When in Paris, how to find and sample the best French pastries and chocolates? Take “Teatime in Paris: A Walk Around French Pastries,” a tour led by the author of “Mad About Macarons” and a new cookbook offering easy recipes for these difficult delicacies.
Pastry chef Jill Colonna launches her walking tour and her similarly titled cookbook “Teatime In Paris! A Walk Through Easy French Pâtisserie Recipes” next month, coinciding with France’s nationwide French Cuisine Festival, Fête de la Gastronomie. She leads the way to several crème de la crème pastry and chocolate boutiques, even the birthplace of the macaron (macaroon). She’ll show where to do as the Parisians do, enjoying le goûte, (a snack of teatime pastry). You’ll sample delicacies like éclairs, tartlets, crêpes, macarons, millefeuilles, and of course, madeleines.
The madeleine is the pastry that launched Marcel Proust’s 3,000-word epic, “Remembrance of Things Past” or “In Search of Lost Time.” So, quelle surprise that the walk begins in the Place de la Madeleine, at two branches of the famed Fauchon.
The first stop is Fauchon’s madeleine bar, a Parisian institution where pastries have been made for 120 years. Here, Colonna suggests trying a large madeleine with “its characteristic ‘hump’ filled with a liquid, gooey center of chocolate or rose (they originally contained rosewater).” Another option: take a mix of “mini honey or salted caramel madeleines.” Also, the author will offer “a few tips on how to make the perfect hump.”
Ever since Proust used “this little teacake” to begin his 1914 masterpiece, the madeleine has become “a French metaphor — how often have you bitten into something and involuntarily remembered an emotional childhood memory?” Colonna asks rhetorically. “Perhaps this tour will rekindle your taste senses.”
The second stop, also Fauchon, is “a must to taste their éclairs.” Éclairs are made with choux dough (puff pastry dough, although “choux” literally means cabbages). “Something that is easy enough to make at home,” Colonna notes, but Fauchon displays its éclairs along with other well-known pastries as “ephemeral art.”
Until 1850, this queen of French pastry was known as a “pain à la duchesse” (duchess bread just doesn’t do it justice). The oblong pastries were invented by Antonin Carême, a Parisian orphan who became the first international celebrity chef. Carême baked Napoleon’s wedding cake, created culinary masterpieces for Romanov tsars, and made soufflés flecked with real gold for the Rothschilds, according to “Cooking for Kings: The life of Antonin Careme, the first celebrity chef,” by British actor and biographer Ian Kelly.
The third stop is Ladurée, on the rue Royale site of the original bakery Louis Ernest Ladurée opened in 1862. And in the early 20th century, it was the birthplace of the Parisian macaron, two macaron shells with a ganache filling. Ladurée is well-known for their beautiful displays of macaron towers and colorful, elegant packaging. Taste “special fun flavors such as marshmallow and different floral flavors, (but) there’s nothing to beat their classics like vanilla and orange blossom,” Colonna says.
Next is Jean-Paul Hévin chocolate boutique on rue Saint Honoré. Choose chocolates styled like stilettos, or flavored with oyster and other unique tastes. The upstairs chocolate bar is renowned for “exquisite velvety chocolates,” the author-guide says. What could be more tempting than chocolate stilettos almost 4-inch-high and almost 7.5 ounces? Maybe Hévin’s almost eight-inch-tall Eiffel Tower of 64 percent dark chocolate?
The teatime tour makes other stops around rue Saint Honoré, where you can taste the famous Saint Honoré pastry that Chef Chiboust’s bakery invented in 1847. “This ultimate treat is a circle of puff pastry covered with filled choux puffs nesting on a choux ring and topped with the most decadent Chiboust cream,” Colonna describes. “I’ll take you to a place where you can relish a unique chocolate version…”
Throughout this walk, you’ll feel as Proust wrote of his tea-soaked madeleine, “An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses…”
For more info and reservations: “Teatime in Paris: A Walk Around French Pastries,” walking tour by Jill Colonna, author of the cookbook “Teatime In Paris! A Walk Through Easy French Pâtisserie Recipes” (Waverley Books). Tour, including a signed copy of her book, is offered Sept. 14 through Nov. 30 on Monday and Tuesday afternoons. The two and a half hour walk costs 100 Euros (about $109, but check daily currency rates) per person plus a tasting fee of 15 Euros (about $16) per person. Private tours cost 390 Euros (about $424 per party, maximum six participants) plus tastings fees. Reserve through Philadelphia-based Context Travel. French Cuisine Festival, Fête de la Gastronomie, Sept. 25-27.