monica

          I've seen the same trend here in Colorado, flat cakes from the supermarket. If its a celebration at work, have seen nothing but sheet cakes with bad frosting. Have only been to kid's birthday parties the last 10 years and its the same. Adult birthdays are usually at a restaurant and they stick a candle or sparkler in almost any dessert.

    2. I did not realize that Americans had a standard birthday cake, and I partly grew up there. Live & learn. :)

      In Paris, there is no standard bday cake. You order your fave cake in advance and ask the pâtissier to decorate it with whatever message you want.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        Mine were always Italian-style almond-carrot cakes, in both countries. I'm not aware of a standard cake in the US either.

        1. re: Parigi

          Come on, you never grew up in real America.

          1. re: souphie

            Touché.

          2. re: Parigi

            and the message will be on a small plaque of dark chocolate that's laid carefully on the top of the cake....

            I agree "birthday cake" in France really doesn't have much meaning.

            Quite possibly because the birthday boy or girl is the one who brings the goodies and/or treats for lunch on their birthday. (Yes, it's backwards in Anglo countries -- we take the birthday boy or girl out and pay for their lunch!)

            1. re: sunshine842

              There must be no rule about who brings cake, then. I remember bringing my own cake in the US, and I don't think it was just my family.

              1. re: tmso

                While I have no doubt that it's that way in your family -- it's prevalent enough in Anglo culture that it's addressed in textbooks for students learning English in a foreign language, and it was a conversation many times in work and social situations when I lived in a non-English speaking country.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  My point is, this was common in the immigrant-heavy California community where I was. There isn't one rule that the entire English-speaking world follows. The Anglo custom is common enough that someone learning English should learn it, but common practice seems to vary greatly across the US, as is the case with many things.

                  1. re: tmso

                    "immigrant-heavy", as in non-Anglo, perhaps?

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      not "Real America" if that's what you mean. Latinos, Chinese, Viet Namese, blacks, recent European immigrants, etc. Maybe 10% WASP.

          3. Is this because you want to order one?

            1. Not really sure about your assumptions; same experience in US and Paris as Parigi's.

              Here is my small town (dare I say provincial), local supermarket's cake brochure:
              http://www.nuggetmarket.com/brochures...

              Sheet cakes are actually special order, i.e. not what is commonly picked up.

              Among the birthday cakes, the Chocolate Overflow is by far the most popular for my chocolate lovers. I would rather have a fruit tart for my birthday, but the Boston Cream Pie cake with fresh blueberries on top was quite delicious (brought this to another friend's birthday dinner).

              2 Replies
              1. re: souvenir

                O/T but what a great local market. Those cakes look amazing.

                1. re: cookie monster

                  It really is great. Small chain, family run, frequently on the 100 best places to work lists. Emphasis on local products and producers within 100 miles.

                  As you can see many descriptions are very similar to what Parnassien describes below.

              2. My kids, now completely adult, still require birthday cake on their birthdays - chocolate layer cake with chocolate butter cream icing (made with butter). I agree with other posters - sheet cakes are for office parties. I am actually interested in more detail about what the customs are outside the US. I hope that others reply.

                1. Others more domestic than myself might have other views but I don't think sponge cakes made from a mix are very popular at all in France and the descriptions "yellow" and "white" do not apply.... and, except for cupcakes at American-inspired deli-type places in Paris, I've never experienced in France the sort of butter cream frosting or artificial equivalents that are so common in the USA.

                  French birthday cakes usually have single- or multi-flavour layers with ganache, whipped cream, or fruit (confiture/ coulis/ fresh) etc in between. The cake base is often but not always a génoise. My grandmother uses a sort of butter cream as a light primer coat when finishing with a fondant icing (which she buys ready-made from her local pâtisserie and sometimes supermarket) and complicated decorations. In addition to fondant, the most popular icings are probably chocolate ganache, a simple "glaçage" made from powdered sugar, egg white and orange or lemon juice, and flavoured or plain whipped cream studded with fresh fruit. For kids, the icing is often further decorated with candies. Shape is usually round but square or rectangular are also common, especially for larger celebrations.

                  The quality and variety of birthday cakes from the larger French supermarket are awesome... not at all like Safeway. But I agree with Parigi that birthday or other celebratory gateaux are best ordered from the local bakery/ pastry shop. Me, I buy mine from Laurent Duchêne in Paris.

                  And a BTW, the word "cake" is also used in French but refers only to fruitcakes. With the adjective "salé"/ savoury tacked on, it also describes a sort of quick bread with ham, cheese, veggies, etc mixed in before baking.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Parnassien

                    yknow, I haven't made a cake aux jambon et olives in a while. Maybe it's time.

                  2. I just bought pastries at Patisserie des Reves and the women in front of me was buying a gateau St. Honore for a birthday, with a bit of writing in icing on the time to announce the occasion. She also bought a large tart au citron for the celebration.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Nancy S.

                      I'd love to have well made St Honore for my birthday.
                      it's pretty tough to find good cakes and pastries in US. Even if you find a good one, it's generally very expensive. Last time i was at a good bakery, the cake around $60 and it wasn't big enough to feed 12 people so I ended up making a cake myself.

                      1. re: Monica

                        The pastry at Patisserie des Reve was also quite expensive, but, I trust, delicious.

                        1. re: Monica

                          I think that is an excellent point about cost. A great cake from a good bakery can be expensive, especially a larger cake (or cakes) for a party. In the U.S. we certainly do expect bigger portion sizes, including dessert.

                          I remember the first time I went to a dinner party in Italy with Italian friends, and we stopped at a bakery to get a tart for six people as dessert. The tart my friends picked out to bring as our dinner contribution for all of us would not have been considered adequate (or polite!) by (most) U.S. standards: it was small to my eyes (perhaps 7" across). However, after the multi-course dinner, cheeses, wine, fruit, and so on, all we could each muster was room for a bite or two of the tart late in the evening. So, the small tart was certainly plenty for all of us. That would generally not be the expectation in the U.S., where dessert is really it's own course that quickly follows the main, and not an amusing bite or two after many other courses much later.

                      2. Grocery store sheet cakes for birthdays and such are often the inexpensive option for big, informal parties--thus, their popularity. They are comparatively (to a "real" bakery) inexpensive, and most big grocery stores can be counted on to have them in stock and/or quickly available. In other words, it's an easy option for workplace celebrations or children's parties. As a child in the Midwestern U.S. in the 1970s and 80s, my mother always made us homemade cakes, usually layer cakes with frosting. As I got older, I requested variations from the family-traditional layer cakes, such as her pineapple upside-down cake, which was one of my favorite cakes she made.

                        American birthday cake traditions run all over the place, depending on income, age of the birthday person, family culture, where the celebration will take place (e.g., home vs. work), and so on. I know this doesn't answer the original post's inquiry about France and cakes, but like some others here, I have to clarify the point about sheet cakes. As an adult living in the Pacific Northwest, I only ever see sheet cakes at workplace type birthday scenarios, and even then, very informal ones. For example, a "cake and coffee in the break room" situation to celebrate a co-worker's birthday.