A Paris Chef Shares How to Find the Best Pastries in Town (and Avoid Tourist Traps)

After an afternoon of sightseeing around the butte Montmartre, a nibble or two of French pastry is well-deserved. 

Rather than settling into an anonymous café on the rue des Abbesses, head west until the street narrows and forks. Tucked away just off the main drag, La Bossue awaits! 

Known for its generous brunch, cozy vintage atmosphere, extensive tea selection, and delectable pastries, La Bossue is the perfect place to sample the classics—madeleines, financiers, and their inimitable salted caramel chocolate tart.

But a lot goes into these delectable treats before they hit the counter. To discover a bit more about working in pastry in Paris, we sat down with chef Ruth Schertenlieb. 

An interview with a local chef in Paris

Discovering a passion

American born and French trained, Ruth started cooking young, going on to study at the prestigious École Lenôtre in France. 

Discovering her passion for cooking was a happy accident. Initially interested in science, she turned to cooking during a rough patch in her adolescence. She needed an outlet to escape her loneliness during middle school, but her search for a distraction ultimately revealed her future career. “Pastry brings together my two passions: food and science,” Ruth said.

“We are all connected by the basic need to eat. Food is present at all of our most important life events: our celebrations, funerals, and weddings. When we are dealing with difficult times, food sends the message that there will always be someone there for you.”

Paris chef Ruth Schertenlieb
Exterior of La Bossue cafe in Paris
Ruth works at La Bossue, one of Montmartre’s most authentic pastry shops. Photo credit: Stephen Kelly

Joining the specialty coffee (and pastry) revolution

After earning her diploma, Ruth began working within Paris’ booming craft coffee scene. Over the last 10 years, Paris has slowly turned its back on robusta beans and over-extracted, bitter shots. A growing number of specialty coffee shops run by both expats and French natives alike have stepped up to reform Paris’ coffee scene. 

While some may complain that this hipster contingent lacks the charm of the traditional French café (and they might be right), you can’t beat their superior quality. But can you have a treat with your flat white? Absolutely. 

On an average day, you can find Anglo classics like banana bread and carrot cake alongside choux pastry. And they’ll even have gluten-free and vegan options (Ruth recommends looking out for financiers—small almond-flour cakes—which are usually gluten free). 

“Paris is a cool combination of cultures,” she said. “You’re able to have Anglo-style coffee shops and baked goods alongside French pastry.” 

Financiers, a typical French pastry.
Financiers are one of the simplest and most delicious pastry options in France. Photo credit: Nicolas Buffler

How to find the best pastry in Paris

After working in a series of cafés and bakeries culminating in La Bossue, a French pastry and tea shop in Montmartre, Ruth has seen her fair share of tourists passing through. Her advice? Do more research.

Considering France’s reputation as the gastronomic capital of the world, there’s a lot of food to choose from, whether you’re after a tarte citron or a quiche. 

“There are so many different specialties and ranges of pastry shops in this city! Not all baguettes are created equal, nor are pain au chocolat,” she said. “The best pastry shops are normally not on touristic streets, so take a walk around. Read some reviews, and ask the locals. We always know where to go. Some of my favorite pastry shops are Les Trois Frères (14 rue Léon), Boris Lumé and Aux Merveilleux de Fred.” 

Take crème brûlée, for example. While this French dessert may feel ubiquitous, finding an exceptional example is harder than you’d think. 

“Many restaurants can offer it, but few know how to make it correctly,” Ruth explains. “Mastering the techniques for different types of pastry is critical to getting the right results. Crème brûlée is a technical classic that is absolutely delicious when mastered.”

Caramelizing the top of a crème brûlée with a blowtorch
There are plenty of subpar crème brûlées in Paris. Don’t settle—make sure you seek out one that’s truly well done.

While embarking on a pastry career in Paris could be intimidating, Ruth finds her inspiration here. Her approach? Mastering the classics before adding her own touch. “There are countless ways to change the flavor profiles or put a modern twist on a classic.” 

Though she’s only recently made the move to La Bossue on rue Joseph-de-Maistre, Ruth is optimistic about her future there.

“The team is wonderful, and the ambiance is so welcoming. They recycle, compost, and have one of the cleanest kitchens I’ve seen. La Bossue really cares about the quality of their ingredients to provide the best tasting pastries possible. I may have found my ‘forever home.’” 

You know how to find the best pastry in Paris—now it’s time to put your skills to the test and spend a morning eating like a local. Join us for our Ultimate Paris Food Tour in the Marais for a foodie adventure you won’t soon forget!

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