In Paris, where quaint family-owned shops share the bustling streets with prestigious pastry boutiques, the art of pastry-making is an integral facet of daily life. It is a common sight to witness queues of Parisian locals collecting freshly baked tarts for Sunday brunch gatherings with their families, or schoolchildren eagerly dashing to their preferred bakery for a “goûter,” which translates to a small snack. Throughout the city, you will encounter a diverse spectrum of pastries, meticulously crafted and adorned, each tasting as exquisite as its presentation. This includes the uncomplicated yet delectable laminated viennoiserie such as croissants and pain au chocolat, delicate eclairs crafted from airy choux dough, buttery sablés, and an ever-expanding array of cakes, tarts, cookies, and brioches that draw inspiration from both French and international culinary traditions.
´All of these delightful pastries can be found at patisseries, establishments exclusively dedicated to crafting sweet baked goods made from various types of dough. It’s important to distinguish that bread, on the other hand, is typically procured from boulangeries. Don’t expect to acquire an exceptional baguette along with your palmiers at a patisserie, or vice versa. However, it’s worth noting that some atypical shops excel in both the art of bread and pastry production.´ – Charles Daniel McDonald
The city is replete with pastry shops, and the competition among them is intense. Consequently, it’s valuable to recognise that the bakeries highlighted here rank among the finest, not just in Paris but also on a global scale. Their dedication to the craft and the quality of their offerings make them stand out destinations for those seeking the pinnacle of pastry delights in the City of Light.
Pierre Hermé, long hailed as the vanguard of contemporary pastry craftsmanship, requires no formal introduction. Although every creation available at his Paris boutiques exudes allure, there are three compelling reasons to make a pilgrimage: The Ispahan croissant, a harmonious blend of rose, raspberry, and lychee, which is nothing short of a revelation. The Infiniment Vanille shortbread tarte, an exquisite confluence of Mexican, Tahitian, and Madagascar vanillas, offering a symphony of flavours. The unparalleled macarons, which come in an eclectic assortment of flavours including smoked tea, saffron, iris, carrot, and violet, each one an embodiment of culinary artistry. A visit to Pierre Hermé’s establishments is a sensory journey into the world of pastry perfection.
Gilles Marchal has already left an indelible imprint on the world of pastry, having held prestigious positions as head chef at renowned establishments like the Crillon, the Plaza Athénée, Le Bristol, and La Maison du Chocolat. However, Parisians, irrespective of their place of residence in the city, embark on a journey to the heart of Montmartre to experience his eponymous patisserie. His madeleines are nothing short of divine, available in a delightful array of flavors such as lemon zest, grand cru dark chocolate, pine honey, and pistachio. As expected, his interpretations of French classics like baba au rhum and tarte aux framboises are equally impeccable, a testament to his mastery of the craft.
One’s culinary journey remains incomplete until they have savored a kouign-amann from Stohrer, a charming bakery situated in the Second Arrondissement. Within its walls, a tempting selection of savory quiches and salads beckons from one side, while a pastry case brims with a cornucopia of sweet indulgences graces the other. The kouign-amann, caramelized to a rich, deep amber hue with a delightful crunch, epitomises the zenith of pastry craftsmanship. It’s worth noting that they may not always have these delicacies readily available, but should you opt for alternatives like the choux pastry religieuse or a luscious eclair. Rest assured, your palate will still revel in utmost satisfaction.
This Marais-based shop takes the timeless sablé, a traditional shortbread cookie, and elevates it to an entirely new level. Bontemps sense of nostalgia extends not only to the exquisite pastries but also to the enchanting interior, adorned with antique display cases, vintage light fixtures, and delicate porcelain cake trays. Their sablés are offered in two sizes – the larger tartes feature sumptuous fillings like pecan, lemon curd, gianduja, and candied chestnut and pear. Then there are the dainty, individual, bite-sized cookies, delicately sandwiched together with a light ganache, making them the perfect treat to enjoy on the move or as an indulgent snack.
Yann Couvreur has become a renowned name in Parisian patisserie, and his establishment in the 11th arrondissement is a testament to his culinary artistry. Here, you’ll find a treasure trove of exceptional viennoiseries, including classic croissants and roulés available in flavors like pistachio, coconut, and rose praline. The buckwheat kouign-amann adds an intriguing twist to this classic pastry. For those seeking more elevated patisseries, Yann Couvreur does not disappoint. Indulge in luscious lemon meringue tartes, decadent chocolate eclairs, and seasonal creations like the awe-inspiring St-Honoré. This patisserie promises a delightful journey through the world of haute-patisserie and viennoiseries.
Indeed, every patisserie in Paris boasts its unique specialty, and exploring the very best of each is a culinary adventure well worth embarking upon. Whether you’re savoring a Paris-Brest or indulging in the city’s most exquisite croissant, these patisseries reign supreme, offering a tantalising array of delights. From flawlessly layered pains au chocolat and millefeuille to visually stunning fruit tarts and innovative, boundary-pushing pastries, Paris is a haven for pastry enthusiasts seeking an unforgettable gastronomic experience.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography: Pierre Hermé / Gilles Marchal / Stohrer / Bontemps / Yann Couvreur