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Pavé - potatoes, cakes, slices ... whatever

"A French term most often used in reference to a square or rectangular-shaped serving of food." Recipe

I think I reported that we have decided to succumb to the temptation of another sumptuous Mercer's partially home-cooked meal. The dessert is Chocolate Mint Pavé, and naturally enough my husband asked what was a pavé. I wasn't quite sure but offered - a slice of some kind. I vaguely had in my head a rectangular or square shape but wasn't absolutely sure. And I am indeed sort of right. When it comes to desserts anyway - well then again, maybe not. I will explain.

The quote at the top of the page is the first line in the following definition:

"The term "pavé" translates into a word that means "cobblestone" or a similar square and rectangular-shaped item. Thus, the term is often used to describe a sweet or bland cold mousse that includes meat, poultry or fish cut into the rectangular or square shapes for individual servings. The mousse is coated with a covering of aspic, which is Pavé may be used to describe small rectangular blocks of cheese, such as Pavé Blesois or Pavé de Chirac. And, this term can also refer to a rectangular-shaped, frosted and layered sponge cake dessert filled with sweet ingredients." Recipe Tips

(I have reread this and it doesn't quite make sense there when it gets to cheese, but I've left as is anyway.) I checked out various other definitions and they all said more or less the same thing. And here are the cheeses they mentioned - Pavé Blesois on the left and Pavé de Chirac on the right. So they're square - big deal. There are lots of other square cheeses.

Basically they are saying pavé is food that is square or rectangular, though mostly square. More or less any kind of food. You see pavé in French means cobblestone - which is what I had lingering in my head somewhere. And you can see that the Pavé Blesois in particular looks a bit like a cobblestone. There are lots of cobblestones in France - not always square I have to say, but mostly. Perhaps the most famous are the cobblestones of the Paris-Roubaix bike race in which the riders ride mostly over cobblestones - or for a long way anyway. Sometimes they include a section of it in the Tour de France. It can be pretty horrific - I mean not exactly smooth, and if it rains - slippery. They're not riding mountain bikes after all.

Sorry I couldn't help myself. Am suffering a bit from not having the Tour de France to watch this year, so that I can drool over the beautiful French scenery yet again, and feed my French homesickness. So maybe it's a good idea that it's not on TV every night.

Back to pavé as food. If you feed that into Google, what you mostly get are potatoes or desserts but not really cakes. There are occasional beef or fish offerings, but not much else. I don't remember seeing any of those fish mousses with aspic for example. The potatoes were quite interesting though.

It's one of those recipes which is simple yet fussy and complicated, all at the same time. Jamie doesn't have one, neither do Delia or Nigel. It seems to be more of a restaurant thing, and I am even beginning to wonder whether it is an invention of Thomas Keller's. The reason I think this is that I could not find one of those Wikipedia pages with origins, or a food history site that quoted it, even though various people added the term 'classic' to their recipe. And why Thomas Keller? Well almost all the recipes I found referred to his recipe which is in his book Ad Hoc at Home. If you go to Martha Stewart's website you can even see a video of him making it as well as discovering the recipe. Paul West of River Cottage Australia also has a version and Taste - which probably means Coles Magazine also has one. (The photo at the top of the page is theirs.) They are all pretty much the same though. On the left is Thomas Keller's version and on the right Paul West's. Well I'm not sure about the authenticity, if you can call it that of the Thomas Keller one, as I think it is just somebody's version of it. There are lots of those, and I have to say they all look pretty impressive. So maybe it's not that hard.

It's one of those Slow/Quick recipes, in that the time actually spent doing things is not that much but you have to start at least a day in advance. One recipe said two! You also really need a mandolin or pretty good knife skills. Really I think what it is, is a potato gratin, cooled and compressed, then cut into squares, or rectangles and fried. The aim being to get a creamy interior and a crunchy outside. So if you want to impress give it a go. Otherwise just stick to Gratin Dauphinois or similar.

As for dessert - well really it seems to me that you can call just about any dessert that is cut into square bits a pavé. Mostly they are slices of one kind or another, though they could be cake, or mousse I suppose. There is one, particular type though - a Brazilian pavê, which is a kind of tiramisu cake cut into squares - well mostly. I did see some pictures where it was just a cake slice sort of shape. But it's also one of those Quick/Slow kind of recipes. You have to pause overnight at one point. Although it is uncooked being an assembly job more than anything. So, in a way, a kind of trifle. Olivia's Cuisine has a recipe, although the picture comes from another site called Sugar'n Spice Gals that seems to have stopped loading for some reason. Now how the Brazilians came to embrace the term pavé I have no idea. I'm guessing the Portuguese for cobblestone is similar - maybe even the same - as the French pavé.

Pavé is not a classic dish though. If you see it on a menu all it will tell you is the shape. It will tell you nothing else. Basically a fancy term invented by fancy chefs to describe their newest fancy dish. Squares are aesthetically pleasing after all. So neat, so geometric, so adaptable. Thomas Keller is a fancy American chef by the way, in case you didn't know.

I bet my fancy Chocolate and Mint Pavé from Mercer's will be delicious though.


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