I first visited this city when I was 15 as a French-language student. It was a whirlwind of sightseeing that set in motion a love affair with Paris, and I'm lucky enough to have been back a few times since. I've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur; I've visited Versailles and fought the crowds to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa.
I never get tired of wandering the streets and finding new corners of the city. But now when I go to Paris, I'm a girl on a mission, because I'm a pastry chef and Paris is the mother ship.
My most recent trip was a much more sugar-filled whirlwind. I managed to squeeze in three days in Paris solo before meeting my husband in London.
So what does a pastry chef do with 72 hours in Paris? Easy: eat, discover, be inspired. And because pastry chefs tend to be just a teensy bit controlling, I spent two weeks carefully crafting the perfect plan of attack.
I started by making a list, a very long list. I consulted friends, colleagues and websites. I subdivided the list by arrondissement and offerings. I planned routes that start with the city's best croissants, for a "properly balanced" breakfast. (Then I ate ice cream for breakfast anyway because, hey, it's Paris!)
After arriving, I dropped my bags at the hotel and did a quick get-the-plane-feeling-off-of-me wardrobe change. Armed with a color-coded and red-pen-marked map, I set off to do some damage. My plan was to visit some of my favorite shops from previous visits, then to hit some lesser-known and newer places, away from the pastry-centric 6th Arrondissement.
I went to about 35 patisseries, boulangeries, chocolatiers, glaciers, fromageries, crepe stands and food shops. I also added about 15 pounds to my luggage with items to be given as gifts. (Strike that, I meant to be eaten later when reminiscing about the trip.)
One of my first stops was Eclair de Genie (14 Rue Pavee, leclairdegenie.com), featuring the creations of chef Christophe Adam, formerly of Fauchon, where he brought eclairs into the 21st century. Faced with rows and rows of creative, beautiful and delicious eclairs, I limited myself to two — the salted caramel and the fraisier of pistachios and strawberries. I am still kicking myself for not returning to the shop on each of the next two days.
At the end of each day I arrived back at the hotel with a pirate's ransom worth of edibles. On Day 1: macarons from Pierre Herme (nine Paris stores, pierreherme.com) and Japanese patissier Sadaharu Aoki (four shops in Paris, sadaharuaoki.com); a petite kouignette from Maison Georges Larnicol (132 Boulevard Saint-Germain, chocolaterielarnicol.fr); caramels in 12 flavors from Jacques Genin (133 Rue de Turenne, jacquesgenin.fr); strawberries from a street market; soft, stinky Reblochon cheese (illegal to import to the U.S. due to raw milk content); half a loaf of Poilane sourdough; and a bottle of wine, bien sur.
Day 2 started with a croissant at Boulangerie Anthony Bosson (2 Rue Mouffetard) and ended with one of my favorites of the trip: a lemon verbena mousse from Hugo & Victor (40 Boulevard Raspail, hugovictor.com). H&V is a very cool, hip boutique-like patisserie. Its displays showcase the playful pastries like works of art. The flavor of the mousse was fresh and beautifully balanced, and the texture was ethereal.
Other delights gathered along the way included caneles (pastries), four slices of Comte cheese aged to four different stages, pates de fruits (fruit jellies), sables (shortbread biscuits), an absolutely incredible brioche feuilletee (flaky pastry) that is still haunting my dreams and an array of chocolates from Debauve & Gallais (30 Rue des Saints-Peres, debauve-et-gallais.fr/en) and JC Rochoux (16 Rue d'Assas, jcrochoux.com).
One trend I noticed was the proliferation of jarred pates de tartiners (spreads). I picked some up in praline, salted caramel and passion fruit, along with sables, of course.
There was one final part of my plan. Shopping! Instead of looking for designer clothes (or more comfortable shoes), I hit up the cookware stores and culinary bookshops just north of Les Halles, an area bordered on the north by Rue-du-Louvre in the 1st Arrondissement. Dehellerin (18-20 Rue Coquilliere, e-dehillerin.fr) is famous for its copper and utensils — there's a whole wall of whisks! But mostly I was saving my euros for Mora (13 Rue Montmartre, mora.fr). Walking into Mora was like walking into a bricks-and-mortar version of every website I used to search for equipment and tools that are hard to find and/or expensive in the U.S. I walked out with canele molds, chocolate molds, superintense food coloring, a square pastry tip, wooden tamis, spatulas, ring cutters and a wish list a mile long.
On Day 3, I was starting to be a bit tired of carefully reading maps, documenting meals and checking off lists, so I vowed to go to just three more shops, then find a nice park in which to relax and eat my finds.
I headed for my favorite fromager, Marie-Anne Cantin (12 Rue du Champ de Mars, cantin.fr), then stopped for vanilla ice cream made from Norman milk at Martine Lambert (39 Rue Cler, martine-lambert.com).
One of the best decisions I made was to go to Arnaud Larher (53 Rue Caulaincourt, arnaud-larher.com) in Paris' northern Montmartre neighborhood. It was a hike but well worth it, as his shop had some of the most beautiful and unique pastries I'd seen. I devoured my pistachio mousse while sitting in the Luxembourg Gardens, after making just one more stop. It turns out that I just can't resist l'Opera from Dalloyau (nine shops in Paris, dalloyau.fr). Popularized in the 1950s, the cake was one of the first classic French pastries I learned to make.
At this point I realized that there was one thing missing from my trip. And though I've seen it many times, it just didn't feel right to not see it. So off I went.
And — oops, just one more stop — at Carette (4 Place du Trocadero et du 11 Novembre, carette-paris.com), which has been in its current spot since 1927 but which had managed to elude me until now. I indulged in a Mont Blanc, a classic French dessert containing candied chestnuts, meringue and whipped cream, while sitting in the shadow of La Tour Eiffel. It was a perfect end to my 72-hour sprint.
Meg Galus is executive pastry chef at NoMI Kitchen in the Park Hyatt Chicago.