Marie Antoinette sits in a ‘simple’ milkmaid’s outfit adorned with diamonds, frills and furbelows. She waits expectantly for the interview to start.
Interviewer: First, Your Highness, I am glad you’ve agreed to be interviewed by us using the latest time travelling technology. You are most gracious.
MA: Yes, I am, aren’t I?
I: May I ask whether you believe that you were a benign influence in France or whether you feel that you made any mistakes?
MA: My influence was entirely positive. Before I arrived, the state of the French bakery industry was appalling. From Vienna I brought croissants, gateaux, and biscuits like they had never seen before.
I: I was speaking more of your influence on French society and politics.
MA: That was my influence, breads, cakes, patisserie of the very finest sort. Who could not regard me as a benefactress?
I: Well as you have brought up the subject of cakes, did you ever say, “Let them eat cake”?
MA: Absolutely not. What I said was, “Let me eat cake”. But with my accent it was misunderstood and blown up out of all proportion. They made a complete soufflé of the whole thing. The soufflé, now that is French! Boring, insipid and a let-down in the eating.
I: So, what was your attitude to the peasantry, the common members of French society?
MA: En masse I didn’t really have one. I liked some of those I met. My pastry cook was a wonderful young woman. So willing to learn new techniques, and to present me with only the finest petit fours, madeleines…
(MA drifts off into something of a reverie.)
I: I understand that the King and yourself spent some time in the Black Forest on holiday. What did you think of it?
MA: The secret of that is to use only the freshest cherries and dark chocolate from the new world made with the enormous care and reverence the recipe requires.
I: That’s most enlightening. If I may change the subject, as you know I am British, and I was wondering how you saw the relationship between France and Britain before and during the Revolution.
MA: I never understood the English. Their ideas were all so stodgy and unpalatable.
I: Do you mean the rigidity of the social order, or their political dealings?
MA: Neither! I meant all those steamed puddings. So heavy on the digestive system, so dull in the mouth. I ate one once and nearly drowned in my yearly bath, six months later.
(The interviewer is becoming visibly uneasy at the hijacking of the interview to talk solely about cakes and desserts.)
I: But… er…
MA: (Interjects) Oh, yes. Butter is one of the single most important ingredients in really good baking. It must not be skimped on. The worst thing in the world is to be presented with sweet shortcrust which isn’t really short. The Scots were much more like us, as we’re talking about British matters. Their short bread could be wonderful, if a little less dainty than I would have liked.
I: I find it interesting that you, who ended her life under the guillotine, should describe bad pastries as the worst thing in the world.
MA: By the time of my execution I had been without my pastry cook for several months. No one could bring me treats like she used to make for me. I was glad to go.
I: Right! To move on again, do you feel that you supported your husband the King as well as you possibly could have done?
MA: Well obviously. I was at his side waving at the poor and the rich alike. Now the question is whether he supported me adequately. He would just wander into the kitchens or my drawing room, even into my cottage and eat my tea. Tarts, tortes… it was all the same to him. He never said thank you to me. What sort of a husband is that? It’s no wonder he got so fat! I used to call him my heavy pudding, my raspberry fool.
(The interviewer gives up at this point.)
I: Your Majesty, thank you very much for these valuable insights in to life in 18th century France.
MA: I’m sure you’ve benefitted greatly from it. (Pops a piece of brioche into the royal cakehole)