I confess. I've been leading a double life: Travel editor by day and pastry chef at night. For the past year, I've split my time between the office and culinary school, breaking only to dust the sugar off my clothes. Since my training focuses on classical French pastry, I thought it was only fitting to combine my two biggest passions with a visit to Paris (and to as many patisseries as I could squeeze into one week) over spring break. The experience was too sweet not to share.
Here are some luscious photos, along with dessert-worthy descriptions, from some of my favorite pastry shops on both sides of the Seine. Many of these gourmet boutiques are time-tested, respecting l'ancienne tradition, while others aim to innovate by creating new twists on Parisian classics. In all cases, their interiors are as much works of art as the treats on display, and I hope you find them as inspiring as I do.
I was led to this "French House of Gastronomy" by my chef instructor, Master Patissier Delphin Gomes. Before I left for Paris, he said to me, imperatively and repeatedly (as you'd expect from a French chef), "Go to Dalloyau. It's where I used to work … it's the best!" Of course. Officially founded in 1802, this pastry shop has roots that date back 300 years to the court of Versailles. Though there are now many locations, I headed to the original on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore (a street coincidentally named for the patron saint of bakers), passing the presidential residence of Elysee Palace and endless rows of upscale boutiques. Like the surrounding neighborhood, the shop was fit for royalty (and presidents).
But what left me starstruck were the pastry cases housing what appeared to be my entire course curriculum. From chocolate-raspberry Mogador cakes to pate a choux crowned with Chantilly cream, lesson after lesson came to life. Wanting to bring something back for class, I settled on the shop's signature dessert, the Gateau Opera, made famous in Paris by Dalloyau and at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts by Chef Delphin, who asserts that it is "no good" unless it's practically blackened with coffee syrup. (He won't let anyone—including me—live it down if they fail to drench sufficiently.)
When I presented him with the cake—stacked with joconde coffee biscuit, coffee cream, and dark chocolate ganache—his eyes went directly to the precise, laser-beam-like layers. With a wry smile and raised brow, he said to me, "See, look at how dark it is here; it's perfect." I couldn't disagree.
La Patisserie Des Reves
Streamlined and futuristic like an Apple Store but styled like a Candy Land IKEA, La Patisserie des Reves ("the pastry shop of dreams") at 93 rue du Bac has been capturing the sweet-toothed imaginations of visitors to Paris' 7th arrondissement since 2009. Unlike other shops, where countless items line the insides of large glass counters, here, Chef Philippe Conticini presents a scant collection of cloche-covered confections that appear to be suspended from the ceiling like pendant lights. He contemporizes the French classics by reducing them to their purest forms, and each pastry seems to glow under its own dome like a sugar-charged filament.