In the process of acquiring a spare French history degree, my prof told me that she was referring to the a hard layer of baked goods that are put between the flame and bread for wealther people. The “cake” is hard and unappetizing. So the quote still indicated gross ignorance on her part of the situation: she misunderstood that the regular bread had run out, and people were complaining about having to eat other things. In fact, many were starving.
So I was told.
(No cite, no expectation of a cite, only reporting what a professor said.)
What does one pay for a college education for if just to be misinformed… Sigh. Having now looked a few things up (except the original reference, which is in university library someplace or another), I see nothing to back up the idea I believed, except perhaps that a brioche doesn’t seemed to be leavened, and therefore, I suppose, could be relegated to a part of the oven with less critical temperature.
I was hoping the Diderot Encyclopedia had a revealing entry on brioche, but there wasn’t anything at all.
Instead, here’s “The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations”:
“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Let them eat cake.
On being told that her people had no bread. Attributed to Marie-Antoinette, but much older. Rousseau refers in his ‘Confessions’, 1740 to a similar remark, as a well known saying.”
samclem, your citation may well be right that Marie-Antoinette never said it. However it would not be out of character for her. She was a sheltered person even as royalty went, with very little conception of how seriously things were turning against her. (Many other reliable sources claim she did say something of the sort, so it’s an open issue.)
I spent an hour reviewing my French history books, hoping to find the passage I mentioned earlier in the thread. As I feared, the source is somewhere in the university library. However I did find related facts, and now I’m sure that I read a book claiming that Marie-Antoinette said, effectively, “Let them eat the worse quality bread.”
These quotes from Fernand Braudel’s “Capitalism and Material Life 1400-1800” make it clear that the English words “bread” and “cake” don’t have a one-to-one correspondence with the baked goods available at the time in Paris.
“Soft bread of course remained a luxury. As a Parisian said (1788): ‘with its firm golden crust it seems to rebuke the Limousin cob’… these luxuries, however, were only available in times of abundance. In times of dearth, as in Paris in September 1740… Parlement promptly forbade ‘the making of any types of bread except second quality.’”
“The regulation of July 1372 distinguished between three types of bread: Chailli bread, blistered or bourgeois bread and brode bread (a brown bread).”
It’s this brown bread, I assume, that the author was claiming had coarse grains, was cooked closer to the fire where it became hard, and which was the cheapest form available. That’s the bread (so the book claimed) Marie-Antoinette was making reference to.
I don’t remember how “brioche” might have come into the author’s argument.
I’m pretty sure (my father told me) that the cake was indeed the hard, yucky stuff put between flames and real bread.
I dunno why they didn’t just put a sheet of metal between the flames and the bread. Perhaps smoke was integral in the tastte.