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