These bakery-style pumpkin cupcakes remind me of all the fresh pastries I saw on display in Parisienne bakeries when I visited France this past summer. This recipe features a moist crumb and warm spices that serve as the perfect foil for a tangy cream cheese frosting. (You can catch up on my latest Europe travel stories & recipes here and here.)
While the pumpkin cupcakes that I’m sharing today are by no means Parisienne, making them transported me back instantly to the days that I spent in the heart of France at the end of July. Freshly-baked pastries filled every patisserie window that we passed: Shelves groaned under the weight of baguettes, macarons, petit fours, eclairs, and sometimes–yes–beautiful cupcakes of more assortments than I could dream up. We spent hours roaming the city this way, munching our way through the beautiful streets of Paris and bathing ourselves in an air that seemed soaked in the smell of fresh gateau.
I say “we” because even though I’d planned to explore Paris on my own, I was lucky enough to make a new friend (are you sensing a trend here yet? haha) on the front steps of Notre Dame during my first day in the city. Felipe and I met in a cathedral line that seemed to stretch for miles: Unsure whether I was in the right place, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he spoke English. Turned out that he did–and not only that, but he was traveling solo as well! As the line moved, we started chatting and he told me how he came from Mexico originally but was currently staying in Barcelona for research; it was one of his last weekends in Europe and he decided to visit Paris just for the day before heading back. I waited for him as we passed the security checkpoint and we somehow made our way through Notre Dame together, taking photos for one another and browsing the souvenir aisle for a religious token for his mom back home.
Half an hour later, we were crossing the Seine, chatting happily as we searched for Berthillon Glacier–a famous ice cream stand just behind the cathedral.
It’s incredible how quickly two strangers in a foreign city can build a connection. By the time we finished our ice cream cones (which, by the way, were wicked good!), we had begun sprinting back across the bridge in search of a place called Place St. Michel, where the Paris Sandemans tour was slated to start at 11 AM. (If you’ve never heard of Sandemans tours, they’re free and available in every major city around the world–I highly recommend them!) With the help of my very rusty high school French and a few well-placed “ummm excusez-moi, je cherche…”‘s, however, we finally managed to join up with the tour just as it was leaving the square.
From there, the rest of the day seemed like a blur: We toured around the city, ate mushrooms wrapped in pastry puff from a cart, strolled down the Champs-Elysees, and took tons of forced perspective pictures outside the Louvre like the total tourists we were. Felipe was a mild-mannered, good-natured young man; his smile when he talked about Barcelona–the cozy feel of the city, which I sadly wouldn’t be able to visit when I went to Spain the following day–lit up his whole face, leaving both of us beaming at each other in wistful imagination. He told me about the difficulty he had understanding fast-paced Spanish accents, while I shared some of my favorite things about living in California and asked questions about Mexican cuisine. By the time he left in the late afternoon to buy a few more things on the other side of town and catch his train home, we were both determined to keep in touch and exchanged contact info with fond smiles before parting ways…
I was hobbling down Champs-Elysees later that afternoon (I’d brought my flats instead of running shoes on the trip–a very bad mistake) when a pair of hands suddenly gripped my shoulders from behind. Being the very rational (i.e. on-my-own, purse-carrying young female tourist) that I was, I nearly knocked the lights out of my assailant when I whipped around and came face-to-face with…Felipe! He laughed when he saw my astonished face and told me that he had just finished seeing the Eiffel Tower as he shopped, but he decided to join me anyway and visit the Arc de Triomphe before he had to leave for good. We spent the last hour of our day together walking around the landmark and down the wide boulevard, savoring every last moment in a distant city that seemed to us–at least for that instant–infinite.
We did eventually part ways (for real this time) and I spent the rest of the evening browsing the local neighborhood, poking my head into pastry shops and finally finding a table at a restaurant with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. And as the sun went down, as the tower’s lights flashed in a dazzling display through the twilit sky, as I watched the couples sitting across from one another in the City of Love, and as the waiter from Spain smiled at me as he told me about fulfilling his lifelong dream of coming to live in France–I didn’t feel alone at all.