Take a Walk on the Sweet Side: A Paris Pastry Tour

Take a Walk on the Sweet Side: A Paris Pastry Tour

Paris is one of the world’s most-visited cities, welcoming millions of tourists every year. Some come for the art; others are attracted by the history. And some still come for the food.

Paris is brimming with food culture, not the least of which are its famed pastries. For the best of Paris’ world of pastry art, you’ve come to the right place.

more-macarons cover

It’s Not Just About Pastry

Not all pastries are technically pastries, and while the distinction may seem purely semantic, it’s actually quite an important one. Viennoiseries, or Viennese-style pastries, encompass some of France’s most famous baked goods, but you’re actually more likely to find the best versions at boulangeries — bakeries — and not at patisseries, or pastry shops.

croissant

Croissants
Perhaps the most famous of the viennoiseries is the croissant. The croissant was invented by Viennese bakers as a warning to their fellow Austrians; bakers who were awake early to bake the morning bread heard the Ottomans tunneling into the city and sounded the alarm, leading to the failure of the siege and victory.

Today, two sorts of croissants are sold in Paris. The ones that merit their name — which means crescent and is meant to represent the moon on the Turkish flag — are actually the inferior version, made with margarine. Croissants au beurre — butter croissants — are straighter in shape and far more delicious.

The best croissants can be found at:

Bread and Roses (pictured)
Exactly what a croissant should taste like.
62 rue Madame (6th)

Eric Kayser
This chain store has a good croissant; while it may not be the best of the best, it earns its place from being so widely available, as well as being delicious.
17 locations throughout the city, see their website for details.

pain-au-chocolat

Pains au Chocolat
The pain au chocolat — chocolate bread — is also known as a chocolate croissant outside of France for the flaky, croissant-like dough that surrounds the dark chocolate. A good pain au chocolat will be just savory enough to offset the sweetness of the chocolate, offering a caramelized exterior and a fluffy, flaky interior. Many try and many fail; a satisfactory pain au chocolat is fairly easy to find, but an exceptional one is a bit tougher.

Luckily, you have someone telling you where to go. The best pains au chocolat in Paris can be found at:

Des Gateaux et du Pain (pictured)
Fat and caramelized, with a very buttery flavor.
63 boulevard Pasteur (15th)

Béchu
Béchu’s pain au chocolat is far from traditional, but it’s certainly delicious. It integrates orange marmalade with the traditional chocolate for a new twist on an old classic.
118 avenue Victor Hugo (16th)

Want to make these at home? Stead yourself – here’s one person’s experience making croissants and pain au chocolat at a Parisian baking class. Looks fun – and hard.

True Pastries: A True Treat

As for traditional pastries or patisseries, the world is your oyster. As opposed to viennoiseries, don’t buy your pastries where you buy your bread; try a specialized patisserie, where the pastries are made in-house with special ovens, for a true treat.

eclairs

Eclairs
Éclairs are just one of the many pastries that are made with pate à choux, or choux pastry. This pastry dough is behind profiteroles, cream puffs, gougères, religieuses… and éclairs.

The word éclair means lightning bolt; perhaps it’s because trying your first éclair is like being hit by a bolt of lightning! In a good way, of course. The long logs of choux pastry are filled with pastry cream that is often flavored — traditionally with chocolate, vanilla or coffee, but in recent years with everything from caramel to pistachio to tonka bean. The finished pastry is coated with a layer of thick icing, helping you to recognize the flavor within and add a bit of sweetness to the savory pastry and the creamy filling.

For the best éclairs, try:

Dalloyau (pictured)
Dalloyau sells traditional éclairs, as well as bite-sized versions, the perfect excuse to eat more than one.
Many locations throughout the city, see their website for details.

L’Éclair de Génie
The name says it all. This pastry shop specializes in éclairs, with a great variety of flavors including salted butter caramel with mascarpone, chocolate-coconut, yuzu-lemon, passionfruit-raspberry, and pecan.
14 rue Pavée (4th)

Want to bake at home? Here is a good recipe to try!

macaron

Macarons
Macarons are somewhat of a tough subject in Paris. There are several schools, each ascribing to the genius of a different macaron master. If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, though, it’s that Ladurée revolutionized macaron-making.

Today, Ladurée still sells their famous macarons: light almond flour cookies sandwiched around a flavored filling. The cookies themselves are colored to reflect the flavors in the ganache or jam between them. But Ladurée’s disciples receive just as much — if not more — attention.

Ladurée
The original master’s store on the Champs-Elysées is a must-visit.
75 avenue des Champs-Elysées (8th)

Pierre Hermé
One of Ladurée’s students, today Pierre Hermé has surpassed the master in creating unique flavor combinations for these tiny cookies.
Several locations throughout the city, see their website for details.

William Lamagnère
Another of Ladurée’s disciples, Lamagnère works in the kitchen of one of Paris’ oldest brasseries, La Closerie des Lilas, where you can taste his delicious macarons in-house.
171 boulevard du Montparnasse (6th)

One Last Paris Staple to Try

brioche

Brioche
Brioche is an enriched bread made with eggs, butter, and sugar. It’s rich and decadent, perfect for weekend breakfasts. Mini brioches à tête have a small knob or “head” on top of the muffin-shaped bread, while larger brioches tressées — braided brioches — or other loaves are made for sharing.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of mediocre brioches out there. Fortunately, there are also some amazing ones. For the best brioches in Paris, try:

Lenôtre
This classic brioche à tête is the perfect reference for comparing future brioches; it’s a great example of exactly what a brioche should taste like.
Many locations throughout the city, see their website for details.

La Pâtisserie des Rêves
The brioche feuilletée here has a flaky, layered crust that tastes like caramel and an airy interior that tastes like heaven.
111 rue de Longshamp (16th)

Of course, you could always make your own. Try bringing French pastry home with this recipe for French brioche tressée. (Pictured)

Photos: first image from Wiki Commons; all other images by Emily Monaco.

Take a Walk on the Sweet Side: A Paris Pastry Tour

A Guest Writer

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