Say it with chocolate cake for any occasion – with ginger, passion fruit and top with macarons!
Welcome to my delicious Do-It-Yourself guide: your own Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour, the second part of my series on Day Trips Outside Paris.
As I mentioned in my introduction to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, it’s where I live. There are about 400 shops in the royal historical town and, if you tend to look in the sweeter windows, then I have selected my particular favourites in the centre of town for your very own DIY tour, all within easy walk to and from the RER train station, opposite the castle.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour
Since Grandin opened in 1822, this pastry shop has been an institution on Rue au Pain, the oldest medieval street of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Michel Pottier, member of the prestigious Relais Desserts group, has continued with traditional French pastries from the Opéra cake to a legendary Baba au Rhum – but they also have three house specialities.
Known primarily for their Saint Germain cake (individual versions seen above in the foreground), it’s made with ground almonds and topped with a boozy rum glaze.
Le Debussy pays hommage to the composer, born in the house just across the road (now Tourist Information), with a hazelnut sponge, praline mousse, rum and raisins, all glazed in dark chocolate.
The Saint Germain chocolates (both dark and milk) are filled with a good dose of Cognac. They were created for the opening of the new railway line from Paris to Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 14 August 1847.
13 rue au Pain
78100 Saint Germain en Laye
Tues-Sat 8.30am-7.30pm and Sunday 8.30am-2pm
Originally in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine since 1987, the Osmont family spread their wings and opened another boutique here in 2009. The business is now run by the son, Vincent, who trained with Thierry Atlan at Lenôtre and with Pascal Caffet in Troyes.
Their bestseller is the Bois-Mort, the pastry that earned father Jean-Marie Osmont the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France. It’s a crunchy meringue with hazelnuts interspersed with chocolate-hazelnut and dark chocolate mousses. Other highlights seen in the above photo are the Tropique (lemon & mango caramel with coconut sponge), the Alliance (mint pannacotta with red fruit compote), and a Vanilla Profiterole Chocolate Tart (which inspired one of my recipes in Teatime in Paris).
There’s such a vast choice – including 15 macarons and a perfect Président pastry that thankfully never has to change.
3 rue des Coches
Tues-Sat 10am-7.30pm and Sunday 10am-1pm
Since 2013, Gontran Cherrier has tranformed this spot as an ex-garage into The hang-out just about 40 baguette’s length from the market place. After the Ferrandi school, Gontran Cherrier trained with Alain Passard at l’Arpège and Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton. Now he’s surprising us locals with a range of exciting breads, viennoisseries and pastries.
Here you’ll find me grabbing my favourite croissants during the morning market (Tues, Fri, Sun) – and if it’s teatime, a Cape and Cape African tea with a yuzu cheesecake just to travel far. Don’t forget to pick up either a mustard baguette or a squid ink loaf, both rather sensational – and more croissants!
rue de la Grande Fontaine
As it’s the Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour, let’s turn to the chocolate shops. As you can see, we’re rather spoiled.
Pascal le Gac Chocolatier
This gem of an address is classed as one of the top 7 chocolatiers in France.
After working at La Maison du Chocolat for 24 years and reaching the accolade of Creative Director, Pascal le Gac set up his own boutique in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 2008.
He favours excellence over appearance, simplicity and lasting tradition over passing trends. Just peeking in the window, glistening classic pastries such as éclairs, moelleux au chocolat, truffles, macarons, millefeuilles and opéras all allure the Saint-Germanois to open that door.
Step inside and smell that chocolate. Ganaches from miel (honey), spices, to even Mango & Sage – where dark chocolate and mango play together – but a subtle herby sage says a cheeky bonjour in the aftertaste.
The chocolate bars are all particularly accessible. I say that since sometimes chocolate makers can make chocolate dry, earthy and complex that it can be difficult to appreciate. Here I thoroughly recommend a bar of Equator 68% which is delightfully fruity, and the more intense Venezuela 81%. Pascal le Gac also does a 100% cacao chocolate bar.
Before you go, taste at least a couple of macarons – the salted caramel and dark chocolate are my personal favourites.
61, rue de Pologne
78100 Saint Germain-en-Laye
Tues-Sat 10am-7pm and Sunday 10am-1pm
Each time I see Nicolsen’s thin chocolate discs or palets, it reminds me of Sulpice Debauve who was pharmacist to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and lived here in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Of Debauve & Gallais fame, the oldest chocolate shop in Paris in rue de Saint-Pères (where I normally start my chocolate pastry tour in Paris), chocolate discs were flavoured with ginger or coffee and the likes as a form of royal medicine.
Mr. Debauve was the great grandson of David Chaillou who was first to set up a chocolate drinking house in rue de l’Arbre Sec, near the Tuileries Palace in 1660 under Louis XIV.
Nicolsen, based in Chavanay, are easy to spot in summer as their ice cream cart is popular outside the shop, selling the famous glaces Berthillon. I hear they’ve decided to continue their famous saffron ganache, a house speciality.
19 rue au Pain
Tues-Sat: 9am-7.30pm and Sunday 9am-1pm
Patrick Roger, Chocolatier
Last but certainly not least is the famous Patrick Roger, the chocolate sculptor who thinks well outside the chocolate box. A Meilleur Ouvrier de France for his house speciality: Amazone, a bright green dome of chocolate lime caramel which takes around 24 steps to obtain this look without using any colorants. If you’re looking for a taste sensation, try the Delphi for a blind tasting and let me know what you think is in it. I personally love to stock up on Beijing, his large chocolate gingers.
A wider range of his chocolate sculptures are on show at his boutique in Place de la Madeleine in Paris.
2 rue de Paris
Tues-Fri 10.30am-1pm; 2pm-7.30pm and Sat 10.30am-7.30pm
Have I at least whet your appetite to jump on that train from Paris? It only takes 20 minutes on the RER A line from Charles de Gaulle Etoile station (Arc de Triomphe) and you’ll discover even more chocolate shops (such as Jeff de Bruges, deNeuville) and many more boulangerie/pâtisseries (Eric Kayser, Goulay, Maison Hardy, Paul, Fabien Ledoux, etc.), biscuit shops (La Cure Gourmande) and even a new American-style cupcake shop, Daisy Cake, which I still haven’t tried yet – I’ll leave that to you.
However, how could I finish a Saint-Germain-en-Laye Sweet Chocolate Pastry Tour without stopping for a cup of tea?
Hidden off the pedestrian precinct of Rue des Coches, Chez Alice’s tearoom is a quiet haven where you can secretly be decadent with a marshmallow hot chocolate and cream, a Champagne lunch, brunch on a Sunday (reservations a must) or a most civilised teatime with a selection of teas retrieved from one of the oversized Compagnie Coloniale tea caddies.
Alice is not only one of the most adorable French women I know, but her cakes – all made by herself and her mother – are such a special treat to enjoy while escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday routine. In fact, I wish I could make it a routine to come here more often!
Chez Alice Salon de Thé
10 rue des Vieilles Boucheries
Tues-Sat: 11.30am – 6.30pm and Sunday 12 noon-6pm
A trifle of British nostalgia given a mini Parisian touch for Mother’s Day
Lush, fudgy gluten-free brownies inspired by Chambelland in Paris.
A perfect light dessert for Mother’s Day – serve with macarons and a bunch of roses for Mum!
If you hop around Paris today on an egg hunt, I promise you’ll be astounded by the immense choice of Easter Chocolate Displays.
As artisanal chocolate shops work flat out for one of the busiest seasons of the year, it’s no wonder that the French so aptly describe the term of window-shopping as faire du léche-vitrine, as the urge to lick the delectable displays couldn’t be higher. Who can resist Jean-Paul Hévin‘s sense of humour with that in mind for his Easter shopfront?
Already the choice of eggs in itself is awe-inspiring; but add to that the different-coloured chocolate hens, chicks, diverse other animals (owls, tortoises, sheep, cows), bells, and the fish that we typically find in the French chocolate boutiques.
Where can we start? Before we get cracking with a sampling of Easter eggs (oeufs de Pâques), let’s start with the most typically French in the Chocolateries: bells and fish.
EASTER BELLS (Cloches de Pâques)
Listen carefully for the Church bells over Easter weekend: in France they stop ringing from Good Friday when Jesus died to Easter Sunday morning. After Church Mass, to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, the bells joyously peel around France as they fly back from Saint Peter’s in Rome, dropping chocolate eggs in gardens as the children are eager to hunt for them.
Even my girls (who are French) have always found it a crazy tradition – perhaps as parents we simply poorly described it – but imagine trying to explain to your kids that church bells had flown with wings all the way to the Vatican to be blessed by the Pope to help everyone in mourning, then returned (with no hands) to hide chocolate.
The Easter Bunny still makes more sense, even if it doesn’t figure that much in France, but over the years, more are gradually hopping into the boutiques – such as these pastel cuties from Hugo & Victor.
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHOCOLATE FISH?
I’ve always been intrigued by the schools of chocolate fish in the windows.
Fish are popular for April Fool’s Day since in France it’s April fish or Poisson d’avril as the children’s chorus goes! If you’re any decently duped April Fool in France, you’ll probably be sporting a school of colourful paper fish taped to your back. There was one year I discovered that, after various not-so-discrete pressing to my back, I had been modelling a mobile primary school wall.
Eager to find out the history behind it, I tried to go to a school of fish myself, rummaging around for more clues but the fishy story remains rather unclear. Various sources cite the most popular: it goes back to the 16th Century under Charles IX reign, who changed the New Year to the 1st January. Until then in France, the New Year started around 1st April and was celebrated by fresh fish to herald the arrival of Spring (following the zodiac sign of Pisces, perhaps). As not everyone was au courant or kept forgetting this new calendar, jokes gradually spread the custom of pinning fish on their backs.
A la Mère de Famille particularly has a huge choice of chocolate fish and scallop shells. Like eggs, many are garnished with yet more miniature fish. The smallest fish and other seafood shapes, called friture, often garnish the insides of the bigger Easter eggs or are sold simply in sachets to eat comme ça, just like that.
This year’s sample of fish can be found hooked up vertically in a line, lined up in a jigsaw pattern, or found randomly swimming in clouds.
EASTER EGGS WITH PERSONALITY
As with outside of France, eggs are still the most popular at Easter and over the years they’ve gradually transformed from brightly decorated hard-boiled to more chocolate. Symbolising the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday with the rolling stone that covered Christ’s tomb, the rolling of eggs transformed death into life, bringing new life and fertility – much like a chick popping from its egg.
Many high-end chocolate boutiques, confiseries (candy shops), pâtisseries, or top hotels have created their eggs from simply chic, amusing, to popular characters, or impressive giant sculptures as works of art.
Jacques Genin has gone wonderfully wild with a vivid, brilliant lacquered look for his masterpieces this year. Otherwise there are his clowns, fish and hens to choose from.
Looking through the glass, Pierre Marcolini has chosen an Easter Wonderland theme, complete with this grinning Cheshire cat. Or what about a box of mini praline eggs: including pistachio, almond, nougat and hazelnut?
From Le Manufacture de Chocolat of Alain Ducasse, you’ll find traditional artisan chocolate eggs and contemporary designer hens – but what caught my eye is this original DIY Easter Egg box for you to fill yourself, complete with a white glove for that in-boutique chic experience at home.
Henri Le Roux has dressed his eggs Harlequin style – and, talking of clowns, Arnaud Lahrer‘s major act this year is the Circus Chocolate with Plou the Clown, sealions, elephants, and monkeys. Eggs are also clowning around at De Neuville.
We’re totally in love with Paris – and eggs disguised in an amusing collection this year from Christophe Roussel, including Paddle La Baule and Udon le mouton. Incidentally, highly glossy sheep also feature at Edwart Chocolatier. You could say they’re ewe-some. Ba-ah!
FRIED CHOCOLATE EGGS
You’ll notice a few fried eggs (oeufs au plat) around too, such as these smashing takes by Patrick Roger and Georges Larnicol. The eggs in cartons look real – they are: except filled with chocolate praline.
WHY SO MANY CHICKS and HENS?
During the 40-day Christian tradition of Lent, meat or eggs were not allowed to be eaten. Meanwhile, hens continued to lay their eggs so by the time Easter arrived signalling the end of Lent, there were so many eggs to be used. Many hens are garnished with miniature eggs, my personal favourite being praline. And if you’re fond of praline, try Pascal Caffet‘s plump hens, “mini Pious” and pralines made with hazelnuts from Piemonte.
HAVE A HEART
Just imagine the Easter bells trying to deliver some of the more giant sculptures from Rome. What about this giant 7.5 kg (about 17 pounds) Oeuf Plume, packaged giant ready to be delivered at Les Marquis de Ladurée? It’s garnished inside with Les Marquis’s famous mini cameos in dark, milk and white chocolate.
Alas, there are so many more but this is a selection of my personal best Easter Chocolate Displays in Paris. But now that I’ve “wound you up”, don’t forget in France that the clocks go forward on Easter Sunday, so let me leave you with this impressive clock egg structure by pastry chef, Pierre Mathieu at the Mandarin Oriental’s Camélia Cake Shop – available from today.
I’d say it’s time to call it a marathon in chocolate. I’m sure you have enough chocolate here to nibble on until next Easter, although I’ll be posting more Easter treats in Paris every day this week on Instagram and Facebook.
Happy Easter to you from Paris!
I’m thrilled that my article on Easter chocolate in Paris is on BonjourParis.com! Please pop in and say Bonjour…