What are the best pastries in Paris? After eating nearly 300 pâtisseries from dozens of the most famous pastry shops, I’ve come to an elite list of 17 unforgettable masterpieces. Consider it your shopping list next time you’re here.
If you’re wondering, “Why 17?” That’s simple. There’s more than a “Top 10” of the best pastries, or even 15, and yet there were not 20. This is not an arbitrary list; it’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of savoring and cataloging the great pastries of Paris. This is Paris Pâtisseries’ 17 Best Pastries in Paris for 2010…
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#1 Hugo Chocolat by Hugo & Victor
The Hugo Chocolat is a pastry connoisseur’s fantasy. Tanzanian chocolate combines with the exotic Venezuelan tonka bean and lime to dazzle your palate and leave you speechless. Not necessarily for those who would prefer an excellent cream puff or classic macaron as their Parisian pastry experience, this is for those in search of the exquisite and the cutting edge.
#2 Tarte Framboise Pistache by Pascal Caffet
Ruby-red raspberries, rich pistachio crème, complex and slightly chewy pistachio frangipan, with a hint of curry-like tones, and a sweet tart shell unite for one of the most incredible experiences of texture and flavor . . . ever.
#3 Tarte Vanille Infiniment by Pierre Hermé
Do you love all-things vanilla? Then your life is truly not complete until you’ve indulged in Hermé’s Tarte Vanille. Luxuriously smooth and exploding with vanilla flavor, this is the one pastry on this list most likely to please anyone of any age and any level of pastry snobbery.
#4 Tarte au Caramel Beurre Salé by Sadaharu Aoki
Imagine if a Twix bar were made of the absolute finest ingredients available, contained five times as much caramel in every bite, had its waxen chocolate swapped out for concentric rings of cocoa-dusted silky-smooth milk chocolate crème, and possessed a cookie base that was instead a crumbly buttery expertly-prepared tarte shell. That gives you a vague idea of how incredible Aoki’s Tarte au Caramel is.
#5 Alliance by La Pâtisserie des Rêves
A laughably bland exterior hides one of the most elegant flavor combinations. White chocolate mousse, apricot, and hazelnut biscuit are the three simple constituents of this brilliant piece by pastry guru Philippe Conticini. Don’t let the outside steer you away; this is #5 on the list for a reason. It is phenomenal.
#6 Marie-Antoinette by Carl Marletti
Take one macaron shell, fill it with raspberry syrup, encircle that with fresh raspeberries, add a generous mound of rose-flavored crème, and top it off with another macaron shell sprinkled with candied violettes. Very similar to Hermé’s and Ladurée’s Ispahans, but far better, this version has no litchi, swapping it instead for the aforementioned raspberry syrup.
#7 Grand Cru by La Pâtisserie des Rêves
There are desserts for people who love chocolate, and then there’s the Grand Cru, the dessert for people who wish it were legally possible to marry a mountain of it. This is perhaps the greatest pure chocolate dessert known to man. Successive layers of Venezuelan chocolate preparations (mousse, ganache and biscuit) rest above an ultra-thin layer of praliné croustillant, which adds just the right touch of character.
#8 Millefeuille by Pain de Sucre
An ooey-gooey fantasy millefeullie like you can’t imagine. It’s an absolutely perfect expression of this French classic – and from one of the most fanciful and idyllic pâtisseries in Paris. Go to the shop, stare at their gorgeous ceiling for a few minutes, and walk out with one of these in-hand and in-mouth. It’s a Parisian pastry experience you won’t forget.
#9 Belle Helene by Carl Marletti
Much like #2 on the list, Carl Marletti’s Belle Helene is an ultimate expression of texture and balance in flavors. A simple tarte crust, with a surprisingly complex range of flavors in itself, cups chocolate, nuts and pears – all crowned with a dollop of mascarpone. Stunning.
#10 Fleur d’Oranger Macarons by Ladurée
Like eating springtime. Impossible to explain without experiencing them first-hand, the highly floral flavor and signature delicate frame of the Ladurée macaron make it intoxicatingly delicious. If you enjoy rose or lavender flavored pastries and confections, there’s an excellent chance these will blow your mind.
#11 Cheese-Cake Citron by Sadaharu Aoki
Absolutely the most controversial item of the list. As a cheesecake lover, you will either adore this or pass entirely – the same as happens with any other cheesecake you eat. Aoki’s take is relatively light and decidedly tangy with a perfectly chosen level of sweetness and pop of lemon flavor. If lighter, more nuanced cheesecake is your preference, this could be one of your all-time favorites.
#12 Victor Fraise Millefeuille by Hugo & Victor
Imagine hundreds of layers of insanely thin pastry sandwiching an intensely flavorful, yet wonderfully delicate and acidicly pert strawberry cream, dotted with strawberries. It contains about 1/3 the sugar of most other strawberry millefeuille, so those looking for a classic strawberry millefeuille are better served by visiting Laduree or Carl Marletti. However, if you’ve ever wanted a millefeuille that felt fresh and satisfying, rather than heavy and overbearing, look no further.
#13 Caramel au Beurre Salé Macarons by Pain de Sucre
While most caramel macarons merely have some flavor of caramel, Pain de Sucre gives you a delicious oozing blob of it between two pumpkin-orange-colored macaron halves, which have a chewy texture and flavor reminiscent of Bit-o-Honey candy. Almost more like a confection than pastry, these are obscenely tasty.
#14 Lily-Valley by Carl Marletti
Few pastries capture the storybook fantasy of Parisian pâtisseries so well – loaded with violet cream, glazed with violet icing, and garnished with a flare violet-flavored violet sugar artistry. Whether you love anything this color, love eating violet-flavored anything, or love its beautifully frilly looks, you’re sure to fall for the Lily-Valley.
#15 Victor Abricot Éclair by Hugo & Victor
Like virtually all Hugo & Victor pieces, the Victor Abricot Éclair is an incomparable expression of flavor. The choux pastry, apricot and crème alone are all that is needed to make the piece magic, but the addition of a fine wafer of white chocolate top it all adds a subtle element of optional sweetness to this new spin on a classic.
#16 Éclair Sesame Noir by Sadaharu Aoki
With all the off-beat combinations available in Parisian pastry, this stands out more than any other. Black sesame seeds and a sweet creamy éclair might seem like the last two things that should ever come in contact with one another, but the duo is addictive. And while the exterior has a defined eastern minimalism, the interior is bursting with the gorgeous blue-lavender tones and dark specks of black sesame.
#17 Croissant Ispahan by Pierre Hermé
Regular butter croissants are technically termed viennoiseries, not pastries, but this is not your ordinary croissant. Glazed, sprinkled with candied rose petals, and filled with rose pâte, it can propel any dreams you have of Parisian café life into the stratosphere. Snagging one of these before walking a few blocks over to the famed Luxembourg Gardens is a prescription for an indelible memory.
You might be curious why Gerard Mulot, Lenôtre, Dalloyau, Stohrer, Secco, Delmontel, Larher and many others you’ve heard of are not on the list. That is because their work, while generally good, is rarely great. Even the fabled Ladurée only makes one appearance, and I ate there practically every single day for months on-end. While it was impossible for me to go literally everywhere and eat everything, in general, it’s not for lack of exposure to their pieces that many of these well-known shops don’t have better representation here.
Des Gâteaux et Du Pain, Jean-Paul Hevin and several others, who produce consistently excellent pastries, are just outside the “Top 17″. Were I to rank the shops based on their entire body of work, as I will one day, rather just individual pieces, that’s when such pâtisseries would begin to appear.
Keep in mind that not everyone will love everything on the list. That is why I’ve included brief descriptions to help you marry the visuals with the taste experience. For instance, the Victor Fraise Millefeuille has very little sugar in it; even though it’s full of strawberries and crème, it won’t taste sticky sweet. The Grand Cru by La Pâtisserie des Rêves is a square made purely of different preparations of dark chocolate; some would kill to eat this – others might find it far too rich. And Aoki’s Éclair Sesame Noir is an éclair filled with black sesame seeds and crème, which is most definitely not for everyone.
So if you’re in Paris, are headed there soon, or simply wish you could be . . . which of these is the most tempting for you? Please share a comment. I’d love to hear what’s grabbed your attention.