Paris, City of Light and Dark Chocolate: A Guided Holiday Tour

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Paris offers a heavenly array of chocolates. On any block in the city you can find chocolate bars and bonbons, desserts and drinks. In my neighborhood, the 17eme, there are at least ten chocolatiers within as many blocks, and again as many boulangeries and patisseries. Here are a few of my favorite finds for fellow chocolate lovers, who are lucky enough to visit Paris.

Chocolate Croissants

We can probably all agree that the single most iconic French food may be the croissant, which, ironically, was introduced to Paris in the 1830s by August Zang, a baker from Vienna (which is why it’s considered Viennoiserie rather than pastry).  As with most things, the lovely croissant only gets better when you add chocolate, and the Pain au Chocolat (Chocolate Croissant) is one of most reliable comfort foods around. I have the very good fortune of having Maison Lohezic, which bakes my favorite warm-out-of-the-oven baguettes and pains aux chocolats in Paris, right down the block from my home. Third generation baker Jocelyn Lohezic uses high-end artisanal ingredients, such as Échiré brand butter.  The chocolate croissants at boulangerie Tour d’Argent (yes, associated with that Tour d’Argent) are worth their weight in gold, and my old pal Pierre Picard swears by the extra chocolaty version baked by Max Poilâne (brother of the late and world-famous, Lionel Poilâne).

Chocolate Pastries

Cyril Lignac is possibly the most widely recognized, and busiest, chef in France. His Royal Chocolate pastry is a stand-out: textured almonds, praline, a feuillantine (crispy confection made from thin, sweet crepes) and chocolate mousse interior, all on a crispy cookie base and enrobed in a silky chocolate icing makes for a breathtakingly delicious dessert. Another go-to coffee and pastry favorite is Victor & Hugo’s pastry and chocolate shop on the Boulevard Raspail, a perfect respite after window shopping on the cool boutique-lined Rue du Cherche Midi just a few blocks away.  Their chocolate éclair, with its gratifyingly dark chocolate cream filling, gets my vote for best-ever!

More noteworthy chocolate pastries: Stohrer, creator of the famous Baba au Rhum pastry, makes a chocolate and hazelnut Babka that is king among cakes. Paul, the reliable bakery chain found throughout France serves up a surprisingly good moelleux (pr. Moo-ah-luh) au chocolat, a soft plain chocolate cake that’s perfect to grab at the train station before a long journey.  Carette, on the historic Place des Vosges, (if you’re visiting Victor Hugo’s house) is a perfect place to people watch in Paris’s oldest square while enjoying their delightful Total Chocolate Cake.

Bar Chocolate

Chocolat Bonnat bars have one of the smoothest mouth-feels I’ve ever experienced in a chocolate. A family business now headed by Stéphane Bonnat, his wife Elisa explained that the chocolate’s luxurious mouth feel is due in part to the fact that they use the same “slow made” techniques (and much of the original equipment) as they have since the eighteen eighties. There are over twenty different bars featuring single origin from plantations around the world, each with different characteristics and complex notes and aromas. My favorites are the Cuban bean (not available in the U.S.) and the two Mexican bean bars, which Elisa pointed out have “very complex notes, with hints of wood, fruit, nuts.” The dark chocolate is a seventy five percent cocoa blend, but because of the brand’s uncannily silky finish, it isn’t cloying or bitter as some chocolate bars of similar strength can be. The milk chocolate bars are sixty-five percent cocoa blend, putting them in a dreamy taste space between traditional milk and dark chocolate.

With a range of nearly two dozen colorfully wrapped bars, Valrhona is recognized as the first to focus on bean origins, which has since become de rigeur for fine chocolate makers.  As the top choice for pastry chefs in the U.S., France and much of the world, and with a particularly strong commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, Valrhona sets the benchmark for good taste and doing good in the world. 

You also can’t go wrong with bars from these manufacturers: Hugo & Victor, whose founder, Pastry Chef Hugue Pouget, was France’s Dessert Championship winner and worked at three Michelin starred Guy Savoy and Le Bristol. Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac, France’s most recognized chef (with six television series, four restaurants and dozens of books), Edwart offers bars and Barrées with fillings (pistachio, coffee, mustard, sarrasin) are stand-outs. Pralus, one of the gold standards of chocolate, makes their gold ingot shaped Bar Infernal, with a hazelnut praline center wrapped in dark chocolate, and is one of the most original, delicious, and giftable bars around.

Boxed Chocolates 

In Paris, the modern and the timeless classics harmoniously coexist in the worlds of art, architecture, style, and even chocolate. At Edwart Chocolatier, thirty-two year-old Edwin Yansane’s boxed chocolate collections express the chef’s forward-looking sensibility. Bonbons are purposefully on the thin side, allowing you to better savor the brilliant flavor and texture combinations. Besides the must-have flavors, and chocolate spreads, his exceptionally creative collection includes Curry, Japanese Buckwheat, Coriander Seed, and Oolong.  For a truly classic French bon-bon, look no further than Stohrer, whose stunning flagship shop has been selling fine chocolates at 51 rue Montorgueil since its namesake founder Nicolas Stohrer, pastry chef to King Louis XV, opened in 1730. A Paris tradition you can enjoy back home is the stately bench-mark of excellence, La Maison du Chocolat,  where luxury living and chocolate love intersect.

Additional outstanding boxed chocolates: In a wink to its (sort of) namesake, Victor Hugo, Hugo & Victor package their extraordinary chocolates in boxes that resemble antique books, making for great gifting.  Jacques Genin, known for his high quality ganaches and pralines is another and there’s sculptor-chocolatier Patrick Roger (whose shops also feature his modern chocolate sculptures).

Hot Chocolate

How lucky are we that chocolate can be both eaten and drunk.  With winter upon us, there are plenty of places to savor wonderful hot chocolate in Paris. Carette, on the historic Place des Vosges, is a perfect place to people watch in Paris’s oldest square while enjoying their outrageously delicious and thick Viennese style (with an egg yolk) hot chocolate with a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream.

Other heavenly hot chocolates: Angelina, one of the most famous and oldest tea salons in Paris has won a place in the hearts and minds (and Instagram) of hot chocolate enthusiasts.  Their bottled hot chocolate is the best retail version I’ve tasted to date. For those who want to make their own hot chocolate, Valrhona makes a cocoa powder that is considered the best by virtually all the foodies and pastry chefs that I’ve asked.

Best Bonbon (French for “candy”) Ever

A more perfect pairing than chocolate and nuts you would be hard-pressed to find. As a kid, Hershey’s with almonds, Almond joy, Goobers chocolate covered peanuts, and M&M peanuts were my go-to candies. Imagine my delight when I discovered Valrhona’s Equinoxe, hazelnuts and almonds bathed in silky smooth fine French chocolate!  Now my absolute benchmark for bonbons.

Spread the Choco-love

A growing number of chocolatiers, like Edwart and Florian, are making really interesting and delicious varieties of Pâte à Tartiner (chocolate hazelnut spread) that make great gifts for chocolate lovers–bring one back to the States!

Activities for Chocoholics

Choco Story Paris  is an extremely family friendly, informative, entertaining, and tasty chocolate museum. They offer hands-on classes, exhibits with historical chocolate making tools, videos, and chocolate sculptures and fashion.

Chocolate Yule Tidings

The dessert most widely associated with the holiday season is unquestionably the Yule Log-shaped swirl cake known as a  Bûche de Noël. While it comes in a variety of flavors, and shapes, chocolate bûches are probably the most common. Here are some decidedly uncommonly delicious takes on this holiday dessert staple. Rising star pastry chef, Jeffrey Cagnes,  creates a bûche of streamlined confection. And Le Drugstore reaches flavorful heights with their delicious-yet-whimsical Christmas Mountain chocolate bûche, featuring an Alpine silhouette and topped with an edible pair of skis.

Philip Ruskin is an External Lecturer (ESSEC Bus. School), Consultant (food & travel marketing), writer, drummer and regular contributor to Frenchly  He loves to bike around his adopted hometown of Paris. Find him here, on Instagram. 

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