Extravagant French pastries and chocolates have always been a big draw for those visiting Paris. Eclairs, macarons, chocolate mousse, mille-feuilles, and creme brulee are just a short list of the decadent offerings that are featured in patisseries that dot almost every corner of Paris. In the past decade, a new crop of pastry makers and chocolatiers have elevated their craft to a whole new level, transforming their creations to the level of art. Many have become culinary superstars with tens of thousands of social media followers, sold-out personal appearances, media exposure, and lines out the doors at their shops.
Before I moved to Paris and became a travel writer and tour guide, I was a New York City-based baker and chocolate maker. My specialty as a chocolate maker was my own truffle recipe that used Belgian dark chocolate, and I had a small shop in midtown New York for four years. At the same time, I was also baking coconut macaroons for gourmet shop Dean and DeLuca.
Instead of making chocolates and pastries, these days, I lead pastry and chocolate tours in Paris. The selection below reflects what I consider to be the best pastry and chocolate shops, and many of them are stops on my tour, during which we do tastings.
1. Pierre Herme
Easily one of the best and most well-known patissiers in Paris and throughout France, Pierre Herme is at the top of his game. Herme has been the darling of critics and food awards since his start in 1998, becoming the youngest pastry chef ever to win France’s Pastry Chef of the Year, followed by World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016 from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Vogue has called him the Picasso of Pastry. So far, the biggest honor Herme has received is being bestowed the Legion of Honor award, the highest award for military and civil merits in France, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
Customers swarm over a dozen of Herme’s Paris-based freestanding and department shops for his most popular pastry, his unbeatable macarons. Although Herme produces favorites such as chocolate, raspberry, vanilla, and coffee, what sets him apart is the eclectic pairing of odd and familiar flavors.
His best-selling flavors are Ispahan, which has notes of rose, lychee, and raspberry, and Mogador, a passion fruit macaron with a milk chocolate filling. Every season, similar to Paris fashion collections, Herme invents four new flavors only available for a limited time. Fashionable Parisians wouldn’t be caught dead eating last season’s macarons.
In summertime, Pierre Herme sells ice creams and refreshing sorbets that are also available in ice cream sandwich form. Flaky pastry layers are filled with salted butter caramel ice cream, lime, basil, and Mandarin sorbet, or a pistachio and strawberry scented ice cream.
2. Patrick Roger
Sometimes called the bad boy of chocolate in the inner circles of the Parisian food scene, Patrick Roger is truly unique in his field. Why? Because not only is he one of the finest and most inventive chocolatiers in the city, he is also a serious sculptor, creating works in bronze, wood, and metal.
After apprenticing for two recognized pastry and chocolate makers, Roger began making his distinct chocolates in a suburban village outside of Paris. More like a mad scientist in a lab concocting yet undiscovered flavors and textures than a conventional chocolatier, Roger made a name for himself, and in 2001, he opened his first Paris boutique in the Saint Germain area. He specializes in dark chocolate, and some of his most beautiful and delicious creations are his colorful spheres, which look like marbles and are filled with ganache of either lime and caramel, salted butter caramel, or yuzu fruit and lemongrass.
Roger combines his two passions, chocolate making and sculpting, by designing whimsical sculptures made of chocolate for his shop windows. A series of hens and their hen houses, life size recreations of apes and orangutans, and a true replica of Rodin’s The Thinker, commissioned by the Rodin estate, are just a few examples of his grand imagination.
Although the brand has a uniform packaging color of aqua blue, each boutique has a unique design, and they don’t look like most chocolate shops. Roger’s boutique on Place Madeleine feels like a huge organ, with metal pipes enveloping the interior, and his Marais shop resembles an art gallery with hanging stained-glass panels and an enormous glass table with metal tentacles. The Madeleine location also has a sculpture gallery on the mezzanine level.
3. Hugo And Victor
Hugues Pouget was so inspired by his favorite French author and poet, Victor Hugo, that he named his pastry and chocolate shop after him. Hugo And Victor is the realization of a lifelong dream of Pouget’s to have his own shop.
He put up his proverbial signpost on the Left Bank in the affluent 7th arrondissement, close to the chic Le Bon Marche department store. The decor of the shop matches the upscale clientele with glass jewel cases that would normally display pearls and diamonds but instead show off the gorgeous pastries and cakes. Flavors are seasonal, and four times a year Pouget selects a particular ingredient or flavor and designs his cakes and tarts around it. Past flavors have been grapefruit, yuzu, and vanilla. His version of chocolate spheres are metallic on the outside and contain ganache with pear, mandarin, and passion fruit, cleverly packaged in a book with an elastic band.
Pouget also likes to collaborate with celebrities and designers and in the past has teamed up with actress Catherine Deneuve.
Holiday time is special at Hugo and Victor; every year Pouget soars to new heights of creativity, turning out amazing versions of Buche de Noels (Yule logs) for Christmas, chocolate eggs for Easter, and, for the New Year, a special king cake.
4. Un Dimanche A Paris
Pierre Cluizel, whose father was the founder of Michel Cluizel, one of the most well-known, high-quality chocolate companies in France, faithfully worked in his father’s business for 25 years. He sold his shares and left the company in 2009 to pursue his own chocolate and pastry dream shop. In 2011 he opened up Un Dimanche a Paris, a two-story, multi-purpose shop, restaurant, and cooking workshop, in an 1735 Paris passageway.
Chocolate is the star of the show at Un Dimanche a Paris (whose name translates to A Sunday In Paris) and shows up in all aspects of the enterprise, including the participation of Chef Jerome Sarlat, who inserts chocolate into many savory dishes at the haute cuisine restaurant and serves a killer, specially blended hot chocolate served in an exclusively designed white porcelain pot. You’ll also find intensely flavored dark chocolates in the retail shop.
The posh dining room, which also doubles as a tea salon during off hours, is on the first level, connected to the spacious retail shop. In between is the open, glassed-in pastry kitchen, where you can press your nose against the glass and salivate while watching the young pastry makers whip heavy cream, melt chocolate, and effortlessly pipe out pastries.
Upstairs, pastry- and chocolate-making workshops are offered in the evening from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
5. Pierre Marcolini
Pierre Marcolini is one of the handful of chocolatiers to use the bean-to-bar process, which means he sources his own cacao beans from plantations around the globe, imports them to his factory in Belgium, roasts and processes the beans, and finally, puts the finished product into his luxurious chocolates.
Marcolini’s expansive selection of chocolate tablets best show off his globetrotting to find the finest chocolate, with flavors from Madagascar, Venezuela, Cameroon, Cuba, and Ecuador.
Their signature chocolate is a red glazed heart, filled with raspberry ganache, lemon zest, and dark and white chocolate. Truffles, chocolate-covered orange and lemon rind, pralines, marshmallows covered in dark chocolate, and cocoa-dusted almonds round out the chocolate collection. Pierre Marcolini expands beyond chocolate, also selling macarons, glazed pound cakes, sugar-glazed chestnuts, a popular French delicacy, financiers, and a line of jams and preserves. Ice cream and sorbet pops in sophisticated flavors such as mango, coconut, and yuzu are hand-dipped in either white chocolate, dark praline chocolate, or milk chocolate with nuts.
Packaging is just as important as the quality of the chocolate at Pierre Marcolini, and collaborations with artists, designers, and celebrities have proven to be fruitful. Past collaborations include a line of chocolate hearts designed with Victoria Beckham, a chocolate bento box with Japanese fashion company Maison Kitsune, and mini chocolate lips by fashion designer Olympia Le-Tan.
Pierre Marcolini has a commitment to sustainability and fair employment practices with all of his suppliers. He will not use child laborers, only uses natural herbicides on the beans, bans known carcinogens, and does not source genetically modified cocoa beans.
After more great Paris eats? Read up on the best bouillons: a revival of classic Paris dining.