I grew up in France, and when people ask me if I miss the wine & the cheese (oh yes I do…), I always add the “patisseries” or French pastries to the list. Nowhere else have I found this particular taste that has clearly spoiled me since childhood… In this post written in collaboration with my friend and cuisine blogger’ Alexandre Clasens, we go through some of the best patisseries of Paris.
In the 16th district of Paris on rue de l’annonciation, a few meters from the church of the Notre-Dame-de-Grace de Passy, emerges a smooth and coquettish smell of melting sugar and spicy brioche. Through the store window, one can spot from the street, the pastry chef, standing behind his marble desk, wearing his white uniform and cooking hat, preparing a delicious and appetizing show for the crowd hopping up and down outside, generously fudge some fresh baked meringue with a rich cream spread on his spatula and dust them heavily with handfuls of chocolate, meringue, caramel, nuts and almonds chunks. We are at “Aux merveilleux de Fred”, one of the best pastry address in Paris.
A little bit of history…
There is a golden rule about a good pastry : it can’t be anything else than a light and delicate sin and it should always refer to a great childhood souvenir. Historically, there is effectively a touch of devilry in pastry genesis; sugar as well as coffee, tea or cacao were one of those new ingredients discovered in the new world (America, Asia, Africa) that had been qualified, back in that time, as new stimulants by Europeans who were hooked to this brand new sensation of excitement.
Gluttony and its addiction may be that main reason that built and sustained the slavery system. Late ironical tribute from the profession to those unsung victims of our greed and hero from our gastronomy: the “tête de nègre” (literally “nigger’s head”) was this bell looking like cracking meringue covered with a chocolate shell which reveals after the first bite a well drawned and shiny impertinent smile.
In Paris, the two greatest institutions that personify the bakery and pastry confederation excellence are Dalloyau, the patriarchal house created under patronage of King Louis the Great, and Lenotre, the Godfather, tutor and trainer of generations of chefs.
Behind their succulent footprint and tasty tricks, they draw a large number of qualified artisans working under quality brands providing their best know-how best from breakfast to dinner to their 7-77 years’ old customer base. There is also patisserie and catering as the Madeleine twins Fauchon and Hédiard or patisserie and tea spot, like Ladurée, Carette, and Angelina, patisserie-shop with Pierre Hermé or patisserie online boutique with Christophe Michalak.
My favourite pastries
And my favorite is……(drum roll)…. not the “macaron”! Despite all the fuss around macarons and how great they are, I found them quite expensive and whenever I’ve tried them, I just did not like the feel in my mouth… Here is a list of pastries I like the most, but the truth is that it depends on everyone’s own taste, so try a bit of everything you find appealing in the pastry shop!
*La religieuse: two choux pastries on top of one another held together by chocolate or mocha pastry cream, resembling the “nun” for which it was named
*L’éclair: an oblong choux pastry filled with cream and topped with icing
*Le mille-feuille: this layered puff pastry separated by pastry cream, with a powdered sugar top, is also known as a Napoleon
*La tarte citron meringuée: a lemon meringue pie
*Le fraisier: a layered cake with pastry cream and fresh strawberries
(You will notice that I have included the very well known “croissant” in the list of other pastries to try below. Indeed, please try it in Paris, the taste is definitely different!)