A History of Paris Pastry (in One Shop)
In France, great pâtissiers become genuine heroes. Some of the most luscious goods you see in Paris pastry shops are directly descended from pioneers such as Nicolas Stohrer (who came to Paris in 1725) or Vincent La Chapelle (who, during the 1730s, wrote The Modern Cook).
Now a new patisserie is vowing to bring you all the classics. It belongs to Sébastien Gaudard and his shop—the first to bear his name—is consecrated to “the great pastries of yesteryear.”
Any Parisian will tell you this ambition is huge. But Gaudard’s pastry pedigree is impeccable. His parents founded their Pâtisserie Gaudard (in Pont-à-Mousson) in 1955. There, Gaudard’s father, Daniel, invented a signature gâteau, le mussipontain. Sébastien spent his childhood surrounded by classic tarts, gâteaux and confiseries. As a graduate, he did his military service, but was asked to spend his time baking at Hôtel Matignon. Gaudard “served” as a pastry chef—to the French prime minister.
In 1993 he was taken on at Fauchon, where Pierre Hermé was directing the pastry. Within months, Gaudard became his assistant. “That was a rich experience. Pierre incarnates the métier. He loves giving pleasure to others.”
When Hermé quit, to consult for Ladurée and to start a brand of his own, Gaudard was named Fauchon’s new head of pastry. There, he created confections of his own, such as l’Auguste, named after the company’s founder. It was the era of Paris pastry as design, and Gaudard liked to create abstract confections—which he gave names such as Tendresse, Rêve and Truc. In 2001, he left Fauchon, going on to create the Bon Marché’s Délicabar. With pop-inspired design by Claudio Colucci, this offered a concept Gaudard baptized “snack-chic.” Three years ago, he left to pursue his lifelong dream, a classic patisserie of his very own. Today he has it—in the quartier where he has lived for years.
His business replaces the patisserie Rousseau-Seurre. Before its owner Gérard Seurre retired, that neighborhood treasure celebrated its centenary. Thanks to Gaudard (and a set of protesting locals) its old space was saved from becoming a Monoprix. The new patisserie has made it a slice of the 19th century, with marble counters, gilt fittings and smoked mirrors. The walls are delicate layette blue and the lights came from a nearby flea market. Says the proud proprietor, “I want a rebirth of the traditional. We make patisseries in the great French tradition.”
This means a wonderful chance for visitors to school their palates, with puits d’amour, mille-feuilles, religieuses, Paris-Brest, Othello, nid d’abeilles, bombe chocolat, éclairs, chou Chantilly or Saint-Honoré. Gaudard, who notes that he was born on January 5 (“the day of the galette des rois!”), intends to showcase all the greats. For luck, he has the cash register used in his parents’ first store.
There’s nothing to stop you trying every Paris pastry classic here. But one recommendation: don’t miss the shop’s version of Gaudard père‘s mussipontain. Its blend of meringue, vanilla cream and caramelized almonds is every bit as elegant as the decor. My second recommendation is simpler: try an “everyday” pastry, something a child would get for his goûter. (Gaudard’s chausson aux pommes was the best I’ve ever tried.) Another triumph: the tarte au citron.
When it comes to museums, all of Paris remains a wonderland. But, for a display and history of sweet savoir-vivre, this pastry mecca takes the biscuit.
A la recherche de la recette perdue! Along with the French food historian Françoise Bernard, Gaudard has created a lovely book called Le Meilleur des Desserts (The Best Desserts). It features 40 recipes that are “part of all our memories,” with delightful facts, tips and tricks. Each author provides a personal version of each choice, then the authors comment upon each other’s recipe. You will find it on sale in the patisserie.
Le Meilleur des Desserts (The Best Desserts)
Editor’s note: Have you tried our new walking tours, available as an app for your iPhone and as pdfs? Audrey Hepburn in Paris and Shopping with Jackie in Paris are terrifically fun ways to discover the center of the city and the 16th Arrondissement.