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No. 138: Brioche: Let them Eat Cake

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” or the most common English translation: “Let them eat cake,” was supposedly uttered by Marie Antoinette, wife to King Louis XVI, the last, and possibly most extravagant queen of France. The story goes that upon hearing that her people were enduring difficult times and ongoing bread shortages, she proclaimed, “Then let them eat brioche.”

qu'ils mangent de la brioche...let them eat brioche…

qu’ils mangent de la brioche…let them eat brioche…

As brioche is made from sweeter dough enhanced with butter, eggs, and sugar (limited and luxurious ingredients at the time), brioche was even more out of the reach of the peasants than bread. This declaration was said to reflect the Queen’s obliviousness to the shocking condition of her people, and in the end contributed to her losing her head by guillotine.

source: Kirsten Dunst in “Marie Antoinette,” directed by Sofia Coppola, NYT

source: Kirsten Dunst in “Marie Antoinette,” directed by Sofia Coppola, NYT

Well it turns out there is no evidence that the Queen ever uttered these words et en fait this anecdote was never cited by opponents of the monarchy at the time of the French Revolution. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, political philosopher and composer, more likely wrote it when Marie Antoinette was a young child living in Austria. But even before Rousseau’s writings, it was attributed to Queen Marie-Thérèse the wife of Louis XIV, a hundred years earlier. And way before that, Chinese scholars claim that the phrase originated with an ancient Chinese emperor who, altogether unsympathetic to the fact that his subjects had no rice to eat, said, “Why don’t they eat meat?

Regardless of who did or didn’t say this, or who, unfortunately, lost their head and who didn’t, I have recently been introduced to this slightly sweet, funny-shaped, golden, eggy morning staple, and I can confirm that when I have a choice, I would rather eat brioche than bread, at least for breakfast. And these days, une petite brioche et un petit pain à Paris are each 1€ apiece, so on rare occasions, I let myself eat both.

petite brioche et petit pain

petite brioche et petit pain

Click here for a yummy airy brioche recipe from Fine Cooking. Best served with strawberry jam, lemon curd, or caramel à la fleur de sel.

 

Vocabulaire 

caramel à la fleur de sel: salted caramel

et en fait : and in fact

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Let them eat brioche.

une petite brioche et un petit pain à Paris… a small brioche or small roll in Paris…

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