Some women buy jewels. I buy pastries. The luxury I allow myself might be relatively small, but I take huge pleasure in every moment of the experience. That's why nothing depresses me more than dour service in a pâtisserie, which goes against my belief that sharing space with chocolate and cakes all day should imbue people with well-being.
In fairness, I'm the one who provoked the pastry chef's stern disapproval at Pain de Sucre, an ultra-chic Marais pâtisserie whose whimsically named cakes - the Lili, the Rosy Rosa - normally fill me with glee. I made a mistake and I'm deeply sorry for it. Still, I wish I could have left the shop feeling a little less disgraced.
Before dropping into Pain de Sucre (more literally than I expected), I had spent the morning showing a small group the food highlights of Paris. We joined a long queue to try the coal-black truffle macarons at Pierre Hermé, made of the pungent black tuber rather than chocolate. At the deceptively modest-looking Blé Sucré we sampled the famed lemon tart, as well as a fluffy new coconut and pineapple pastry called the Aligre. Though both pâtisseries were at their busiest, the staff could not have been more patient and cordial. On the way back to the Métro, I walked past Pain de Sucre and despite the morning's indulgences decided that a few more pastries couldn't hurt.
I am always fascinated by the shop's innovative éclairs and this time I ordered a raspberry one, plus three macarons, a glossy-topped scone and a praline-filled chocolate bar for Philippe. As I was about to pay, I thought of Sam and said to the cashier, "I'll just take a chocolate lollipop." He made no move to stop me as I took a few steps and pulled out a lollipop from a small stand above the cakes. Unfortunately, the display wasn't as stable as it looked and two of the lollipops fell off — one of them directly onto a €40 cake, creating a dent in the fluffy white icing.
No-one had noticed and I could have got away with sneaking out without a word. Honesty overcame me, though, and full of remorse I pointed out the damage to pastry chef Didier Mathray, who worked with star chef Pierre Gagnaire for 10 years before opening this shop.
"You should not have done that!" he exploded. "You should never touch anything! Look what you've done to that €40 cake!"
I apologized again but he made it clear that my blunder had been unforgiveable. I then paid €19.50 for what I had bought, feeling very very small and suddenly remembering what it's like to be Sam's age. On the way out, I once again tried to convince him of how much I regretted my gaffe. He muttered blackly and shook his head, not looking at me.
Once out of the shop, my remorse started to lift a little. Someone of Mathray's skill would be capable of touching up that icing, I was sure. And lollipops are meant to be touched - aren't they? Why else do they put them in those tempting stands?
The stress must have got to me a little, though, because I didn't manage to photograph the cakes without taking a bite out of each one in the hope that they would lift my spirits. Not surprisingly, they tasted a little sour.