10 Can’t-Miss Pastries at Paris Bakeries
You just arrived in Paris, a little jet-lagged and bleary-eyed. But it’s 10am somewhere (here, as it turns out), and you know exactly what you want to do first: Go to a bakery!
The smell of butter and chocolate pulls you in as you approach the first boulangerie you see, and you clutch your French phrasebook confidently.
Your eyes travel across the pastry case, until they finally rest on something familiar to your high school French: pain au chocolat. You order it, and walk out of the store, warm pastry in hand. All is well. But as you walk down the cobblestoned street, you cast a rueful gaze over your shoulder toward the bakery window.
What were all those other unfamiliar pastries? And should you have ordered them?
Friends, don’t worry. This won’t be you.
Because you have this guide to the 10 must-try pastries at Parisian bakeries!
The following 10 pastries is my new list of favorites, nearly all of which were completely unknown to me before moving to Paris for pastry school last year. Notably absent on this list are the old standbys croissant and pain au chocolat – I’m trusting you know them, and will order them too. Sticklers will note (and thus I suppose I will, too) that this list technically includes some viennoiserie, the family of yeasted treats that includes croissants of all types and brioche.
Whatever you call these treats, order them on your next trip to Paris, and you’ll be in buttery French heaven.
A regional specialty of the Brittany (Bretagne) region of France, Kouign Ammans are a masterpiece of neatly rolled-up croissant dough topped with sugar and baked to a crisp. I like mine “bien cuit” – well-cooked, so they’ve got a real crunch on top.
Chouquettes are the perfect snack pastry when you want something light and airy. They’re made of choux pastry (the same as éclairs, but they’re not filled with anything, so they weigh nearly nothing – and they’re studded with pearl sugar for a satisfying crunch). Order a few or a bag of dozen to share (or not).
Escargot Pistache Chocolat
These “chocolate pistachio snails” are just… well… I’ll put it this way: I thought I didn’t like pistachio. But then one foggy fall morning in Paris before the rest of the city had woken up, this pastry changed my mind. I went back for a second one.
Crisp and darkly caramelized on the outside, custardy and vanilla-scented on the inside, canelés are a triumph of textures. Traditionally made in copper moulds, canelés hail from Bordeaux, like the famous wine! Canelés are a good pastry to compare from a few bakeries, because you want to make sure you taste a great one. At their best, they’re astonishing.
St. Honorés are one of my very favorite pastries. Sharing a name with the patron saint of French pastries – Saint Honoré – they typically have a pastry crust base, topped by a small mound of vanilla Chantilly cream, which in turn is studded with caramel-dipped choux puffs (often filled with more Chantilly). A good bakery makes the vanilla flavor shine, and leaves you thinking that sometimes, simple flavors are best.
A specialty of the Basque region in Southwestern France, you’ll find this cake in lots of Paris bakeries. It’s essentially a dense butter cake, with a thin layer of pastry cream, cherry jam, or both running through it. If you can order this when it’s still warm, magique awaits.
Carré aux Abricots
This one goes out to all the stone-fruit lovers out there. Puff pastry encircles fresh apricot halves for one of the sunniest things you can possibly eat in all of Paris. Most bakeries will top them with a classy dusting of powdered sugar.
If you are a fan of flaky pastries, then you have to try brioche feuillettée. French speakers will recognize that the feuilletée part of the name suggests it has flakes – unusual for brioche, right? Well, this special kind of brioche has the butter folded in croissant-style at the end, making this kind of like a brioche-croissant fusion. Expect flaky, caramelized, buttery deliciousness.
To be honest, I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Paris-Brest, because it was one of the possible exam recipes during pastry school, so I baked it a million times (often under-baking it in my horrible oven). But as long as you don’t have a similarly loaded history with Paris-Brest, I bet you’ll love it. In its most classic form, it’s a ring of almond-studded choux pastry cut in half and filled with praline mousseline. It’s often topped with caramelized hazelnuts.
Millefeuille (aka Napoléon)
Millefeuille literally means “a thousand layers.” I did try to count the layers when we were making it in pastry school, but I lost track. I don’t know if it’s a thousand, but it’s definitely a lot. Either way – many-layered puff pastry sandwiches two layers of vanilla pastry cream. It’s delicate and fit for a king.