A guide to patisseries in Paris


Paris is a magical city known for its fashion and, of course, food…in particular, the city’s over abundance of patisseries and boulangeries averaging one ever 100 meters.  For those with a sweet tooth and a love of carbs, here are a few tips and recommendations for your enjoyment.

What is the difference between a patisserie and a boulangerie?

The first step in navigating Paris’ baked goods is to understand the difference between a patisserie and boulangerie. A patisserie is the place for delectable sweet pastries including: croissants, eclairs, pain au chocolat, fruit tarts, apple turnovers, and caramels to name a few. On the other hand, boulangeries are bakeries that may also sell pastries, however, they specialize in bread and baguettes.  You may even stumble upon a store called “boulangerie-patisseries” which is an establishment that will sell a selection of both. Either way, your carb cravings are covered.

Parisian pastries 101

Originally known as kipferl, croissants date back to the 13th century in Austria eventually making its way to Paris in 1838 when an Austrian artillery officer named August Zang opened the first “Boulangerie Viennoise” on 92 rue de Richelieu.  At that time, Austrian desserts were very popular and in fact “Patisseries Viennoises” are still common in Paris today. The French adopted the name croissant named after the crescent shape of the pastry tweaking the recipe slightly. Traditionally made with flour and butter, some of the most delicious are baked with special butter mixed with crème fraîche, commonly is used in most French pastries. Some say this is the reason French pastries are the best while others say it’s the water.

Poilâne

Some of the most indulgent French baked goods are at Poilâne.  Poilâne makes many different types of desserts, however, their croissants are baked perfectly – flaky and crunchy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside.  The pain au chocolat, also known as a chocolate croissant, is a best seller as well. Being one of the most popular boulangerie-patisseries in Paris, they frequently make fresh new batches to meet demand.  If you happen to walk into Poilâne and see croissants on racks, you’ve hit the jackpot. 

Poilâne is also famous for their shortbread cookies and chausson pommes or apple turnovers with the literal translation being “apple slippers.”  These buttery delights are made with fresh apples, cinnamon, eggs and of course the crème fraîche laced butter.  Legend has it, chaussons pommes were invented in the 1630s in Saint Calais, France. At the time, the town was suffering from illness so the Chatelaine or “lady of the town” distributed flour and apples to the poor who then made chaussons pommes.

Original location: 8 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris, France

Du Pain et des Idées

Du Pain et des Idées is one of the best boulangerie-patisseries in Paris. They are famous for their escargot pistache, a spiral-shaped pain aux raisins, another local Parisian pastry derived from the Viennese.  Do not be weary by the name escargot. This pastry does not contain snails, but rather pistachios or seasonal fruit.   If they happen to be in season, you don’t want miss the tarte abricot, available only a few months during the year. Dèlicieuse!

For those traveling to Paris without a pronounced sweet tooth, try the pain au lardon which means bread with bacon.  Lardon is the French version of bacon, cut into small thick chunks making this a very savory snack. You may choose lardon with walnuts (noix), goat cheese (chevre), spinach (épinard) and prunes.

Location: 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris, France

How to order patisseries in Paris

For the inexperienced traveler, pointing to your selection and hoping for the best isn’t always the safest bet. To ensure you get your desired selection, try ordering in French using these simple tips. Pronunciation can be a bit tricky given every word in French has a gender. You should note that if a French word has an “e” at the end, like tarte, it’s generally feminine and preceded by une, pronounced “oon”. Words not ending in an “e” like croissant, are preceded by un, which is pronounced “ah-n”. You can avoid worrying about any of this by just ordering a number of pastries instead. Trust us, you’ll be able to finish “quatre pain au chocolat” with ease.

Important phrases

Je voudrais: Pronounced “shuh voo-dray,” this means “I would like…” which you can then follow with your pastry order.

S’il vous plaît: Pronounced “see voo play,” this means “please” in French.

Une tradition: If you hear someone ask for “oon tra-dih-see-own”, you should do the same. This is similar to a baguette but made with better ingredients and more care.

One final tip: avoid calling a chocolate croissant croissant chocolat. French bakers will regard this misnomer as offensive to their craft. Chocolate croissants are called pain au chocolat which means chocolate bread.

Sean Finelli is CEO at The Tour Guy. The Tour Guy and its suite of brands, The Roman Guy and Finelli & Shaw, offer globetrotters uniquely curated experiences across Europe.

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Comments (12)

  1. Brian says:

    Whenever I pass through Belgravia in London I call in to the Poilâne bakery there for a little shopping. It’s a tasty introduction to Poilâne baking and they have a book on the heritage too. Though I’m sure, like most food products, Poilâne‘a goods would be even more delicious in the appropriate Parisian setting.

  2. Jen says:

    Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention in French lessons at school so I had never quite grasped the difference between a boulangerie and a patisserie, glad to have it finally explained to me. But why bother when you can have the best of both worlds at a boulangerie / patisserie? That’s what I’ll be looking out for on my next trip to France.

  3. Claire Smith says:

    When in Paris do as the Parisians do.

    I usually opt for a coffee and a pain au chocolate for my “petit dejeuner”. I just ignore the fact that most elegant slimline Parisians probably would go for something a little less calorific than a pain au chocolate but somebody’s got to make the sacrifice to keep the old traditions alive.

  4. Mariam Shams says:

    Only recently a French patisserie (the first of its kind), Marcels has opened up here in Karachi. It is a part of a chain of restaurant having their base in Paris and named after Marcel Le Roux, a famous world traveler. Just 6 months in the business, and the eatery has already established a name with a huge fan-following. For the first time, the people of Karachi have had the opportunity to taste the original French Cuisine- even though the recipes (as stated by the owner himself) ”are a fusion of flavours from Karachi to Paris”. This left me wondering that if the blended version is this cool, then God knows, how divine the original French croissants and macaroons would taste. So want to travel to Paris and get my hands on one!

    • You simply must make it to Paris for the food. It’s always nice to experience a cuisine in the country it was created in.

    • Mariam Shams says:

      I second you Sean. Its always a better option to have a first-hand culinary experience and try all the local delicacies to familiarize with the original taste. And visiting Paris is definitely the next thing on my bucket-list. Just waiting for my Prince Charming to make a perfect romantic escape. Lol

  5. Suzy Willis says:

    I think that escargot pistache is an unfortunate name. So many of us are put off by the thought of snails that we wouldn’t get past the name. It’s a pity because I love a good pain aux raisins. Perhaps the French bakers need to do a bit of rebranding to make this pastry a little more attractive to visitors?

  6. Sean Finelli says:

    I don’t deny it’s delicious in Belgravia, but I would have to agree, its definitely better in Paris!

  7. Freya Damson says:

    I never really knew the exact different between patisserie and boulangerie, I just assumed the former had more sweet treats. There’s a place I go sometimes in the UK that calls itself a boulangerie but they don’t actually sell any bread & baguettes, well, not unless you count a bacon sarnie!

    Good tips on ordering. I still remember a little French from lessons at school but I wouldn’t trust myself to even order a cherry tart and not be given bread with bacon & prunes! Interesting point about the chocolate croissant and needing to call it correctly a pain au chocolat so as not to cause offence. You never quite know how someone is going to take an honest error when you’re visiting another country so it’s good to be aware before travelling as that’s the last thing we want to do is cause offence.

    Even though the ‘French baguette’ is pretty stereotypical, I do think of classic patisseries and boulangeries when I think of Paris. There’s no dime a dozen production by machines and pre-packed; I think of quality and care of craftsmanship and superior taste. Do a lot of patisseries in Paris have cafes, like where you order and eat in, or are they more takeaway types of places?

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