The Women Bringing Paris’s Storied Baking Tradition Into the Future

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In France, the artisanal trades of bread baking and haute pâtisserie—like the rest of the country’s culinary scene—have historically been dominated by men. Nicolas Stohrer, King Louis XV’s pastry chef and the founder of the oldest pastry shop in Paris, along with Marie-Antoine Carême, the onetime chef to the royal court, set the course in the 18th century by inventing everything from profiteroles to the boozy baba au rhum. The generations of male bakers that followed often credited their mères and grands-mères as inspiration for their careers, but women have otherwise been footnotes at best.

No longer: Entrepreneurial women now run many of the capital’s most beloved sweets destinations.

Julie Mathieu, co-owner and founding editor of Fou de Pâtisserie, a pastry concept shop and France’s leading baking magazine, says the recent proliferation of women-run specialty shops is the result of a gradual shift, spurred in part by the public’s consumption of baking shows and food magazines. “Over time, the more women who succeeded at living out their passion, the more it reassured other women to dive in,” she says.

In bypassing the rigidity of the hierarchical kitchen brigade, and the classic trajectory in which men are most often in command, women have emancipated themselves from the stiff codes of tradition to create on their own terms—whether that means riffing on classic French recipes or devising the next great confection. That inventiveness is on full display at Mathieu’s latest Fou de Pâtisserie outpost—a Left Bank tea salon, opened this fall with her wife and business partner, Muriel Tallandier, where guests can sample pastries prepared by the city’s leading chefs, from Claire Heitzler and Mélanie L’Héritier to Pierre Hermé and Mori Yoshida.

When it comes to bread, Paris can thank the self-taught French British baking duo Alice Quillet and Anna Trattles for helping take the city beyond the baguette. At Ten Belles Bread, an 11th arrondissement offshoot of their wildly successful specialty coffee shop of the same name, they focus on varied breads, pies, and English-inspired sweets that end up on the tables of top restaurants like Septime. The pair have earned a reputation for robust, perfectly crisp sourdough, which passersby can watch them shape through the kitchen window. Quillet attributes the success of women bakers in part to “the general push in France toward training to preserve traditional crafts—and, from a purely practical perspective, the fact that flour mills are finally offering 55-pound bags. It makes a huge difference to the physicality of baking professionally.”

At the boulangerie and pâtisserie Mamiche, founders Cécile Khayat and Victoria Effantin are expanding the classic pastry-case repertoire—and with it, their business. At a second location, opened in 2019 a few blocks from the Canal Saint-Martin, the young bakers and their team balance staples like rustic country loaves and choux filled with luscious vanilla cream with other, less expected treats, including orange blossom brioche and decadent cinnamon rolls.

Women are also behind some of today’s most diverse pastry flavors. Myriam Sabet’s Marais boutique, Maison Aleph, specializes in Levantine pastries that play up French technique, with textures and flavors from the region (such as the kadaïf angel hair nests made with clarified butter, filled with flavored creams or candied fruit), while Sarah Amouyal and her husband, Emmanuel Murat, have brought Jewish mainstays, from rugelach and challah to babka in a host of flavors, to the forefront at Babka Zana in South Pigalle. The future of the Paris patisserie is in good hands.

This article appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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