The city of Paris is known for many things. Being the confectionery capital of the world is one of its most mouth-watering monikers. Iconic baguettes , buttery croissants , delicate macarons in multi-colours – the list of baked goodies that is typically French is endless. And no wonder, too. After all, many culinary historians consider the father of modern pastry-making to be Frenchman and pastry maestro, Chef Anotonin Carême. I might go so far as to say that until you have experienced Paris through its patisserie culture, you have not really experienced Paris.
So, here is your gastronomical guide to the tastier side of Paris. Let your appetite lead you and come experience my city through its pastries.
Go on a Pastry Trail
Begin your culinary exploration of French desserts with macarons . They are my all-time favourites. Dating back to the 8 th century, they have become so popular now that they can be found almost anywhere in the world. But you have not tasted macarons until you have had one where the meringue -based confectionery originated. For arguably the best in town, I recommend macarons from Pierre Hermé, a pastry boutique by the French pastry chef of the same name. Dubbed the Picasso of Pastry by French Vogue magazine, the youngest person ever to be named France’s Pastry Chef of the Year, and conferred the Legion of Honour by then French President Jacques Chiracin 2007, Pierre Hermé is most famous for his macarons .
Pierre Hermé macarons come in the most exotic of flavours, stained in delicate colours – rose, litchi, and raspberries; pistachio; Ceylon cinnamon and Morello cherries; fresh mint and red berries; salted-butter caramel; and the Vietnamese inspired coconut, ginger, lime, and fresh coriander. Each is a sweet morsel of hard shell that gives way to a chewy, melt-in-your-mouth aromatic inside bursting with a symphony of tastes
Don’t limit yourself to the macarons . Parisians love their viennoiseries (yeast-leavened pastries). One fine choice is the Croissant Ispahan . This is a luxurious upgrade of the French favourite – the buttery croissant . This version has a rose and almond paste with raspberry and lychee compote filling topped with a rosewater glaze and a sprinkling of raspberry pieces. It is a summer with every bite.
No sampling of French pastries is complete without trying the mille-feuille or thousand leaves (also called the Napoleon) which is said to go back to the 17 th century. Pierre Hermé’s 2000 Feuilles takes this flaky multi-layer, puff pastry delight to a new, sublime level. Caramelised puff pastry and crushed hazelnuts provide the perfect counterpoint to the creamy praline mousseline cream while wafer-thin pieces of Britanny-style crêpe dentelle biscuits give the dessert a crispy, layered texture.
There are 10 Pierre Hermé pastry boutiques in Paris to satiate your sweet tooth though I personally prefer the one at rue Bonaparte in the sixth arrondissement, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the first Pierre Hermé to open in the city.
The fact that the French have a patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs says something of the importance of pastries to this nationality. The St Honoré cake is named for the saint, Honoré or Honoratus, Bishop of Amiens. At La Pâtisserie des Rêves, the usually round choux pastry comes in a rectangular slice that is filled with velvety cream topped by a beautiful glaze and crowned with crème-filled orbs.
The patisserie is also known for its Paris-Brest which was named the ‘Best Paris-Brest’ by French daily, Le Figaro, in 2010. The Paris-Brest was first created in 1910 to commemorate the 1200-kilometre Paris-Brest bicycle race which began in 1891. Instead of a single round pastry symbolising the wheel, La Pâtisserie des Rêves has six mini circles of hazelnut cream puffs studded with hazelnut bits surrounding a chocolate centre.
For a taste of the café culture of Paris, go next to Angelina Tea Room which Parisian aristocrats like Proust, and Coco Channel have favoured. For Parisians, the café is more than just an eatery, it is an experience, a way of life. When you go café-visiting, don’t just stop by for a bite. Sit, linger, watch the world go by – that is how it is done in Paris.
At Angelina Tea Room, you must try the hot chocolate l’Africain, an Angelina classic. The famously rich old-fashioned hot chocolate comes with a small pot of whipped cream that is pure indulgence. Have this with their signature Mont Blanc, a mountain of light whipped cream and chestnut cream vermicelli atop a light meringue . There is a delicious reason why the tearoom sells 600 of these every day.
Live to Eat and Learn
While you are eating your way through Paris one delectable pastry at a time, you can also feed you mind by visiting historic pastry-related sites. The Stohrer, walking distance from the Citadines Saint Germain des Prés, is one such attraction. The oldest pastry shop in Paris was opened by a royal pastry chef. When King Louis XV married Marie Leszczyńska, daughter of King Stanislas of Poland in 1725, she brought her pastry chef, Stohrer, with her. In time, he opened his own patisseries to create wonderful desserts for the king and his guests. Queen Elizabeth is said to visit this patisserie whenever she is in town.
Then, embark on a food tour to soak in more of Paris and its love for food .The Behind-the-Scenes Bakery Tour is a two-and-a-half-hour journey into a real Parisian bakery. The tour begins with a breakfast of croissant and pain au chocolat at the bakery before you are taken into the workshop to learn how to bake a perfect baguette and hear the kitchen secrets of a top French baker. You get to bring back your own freshly-baked baguette to savour.
Take a Leaf from a Chef’s Cookbook
There are half-day baking lessons you can sign up for as well. In three hours, you can learn to make different-flavoured macarons - chocolate, raspberry, caramel, salted butter or white chocolate with mint with the help of an expert chef. Everything from the equipment to the ingredients is taken care of. You just turn up, bake, and bring home the goodies. For the more adventurous, try a three-hour French Dessert cooking class to whip up five to six desserts including crème brulees , madeleines , and souffles .
Paris is a city with many facets. Experiencing its culture and history through its baked wonders is but one of the delicious ways to get a taste of the city. So, you are cordially invited to sample the pleasures of Paris through its patisseries. And, when you do, drop by and visit me.
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