Even the mildest sweet tooth will be unable to resist the allure of Paris’ patisseries. They are designed to tempt: the glisten of glaze on a strawberry here, the fluffy puff of cream there, the sheen of perfectly tempered chocolate over there… Fortunately, Paris is about nothing if not giving in to temptation. But how to choose?
To help you out, here’s a hit list of some of the city’s most iconic pastries – by history, by reputation, or by sheer deliciousness. If your exploits are limited by time, budget or diet, these are the treats you should make a honey-seeking beeline for.
Paris-Brest at Pâtisserie des Rêves
This patisserie staple, a wheel of choux pastry filled with a thick layer of hazelnut praline cream, was invented for a cycle race in 1910 and was reputedly popular with the cyclists. Let’s call it an early 20th-century (very French) version of carb-loading. Pâtisserie des Rêves (lapatisseriedesreves.com) is famed for putting a modern spin on the classics. The twist in their Paris-Brest is that the cream is spiked with pure runny praline, designed to ‘explode in your mouth’. And it does. Light-as-air choux and rich-as-sin praline with bombs of liquid nuttiness: so much tastier than a protein shake. And their nifty signature construction of the choux wheel into six bite-sized segments makes it easier to divide up and share. As if.
An extra hit: Their rendition of the St-Honoré – a classic Paris pastry – is also said to be among the city’s best.
Tarte Infiniment Vanille at Pierre Hermé
This modern classic is a hymn to vanilla and the masterpiece of one of Paris’ great pâtissiers. Brave the queue and experience the reinvention of vanilla: Pierre Hermé’s ‘infinitely vanilla’ tart. The ‘house vanilla’, sourced from a combination of Mexican, Tahitian and Madagascan beans, is in the rich white chocolate and vanilla ganache, silky vanilla mascarpone cream and a velvety vanilla glaze. They come together in a textural vanilla bomb: light, not too sweet, and intensely vanilla-y. They don’t call him ‘the Picasso of pastry’ for nothing.
An extra hit: Most of the queue is here for the macarons. Along with those at Ladurée, they are feted as the city’s finest.
Mont Blanc at Angelina
Angelina, the belle époque tearoom opened in 1903, was once the place to be for aristocrats and fashion types. Coco Chanel was a regular, and the Mont Blanc was the signature pastry. Times change, and these days this grand old dame of Paris pastry suffers a little by comparison to the hot young things in town. The mound of spaghettified chestnut paste is impressively lofty, but somewhat, well, brown. There is deliciousness inside though, with a whipped cream centre and meringue base, but getting through one of these solo is a test of endurance – a little like scaling the peaks of its namesake. Iconic though it is, this is one you might want to share.
An extra hit: This is the best, richest chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) in town. It’s worth sitting in the gorgeous, elegant tearoom to enjoy it.
Tarte Citron at Jacques Genin
You’ll see lemon tarts everywhere, but not at Jacques Genin’s (jacquesgenin.fr) temple to chocolate. They’re hidden away, produced if you order one to enjoy in the low-key tearoom of the Marais boutique. Like a high-end jewellery store with chocolates and pâtes de fruit (fruit jellies) arranged like jewels, it’s minimalist and coolly beautiful. Sweet is a serious business. And the tarte? Not your everyday tarte citron, this delicate little pastry packs a big punch. A rich shortcrust shell with a sublime filling of the creamiest, smoothest citrus crème – using citron vert (lime) rather than the more traditional lemon – and the masterstroke, a trace of basil.
An extra hit: Genin’s chocolates, caramels and pâtes de fruit are said to be the best in the world. Seriously.
Madeleines at Blé Sucré
It may be the simplest – a little cake of not much more than butter, sugar, flour and eggs – but the humble madeleine is perhaps the most iconic pastry of all, given its starring role in the masterwork of French literature, Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). They’re everywhere, even in mass-produced supermarket baggies. But it’s almost universally acknowledged that the best are at this unassuming neighbourhood boulangerie (bakery) – admittedly helmed by the former pastry chef of a Michelin three-star restaurant.
Deliciously moist, beautifully light, with the added kick of a citrus glaze that lends the slightest crunch to the shell. If you possibly can, get them just out of the oven or heat slightly before eating. Sweet heaven.
An extra hit: Blé Sucré (7 rue Antoine Vollon, 75012) is one of Paris’ loveliest local bakeries and for our money, they also make the finest croissants in town.