"If there's a macaron that can make you a believer, I think Pierre Hermé's may be it."
On a recent trip to Paris, my travel goal was simple: I wanted to try at least one pâtisserie in each of the 20 arrondissements. Happily, I attained my goal and then some, having visited a staggering 35 bakeries in a mere 7 days (I'll leave you to ponder that for a few moments).
While I could go on for days about everything consumed (don't worry, there were some savory bites too), how about I settle for detailing a dozen—ah, make that a baker's dozen—of my favorite treats?
Brioche Pralines Rose
Lenôtre: Walking into Lenôtre is kind of like walking into Tiffany & Co., only the wares are edible. The brioche, which was light and buttery all at once, was beautifully accentuated by the rose-colored candied nuts (I believe pistachios)—I think I liked their version even better than the famous Praluline, which is similarly flavored, if different in construction. 48, Avenue Victor Hugo, 75016, 16th Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 45 02 21 21; Brioche Pralines Rose, lenotre.fr
Chouquette Aux Marrons
Bonjour Bakery: Imagine an éclair. Now, fill it with rich, unbelievably creamy chestnut filling and top it with sweet vanilla icing. You're getting the idea, and it is delicious. 16 Avenue René Coty, 75014, 14th Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 43 27 70 97
Berko: What made these cupcakes so good? My theory is that it's the butter. France takes it a whole lot more seriously than the U.S., and it shows in these cakes, which are so tantalizingly buttery that really, a small one is sufficient (honestly). Their cake is unbelievably moist, and the frosting...well, it's buttercream (accent on the butter). 23 rue Rambuteau, 75004, 4th Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 40 29 02 44
Cafe Angelina: The legendary hot chocolate here, called "L'africaine," is so thick that when sold by the bottle, it doesn't budge even when you turn bottle upside down. When heated, the hot chocolate is extremely thick and velvety, with a rich, dark chocolate flavor that isn't overpoweringly sweet. And it doesn't hurt that it's served up in a grand old tea room in the shadow of the Louvre by austere waitresses in French Maid-esque getups. 226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001, 1st Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 42 60 82 00
Stohrer: For one thing, if a bakery has been around since the 1730s, it's probably doing something right. While Stohrer's chocolate éclair was voted among the best in Paris, I think their coffee-flavored ones are even better: a perfectly piped cloud of choux gives way to an insanely rich coffee-toned cream and icing. 51 Rue Montorgueil, 75002, 2nd Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 42 33 38 20; stohrer.fr
Banette: This unusual little squat pastry was on show at patisseries all over town, and nearby Pere LaChaise I finally picked one up at Banette, a boulangerie-patisserie with several locations throughout Paris (and, it seems, Montreal as well). Comprised of a fig-and-chocolate mixture topped with a rich green marzipan wrapped in a way to suggest a fig-like form, this was an absolute pleasure to eat. It tastes somewhere between cake and confection. Boulevard de Menilmontant, 75020, 20th Arrondissement, Paris, France; various Banette locations can also be found around Paris; banette.fr
Berthillon: You've probably read about this place in a tour guide or seen it on a travel show—I'm here to tell you that you should listen to them. This ice cream is amazingly creamy and flavorful, with a rotating cast of flavors like salted caramel, roasted pistachio, and creamy coconut, and served up in clever two-cupped cones which taste pretty good themselves. 31 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Ile, 75004, 4th Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 43 54 31 61; berthillon.fr
La Patisserie des Rêves: Serious Eats' own Erin Zimmer declared Kouign Amann "the best use of butter" on her trip to Montreal. I firmly concur, and couldn't imagine a lovelier place to pick up one of the Breton specialties than La Patisserie des Rêves, where large glass domes that resemble huge upside-down wineglasses cover gorgeous cakes arranged in a circle on a main table, and then shelves off to the side have various individually-sized treats.
Dalloyau: Opera Cake wasn't technically invented at Dalloyau (it's derived from another version of the fancy cake, the Clichy) but it was made famous here. For well over 100 years they've been serving up this slice of heaven, a serious cake comprised of thin layers of biscuit Viennois soaked in coffee syrup and then layered with coffee-flavored buttercream and bittersweet chocolate ganache. Various locations in Paris; dalloyau.fr
Pierre Hermé: So I'll admit it: I feel like macarons are often better in theory than in practice. Unless they're done perfectly, they can fall into the traps of being too chewy, too brittle, or too sweet. But if there's a macaron that can make you a believer, I think Pierre Hermé's may be it. Biting into one is like biting into a cloud: the macaron is light as air, and yields perfectly to the generous dab of ganache, which is smooth, rich, and creamy without having a texture that is incongruous with the delicate cookie base.
And this dude is somehow able to make crazy flavors like strawberry and wasabi not only work, but work well. 72 Rue Bonaparte, 75006, 6th Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 43 54 47 77; pierreherme.com
Ladurée: A religieuse is a pastry supposedly takes its name from its resemblance to a nun's habit, but some hard-core pastry lovers might argue the name stems from its taste (which approaches an absolutely religieuse experience). Ladurée's intriguing Blackcurrant-Violet Religieuse, made up of choux pastry, blackcurrant and violet flavored confectioner's custard, is exquisite--but the violet taste is powerful, and this one is best shared. Various locations in Paris and beyond; laduree.fr
Legay Choc: (Note: Roulé cannelle translates to "cinnamon roll." I looked it up.) It looks like a palmier, but it is really so much more. The pastry dough is coated in a sweet mixture of caramelized butter, sugar and cinnamon which gives it a tantalizing taste and crunch; it is harmoniously matched by a smattering of raisins which add little bursts of sweetness and soft texture to the mix. 17 Rue des Archives, 75004, 4th Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 48 87 24 61; legaychoc.fr
Alain Bernard Artisan: Named after a literary character, this choux pastry filled with pastry cream and topped with icing and chocolate sprinkles is much more delicious to gobble than any old book. 6, Place Henri, 75017, 17th Arrondissement, Paris, France, 01 47 57 43 89.
Tartelette aux fraises
Aux Castelblangeois: Starting with the fattest, most flavorful strawberries you've ever tasted on top of a rich bed of cream and a flaky pastry crust, this was a sweet tart indeed. 104 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 75012, 12th Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 40 19 93 36
Tartelette aux myrtilles
Maeder Véronique: Even blueberries are different in Paris! I didn't actually realize that's what the little berries were on top of this tart until I later looked it up: these were small, piquant, and more tart than mere US blueberries. Studded with pistachios atop a layer of pastry cream, all perched on a sturdy crust, this little tart was basically like heaven. 18 Rue de Lourmel, 75015, 15th Arrondissement, Paris, France (map) 01 45 78 89 31
Note: While I made it to quite a few great pastry shops in Paris, I didn't make it to all of them. Got suggestions for other sweet spots to hit in the City of Lights?