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Frank Adrian Barron: The American “Cake Boy” in Paris

A delicate, indulgent coffee-table book recently published by California-born Parisian Frank Adrian Barron, a.k.a. “Cake Boy,” reveals 59 sweet-toothed recipes from France, the United States, and beyond.
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© Joann Pai

The scene took place in winter 2012 in one of the small, neighborhood stores found all over Paris. Frank Adrian Barron had just arrived from his native California and was shopping for groceries at a Monoprix supermarket, the local equivalent of Target. List in hand, he approached an employee, with a smile on his face: “Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?” He was met with a dumbstruck stare. Small talk is quite uncommon in France – and even more so in the capital. Unperturbed, he continued: “Where are the strawberries, please?” To which the employee replied: “They’re not in season!”

Through this initial culture shock, in which Californian charm met Parisian indifference, Frank Adrian Barron discovered the concept of seasonality; you don’t eat strawberries in winter. Most French people conscientiously respect this rule. Another discovery also struck the American visitor: There is very little grazing between meals. Instead, people wait patiently for le goûter, or afternoon snack, at 4 p.m. This miraculous moment when eating sweet things is allowed – if not encouraged – kindled a new passion within the Californian, whose friends soon nicknamed “Cake Boy.”

These anecdotes open his first book, Sweet Paris, a collection of mostly French and American pastry recipes, sprinkled with delicious memories and etiquette advice – which he has named “French flair.” The 59 desserts are organized into seasons: lemon cake in winter, marzipan in spring, strawberry tart in summer, French apple tart in the fall. This seasonality is showcased in images by Paris-based Canadian photographer Joann Pai, who has worked on two books by American journalist Lindsey Tramuta. The result is a mouth-watering ode to the world’s most beautiful city, which is featured both blanketed with snow and as it welcomes the first leaves.

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© Joann Pai
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© Joann Pai

Before moving to Paris, the pastry chef from San Diego studied art history at the University of Berkeley and worked for the de Young Museum in San Francisco. He has retained a certain sense of delicacy from his experience, which can be found in his bold desserts and on his Instagram account. In 2012, he moved to Paris with his husband and developed a passion for making French pastries, which he taught himself, while drawing inspiration from his mother’s recipes back in California. “I was immediately won over by the beauty of the desserts by Pierre Hermé and Dalloyau,” he says. “The French first eat with their eyes; their pastries are works of art. But I am just as fond of the rustic appearance and raw charm of American cakes.” His favorite dessert is the cinnamon swirl bundt cake from his childhood. This dessert is similar to a marble cake, and a version of it is featured in his book as part of the “Fall” chapter.

When he is not swimming laps at his local pool (“My way of being able to eat cakes without worrying about it,” he says, laughing), Frank Adrian Barron organizes walking tours to visit his favorite Parisian patisseries and chocolate shops, and hosts cooking and cake decorating workshops in his chic apartment in the Marais in the heart of the French capital. These moments of creativity and indulgence are held at 4 p.m., of course. And during the tea-time goûters, the hot drink adored by the Anglosphere is replaced… by French Champagne!

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© Joann Pai

Rhubarb Pie

Ingredients (serves 6 to 8)

For the almond tart dough:
1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. almond flour
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of fine sea salt

For the frangipane:
3/4 c. granulated sugar
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 c. almond flour
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

For the assembly:
3 to 4 large rhubarb stalks (about 18 oz.), cut into diagonal pieces
2 tbsp. acacia honey, warmed
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preparation

Make the almond tart dough:
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, powdered sugar, almond flour, butter, egg yolks, and salt on low until a dough forms. Do not overmix. When the dough comes together, shape into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least 1 hour.
2. Remove the almond tart dough from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to roll it out. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a large circle, about 12 inches in diameter. Carefully roll the dough around a rolling pin, brushing off any excess flour. Unroll the dough over a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, gently tuck it into the pan, and trim any excess dough. Using a fork, poke tiny holes across the bottom of the tart shell. Line the tart shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights to keep the dough from puffing up during baking. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the tart shell from the oven and carefully remove the pie weights and parchment paper. Return the tart shell to the oven and bake for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, or until the center turns golden. Transfer the tart shell to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the frangipane filling:
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and butter until pale, about 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs until combined, then add the almond flour and almond extract and whisk until smooth. Add the flour and whisk once more until fully incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Assemble the pie:
1. Spread the frangipane filling evenly in the tart shell. Press the diagonal rhubarb pieces into the frangipane in an interlocking pattern. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges of the tart shell are golden brown. Transfer the tart to a wire rack to cool.
2. Brush the rhubarb with warm honey for a glossy finish and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Advice from the Chef

“My husband is a huge fan of rhubarb and insisted that I include this recipe in my book. The rustic design of this tart is inspired by my English friend and baker Thida Bevington. It showcases the beautiful colors of the rhubarb, while the creaminess of the frangipane contrasts the plant’s acidity. To make it extra indulgent, I recommend adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream!”

 

Article published in the June 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

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