Begin your discovery of fine French pastries with a bite into one of the absolute not-to-be-missed French macarons. Until you've tried one you'll have no idea what all the fuss is about. Suffice it to say that they are nothing – and I repeat, nothing – at all like our macaroons (notice, please, too, the different spelling). French macarons are bursting-with-flavor little cookie cakes with a cream ganache center that comes in flavors like passion-orange, rose, salted caramel, licorice, lavender and chocolate. They are little light-as-air things but my do they ever pack the flavor punch. So be sure to mark March 20th on your calendar, it’s Macaron Day in France ! Other French classics are the Baba au Rhum, the Opéra, the Marie Antoinette... each one of them will have sugarplum fairies and fanciful sweet things dancing through your head once you’ve savored a bite.
One of the recent trends in the city are the sugar-free or reduced sugar and flour-alternative pastry shops. There has been a slight wave of gluten-free, in keeping with the rampant trend across “the pond,” but that seems to be giving way to pastry shops who are going in a different direction, developing desserts and fine pastries that are greatly reduced in sugar, even to the extent of being diabetic-approved, though you'd never guess it from biting into one of their baked goods. Alternatives to flour include almond powder, already a staple ingredient in macarons, and also things like rice flour and sweet potato paste.
Ladurée - Paris St.Germain
Macarons are one of the crowning glories of French patisseries. An odd statement if you've only ever seen the little round cookies with their ganache filling and never tasted one. Because they are so humble-looking, the explosive flavor packed within each tiny little morsel comes completely unanticipated. Surprising, too, are the flavor combinations that the patissiers, especially these at Ladur�e, conjure up : Orange-ginger, Lime-basil, Strawberry-poppy, Rose, Violet, Strawberry-candy. The seasonal collections are always awaited with abated breath. Ladur�e is known as the originator of macarons because it was Pierre Desfontaines, Louis Ernest Ladur�e's second cousin who, back in the 1930's, happened upon the innovation of layering a creamy ganache between two macaron shells. The recipe is simplicity itself : almonds, eggs and sugar. But the finesse and precision it takes to make a good macaron is mystery and magic wound together. You absolutely must try one...or a dozen ! (+33 1 44 07 64 87)
This is the pioneer patisserie in Paris that launched their no-gluten menu of fine French pastries. When they did that, several years ago, no one in this town was doing it yet. Since then, a number of their pastries have become cult classics and are, mind you, gluten- and dairy-free. Some favorites include their Lemon Tartelette with meringue, La Madame de Fontenay ( a re-visited "Religieuse"), their éclairs and the La Tartelette Pistache Rouge which is a pistachio-based cake adorned with perfectly-perched red fruits. These creations are all conceived of by Marie Tagliaferro, who works with co-founder and husband François. (09 81 31 28 31)
The Ispahan, a rose-flavor-filled croissant, is just one of the things that put Pierre Hermé on the map. And on the map he is. From Paris to Tokyo and I've lost count of all the other places inbetween. This is also the genius patissier behind the founding of Macaron Day in France. A day where macarons are free when you stop in at participating French pastry shops. (Thank you, Lord !)
But mostly why gourmets sing the praises of Hermé are for his macarons. Yes the rose-flavored macarons are good sellers, as are the passion-fruit, the mango, the lavender, the cherry-vanilla and the seasonal inspirations. Another not-to-be-missed treat is his pre-boxed lemon pound cake that makes for some bittersweet memories of Paris once you get back home. (01 43 54 47 77)
Calling itself the first "Patisserie Positive," this brand new fine pastry boutique is riding the wave of gluten-free and reduced sugar baked goods and fine pastries that has now seemingly firmly taken root in the city. The inspiration of a young entrepreneur-ess, this 20-something business owner is dedicated to serving up pastries that bring pleasure as well as being healthy and without any detrimental side effects to one's figure.
What's intriguing is to see, and, of course, taste the creations that use alternative ingredients without sacrificing taste. For example, La Citronnée, is made with raw almond powder, lime cream, lemon, yuzu and basil; or perhaps La Rustique speaks to you? It's prepared with chestnut and whole rice flour along with creamed sweet potato and caramelized apples; Le Soyeux is another pleasant surprise, made with creamy soy milk (non GMO), vanilla, cardamon and unrefined sugar. (01 42 36 11 81)
Gôut du Brioche by Guy Savoy
This is a new concept and it's not strictly a Patisserie... but it is the brainchild of Chef Guy Savoy (three Michelin stars) so you know it's gotta be good. The concept actually arose from his signature dessert at his restaurant.
If you've never had a Guy Savoy brioche, you've never had a brioche. True, you can find these cake like confections in most fine bakeries but there is that je ne sais quoi that Chef Savoy's pastry chef, Christian Boudard, has perfected in these pastries that just have them melting in your mouth. This is comfort food splurging and especially satisfying on a cold Paris day. The flavor choices come in both savory and sweet, making them good snacks or breakfast items. The mushroom brioche is featured in one of Chef Savoy's signature dishes at his nearby 3-Star restaurant. . (01 40 46 91 67)
Gaston Lenôtre founded what became his patisserie empire back in 1957 in a small pastry shop and bakery in the 16th arrondissement. When he died in 2009 he had created over 60 pastry boutiques in 12 countries.
The lightness, airiness and devotion to exquisite presentation in French patisserie are all revolutions that Lenôtre is credited with. He reduced the quantities of flour and sugar in pastry recipes and replaced them with airy mousse and unfloury creams. Today there are Lenôtre pastry and catering shops all over Paris.
Lenôtre is known as the Paul Bocuse of patisserie because of his fresh approach to French cuisine. New for 2014 is the Palette Arty collection of patisseries, chocolates and ice creams. These include colorful combinations like basil-lemon, strawberry-ginger and milk chocolate-caramel-orange (ice creams). But the toppers for this summer's "Amazing Jungle" collection is the Planète Fruits Rouges cake and their mojito macaron. (01 45 24 52 52)
This pastry shop is surprising in that its trademark is that it uses very little to no sugar in its recipes. Its tagline is, 'Not just for diabetics." Indeed, the sugar substitutes, such as agave and other natural-based ingredients, work so incredibly well to sweeten their fruit tarts and chocolate pastries that unless someone tells you that you're eating a reduced-sugar treat, you'd never guess it.
Strategically located at Les Halles, this is one of those shops deserving of a try, especially when you're tuckered out from a day of shopping and need a pick-me-up without the anticipated sugar crash. (0140279167)
Pâtisserie Christophe Michalak
Positioning himself as the rock-n-roll pastry chef, Michalak offers a whole new take on what it means to be a top-notch pastry chef in Paris. Following a pop-up cream puff stand he did in partnership with another chef a couple years ago, he went ahead and opened his own pastry-making workshop in the 10th arrondissement. For many years the only place you could purchase Michalak's confections were at the Palace Hotel where he has long been the resident-pastry chef. But, since, it's said, the cream rises to the top, now Michalak has just opened in recent months his first patisserie in Paris and it's in the lovely and convenient Marais district, just behind the BHV, in fact. It's best to come in with no expectations and just let your tastebuds be delighted with shapes, forms and combinations that are all together a different take on the meaning of "French p�tisserie." (01 40 27 90 13)
This is a closely kept secret of the many students in the area who attend the Sorbonne. The tiny shop is just two shakes from the Odéon métro and it serves some of the best hot chocolate in town, that is, if you like your hot chocolate stiff and thick. The pastries on offer here to accompany that are the good old-fashioned kind you find in Vienna. So think more along the lines of apples and poppy seeds. A stop here offers something different from the baba au rhums and millefeuilles you find in nearly every other pastry shop here in Paris. (01 43 26 60 48)
Les Fées Pâtissières
It's true, this pastry shop looks more like a jewelry store than a shop in which you can buy things that you actually eat. But don't let that intimidate you in the least. The concept that these two (female) pastry chefs carved out here is that the famous French pastries, like the Opéra, the millefeuille, the Réligeuse, are all made in miniature. And if you thought pastry making was a fine art already, try making it on a miniscule size! The pastries are all b ite-sized, sort of like a mini-cupcake but these are fine French pastries. The shop's display showcases these exquisite tiny tasty treats as if they were precious gems, heightening the gourmet experience. (01 42 77 42 15)
About Paige Donner
Paige is a transplanted Parisian. She first arrived as a young bride in the early 90s to live in Paris, having uprooted herself from her native California.
From then on it has been an on-again, off-again love affair with the City of Lights, one that has grown fonder over time.
Paige hosts Paris GOODfood+wine which airs on World Radio Paris and is also available on iTunes. When not in Paris Paige often visits vineyards and wine regions. She is also founder of Paris Food And Wine.
As a journalist, Paige writes/has written for the NY Times,LA Times, Michelin Guide, Fodor's, Blackbook, Variety
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