Full transparency: I may have been eavesdropping on Cindy Wang’s conversation with a friend when I met her. We were seated next to each other at HolyBelly, one of my favorite coffee shops, and I couldn’t help but overhear her ongoing discussion about the merits and shortcomings of some of the city’s pastry shops. That she spoke with such confidence and expertise is no surprise – she is specialized in pastry. Cindy, originally from Taiwan and an expat in Paris by way of Shanghai, left the corporate world to follow her passion. She trained at Ferrandi, interned at Un Dimanche à Paris and has been a full-time pâtissier at Fauchon for the last several months. Fully intrigued, I introduced myself and we spent an hour swapping pastry favorites and planning a date to go sweets-hunting together.
Cindy documents her taste-testing adventures on the blog Sugared & Spiced, which features luscious photography and detailed reviews of the city’s renowned and lesser known pastry shops. While she may not stay in Paris permanently, her experiences in the last year and a half have already bolstered her ambition to open her own pastry shop and baking studio, perhaps back in Asia. Until then, I will loyally follow her impassioned quest for the city’s top sweets.
Describe what you love about France in three words.
Pastries, pastries, pastries.
Something you learned from working in pastry shops in Paris?
Working in the kitchen is tough. Many people fantasize about becoming a pastry chef, but it’s not as dreamy as it may seem. Expect to wake up very early (morning shifts can start at 4am or earlier), stand on your feet all day long (8+ hours), carry heavy weights (think 20 kg bags of sugar), do repetitive tasks (e.g. fill and glaze 2000 cream puffs in one afternoon), and get hurt (cuts, burns, bruises, carpal tunnel syndrome, you name it). There are some days when I finish a day shift at 5pm, go home to sleep for a few hours, then get up again for a night shift that starts at 12am. It really is something you can only do as a career if you have the passion for it.
Your top 3 must-visit pastry shops in the city?
Now that’s a tough question to answer. In the 1 year and 2 months that I’ve been in Paris, I’ve tasted over 200 pastries (as pictured on this page), and it’s not easy to pick out the favorites. But if I absolutely must choose, they would be…
This is by far the pastry shop I frequent the most – I simply can’t resist going back there again and again to try one of the new pastries on display, and there is always something new at Pierre Hermé. First-time visitors should not miss the Ispahan, the 2000 Feuilles, and the Tarte Vanille, and no one should leave the boutique without a box of macarons (if you are lucky, you will see unique flavor combinations like foie gras with chocolate, olive oil with mandarin orange, truffle with hazelnut…)
Chocolatier by origin, Jacques Génin may not offer a wide range of pastry selection in his shop, but everything he does offer is absolutely worth getting fat for. Paris-Brest, Mille Feuille, Tarte au Citron, Cheesecake…each is perfection on its own. Also not to be missed are the caramels (try mango passion fruit), the hot chocolate (rich but not at all too sweet), and of course, the chocolates. Come early, or expect to wait in line for one of the coveted tables at this sleek salon de thé.
Des Gateaux et Du Pain
At Des Gateaux et Du Pain, everything is perfect. Claire Damon is the only female chef with her own pastry shop in Paris, and her attention to detail is on full display in both her pastry and bread selections. The petits gateaux are beautiful like pieces of jewels, and the buttery flakey croissant, one of my favorites in Paris, is absolutely luxurious.
Let’s be honest. After work, I am most likely to be found vegetating in front of my computer and finding absolutely zero motivation to unglue my butt from my chair. On weekends when I do regain the energy to leave the apartment, my outings usually involve pastries or food in general, whether it’s exploring new pastry shops and restaurants or revisiting old favorites. For me, the decision to live in Paris is as much about learning how to make pastries as it is about tasting them, and I really do seize every chance to sample something new. Nope, now is definitely not the time to watch that waistline.
Most frustrating or amusing interaction with the French?
My frustrating/amusing interactions with the French often happen at work, and the cause is usually my far-from-perfect command of the French language. There was once when I was supposed to cook 5 kilos of cherries and keep their juice, but, having misunderstood the instruction, I threw away the juice and kept the fruits, and had to redo the whole thing all over again the next day! Oops, sorry chef. Yet another time, I was told to put some plastic molds “devant le four” (in front of the oven), but instead I heard “dans le four” (inside the oven), and ended up seriously browning the originally white plastic molds. Oops, again. These misunderstandings can be highly amusing and/or highly frustrating, and for now my colleagues seem very tolerant of my mistakes (“…mais tout le monde fait des bêtises!”) We will see how things go from here!