I frequently tell friends that if I worked in the centre of London, I would be enormous and much to my dismay, to date, not one of them has disagreed. As someone with a soft spot for the sweeter pleasures in life, the temptation is too much in this capital city of foodiepreneurs, pop-up kitchens, freakshakes, fried food trucks, Creme Egg Camps, liquid nitrogen ice cream parlours and Ferrero Rocher Events and the only saving grace for my arteries is the fact that my working hours and location of work keep me well away from such dessert dilemmas during the working week.
But Paris? Paris is an entirely different ball game.
In London, when an eclair focused patisserie store sets up shop (not mentioning any names Maitre Choux,) queues start forming almost immediately with hordes of Insta-millenials flapping their I phones in a frenzy. In Paris, however, these eclair shops are on every corner.
Low and Behold.
And alongside them stand world renowned macaron houses, boulangeries that summon you in with the scent of their lethal, straight-out-the-oven, buttery croissant aroma and row upon row of madeleines, Mont Blancs, souffles, Mille feuilles and even the eponymous Paris Brest. In Paris, patisserie is virtually a law and far be it for me to disrespect that so I’ve compiled this catalogue of the French dessert highlights clocked up during my recent birithday weekend in Paris for those of you equally concerned with…ahem….engaging in local customs in the French capital.
Judgey sorts can feel free to exit this window now but those of you who long to live in the Hansel and Gretel house and secretly wish they were born into Willy Wonka’s world, come on in because I’ve got a treat (or seven) in store today.
Praluline – Francois Pralus
I am not going to pretend I stumbled upon the House of Pralus on a whim when in fact every step towards this St Germain bakery was premeditated wih strategy, the pink Praluline awaiting us like a light at the end of a tunnel.
This brioche round, encrusted with crystalline pink hazelnuts/almonds and nutty blush streaks marbled through the centre are made freshly on site and if you can avert your eyes from all the other delights on offer at Pralus, you may just spot that they quite literally have a bun in their oven.
The Praulines come in two sizes and unless you are planning to feed the 5000, the smaller one is more than sufficient to feed 3-4 people, though the larger one is a worthwhile investment if you intend to devour it back in the comfort of your own home (they keep for up to 3 days if sealed tightly or unopened.)
Eclairs – Eclair de Genie
There are quite a few branches of this eclair-predominant patisserie throughout Paris, including one that sits at Gard du Nord station, making it dangerously easy to grab one just as you board or disembark the Eurostar. These are a little burdensome on the wallet but it is quite apparent that love has been put into constructing these little trinkets of choux art. Pumpkin kept it classic with a flavour choice he knew he would love in the form of the double layered chocolate, praline eclair.
I, on the other hand, inspired by the unanticipated burst of Feburuary blue skies that morning, threw it back to summer with a lychee, raspberry and rose elcair adorned with a candied rose motif. With the last remnants of self discipline we had, we packed these into a box and walked over to a park at Places de Voges to catch the winter rays and devour them in the sunshine.
Macarons from Pierre Herme and Laduree
I must admit that if I know a product or restaurant can be found in my own city, then I tend to shy away from sampling it on my travels. Seems like a wasted opportunity, when the world is full of so many new places waiting to be unfolded.
And yet, there was something compelling about indulging in macarons in the very city where they first came to life, not least in the original macaron house, Laduree. All dressed up for Valentines, the shop was filled with tourists deliberating over flavour choices amid a counter filled with spheres of mousse and drawers full of these ever-popular sandwiched meringue shells. Grab a table to savour them in the moment if you wish but Paris has no shortage of venues for your cake attention so I preferred to keep these crispy discs on me for prime on-the-go snacking. And if you’re more of an all than a nothing kind of person, then mix and match your selection with a fly by visit to competitor and rival macaron master Pierre Herme.
What kind of self-respecting dessert eater would dare to leave Paris without sampling the Paris Brest? Perhaps one with a nut, gluten or dairy allergy but for all my sins, I am fortunate to have been spared these ailments and as such, I felt duty bound to dabble in this eponymous delicacy. Having conformed to one rule, however, I broke another, since the covnentional Paris Brest carries a shape reminiscent of a Christmas wreath. Mine however, somewhat under the spell of Eclair de Genie, minimicked its eclair sisters.
Could our first lunch in Paris have been any more of a cliche than a couple of crepes consumed whilst we were squished into the back of a tiny creperie, a stone’s throw away from the Sacre Coeur. After a shared nibble on a chorizo, egg and cheese crepe to begin with, we polished off our meal with a palate pleasing caramel, chocolate and nut crepe. Give me a takeaway crepe to go over a Michelin starred sit down affair any day. Paris is the very heart of haute cuisine and gourmet fine dining yet for me, the simplest finds in the most miniature places yielded the greatest joy.
Algerian sweets at Cafe Laouz
One of the reasons I haven’t followed so many of my friends in their exodus from London into suburbia is because when it comes to my professional life, there is nowhere I would rather be than the chaotic madness of a crazy, cosmopolitan city filled with ethnicities and cultures from around the world. It was these communities that I missed out on being exposed to during my youth in leafy Surrey and these communities that keep my career as fascinating as it is.
The cities around the world that I connect with the most such as Berlin & NYC bear this resemblance. That was why, the desserts at Maison Laouz , a representation of some of France’s wider ethnic mix, were a must-try on my list. With long display windows of pretty pastels and bold hues, the almondy Algerian inspired biscuits and pastries made for a nutty, moreish reminder of the North African influence in France.
Hot Chocolate from Angelina de Paris
The prices are extortionate, the queues plain silly and toursity as heck but timelessly reported to be one of the must-do foodie experiences in Paris, I simply could not resist putting up with all that for the reward of the molten lava hot chocolate that Angelina has become so famed for.
As it turns out, we got really lucky at around 4pm on a Monday in only having to queue for around five minutes, though by the time we left, the queues had increased five fold. Made with a luscious blend of three types of African chocolate and served in a jug with a separate – yes an en entire sepraate – jug of cream on the side for additional unspeakable deacdence, if there is only one hot drink you consume in Paris, let this be it and I will be flabergasted if you spot a table in there witout a hot chocolate parked on its surface.
Of course, once you are already in there and you have paid your dues, you might as well reap the rewards of your time investment and order a little something extra. Turnaround is quick in here and the queues continue to fill so we stalled a litle over a shared Croque Madame and, well, one final totally unnecssary but gorgeously noisetty choux pastry. If you haven’t clocked onto my weakness for hazelnut and choux by the end of this post, well then you haven’t been reading!
If travel is an educational opportunity, then my new lesson from Paris was that of the Kouignette, a sticky, syrupy flaky pastry that can fit into the palm of a hand but leave a lingering sacharine glaze on the tongue. This was the one and only dessert I had tried in Paris that I had never previously heard of and we grabbed one each (salted caramel one and pistachio) in the Montmartre region of Paris to continue our exploration. A mini version of the Breton cake, if you have an aversion to butter, don’t even look at it as despite being one of the smallest snacks I grabbed in France, it was still the most dense and the one that left the longest lasting guilt in my mouth.
Is it sensible to eat dessert in such epic proportions – of course not! But, as feeble a defence as it is, this was my first visit to Paris in around 15 years and we walked no less than 10 miles a day on each day of our stay, which perhaps helped to expxlain why, much to my utter disbelief (and immense gratitude,) the scales hadn’t shifted much upon my return?! A stealth of French desserts remain waiting to be discovered on my next visit and this time, I am reluctant to wait even 15 months let alone 15 years but in the interim, I’ll be investing in a new pair of solid walking shoes in anticipation.
Which French sweet highlights rank highest up on your dessert hit lists?