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In Pursuit of the Perfect Parisian pastry

Could it be true, as rumor has it, that more eggs, sugar, cream, and butter per capita are consumed in Paris than in any other city? From a modern-day Proust sampling a madeleine to a child munching a pain au chocolat (chocolate-filled croissant), everyone in Paris seems to be looking for two things: the perfect lover and the perfect pastry -- and not necessarily in that order. As a Parisian food critic once said, "A day without a pastry is a day in hell!"

Who'd think of beginning a morning in Paris without a croissant -- freshly baked, flaky, light, and made with real butter, preferably from Norman cows. The Greeks may have invented pastry making, but the French perfected it. Some French pastries have made a greater impact than others. The croissant and the brioche, a sweet and yeasty breakfast bread, are baked around the world today, as is the fabled éclair au chocolat (chocolate éclair), a pastry filled with whipped cream or pastry cream and topped with chocolate. Another pastry you should sample is the mille-feuille ("thousand leaves"), made by arranging thin layers of flaky pastry on top of one another, along with layers of cream or fruit purée or jam; the American version is called a napoleon.

Here are some of our favorite patisseries:

  • Dalloyau, 101 rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 8e (tel. 01-42-99-90-00; www.dalloyau.fr; Métro: St-Philippe du Roule) has been in business since Napoleon was in power, and has a name instantly recognizable throughout Paris. Dalloyau supplies pastries to the Elysée Palace (the French White House) and many Rothschild mansions nearby. Its specialties are Le Dalloyau, praline cake filled with almond meringue that's marvelously light-textured; the Opéra, composed of an almond-flavored cookie layered with butter cream, chocolate, and coffee. Unlike Stohrer, Dalloyau has a tearoom (open daily 8:30am-7:30pm) one floor above street level, where ladies who lunch can drop in for a slice of pastry that Dalloyau warns is "too fragile to transport, or to mail, over long distances."
  • Fauchon, 26-30 place de la Madeleine, 8e (tel. 01-70-39-38-00; www.fauchon.com; Métro: Madeleine). As readers of French literature know, the taste of the madeleine (a scalloped tea cake) triggered the memory of the narrator in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Known since the 18th century, the madeleine also inspired chef Christophe Adam at Fauchon to tinker with the classic cookie recipe. Today he prepares madeleines in such flavors as orange, coffee-sesame, and pistachio.
  • Ladurée Royale, 16 rue Royale, 8e (tel. 01-42-60-21-79; www.laduree.fr; Métro: Concorde or Madeleine), is Paris's dowager tearoom, opened in 1862, and just a few steps from La Madeleine. Its pastry chefs are known for the macaron, a pastry for which this place is celebrated. Karl Lagerfeld comes here and raves about them. This isn't the sticky coconut-version macaroon known to many, but two almond meringue cookies, flavored with chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, coffee, or other flavors, stuck together with butter cream. You may also want to try Le Faubourg, a lusciously dense chocolate cake with layers of caramel and apricots.
  • Pierre Hermé, 72 rue Bonaparte, 6e (tel. 01-43-54-47-77; www.pierreherme.com; Métro: St-Sulpice). While Ladurée makes our favorite classic macarons in recognizable flavors, we head to Pierre Herme for unfamiliar combinations like olive oil and vanilla, white truffle, and foie gras. Anything pastry featuring the Ispahan flavor combination (litchi, rose, and raspberry) is also delicious.
  • Sadaharu Aoki, 56 bd. Port Royale, 13e (tel. 01-45-35-34-19; www.sadaharu.com; Métro: Les Gobelins). Parisians started eating éclairs, that cream-filled chocolate-covered shell of choux pastry, in the 1800s. Surprisingly it is a Japanese chef who makes the best éclairs in today's Paris. He even does a mâcha green tea version.
  • Stohrer, 51 rue Montorgueil, 2e (tel. 01-42-33-38-20; www.stohrer.fr; Métro: Sentier or Les Halles), has been going strong ever since it was opened by Louis XV's pastry chef in 1730. A pastry always associated with this place is puits d'amour (well of love), which consists of caramelized puff pastry filled with vanilla ice cream. Available at any time is one of the most luscious desserts in Paris: baba au rhum, made with rum-soaked sponge cake, or its even richer cousin, un Ali Baba, which also incorporates cream-based rum-and-raisin filling. Stohrer boasts an interior decor classified as a national historic treasure, with frescoes of damsels in 18th-century costume bearing flowers and (what else?) pastries.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.