Pastry Party: Haute Couture for Your Mouth

It only takes six months of liv­ing in Paris to become a legit dessert snob. Even on a sim­ple walk to work, one soaks in the oeu­vres (bod­ies of works) of the true vir­tu­osos of but­ter, sug­ar and flour through all of the deca­dent win­dow dis­plays of the world’s most appeal­ing desserts. 

Even the aver­age bak­ery in Paris is rather excep­tion­al in the grand scheme of deli­cious­ness. A fresh, hot crois­sant in Paris is always a retreat of sorts, even if it comes from the anony­mous place on your corner. 

To be a stand­out among giants how­ev­er, a pâtissier must exe­cute an almost impos­si­ble chore­og­ra­phy, not unlike that of a pri­ma bal­le­ri­na. At the foun­da­tion is the abil­i­ty to make stand­ing en pointe look effort­less. But with flour, but­ter, sug­ar and eggs, ris­ing to new heights by way of flu­en­cy involves hun­dreds of years of tradition. 

Then comes the leap sky­ward towards the mad, sweet poet­ry of the moment. In Paris, the map is a lace­work of pâtis­series stick­ing the land­ing like pros. 

The only down­side to all of this lux­u­ry, if I may sound so boor­ish and ungrate­ful to be at the cen­ter of it all, is it makes one picky as hell. 

The final ele­ment, the one that is throt­tling the ama­teurs out of the are­na, is that the dessert has to look seduc­tive on top of every­thing else. 

That cake must draw you in with its archi­tec­ture or, if it’s going for rus­tic, it must at the very least sing a siren song of a coun­try but­ter memory. 

And final­ly, it must tease out your alle­giance with a mem­o­rable fla­vor land­ing or it won’t com­mand its frac­tion of the rent. 

Demanding elements indeed 

For those rea­sons, it’s impos­si­ble to pro­claim any­thing as the absolute « best » in Paris. My hum­ble efforts here are to decode one of the purs­es of rich­es which we Parisians count as not only our her­itage, but as our dai­ly bread (our dai­ly cake, as it were). 

The streets of Paris are a ver­i­ta­ble Pan­théon for one of the most demand­ing and com­pet­i­tive crafts in the world and, lucky us, we get to be the judges.

Here are four pâtis­series earn­ing their calo­ries and, at the bot­tom of this page, a map of the bak­eries worth your vis­it so you can find a fresh­ly baked, mar­velous some­thing wher­ev­er you are in Paris. 

Christophe Michalak of Michalak Paris

christophe michalak

I remem­ber dis­tinct­ly the first pâtis­serie that stopped me in my tracks as I walked by. It was a Christophe Micha­lak bou­tique on Rue Pois­son­nière. I had to know what it was about. 

I grew up with a self-taught bak­er and choco­lati­er moth­er. From the age of six, I was her sales­per­son when she sold her Christ­mas choco­late cab­ins at win­ter crafts mar­kets at the VFW hall. I found out decades lat­er that the box under the table that I duti­ful­ly nev­er opened, the one labeled « ADULTS ONLY, » was brim­ming with penis-shaped choco­lates. And the biggest cus­tomers of said dick pops were lit­tle old ladies.

There were dicks in that box. The South Side of Chica­go is very far away from Hauss­mann­ian Paris. 

Here in Paris you can say my tastes became exalt­ed after the dizzy­ing moment I wan­dered into Christoph Michalak’s bou­tique as a new immigrant. 

After that, a moment I remem­ber as my first kiss with the French pas­try world, I then embarked on my code­pen­dent Paris love sto­ry; me and Pas­try and Fash­ion. But fash­ion is no swinger, you can’t have them both, it seems.

Know­ing only the words « bon­jour » and « crois­sant » that sum­mer many years ago, and unable to tell a Religeuse from a Baba au Rhum, I made my way into Michalak’s gleam­ing white shop and was trans­formed. These were not the rus­tic desserts of the coun­try­side guilt­ing you into a vis­it to your Grand­ma, but instead a Mis­sion to Mars. I plant­ed my flag on a tarte that did things with straw­ber­ries that I couldn’t explain.

He’s since expand­ed to oth­er neigh­bor­hoods in Paris (and to Tokyo), so you can take your pick; le Marais, Saint-Ger­main-des-Prés, or the Rue du Faubourg Pois­sonière spot which has seat­ing and cof­fee (the oth­er loca­tions are take­away and get-crumbs-on-your-jack­et only). 

SINCE YOU ARE THERE: Build up a desire for Micha­lak’s high-fly­ing pas­try by roam­ing the sur­round­ing 10th arrondisse­ment. Try to spot some of the Art Nou­veau gems sprin­kled around the sur­round­ing area, then have piz­za at the hilar­i­ous­ly kitsch-dec­o­rat­ed Lib­erti­no so you can feel like the grand­ma of a Palm Beach cocaine deal­er in the ’80s. 

ADDRESSES: 60 Rue du Faubourg Pois­son­nière, 75010; 16 Rue de la Ver­rerie, 75004; 8 Rue du Vieux Colom­bier, 75006

METRO: Pois­son­nière (line 7)

HOURS: Open 10:00 am‑7:00 pm Tues.-Sat.

WEBSITE: Check it out

Myriam Sabet of Maison Aleph

Now that I’ve come out as some­one who stops in their tracks when beck­oned by the cre­ative work­ing of sug­ar and but­ter, let me intro­duce Mai­son Aleph, the newest addi­tion to the active sab­o­tage of keto reg­i­mens in Paris intra­muros (with­in the city limits). 

Col­or­ing inside the lines of the Lev­an­tine fla­vor atlas—Maison Aleph deliv­ers ros­es not to your door, but to your dessert. 

The « Nids Pâtissieres » are wee pas­try nests of spun angel-hair threads (called kadaif in ara­bic). They’re mold­ed into crisp lit­tle cush­ions upon which rest the but­ton of cream that holds the secret that will test your resolve in the next moments. 

Shall I order anoth­er three? These were so small, they bare­ly count, right? 

Once you expe­ri­ence what Madame Sabet does with not only rose petals, but orange flower essence, hal­va and car­damom, you’ll won­der how you ever found sat­is­fac­tion with the brute-force choco­late sweets of youth.

SINCE YOU ARE THERE: There’s no way out now. You’ll nev­er be the same again. Relax and order a few more of her con­fec­tions to stir your ener­gy reserves before a prom­e­nade of medieval archi­tec­ture in the hip le Marais quar­ter, and fin­ish the evening off at La Belle Hort­ense, a wine bar and book­shop in one. 

maison aleph

ADDRESS: 20 Rue de la Ver­rerie, 75004

METRO: Hôtel de Ville (lines 1, 11)

HOURS: 11:00 am‑7:00 pm Mon.-Fri., 10:00 am‑8:00 pm Sat., 10:00 am‑7:00 pm Sun.

WEBSITE: Check it out

Yann Couvreur 

Yann Couvreur’s ton­ka bean and choco­late eclairs look 3D print­ed. The reflec­tion of the shop lights bounc­ing off of their per­fect­ly smooth, squared sur­face is inter­rupt­ed only by the lit­tle flecks of bean that car­ry notes liv­ing some­where between vanil­la and chocolate. 

But that’s not why you’ll vis­it again and again (though you will dis­cov­er, like I did, that they are among the best eclairs in Paris). 

You’ll come back because you’ll fall in love with what he’s done with­out hid­ing behind too much sug­ar. A skilled com­pos­er of fla­vors, Cou­vreur orches­trat­ed a takeover of the grey­ing ‘Mille-feuille’ scene back in 2014, win­ning the best dessert of Paris with a whis­per-thin pressed buck­wheat sheaf pre­pared right in front of your eyes. 

The tra­di­tion­al French Mille-feuille is made with numer­ous lay­ers of pas­try sep­a­rat­ed by sweet cream, but at Yann Cou­vreur it has reemerged decon­struct­ed; a meet­ing of con­tem­po­rary and coun­try­side. They’re made with the atten­tion to detail that Parisians expect — but like coun­try roots, in new boots. 

Seek out the Mille-feuille at Yann Cou­veur and you’ll be reward­ed with gen­tle hints of vanil­la (sourced from the Comoros Islands) in the pas­try cream that lux­u­ri­ates atop of the feuilles, sheaves of buck­wheat or « black wheat, » or as it is called en Français — ‘blé noir’. 

Good things come to those who wait (and read here), so bring your patience and enjoy the show as it’s made to order. One of Paris’ old­est and most ven­er­at­ed desserts ran away from Paris with a young man from Brit­tany and nev­er looked back.

SINCE YOU ARE THERE: While Yann Cou­vreur has mul­ti­ple loca­tions, I love vis­it­ing this shop on Rue des Rosiers, a wind­ing lit­tle car-free cob­ble­stone street in the his­toric cen­ter of le Marais, before head­ing to one of the neighborhood’s charm­ing lit­tle resto-bars like Pamela Popo on Rue François Miron for clever cocktails.

ADDRESS: 137 Ave Par­men­tier, 75010

METRO: Belleville (lines 2, 11) or République (lines 3, 5, 8, 9)

HOURS: Open dai­ly 10:00 am‑7:00 pm

WEBSITE: Check it out

yann couvreur

Cédric Grolet

cedric grolet

Parisians and glob­al jet-set­ters alike who fol­low the less sweet, more fla­vor trend in desserts have been mak­ing a pil­grim­age to Cédric Gro­let since he became a break­out star in the culi­nary world in 2017. Every day (except Sun­days), Gro­let dis­pens­es his indul­gences to the mass­es at his new shop near the gild­ed Opéra Gar­nier, and to the more ‘cho­sen’ ones at the tan­ta­liz­ing­ly opu­lent tea salon in le Meurice hotel (There is also a take­away shop on the side of the hotel. If you are fac­ing the hotel, go around the left side, under the arcade of columns, and look for the line.). Quite sim­ply, the vir­tu­os­i­ty of Cédric Gro­let must be expe­ri­enced to be understood. 

At its pin­na­cle the French culi­nary scene lev­i­tates Grolet—his prayer:« Le beau fait venir, et le bon fait revenir. »

Beau­ty brings them in, taste brings them back.

Cedric Gro­let

 It was none oth­er than Alain Ducasse, the Pope of this culi­nary world order who, in tak­ing the young pas­try chef under his wing, gave him two com­mand­ments: to use less sug­ar and to stim­u­late the senses.

Paris is a loud place for food with legions of tal­ent mak­ing lots of waves. Gro­let first part­ed the waters with his Rubiks Cubes of petit fours, a match made in heav­en between Insta­gram and your cred­it card. 

His shapeshift­ing touch takes on holy pro­por­tions as the hum­ble fruit tart is tran­sub­stan­ti­at­ed into some­thing oth­er­world­ly and ethe­re­al for the choir of fans around the world and his mil­lion-plus acolytes on Insta. 

The shop at le Meurice clos­es when they sell out, be it one p.m. or six p.m., so I was beatif­ic when I reached the counter after the tug­ging appre­hen­sion of watch­ing the choic­es dwin­dle beyond the pane of glass as the line ambled too slow­ly for­ward (it seems that they are adding staff to meet demand, as the run on pas­try hap­pens less fre­quent­ly these days). 

The last remain­ing pas­try of the day, choux à la crème, was wait­ing for me. I found the strength to play it cool and so con­tained my pas­sion as I wait­ed for the bicy­cles to pass as I crossed the Rue de Riv­o­li to the Jardin de Tui­leries where I would unbox my lit­tle communion. 

The last of the day’s efforts by Grolet’s white-coat­ed team were all mine. 

I felt a small nib of remorse for the six peo­ple turned away after me, but that sen­ti­ment was over­ruled by the char­i­ot of dopamine and sug­ar gal­lop­ing through my veins. Even the (com­par­a­tive­ly speak­ing) hum­ble choux à la crème, a lit­tle orb of airy pas­try, is ele­vat­ed to a divine expe­ri­ence by the hands of Grolet. 

Adorned with lit­tle dia­monds of sug­ar and filled with the most del­i­cate pas­try cream, its faint hints of vanil­la ren­dered wait­ing in line an act of devo­tion to the High Priest of Pas­try. Praise Cédric!

SINCE YOU ARE THERE: For an after­noon you’ll nev­er for­get, invest in a lux­u­ri­ant expe­ri­ence that is pure, uncut, Paris: dress in some­thing beau­ti­ful and trendy, go for tea and desserts at Le Meurice, then walk in the foot­steps of Napoleon, Kings, and Queens (and Bey­once, one of our more com­pelling con­tem­po­rary cult fig­ures) at the Jardin des Tui­leries across the street. 

I must con­fess, it is miraculous.

jardin les tuileries

ADDRESSES: 6 Rue de Cas­tiglione, 75001 (ask the door­men of the hotel if you can­not find it among the neo­clas­si­cal lime­stone columns); 35 Avenue de l’Opéra, 75002

METRO: Pyra­mides (lines 7, 14) or Con­corde (lines 1, 8 ‚12)

HOURS: Open 10:00 am‑6:00 pm Tues.-Sun.

WEBSITE: Check it out

For a more lux­u­ri­ant, sit-down expe­ri­ence, have After­noon Tea at hotel Le Meurice designed by Philippe Stark and inspired by Dali: 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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Indeco­rous Cul­turevore and Poly­chrome Chow Vir­tu­osa Kat Walk­er likes nice things.

When she’s not writ­ing about crois­sants, love, cul­ture, and lov­able, sexy crois­sants, she is a gonzo per­for­mance artist whip­ping up a (usu­al­ly) polit­i­cal ruckus.

In a bid for your atten­tion and approval she writes things here and man­ages this unruly tribe of Parisians endeav­or­ing to bring you what Paris­ing is real­ly about.

Sub­scribe HERE to PARIS RIGHT NOW dis­patch — for a week­ly dose of her, and the rest of the ram­bunc­tious and per­fect­ly depraved gals’ tren­chant and thought-pro­vok­ing cura­tion. Or tune in to their antics on Twitch or youtube LIVE. .

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