The definitive ranking of French pastries, from good to best

To quote Oprah, I LOVE bread.

And I LOVE French pastries. I think the French do pastries better than anyone else in the world.

Of course, some are better than others. Here are the most drool-worthy pâtisseries and bakery sweets:

Beignets: Like all French pastries, they’re sweet, filling, and freshly made chez les pâtissiers. You can get them filled with chocolate or fruit filling, much like American donuts. They’re often covered in powdered sugar. If you expect an American donut though, you’ll be disappointed to find it a little too dense and a little too dry.

Madeleines: Buttery, smooth and sweet, madeleines are perfect for a teatime treat. If you’re looking for flavor, though, look elsewhere. Madeleines, at their worst, are bland and uninspiring. At their best, they’re a good compliment to a nice mug of chocolat chaud.

Religieuses: An unexpected marriage of a cookie, cream, and pastry. They kind of look like nuns, hence the name. They are very sweet, and you can get them in different flavors including chocolate, coffee and caramel. To my taste, they’re just a little too sweet.

Chausson aux pommes: Eaten warm, these are incredible. It’s like a mini apple pie inside a French pastry. Eaten cold, they’re just mediocre, so go early and get them fresh!

Croissant: Ah, now we’re getting to the good stuff. I’ve never been able to turn down a warm, buttery, flaky French croissant, especially not when it comes fresh from the  bakery on the corner (that is, any corner).

Pain au chocolat: Spain has a version of these too, called napolitanas. In Spain, they were my favorite pastry, but France has even better. Still, you can’t go wrong with flaky, buttery dough wrapped around warm, softly melted chocolate. I’ve yet to find a fresh pain au chocolat I haven’t liked.

Brioche suisse: The best French pastry you’ve never heard of. It reminded me a bit of a pain au chocolat, but with even more flavor. I had one right before I wrote this and the whole time I was eating it, I just kept thinking, “this is the best thing I have ever eaten.” There’s a small bakery, Amélie Boulangerie, on the outskirts of Paris where I would pick one up each morning on my way to work.

Macarons: No matter how much I love the buttery and chocolate filled pastries listed above, nothing will replace the special place in my heart (and stomach) that I’ve reserved for French macarons. Get them done right, chez Pierre Hermès or Ladurée, and prepare for a small slice of heaven. The almond flour cookies are slightly crisp on the outside but oh so soft on the inside, and the ganache in the middle will melt in your mouth. My personal favorites are the rose, caramel, and fleur d’oranger. Last time on my way home from France, I picked up a box of two dozen at Ladurée in the airport, and by the time my plane landed I’d already eaten half the box.

 

Note: the photos in this post are not mine, but are used under creative commons.

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