Benoit Castel Pastry Shop

There’s an exciting wave of pastry places opening in Paris. The last time that happened to such an extent was when Pierre Hermé kicked off a new wave of excitement about la pâtisserie nearly two decades ago. What new is that many of the pastry shops are outside of traditional areas. Visitors often say they want to go to places “off the beaten path,” and the combination of a compact city along with a prompt métro system means you can get anywhere in minutes, not hours. So getting to other parts of Paris is simply a matter of getting on the métro, or hopping in a taxi or car.

The new places aren’t just for out-of-towners, though, their main focus is to be a pastry shop for le quartier – for the neighborhood, because most Parisians don’t want to go halfway across town to pick up a loaf of bread or a pastry. They want it now. And I can’t say I blame them.

Previously, if you had a bonne adresse bakery or chocolate shop, you set yourself up in an upscale neighborhood, like the Left Bank or the Marais, because there were visitors and well-heeled locals were. But bakeries and pastry shops have gotten a little looser with where they are because people have become more discerning citywide; in my neighborhood, two not-great bakeries (which is being kind…) closed, and very good ones opened in their place, to great success I might add.

The recent butter shortage in France drew some snickers, and the dreaded “first-world problem” comments about it on social media. (I wish people would please stop using that phrase.) Butter, and bread, aren’t luxuries in France, just like olive oil is an important part of the diet and culture in the Middle East. They’re not indulgences, but are integral parts of their lives and reflect on their relationship to the land, or the place.

Pastries are expressions of French products, and their culture, including their bread, and butter. (Although much to the consternation of visitors, the French don’t usually serve bread and butter together.)

The rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, near Oberkampf, has seen a revival of good-quality food-related places, which include Terroirs d’Avenir, the much-lauded shop that specializes in local or regional fruits, vegetables, and cheeses, as well as charcuterie made by producers that raise meat sustainably, and line-caught fish that’s équitable.

A branch of Benoît Castel opened on the lower part of that street, which is mostly marked with bars and cafés aimed at the younger set that congregates in the area at night, to be part of the “action.” But during the day, it’s locals going about their business. (And trying to wake up from a lack of sleep since at night, it’s quite raucous on the street.) The area didn’t really have a good bakery or pastry shop, until now.

Benoît Castel ran the pastry shop at La Grande Épicerie for eight years before co-founding Liberté bakery, which he then left to run his own pastry shops.

My pastry pal Romina, owner of Les Madeleines bakery and café in Salt Lake City, was in town, and we made plans to hit some bakeries in Paris together. It’s always nice for me to go to places with people who share my passion, and stamina, for eating tarts, cookies, breads, cakes, and whatever else is on offer, and Romina is always up for some edible exploring. Readers of L’appart will remember that Romina helped me when I had questions adapting my Kouign amann recipe for the book, as she’s the pro, and I’m just an intermédiare.

Our schedule collided on a Sunday afternoon, traditionally a terrible time to visit a bakery or pastry shop. Most of what’s on offer gets wiped out by lunchtime with locals (and pastry-hungry Americans) stocking up on bread and tarts for Sunday lunches and suppers. By the time of our 2:45pm arrival, there wasn’t much left, and they were getting ready to close at 3pm.

The very nice staff told us that, yes, the other location on rue de Ménilmontant was open later and would have more in stock. Plus it had a café, so we could enjoy our pastries there.

So back outside we went, hoofing it up the hill. Being Sunday, le brunch at the pastry shop/café was in full swing. Brunch has become so popular in Paris that there’s usually a line, something that escaped my mind because I never go out for brunch anymore. I don’t know if they take reservations but we didn’t feel like waiting, so they packed everything up for us, to take back to my place.

I knew I wanted to try the Tradi Choc, a stocky mini-baguette that shined with chocolate. Chocolate bread is tough to do, since chocolate can dry things out due to the acidity. It’s tricky and this wasn’t super-moist, so it’s helpful to remember that it’s bread, not cake. I enjoyed it sliced the next few days as a not overly indulgent chocolate snack.

The Far Breton (above) reflects Benoît Castel’s Breton roots, but was far creamier, and better, than other versions I’ve had. We loved the plumped prunes hiding inside too.

The chocolate millefeuille was gorgeous. Shatteringly crisp puff pastry sandwiching ripples of bittersweet chocolate ganache made quite the presentation. We wanted a little more intensity to the chocolate, which was dark, rich and smooth, however, it was perfectly balanced for local palates, that tend to favor an equilibrium of those three qualities. The tarte au citron was nine tangy drops of lemon cream arranged atop a salted butter sablé, was another nod to chef Castel’s Breton Breton roots. The people in Brittany make good use of salted butter in their pastries and desserts, and this was no exception.

Romina bought a bag of the tiny sablés that adorn the lemon tart so she could snack on them during her travels. She also took the bag of madeleines we lugged home with her, so I forgot to try one, which was a clever strategy on her part. (And I can’t say I don’t blame her.) Thankfully, the bakery is in my quartier, so I can go back.

Benoît Castel
150, rue du Ménilmontant (20th) – bakery and café (open for breakfast, lunch, and brunch on weekends, hours on their website)
Tél: 01 46 36 13 82

72, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud (11th)
Tél: 01 48 06 70 59

A terrific pastry shop in Paris with chocolate Napoleons, lemon tarts, croissants, and more!


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36 comments

  • February 9, 2018 3:28pm

    I think you need a disclaimer on this post “Do not read before eating breakfast!”.

    • February 9, 2018 4:08pm

      Ugh, yes. Off to drink my smoothie :/

      • Sharon
        February 9, 2018 5:42pm

        Yes, I wish he would stop torturing us.

    • Gwen Ethelbah
      February 10, 2018 5:23pm

      Yummy food porn at its best.

    • TE Williams
      February 10, 2018 6:57pm

      Yes, and this is the day I decided I really do need to drop those 15 lbs I gained recovering from surgery!!! This post is mouth watering, David.

  • February 9, 2018 3:45pm

    OMG I am ready to get in the car and drive (8 hours) to get that chocolate mille feuille.
    Your photos are always exquisite.

  • Claire
    February 9, 2018 3:52pm

    Next door to the Laverie on Jean-Pierre Timbaud? Love Utopie, but will gladly make a right turn on JPT to try out this place. Thanks.

  • sillygirl
    February 9, 2018 3:57pm

    I just gained 5 pounds just looking at your photos and reading about what my eyes were eating!

  • KJill
    February 9, 2018 5:12pm

    I will never laugh at my dog for drooling on the kitchen floor (while I wash her morning carrot) again. I seriously miss living in Europe.

  • Anne
    February 9, 2018 5:17pm

    Why do I live in New York? Nothing equals the pastries in your photos. Tempting and beautiful, David. New camera?

  • Naomi Morse
    February 9, 2018 5:31pm

    These beautiful pictures make me want to get on a plane to Paris! Wow!

  • February 9, 2018 5:38pm

    Such Beautiful pastries! I Love knowing the origin of his use of the traditional Breton sable. Very witty.

  • February 9, 2018 5:58pm

    Have come to your blog, David, via having bought and read your latest book, L’Appart. Oh, my, how you coped with the stress and all the faffing with the incompetent builders … you deserve a medal!
    What wonderful photos of food on your blog … yes, your blog post needs a warning “do not read unless you have already eaten!”
    So glad you got your kitchen ‘sorted’, as they say, after all the trials and tribulations. I’ve never been inside IKEA (and have no intention of going there) but then nor have I ever eaten in a MacD’s, either. There are some things we don’t need to experience, and these are two of them, ha ha!
    I wish you well with the sales of your book – I was with your every frustration, from the warped window frames, to the sawing off of the chair legs so that they wobbled not to mention the faucet (tap) which shot water over your lovely new worktops! C’est la vie!
    Margaret P

  • Jake Sterling
    February 9, 2018 6:18pm

    How come you don’t weigh 250 kg?

  • Betsyros
    February 9, 2018 6:26pm

    Pure torture looking at these – ! This is just not fair!

  • February 9, 2018 6:43pm

    No, the warning should be: Do not read whether you’ve eaten breakfast or not – or are on a diet – or love choc millefeuilles or little tarts or just bread – just don’t….
    But then our David wouldn’t have this huge followship – so let’s continue to dribble over the keyboards and sighing audibly so that our partners wonder what on earth we’re googling at!
    Breathtaking photos – I wouldn’t even need text, the pics speak for themselves – fabulous DoF, light, texture, same as the goodies you present us

  • Kay
    February 9, 2018 7:11pm

    I can’t stand it–they all look so delicious. Outside major cities in the U.S. it’s very difficult to find pastry that’s worth the calories to consume.

    I too wonder how you stay thin!

  • MR in NJ
    February 9, 2018 7:26pm

    There may be few joys more rapturous than the opening of a fine bakery in one’s neighborhood. You’re just spoiled in Paris because it happens all the time!

  • gfy
    February 9, 2018 10:01pm

    What stands out to me is that the pastry on the lemon tart and the Napoleon are both so dark…yet the little signature sables are light. I’ve noticed (from photos, have yet to visit) the pastry for Napoleons in France seems to be darker in general. How do they do that? Are they using brown butter as a technique? So curious!

  • susan gortva
    February 9, 2018 10:26pm

    you make me want to cry for just a little bite of everything. thank you so much. it all looks great to me. love you David

  • Rebecca Rassier
    February 9, 2018 11:35pm

    An apartment we rented is on that block and I’m pretty sure I know which bakery that Benoît Castel replaced on rue Timbaud. It was, indeed, a very BAD bakery! I was so sad to have wasted a precious day of bread with what I got from there. Now I REALLY want to get back to that apartment!

    • February 10, 2018 1:36pm
      David Lebovitz

      There’s nothing worse than bad bread, especially in France where there are so many good bakers. But nice to see better bakeries coming in.

  • Cookies4kids
    February 10, 2018 2:42am

    You are so lucky to see all these places. My biggest ever dream is to see some of these places but time is running out I fear. Did I see you on “I’ll have what Phil is having”. My favorite show in the whole wide world. Wish he would do some new ones!
    Hugs for all you share!!

    • February 10, 2018 1:35pm
      David Lebovitz

      Glad you liked his program. He just released a new series on Netflix called Somebody Feed Phil. Enjoy!

  • February 10, 2018 5:02am

    I’m bowled over by the chocolate millefeuille! I can’t wait to visit–thanks for this.

  • cathy
    February 10, 2018 5:37am

    Well, just as I was drooling over the chocolate millefeuille and dreaming of some day visiting Paris, I got to the part of your post about Romina and Les Madeleines. I’m fortunate to live in Salt Lake City and even if I can’t get downtown to her cafe, I can pick up one of her Kouign amanns at another shop in my neighborhood. She is definitely known here as the expert, but to hear you praise her as the same makes me feel truly lucky. I guess I know where I’m going in the morning!
    I seldom post here, but also want to say thank you. Your chocolate sorbet has saved me. I have a kid with an anaphylactic allergy to dairy, so I was thrilled to find the recipe. We are all chocoholics so the only reason a batch lasts is because it is so rich we eat servings from tiny teacups.

  • February 10, 2018 10:37am

    Great to see that La Pàtisserie is alive and well in Paris. In the smaller towns when the baker or chef retires there is often no replacement. Most people don’t realize that the food costs associated with a top pàtisserie make profit margins quite slim. Most young pastry chefs will intern with an experienced chef in a small town but then take a job with a commercial bakery or chain hotel. Our local chef recently retired at age 81. He routinely took stagiaires, from of all places, Japan.

    I read your post from long ago about internships ‘stages’ in France. A few students answered your twitter post but with incomplete information. I’ve placed international students (including American) in stages in France for over 15 years and can clarify the details here if that is of any help.

    Unfortunately, the days of students coming over for the summer and walking into a position are long over. The rules governing stages are now quite strict and all stage require a work contract (convention de stage) of many pages signed by the employer and intern and school and approved and filed with the local prefecture. Inspectors come by regularly to investigate the conditions and whether they reflect the contracted agreement. Interns working over 2 months are also paid about $500 per month. Students registered in a recognized program may only work for 6 months at a time or for a total of 1 year as interns. These terms are the same for French, EU or internationals. Stage are built into the French education curriculum so its often difficult to place Americans who can only work in the summer. If you can work longer you can apply for a long stay visitor visa once you have an approved contract.

    If you’re an American student currently registered and under 27 years old you are eligible to apply through your school if you can find someone to sponsor you. Of course there is the additional cost of housing and travel but some larger hotels have intern housing. Be aware that there are a limited number of slots and if you don’t speak French they might not accept you unless the Chef speaks English.

    If you’re older or not in a program you may be able to pay for instruction from the chef but this is not a stage. Some people can get by the inspector under this status.

    Hope this is helpful.

  • February 10, 2018 1:48pm
    David Lebovitz

    Anne: I used my “old” Canon. I lent Romain my new camera…and I’ve yet to get it back (!)

    Jake and Kay: Check out my post What I Eat.

    cathy: So happy you and your family like that chocolate sorbet. It’s quite intense, much more so than ice cream, which is the way I like it.

    gfy: Actually, pas trop cuite (“not too cooked”) is the way a number of people like their pastries and bread, although I much prefer darker, crunchier pastries, which I think are more flavorful. But a lot of people request their baguettes pas trop cuite in France, which is vexing to some bakers.

    Susan: Thanks so much for writing that. I wrote my post a number of years ago because I got so many requests and questions about doing internships in France, especially in bakeries, and as you noted so well, it’s quite complicated and difficult, especially if you’re a foreigner and/or just want to come for a short time (or don’t speak French.)

    I added your info to that page in hopes that it helps people who are looking for an internship. Appreciate your sharing your first-hand knowledge of how it works.

  • Fremajane Wolfson
    February 10, 2018 10:06pm

    I am coming to Paris in May. I MUST meet you. I adore your blog, books, etc.
    How can I reach you?
    Any classes?

    Fremajane Wolfson

  • Julie
    February 12, 2018 9:37am

    Hi David! Longtime lurker here. Thanks for all the lovely recipes and the addresses. Talking about high-end neighbourhood patisseries-cum-boulangeries, have you tried Sébastien Degardin, rue St Jacques near the Panthéon? It is rather wonderful.

    • February 12, 2018 9:47am
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve been there and they were listed on my now-retired Paris pastry app. Their pastries were very lovely but they didn’t like my photos (which were hard to take, because they didn’t want me taking photos in there), however I wanted to feature their shop because it’s a nice place, and in a neighborhood that also is benefitting from a nice pâtisserie.

      • Julie
        February 12, 2018 9:52am

        Thanks for your quick answer!

  • witloof
    February 13, 2018 1:14am

    Hello David! I wanted to let you know that I brought a batch of gougeres from the recipe on your blog to a party hosted by a NYC food writer with several cookbook author guests, and I received many compliments! {Believe me, I was a little nervous about bringing something homemade to such august company, but I was sure I could rely on your excellent recipe.} Thank you!

  • February 13, 2018 3:38am

    I am soooooooo jealous!

  • susan Haskell
    February 21, 2018 5:14pm

    david, you are my fave! it was terrific to hear you and chris kimball last month in boston, and i am always inspired to make your cookies (the salted tahinis are my current favorite, but that might change with this mesquite recipe). when i was in paris in june, i hung out at du pain et des idees, which has the best sacristans (and many other fab things). castel is onm my list for my next visit to the city, and thanks for that recommendation, as well as for your recipes, in general!

  • March 3, 2018 7:24am

    That was a fantastic pic of the chocolate millefeuille. Are you still using the same canon to shoot or have you upgraded?

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