Is there such a thing as a French breakfast? In many ways, France is considered to be THE country of sophistication – think long thin cigarettes (back when they were cool though), black turtlenecks (yesterday, at least three of us rocked one and, interestingly, I was the only female), and a glass of wine in hand. It’s the culture of fine dining and Michelin, of butter and cream, of Channel and Louis Vuitton, so they do a lot well.
But breakfast is not one of them. And sadly, it definitely doesn’t include porridge.
Personally, I like to eat something with more nutritional value in the morning than coffee and cigarettes. For one, I need something to chew. And now, I crave something warm and filling for these winter days, which will counteract with the fact our flat might as well be an igloo. I don’t wear slippers because they’re sexy.
However, what are the breakfast options in France?
Sure, confiture is always wonderful, and so is baguette and together they make a winning combination, but knowing my stomach, there will be violent angry animal noises emanating from it within hour demanding further sustenance.
Since my arrival in Toulouse, I have met a group of fellow female expats and one day, I suggested we enjoy in my favourite activity – brunch. This little coffee shop was packed with Saturday morning brunchers and I needed a table for 8 which was not ideal, but the staff literally squeezed us in. We jostled together and I sat with one ass cheek hanging off the bench for about three hours.
We ate pancakes with fruit and maple syrup, scrambled eggs, bacon and avocado on toast, juice, coffee and hot chocolate. A meal which very much resembled the brunches I would order in the UK or New Zealand. I suppose the word ‘brunch’ – which is the exactly same everywhere in the world only pronounced with different accents (here it’s ‘bronch’) – should have pre-empted the similarities.
This is why I have admitted defeat and returned to my breakfast roots with no shame. Every morning I make a quick bowl of porridge. My first attempt at making porridge in Toulouse cost 6 euros because oats in France might as well be diamonds, but the kind of diamonds no one wants. Porridge is severely underappreciated here.
My box of oats has a handy recipe on the side for ‘porridge anglais’ which is 1) fascinating that porridge has a title in a similar refrain to ‘French kiss’ and a ‘French exit’ and 2) incorrect because porridge is Scottish.
If you grow up making your own porridge, you don’t need a recipe – you just bung in your oats and milk or water, a pinch of salt and stir (or don’t stir if you’re lazy) as it cooks. Porridge is an international breakfast, made with oats or rice, maize or semolina, and everyone has a personal cooking style so I won’t step on anyone’s toes.
Instead, I’m here to offer you a porridge topping.
Bramley apples are a big deal in the UK because with only a lick of heat, they collapse like a stack of Legos, slumping into soft lip-puckeringly sour mush. Unfortunately, Bramley apples aren’t available in France – quelle surprise! However, apple compote is very popular here so I knew it would be possible. I bought a sack of eating apples and set about peeling and finely dicing them. As they softened, I added butter, a little brown sugar, maple syrup and a couple of sprigs of thyme. Avant-garde – maybe. Delicious – absolutely.
The compote is meltingly soft with a familiar fragrance of thyme, soothing the sweetness. I can’t get enough of the smokey maple which must be made for apples, oats and autumn. The butter creates a velvety soft texture, caressing the flavours until they ease and blend. And if you’re wary about butter in a compote, trust me. The French do it and while they don’t do everything right, at least they know how to cook.
Apple, maple and thyme compote
- 6 eating apples
- 25ml water
- 50ml maple syrup
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 sprigs thyme
- Wash, peel and finely dice the apples. Tip into a saucepan along with the water and cook on medium heat for five minutes.
- Add the maple syrup, sugar, butter and thyme, reduce the heat to low and cook until the apples are completely soft. Use a fork to break down the apple chunks so the compote is smooth and lump-free.
- Serve with porridge made in your preferred method, and keep leftover compote in a clean jar in the fridge.