Drawing from historical cookbooks, literary works, and contemporary sources, this article traces a shift in the conception of the French dessert course from an adjunct but fully edible form in the seventeenth century to a mainly visual element in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the current balance between edibility and “legibility” in iconic desserts. What was once simply fruit and then pure ornament is now at once delicious and symbolic. The essay argues that present-day desserts represent a merging of taste and aesthetics, with the “decoration” now in the form of a colorful and sometimes invented history. When the dessert course was democratized in the nineteenth century—open to bourgeois tables—specific dishes became “textualized,” codified by name and form and inscribed with origin stories that connect these dishes to French identity, making dessert both symbolically and materially accessible to a wider public.
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