Quintessential France: Rules for Dunking

By Saturday, August 8, 2015 Permalink 0
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by Jonell Galloway

Croissants were made to be dunked into coffee, right? Doesn’t the very shape lends itself to dunking?

One of the first things I fell in love with in France was the general acceptance, albeit a bit common, of dunking my morning baguette-and-butter tartine or croissant in my café au lait. Dunking was forbidden in my mother’s house. She said it was common and thought Dunkin’ Donuts a travesty, so the French acceptance, though not formal, made me feel the reins of my upbringing had been loosened, if not removed.

Some French people, like Mme Verdurin in Proust’s Le Temps Retrouvé / Time Regained, actually suffer when they’re not allowed to dunk:

Mrs. Verdurin, suffering with migraines from no longer having a croissant to dunk in her café au lait, had gotten a prescription from Dr. Cottard allowing her to do it in certain restaurants, which we talked about. This was almost as difficult as getting the government to nominate a general. She ate her first croissant on the morning the newspapers reported the sinking of the Lusitania.

Mme Verdurin souffrant pour ses migraines de ne plus avoir de croissant à tremper dans son café au lait, avait obtenu de Cottard une ordonnance qui lui permettait de s’en faire faire dans certain restaurant, dont nous avons parlé. Cela avait été presque aussi difficile à obtenir des pouvoirs publics que la nomination d’un général. Elle reprit son premier croissant, le matin où les journaux narraient le naufrage du Lusitania.

It didn’t take me long to understand that there were places one could dunk and places one couldn’t.

In 2013, Bertrand Fraysse reported in his luxury column about a power breakfast: “Lors d’un petit déjeuner de presse, dans un grand hôtel parisien, l’un d’eux trempe son croissant dans son chocolat chaud, comme à la maison.” During a press breakfast in a grand hotel in Paris, one of them dunked his croissant in his hot chocolate, just like one does at home. Shame on him. Now we know what the rules are, at least in France.

In 2007, The Tea Cosy tearoom in Brighton forbade dunking of biscuits. The owner of the tearoom said dunking is on the rise in Britain, and people dunk everything from their biscuit (cookie) to their bread and chips in tea, soup, curry, or anything even feigning sauce or liquid, and he wanted no more of it.

The general rule, however, seems to be similar in France, the U.S. and Britain. “Don’t dunk doughnuts, biscotti, or anything else in your coffee unless you’re at an ultracasual place where dunking is the norm,” says the Etiquette Scholar. In other words, use your better judgment, and don’t dunk your biscuit while having tea with the Queen.

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