"A person tired of pastries is tired of life." In an alternate universe, Samuel Johnson – face covered in shiny, sugary crumbs – just might have uttered that bon mot instead of his oft-quoted London line. But when it comes to Europe's paradise of pâtisseries, cake-cravers have plenty to sink their teeth into.
"The most amazing Paris pâtisserie is Blé Sucré," asserts local culinary tour guide Wendy Lyn (thepariskitchen.com), lover of their lemon tarts and Paris-Brests. "Everything's as pretty as a Fabergé egg – and the citrus sugar madeleines are out of this world."
But it's not all about the classics. "For Japanese flair on gorgeous whipped cream sponge cakes, Pâtisserie Ciel adds savoury spins like yuzu or black sesame," she says, before recommending L'Éclair de Genie's "talk of the town" eclairs in green apple and salted butter caramel varieties.
"The best time to visit patisseries is between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.," Lyn advises. "It's when locals stop for something sweet – a daily ritual called le goûter hour."
It's a tradition My Paris Kitchen author David Lebovitz is salivatingly familiar with. Also City of Light-based, his pâtisserie-locating app is handy for visitors (paris-pastry.com), and he has several top-spot favourites to suggest.
"Jacques Genin has the most amazing Paris-Brest, only available by ordering in advance: a ring of pâte à choux stuffed with caramelized hazelnut praline cream," he says, adding Jean-Charles Rochoux's chocolate shop delights and the snowball-sized meringues filled with cream and rolled in chocolate at Aux Merveilleux de Fred to his hit-list.
Lebovitz suggests bee-lining to Rue du Bac. "Everyone has a shop on this street, including Éric Kayser, Jacques Genin, Des Gâteaux et du Pain and La Pâtisserie des Rêves – Philippe Conticini's uber-modern shop."
And if you're hungry on a Sunday – traditional Paris closing day – you're also in luck. "Go to the Bastille market for spit-roasted chickens – a wonderful lunch or picnic. Nearby is Dalloyau pastry shop – where the opera cake was invented – and Diamonde, a tiny shop making Middle Eastern and North African pastries."
While Vancouver's Jackie Kai Ellis is also a Bastille market fan, pastries are her passion; she opened Beaucoup, a Parisian-inspired bakery, in her home city in 2012. She also runs tours so visitors can join her Paris pâtisserie reconnaissance crawls (theparistours.com).
"The French take pastries seriously and a level of respect in the stores is appreciated," she advises first-timers. "Ask before taking pictures; don't assume a shop is self-serve; and when there are big lineups try to be efficient when ordering."
Also, be prepared for sticker shock. "I paid €22 (about $31) for one dessert in the name of research, but most are around $10 or more. Just keep in mind you're experiencing Parisian culture through one of it's most acclaimed, artistic expressions."
So where are its greatest artworks? "Pierre Hermé is a pastry genius. I've had almost everything in his Rue Bonaparte store: they are perfectly balanced with inspiring flavour combinations. His must-tastes are the Ispahan croissant, deux mille feuille and tarte infiniment vanille."
She also recommends Sadaharu Aoki for Japanese fusion tarte matcha caramel salé, citron praliné and éclair au sesame noir. Then there's the celebrated Jacques Genin. "His caramels are unrivalled for their flawless texture and his pâte de fruits have pure, intense flavours like lychee and apricot. Go to his Rue de Turenne location, sit in the salon de thé and have a mille feuille and tarte citron."
And the current hot trend? "Eclair-only shops are popping-up here with flavours like raspberry passion fruit, salted caramel popcorn and even savoury varieties."
Wherever you eat, Kai Ellis says, try being more objective than Cookie Monster on a googly-eyed croissant binge. "There really is a pastry shop on almost every corner. But although the average quality can be higher than Canada, not all have amazing pastries so just keep an eye out for quality."
OUR READERS WRITE
Angelina is one of the best. They have six locations in Paris. Our favourite is beside the Musée de Luxembourg on Rue de Vaugirard. Handy for ice cream when spending time in the Jardin de Luxembourg. A. Gordon
Pierre Hermé. He's original, creative and very local. Not commercialized like Ladurée, which is overrated in my humble view. @k_kassam
Lenôtre in the Bastille. Try the chausson aux pommes, then let's talk! @shelorafromvict
I'd add Les Fées Pâtissières, Les Pâtisseries des Rêves and Stohrer. @LostNCheeseland
Du Pain et des Idées – in the 10th – has great pastries and also has divine, award-winning bread. @heather_yvr
I like Aoki. Their salted caramel tart is beautiful and delicious. But I really love the shop: stark white, very modern, but fun (not sterile). Also, Pierre Hermé macarons are the best I've ever had, well worth the lineup. (The shop in Marais tends to be less busy.) @eagranieyuh
Blé Sucré: delicious pastries, near Square Trousseau in Paris. @jenkaychan
Aoki's citron praline, hands down. @kelseyklassen
There are many good ones, I'm especially fond of Des Gâteaux et du Pain. @ArianeGrumbach
Can I sneak in a bakery suggestion instead? Because Du Pain et des Idées is amazing. They're known for their "escargot" pastry, but I'm a sucker for the simple but mighty croissant! @colene
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