(ANZAC, Europe, North American and UK)
First, Darling, a quick note that “proper desserts” is not the same a “just deserts.”
“Just deserts” is what happens to trolls when they get their comeuppance after behaving badly. “Proper desserts” is what darling auntie eats whenever she can.
First and foremost, choose your desserts by geography.
NEVER TRUST THE AUSTRALIANS with cookies. You can pound rocks with Australian cookies. You can break rocks with Australian cookies. Tim-tams are the exception that prove the rule. Tim-tams are the will-o’-the-wisp of Australian confectionary: they lure you in and allow you to believe that you may safely partake of Australian treats. But this is a huge lie. Even Jaws, the James Bond villain, can’t eat Australian cookies. Enjoy the wombats and ignore the dessert menu.
We approve of New Zealand and Mexico. As for Canada, sigh. Lovely people, nice scenery but all the desserts taste like maple sugar. And Tim Hortons can be trusted with doughnuts BUT NOT COFFEE.
We do not discuss Irish treats because if you are in Ireland, don’t think about the sugar, just drink. We do not discuss Scottish treats because they get so angry about everything (and if it’s dessert, it probably has oats in it anyways). Wales, dear Wales, we are not going to complain because, well they have had a rough life and we don’t want to make it worse for them.
England, now there is a place you can get a decent afternoon tea but because they do one thing right, they rather think they do EVERYTHING right. They don’t. Tough it out for breakfast [cooked tomatoes, mushrooms and beans, I ask you – is this breakfast or punishment rations?] get a ploughman’s lunch and an afternoon tea, and you will survive nicely.
Austria, no. They keep trying to look innocent but we know what they did (and Sacher torte… with the same specific gravity as concrete, it’s a dessert that doubles as paving blocks). Switzerland, also with the smug superiority which adds a slight bitterness to the whipped cream. In Lichtenstein and Luxembourg you can dine without fear. They are trying to make up for the size of their country by making huge desserts. What a magnanimous gesture. We approve.
In Italy, eat the antipasto, the pasta and the ice cream – pastries (yes, they will yell but I am fearless in reporting the truth) are too crumbly and not enough flavor. Bite after bite of thin pastry layers without filling. No.
You can trust the ‘cute’ countries (Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium) which have all successfully sublimated their evil pasts with basic pastries and every-day chocolates. Greece, well, it’s hard to be honest because the country is so gorgeous, you don’t really notice what you are eating. Dessert is usually something with honey and nuts, paired with a sublime view of ancient beauty.
You can trust Finland and Sweden with nothing. Pack all your own provisions. And if you ask for dessert and are given six sour berries in a white bowl, don’t say I didn’t warn you. You are safe in Norway, lots of fun, tall people who are out exercising so the cafes are empty and you can have your choice of cakes.
For a truly fine fancy pastry you need a German-speaking country. Yes, I know the French will howl but, honestly now, what are the French contributions to the cause? Buche noel (dessert that looks like wood…) and macaroons (a sugary, faintly-flavored puff of air, so very French – look fabulous but put one in your mouth and it instantly disintegrates).
(Afternoon Tea for Three by Charles Soulacroix)