Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

'Couque Suisse' and 'Pain à la Grècque'

Belgian intermezzo ...

In last Monday’s post I mentioned us having a ‘Suisse’ for breakfast. ‘Suisse’ is short for ‘couque Suisse’. We also say ‘couque au chocolat’ instead of ‘pain au chocolat’.

There are two kinds of ‘couques suisses’: round ones and long onces.
A couque suisse is a pastry, more accurately a viennoiserie-style semi-sweet bread, somewhat similar to a Danish pastry. Couques suisses are available internationally, for example at Le Pain Quotidien bakeries throughout the world. (source Wikipedia).

The soft pastry contains raisins and a thin layer of a custard-like cream. The Suise has an sugar glaze topping. A good couque Suisse is crunchy on the outside and soft and mellow on the inside. It’s often eaten at breakfast or in the afternoon with a cup of coffee or tea.

And while we’re on the subject: do you know what a ‘Pain à la Grècque’ is?

It’s a typical Belgian specialty that has strictly nothing to do with Greece. Like the famous ‘Tartin Tatin’ the ‘Pain à la Grècque’ was invented by accident, when in the 16th century some monks who lived in a monastery on the Brussels’ ‘Wolvengracht’ (the Dutch word for ‘ditch of the wolves’) accidentally rolled the finished bread dough in sugar instead of flour before putting it into the oven.

During the baking process the sugar crystallized on the surface of the bread. The monks, who had taken a vow of poverty, couldn’t bring themselves to throwing the bread away. They therefore gave it to the poor who regularly found their way to the monastery begging for food. These poor people, who couldn’t afford to buy sugar, really liked the bread and came back asking for more … and the monks decided to bake it regularly.

In the Brussels’dialect ‘gracht’ is pronounced as ‘grècht’, and so the special bread with sugar crystals from the monastery became known as the ‘Pain à là grècht’. The actual name ‘Pain à la Grècque’ is the Gallicized pronunciation of the original name. No wonder you don’t find ‘Pain à la Grècque’ in Greece!

These days, the best place to buy ‘Pain à la Grècque’ is the ‘Maison Dandoy’, founded in 1829, in the ‘rue au Beurre’ near Brussels’ Grand’ Place (



chm said...

I have fond memories of pains à la grecque, cramique and pistolets. Talking about them, I can almost taste them again! Memories of time past!

I think I remember buying a pain à la grecque in the store you mention. But it was so many decades ago! I was 13 years old!

ladybird said...

Chm, Nice to read you and knowing that you've arrived safely in France. Can't you get Pain à la Grècque in Paris? Maybe in some delicatessen store?