The tasty history of Parisian patisseries

5th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

Hannah Westley risks a few extra calories to find out where the best places are in Paris to have your cake and eat it.

We all know that Paris is a gourmet’s paradise. But when you’ve had your fill of restaurants and your sweet tooth is clamouring, where do you go to find the best of those famous patisseries?

One of the most reputed names to trickle off Parisian tongues when it comes to patisserie is Ladurée. Louis Ernest Ladurée opened his first patisserie in 1871. Café culture was booming in the second Empire and Ladurée’s wife came up with the idea of combining the patisserie with a café, giving rise to Paris’s first salon de thé. It was a stroke of genius. The fashionable ladies of the quartier, who dared not sully their reputations in bohemian cafés could meet publicly and indulge their sweet tooth. Employing a well-known painter, Jules Chéret, to decorate his salon, inspired by the Sistine Chapel (even then women knew how close to heaven a good chocolate éclair could get you) and Paris’s Opera Garnier, Ladurée’s sumptuous stamp on patisserie was set.

Today Ladurée is still acknowledged as le roi of French patisserie, with a reputation for macaroons unrivalled by other pretenders. Check out the grandiose tearooms on the Champs Elysées or the daintily upholstered salon on the rue Bonaparte. Like other patissieries, Ladurée boasts seasonal specialities but its current collection is dedicated to Marie Antoinette. Ladurée was ‘pastry consultant’ on Sofia Coppola’s new movie about that maligned monarch!

Another patisserie with an eminent lineage is Dalloyau. Jean-Baptiste Dalloyau was a canny chap. He realised that if the French revolution had rid the country of a cake-loving queen, it had given rise to a bourgeoisie who seemed to be largely occupied with emulating the old aristocracy’s art de vivre. So he set out to cater for them with his first boutique in 1802. Of Dalloyau’s sweet delights, the Opéra is legendary - layer upon layer of textured chocolate. Or there is the equally sinful Louvre - shaped like the Louvre pyramid with a dark chocolate exterior over a filling of chocolate mousse. In contrast to Ladurée’s lavish salons, Dalloyau’s tearooms are of simple and elegant design, where modern comforts allow you to bestow on the pastries the full attention they so rightly demand. But if you can’t go to Dalloyau, Dalloyau will come to you and offers a catering service that promises to conceive and produce the reception of your dreams.

Gaston Lenôtre is a master patissier who set up business in the 1940s in Normandy and had a meteoric rise in the world of French cuisine: this is the chef with boutique status. Lenôtre’s Pavillon Elysée, which opened in 1985, is a pure culinary concept. Comprising a cooking school, restaurant and café, it also has a shop that sells the latest in professional kitchen utensils and cookbooks, including le maître’s own definitive book on desserts and pastries. In this beautifully converted belle époque palace, make sure you try the maison’s own creamy ice cream or the tiramisu topped with red fruits.

A former Lenôtre disciple now vying for his old master’s patisserie crown is Pierre Hermé whose small boutique on the rue de Vaugirard, just a stone’s throw away from the Luxembourg gardens, is more of a showcase than a shop. The décor is minimal and starkly modern. But then nobody has brought the art of cuisine closer to the art of fashion than Hermé. His seasonal creations even have their own catwalk shows where waiters carrying laden trays parade along the runway, after which the guests are allowed to dig in – there isn’t a single anorexic in sight! Hermé began working with Lenôtre when he was 14, by the age of 24 he was chief pastry chef for the luxury caterer Fauchon and later oversaw the expansion of the Ladurée tea rooms. These days Hermé has assimilated all these influences to become, according to Vogue magazine, the ‘Pi

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