Anyone who visits Paris imagines delectable desserts presented in little white boxes at every pastry shop. And while most places will provide you with just that, others, those special few, will define your experience. You can find a croissant on any street corner, but what about the best one from the oldest, most renowned bakery?
Last fall, after much food research, I was able to take a four-day trip to Paris with one of my closest friends. During our exploration of all the French city has to offer, we always had another place in mind to stop in and grab a treat at to keep our stamina up.
After experiencing some of the best desserts of my life, I knew I had to create a virtual tour of my favorites for anyone traveling to Paris with high expectations and a sweet tooth.
1. Pierre Hermé
Pierre Hermé has bakeries spread out all over the city, but my friend and I traveled specifically to the one on 72 Rue Bonaparte since it is the only location that sells this beauty, the Croissant Ispahan. It's a mix of raspberries, rose, and lychee (the ispahan flavor is a signature of many of his desserts).
After one bite of this, my friend and I had to sit down at a neighboring sidewalk café to recover. One's teeth easily sink down into the leavened puff pastry, revealing the rose almond paste to your tongue, and ends in the tart raspberry and litchi compote at its center.
The crispy outside is ornamented with rosewater glaze and a sprinkling of small raspberry pieces. We had to restrain ourselves to keep from going back for a second round.
Carl Marletti may be a little off the beaten path on the quiet Rue Censier in the 5th arrondissement, but its obscure location and narrow frame hooded by a grey canopy only adds to its special identity.
This is not the kind of pastry shop where one samples a macaron flavor or picks up a staple morning croissant. Every pastry is intricate in its meaning, presentation, and mix of flavors.
This unique quality of Marletti's creations is exhibited perfectly in the pastry above, Le Lily Valley. While most bakers dye a pastry's contents a certain color to keep with a theme leaving all but the crème flavorless, Marletti infuses everything with the taste of violet: the crème Chantilly, the sugar garnish, the fondant on the choux. At the heart of the chiboust cream is a blackcurrant compote, which successfully introduces a fresh fruit flavor to the perfume-smelling pastry.
Upon entering L'Eclair de Génie, one becomes entranced by the geometric patterning of multicolored eclairs in neat rows in the display cases. The adjacent spherical chocolates are lined up like nearby planets. Some of the eclairs are decorated with bright pictures or well-crafted designs, but my friend and I went with a safe choice: chocolate.
The one situated closer to the front of the box that looks like chocolatey tinfoil, the Chouchou Caramel, is by far my favorite. Its flavor is a mix of salted caramel and gianduja chocolate, which is infused with hazelnut paste.
The second, still impressive, is L'éclair Chocolate Lait Praliné, comprised of milk chocolate, hazelnut, and almond. The process of eating it was fun, albeit a little messy, as I had to bite through the two hard rectangles of milk chocolate before I even got to the eclair itself. But that's what made it an experience!
Stohrer is Paris's oldest bakery still in existence; it opened in 1730 in the era of Louis XV. The interior is reminiscent of this time period but with a modern twist, the walls filled with mirrors and paintings and the center accentuated by a glass chandelier. The historic pastry shop has everything from plastic baggies of numerous sweets to full-sized cakes and Palmiers the size of your head.
On our second to last night in Paris, my friend and I serendipitously shared a table with two strangers at an intimate burger joint. When we asked them for food advice, they told us that we would find the best croissant in Paris here.
I am here to corroborate this claim. Buttery and flakey on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, this croissant championed all others especially in its taste.
Angelina has several locations across the historic city, but the one my friend and I visited was convenient for our incredible day trip to the Château de Versailles. This beautiful location exists inside the French palace on the first floor in the Pavillon d'Orléans.
With this satisfying treat, we were able to sufficiently fill ourselves up with fuel for our extensive exploration of the interior of the palace and its magnificent gardens.
The pastry is called the Millefeuille à la vanille Bourbon. The renown dessert is typically made up of three layers of puff pastry and two levels of crème pâtissière. Angelina's take on it incorporates a sweet whipped cream flavored with vanilla and crispy thin layers of caramelized puff pastry. I usually find whipped cream to be too light and flavorless, but this kind was more like an airy custard, a dessert all on its own.
The patisserie is also known for its "African" hot chocolate, which is essentially cocoa from Niger, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire melted down into an incredible liquid form.
Maison Kayser's popularity is international, but its viennoiserie treats still stand out as some of the best in Paris. They have so many dough-related products that they create subsections on their website specifically for breakfast pastries and brioches. In this section, you'll find this magnificent blend between candy and bread flavors.
It is called the Brioche aux Pralines Roses, or a round roll spotted by tiny caramelized almonds that are sugar-coded and mysteriously pink. The outside is crispy especially with the unexpected crunch of each praline, while the inside is softer and doughy. To ease the transition from the intense candied flavor of the outside to the simpler and fuller taste of the inside, there is a liquid raspberry compote at the center, pulling all of the tastes together in harmony.
Not only is Fauchon a French caterer and luxury food store with a long history, it is also a major player in contemporary French culinary culture. This is evident in their range of products and impressive displays alone, but the bakery was also the training grounds for Dominique Ansel, the innovative owner and chef of Dominique Ansel Bakery famous for the Cronut and the cookie shot.
We bought this pastry, the Carré Tatin, as a small birthday cake of sorts for my friend. It was a puff pastry layered with caramelized apples and topped with a spherical dollop of vanilla ganache cream. The result was a thin caramel top layer that easily gave way to a mushy sweet interior. While this wasn't my favorite mix of texture and taste, it was still a creative innovation.
Fauchon itself had so many things to choose from that I could have easily gone back and chosen a multitude of other more impressive treats. Sadly, after a long day of museums and eating, my friend and I just barely made it before closing time.
8. Breizh Café
Almost impossible to get a table at, Breizh Café is a crêperie that offers various sweet and savory crêpes and galettes. The spot is located on the rue vieille du temple, close to the ancient Jewish Quarter known as Le Marais.
The café itself is a little ways away from the now trendy and overly-crowded medieval streets, so it is quieter and almost intimate. Nevertheless, the place is so popular that people are forced to stand at tall tables or wait for long periods of time in the surrounding area.
My friend and I were luckily able to squeeze into a tiny table outside with a pleasant view of the neighboring shops. I went the sweet route, choosing a crêpe with warm chocolate sauce, caramelized almond shards, and two dollops of whipped cream. The confluence of flavors swirling around my fork—the dark chocolate, the crunchy sweetness of the almonds and the doughy core of the crêpe—were exactly what I needed to end my Paris trip.
So, whether you're going to Paris to immerse yourself in culture or in taste, there is always an opportunity to flavor your experiences with something extraordinary.