The art of pastry making finds its roots in antiquity. Sweet dishes were served alongside or after meals, to add a sweet touch. The French pastry arts were strongly influenced by Italian pastry and other European styles, until the 19th century, when French pastry truly came into its own. Today, Paris is home to most of the new developments in French pastry, which then spread throughout the globe! French pastry chefs are some of the most renowned in the world, due to their know-how and their creativity. New technology and techniques lead to the constant creation of new and exciting recipes!
Parisian Pastry Chefs
Many of the world’s great pastry chefs stand out thanks to their creativity, innovating new recipes and blending new flavors. Let’s take a look at some of the great French pastry chefs that have been key figures in these sweet developments.
Charles Dalloyau was first noticed by the king at the court of Versailles in 1682, and his family continued cooking for the court until the creation of the Dalloyau pastry house at the beginning of the 19th century. The Dalloyau house was created by Jean-Baptiste, one of Charles’ descendants. He invented the idea of ready-made pastry, an innovative service at the time. He set up shop on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where the store still stands today.
Gaston Lenôtre (1920-2009) was a famed Parisian pastry chef and the author of several cookbooks. He was also one of the great innovators of the art of French pastry, as lauded by his fellow professionals as by the media. He trained several well-known pastry chefs, including our macaron and pastry expert.
Pastry chef Pierre Hermé began his carrier with Lenôtre, before becoming the head pastry chef at Fauchon and then Ladurée. He finally created his own pastry shop, Pierre Hermé Paris. He eliminated the elaborate décor that is usually so cumbersome to pastry chefs, instead creating new and exciting recipes, using sugar as a seasoning to bring out nuances in flavor, much as salt is used in traditional gastronomy.
We also must mention Jean-Paul Hévin, an artisan chocolatier and pastry chef, as well as Christophe Michalak, the head pastry chef at the Plaza Athénée in Paris.
Famous Parisian Pastries
The Paris-Brest is a pastry that appears to be in the form of a crown, but it’s actually representative of a bicycle wheel! This pastry was invented in honor of the famed Paris-Brest bicycle race. A choux pastry wheel is stuffed with praline cream and garnished with slivered almonds.
The Opera combines mocha flavors, with a sponge cake soaked in Grand Marnier or Cointreau syrup sandwiching ganache and buttercream. The cake is covered with a dark chocolate icing. It was invented in 1966 by Cyriaque Gavillon for Dalloyau.
The Saint-Honoré was invented in Paris in 1848 by Chiboust. The cake’s circular base is made of puff pastry or pie dough, surrounded by caramel-coated cream puffs. Its center is filled with either kirsch cream or vanilla whipped cream. Its name comes from the street where the pastry chef’s shop could be found, but Saint Honoré is also the patron saint of bakers.
The puits d’amour – French for “well of love – is a small round of puff pastry with a hollowed-out center – the “well” – filled with caramel pastry cream. In the original 18th century recipe, it was filled with redcurrant jelly, but in the 19th century, pastry chefs began replacing it with cream and topping it with a choux pastry crown. In Paris, two pastry shops still use the original recipe: Coquelin and Stohrer.
Millefeuille, also known as Napoleon in English, was created by the pastry chef Pierre François de la Varenne in the 17th century. Three layers of puff pastry sandwich two layers of pastry cream. The pastry is topped with fondant or icing sugar. Its French name, when directly translated, means “a thousand layers,” a reference to the sheets of puff pastry.
Bourdaloue tart gets its name from the Parisian street that was home to the shop of its inventor. It is made up of a sweet, crunchy dough, almond cream and soft, cooked pears. With its buttery aroma and flavors of vanilla and amber rum, it’s a true delight!
The history of the financier, an almond-flavored cake in the form of a gold brick, is fairly amusing: pastry chef Lasne invented it near the Paris stock market in 1890. The little cake was perfect for the busy bankers, who could eat it in one bite without getting their hands dirty!
The macaron has recently become popular in the States. This little round almond cookie has a long history, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that a pastry chef from Ladurée (founded in Paris in 1862) invented the “Parisian macaron,” made of two shells assembled with a flavored cream. Other than those at Ladurée, the best macarons can be found at Pierre Hermé and Fauchon; all three houses are constantly coming up with new and interesting flavor combinations!
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