In my time in France, I’ve taken an inordinate number of “Intro to French Cooking” classes. It’s no surprise: for many – yours truly included – interest in French language and culture goes hand-in-hand with an interest in French food. And in most of these classes, alongside learning how to make perfect French fries (I’ll have to share that recipe sometime…) and how to properly score duck breasts (so. many. times.), I learned how to make one of the bases of French pastry: pâte à choux.
Pâte à choux, which actually means “cabbage dough,” (spoiler alert: there are no cabbages involved) is the base dough for pastries like cream puffs (known as choux à la crème, or cabbages with cream [again, no actual cabbages]), profiteroles, and my personal favorite, the éclair. It’s not a very sweet dough – both texturally and in flavor, it’s a bit like a drier Yorkshire pudding – and the combo of the almost savory pastry with a pastry cream filling is more than enough sugar for me on a normal day, beating out sweeter pastries like cakes and millefeuilles by a mile.
But while I know how to make pâte à choux at home, I almost never do. Making desserts like the éclair is far from difficult, but it is time consuming, and I’d rather buy one perfect chou than spend hours making a dozen (mostly because I’d then end up eating them all, and that never goes well).
So instead, I’ve made a point of seeking out some of the best versions of my favorite pastry in Paris, and I’ve had pretty good luck so far.
Odette is a must-visit for lovers of the classic chou à la crème. With several different flavors, including praline, coffee, chocolate, and lemon, this little shop knows how to play up the cutesy factor without losing out on flavor.
Odette has two outposts in Paris, including one within spitting distance of Notre Dame Cathedral. While the site says that they’re opened until 7:30, I’ve definitely passed by at the end of the day to find that they’ve sold out of the puffs which, while disappointing, is a good sign: Odette will never try to pawn off day-old choux on you, as they bake fewer than they need, rather than more.
What Odette does for cream puffs, L’Eclair de Génie does for éclairs. This chain, created by French pastry star Christophe Adam (formerly of Fauchon), only peddles éclairs, with several beautiful and delicious iterations including pistachio (top photo) and passion fruit with raspberry.
I love this shop mainly because it offers flavors that you usually wouldn’t find elsewhere. That said, those who prefer more traditional éclairs will still find chocolate, caramel, and vanilla, albeit with top-quality ingredients and the special Christophe Adam wow-factor when it comes to décor.
Simpler but just as delicious are the award-winning éclairs from Stohrer, a pastry shop older than my home country. Founded in 1730, Stohrer brings a variety of pastries to the pedestrian rue Montorgueil, including an old-fashioned éclair that has been touted as one of the best in Paris.
I’ve tried both the passion fruit (above) and the chocolate on separate occasions, and I definitely see what the fuss is about. The choux pastry is equal parts tender interior and crisp exterior, and the pastry cream is silky and just sweet enough.
But the current winner in my heart is undoubtedly the choux à la crème from Liberté, at the Canal Saint-Martin. This perfect puff is slightly larger than tradition would dictate, with an exquisite texture and some of the best pastry cream I’ve ever tasted.
Whether you opt for rich chocolate or my personal favorite – slightly bitter coffee – I can guarantee that lovers of pâte à choux will not be disappointed.
Of course, the fact that I’ve found my current fave in no way means I’m going to stop my search. Let me know if I’ve missed any of your favorite pâtes à choux in Paris – in the meantime, here’s where to find mine.
Odette – 77, rue Galande, 75005; 18, rue Montorgueil, 75001
L’Eclair de Génie – 31, rue Lepic, 75018 (plus 8 more)
Stohrer – 51, rue Montorgueil, 75002
Liberté – 39, rue des Vinaigriers, 75010