Long comme un jour sans pain, long as a day without bread, the idiomatic French saying captures what along with butter and cheese, well might be a true national dish in the country of bakers. Bread and butter on the French national flag could eradicate any confusions. Excellent news for some of you is that since 1993, all bread in boulangeries in France must be entirely made on the premises. In the abundance of excellence, I cannot stop at selecting just top five bakeries in Paris. I am sharing all my favourites for their diversity – best bread, organic loaf from ancient grains, creative baked slices, baguette, croissant and pain au chocolate. For brioche, I need to return and scout for more, since some bakeries only sell it on weekends! A dozen samples of brioche in one day, anyone?
Every real Parisian has a favourite bakery, usually in their neighbourhood so the bread’s crisp, fresh fragrance of wheat, and soft, holes-ridden mie (the crumb interior) are eaten as soon as they come out from the oven. Unless, you are a customer of Poilâne, whose iconic, giant, round country loaf (known as miche) baked in their wood-fired ovens can be delivered to your door. Some old traditions do not die even with the new generation taking over the family business. Poilâne has expanded its production beyond its lovely Rue du Cherche-Midi home-base. The exports ship from an outside of Paris “Le Manufacture“, yet when in Paris get yours baked here. Occasionally, tours underground into its flour-dusted cellar, allow to sniff the leavened fragrance in full. Aside from its sturdy pain campagne, I like their flaky buttery puff pastry topped with caramelised apples. Enjoy this sweet treat in their convenient next door café.
Best sourdough fro ancient grains
For bread, I asked my local friends, and was fortunate, indeed, to taste the wonderful organic sourdough from Le Bricheton [50 Rue de la Reunion, 7520]. In their authentic, young French neighbourhood of Saint Denis, far beyond the tourist zone, Maxime shapes loaves from wholesome grains (spelt, rye, even a chestnut). A true artisan, his opening hours are reduced to two hours only on some days, the Sundays, Mondays and other random days (check their Facebook page for actualities).
Recently, Alain Ducasse browsed in, and the social media went buff, the proud locals lauded the baker as their king. Coincidentally, I enjoyed his chocolate with Le Bricheton bread the past fall in my hotel bed. A wonderful pairing! The secret is no longer, so I can share it with you. The multi-Michelin chef was impressed, nodding he will be back.
The best golden crusted, white sourdough (au levain) baguette was brought to my attention by the legendary three Michelin starred chef Alain Passard, who loves the pain au levain sourdough loaf from Stéphane Henry. A discreet artisan boulanger in the not so trendy end of Canal St Martin, the only buyers are workers or residents from the area. I bought as much as my reusable cotton bag could carry. Soon, chewing on the sunshine crust with an airy mie center, I was smitten. I preferred it to the bien cuite hard crusty baguette traditionelle. Also their buttery, large, soft and fragile crusted croissant, chewed so moist that I will return! The sourdough (sliced upon request) surprisingly lasted for three days in my hotel room. Tasting great with the butter I got at Terroirs Sans Avenir, my favorite produce vendor. The cheesy olive, ham, tomato savoury rolls rival my other favourite bakery’s creations.
Best pain au chocolat
I have been indulging at Du Pain et des Idèes for years. Every journey by Eurostar stops over at the nearby boulangerie. North of Canal Saint Martin, this is now a hip area, ripe with artisan temptations. Their chocolatine pain au chocolat is my absolute winner. For more sweet delights still, the seasonal tarte finne – cherries in June, apricots in July, figs in August, while apples and pears are laid on the puff pastries in fall – are unmissable.
The croissants are too soft, bending like gummy bears and the twisted sacristians are too sugary for me, but a true sweet tooth will surely relish them. I am not a fan of their organic bread though, the pain des amis is most popular, but the savoury mini rolls fit perfectly into a paper bag to carry on a train or taxi ride. The organic goats cheese and spinach is my coup de coeur, while my husband is puff into the farm bacon with reblochon cheese and dried figs, also bio. I can never stop at one. Sublime!
Croissants are a thorny theme for the Parisans, for everyone has his/her personal preference. The best croissant for me is the mini roll of perfect buttery layers that like my granny’s strudel peel off as you pull them with your horny fingers around. How fun! Like a child, most recently I relished in the two-horned cone’s perfection at a nearby green park. Nesting under a chestnut tree with a friend, it made our day. No leftovers for the always asking pigeons. A family business since 1859, Benjamin Turquier of RDT received the best croissant award in 2015, so expect a small snaky lane sticking its tail out of the tiny bakery on Rue Du Turenne. Using only AOP butter is costly, but simple baked pastries do not keep secrets – they shout the quality of the sparse ingredients inside! His chunky studded chocolate bread is only good when ultra fresh, while the pain au chocolat peels of like the croissant and is good, but does not reach the magnificence of Du Pain et des Idèes.
Best creative bread
Organic bakeries have sprung up with the ‘bio’ trend swiping over France. Some are rather amateurish, while others bake better and more creative breads than other “normal” boulangeries. The indulgent breads at De Belles Manières bakery in Paris are the most original and creative slices I have had the salivating pleasure trying. Their low gluten, red and white quinoa bread (Le Pain des Incas) matches cheese wonderfully, while their black olive slice is decadent on its own. Flat, shaped like a focaccia, the sourdough starter and abundant ancient grains inspire some of the flavours. Long and narrow, the pistachio and cranberry bread, with Emmental cheese-filled loaf, dried fruits, as well as the simple, perfectly baked spelt or rye and baguettes lure in the Marais crowd. Winning the best organic bread award recently stamps its appeal.
Patricia Wells, the renowned restaurant critic, for three decades Paris resident and author of The Foodlover’s Guide to Paris put it well: “Bread is life. It’s food that makes you feel good, feel healthy; food that goes well with everything”. Unless you are a cealiac, a quality, sourdough-based bread should not rise any regrets. I cannot more agree with her, writing: “The good French loaf is made with respect for the simple nature of the ingredients: wholesome, stone-milled wheat grown in France; a fresh sourdough starter (levain) or yeast (levure); pure water; and a minimum of salt.” The only extra touch in the creative, curious contemporary world is that the grains used expand beyond wheat, making eating bread perhaps even more exciting experience.
The best bakeries in Paris I selected use often organic, local ingredients, are all purely artisanal, do not have chains all over France and abroad, summed up, you must try them all on your next visit to the metropolis of fine food!