The 6 best pastries in Paris – and where to find them

When you live in Paris, the pastry capital of the world, you develop a better understanding over the years of what makes one pastry mediocre and another masterful.

You understand that the best croissants have honeycomb cross-sections, that the best baguettes are traditions (pronounced trad-y-syon) and should have caramel-colored crusts, and that the best macarons have a soft, chewy shell.

That said, everyone has different tastes and preferences and any list that purports to have curated the best pastries in Paris risks stoking controversy.

So for full transparency, here’s the method to my particular madness: I’ve excluded viennoiseries (breakfast baked goods like croissants and pains au chocolate), as well as breads and baguettes, because these deserve lists of their own. Nor will you find viral desserts like the infamous “crookie,” which are often passing fads with short shelf lives. I will also be clear about how my personal taste preferences have influenced my selection.

Instead, this shortlist will feature what I consider to be some of the best examples of classic French pastries in Paris that are permanent menu items at some of the top pastry shops in France. Take note: I’ve also thrown in a dramatic surprise at the end that defies category, but which I think is worthy of a special mention.

A box of flavored Madeilines presented in a wooden box
Glazed madeilines from Ritz Paris Le Comptoir © Bernhard Winkelmann  / Ritz Paris

1. Madeleines: Ritz Paris Le Comptoir

Prior to tasting madeleines at the Ritz Paris Le Comptoir, the Ritz Paris hotel’s takeaway pastry shop on rue Cambon, I had little interest in the shell-shaped sponge cake. Within the Parisian pastry repertoire, the madeleine seemed boring and uninspiring compared to gem-like macarons and fairytale fruit tarts in pastry shop windows.

But then I tried pastry chef François Perret’s version, and got a glimpse of why Marcel Proust, a Ritz Paris regular, had rhapsodized about this little cake with such fondness in his book Remembrance of Things Past.

In Perret’s modernized iteration, molten madeleines are glazed in flavors like lemon, raspberry, caramel, passion fruit and chocolate, and have equally intense fruit compote, chocolate or caramel centers. They’re especially moist, intensely fragrant and also beautiful to look at. My favorites are raspberry and caramel, but also look out for seasonal releases.

Cost: €5 each

Up-close shot of lemon tarts with icing shaped like flower petals
Stohrer is one of the oldest patisseries in Paris © Geradline Martens / Stohrer

2. Lemon tarts: Stohrer

I like lemon tarts that bite back. And this one from Stohrer, the oldest pastry shop in Paris, does that and more.

Though the shop is best known as the birthplace of the baba rhum, don’t sleep on their lemon tart, especially if you, like me, are particular about the tartness to sweetness ratio.

Made with a shortbread crust, lemon confit, yuzu cream and a lemon-lime cream which lends a subtle bitter note, Stohrer’s lemon tart straddles the fine line: it’s not enough to make you pucker, but is just acidic enough to be refreshing and smooth at the same time.

Cost: €6.10

Up-close shot of a pink macaron
Pierre Hermé’s signature rose, litchi and raspberry Ispahan © Pierre Hermé

3. Macarons: Pierre Hermé’s Ispahan

There are lots of top-notch patisseries that make beautiful macarons in Paris.

But I have a particular soft spot for Pierre Hermé’s signature rose, litchi and raspberry Ispahan macaron. The first time I tried it, the flavors and scents lingered in my memory and I found myself thinking about it long after. There are several locations but I like the one on Avenue de l’Opéra, near the Palais Garnier.

For me, it’s the exquisite way the fruity litchi and raspberry flavors and aromas give way to rose, lengthening into a sophisticated finish, without tasting like perfume, as rose-flavored desserts tend to do. It’s sophisticated, complex, and so very classy.

There’s a reason Pierre Hermé has been called the Picasso of pastries.

Cost: €2.80

Saint Honore pastry split in half to showcase its goey caramel center and cream topping
The Saint-Honoré is named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs © Philippe Conticini

4. Saint-Honoré: Philippe Conticini

A Parisian invention that stretches back to the 19th century, the Saint-Honoré takes its name after the street where it was invented, in a pastry shop on rue Saint-Honoré in the first arrondissement.

Traditionally, it features a puff pastry base, topped with cream puffs, hard caramel shell, and both Chiboust (pastry cream and meringue) and Chantilly whipped cream. Structurally, it can be a challenge to eat.

What makes the tart version by celebrity pastry chef Philippe Conticini superior, is the even distribution of flavors and textures in nearly every bite: there’s the vanilla-scented cream, soft pastry cream, caramelized choux and crispy puff pastry. The layer of caramel with fleur de sel is also appreciated, as I have a particular aversion to desserts that are too sweet and cloying. This dessert tastes as elegant as it looks.

Cost: €8.50

A chocolate eclair
Yoy can’t leave Paris without trying a chocolate éclair from La Maison du Chocolat © Vivian Song

5. Chocolate éclairs: La Maison du Chocolat

I’ve had my fair share of bad chocolate éclairs in Paris. Either the choux pastry has become soggy from the filling, or the filling itself is disappointingly ambiguous in the chocolate department.

If you’re looking for a rich, chocolaty éclair, it only makes sense to hit up a reputed chocolatier like La Maison du Chocolat.

Here, éclairs are made with a full-bodied dark chocolate and have a pleasant hint of fruity acidic finish, while the choux itself is light, fluffy but also has integrity.

Compared to run-of-the-mill éclairs you can get at a corner patisserie, this one is admittedly on the pricier side at €7. But keep in mind that their éclairs are significantly longer, at more than 6 inches, and are made by hand every day starting at 3:30 am at their workshop in the Paris suburbs, before being delivered to shops around the city.

Cost: €7

An Equinox pastry split in half to showcase the biscuit, caramel center
Cyrlil Lignac’s multi-layered Equinox © Yann Deret / La Pâtisserie Cyril Lignac

6. The Equinox: La Pâtisserie Cyril Lignac

Though he may not be a household name to Anglophones, Cyril Lignac is a celebrity pastry chef and TV star in France with several patisseries and restaurants across the city, along with regular gigs on competitive French baking shows.

At La Pâtisserie Cyril Lignac, one of his signature pastries is the Equinox, a dramatic, mysterious and surprising pastry on the outside, that belies light and familiar flavors on the inside.

The equinox is a masterclass in entremets (a multi-layered dessert that can include sponge cake, cream, mousse, compote and glazes) with a bourbon vanilla cream, caramel center, and a Speculoos praline crunch. The result is texturally satisfying, and also comforting. Visually, the Equinox is perhaps the most fashionable pastry on this list.

Cost: €7

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