The Top III, Vol. VIII
François Blanc's favorite flans & pastry shops in Paris
One of my regular gigs for the last 7 years (!!) has been writing a couple of different columns for Fou de Pâtisserie, France’s leading sweets magazine. Initially, I wrote about the history of desserts from around the world — basically, anything not French— and how they are traditionally consumed today. After I felt I had done the world tour, that evolved into two different columns I work on today: one on specialty coffee shops across France that have a significant pastry offering and another on pastry news from around the world: what’s trending, how people are consuming, what books people are baking from, and what oddities may find their way to France at some point. It all involves a lot of reading, eating, and evaluating. It makes for a nice break from the women’s inequality and climate disaster beat that I’m either reading about or weaving into my work.
One of the people I’ve been delighted to get to know over the years at the magazine, who is the perfect companion for all that eating and evaluating, is François Blanc. Not only is François one of my most prolific French colleagues and fellow authors, he also has one of the most discerning palates. We don’t agree on everything (I’m firmly in the soft-but-crunchy cookie camp, he has expressed a preference for softer, junkier cookies with toppings—a French invention, it must be said) but we always have a ball comparing notes.
In honor of his latest two book releases (he has authored several in French but one of these two is his first adapted into English!), I thought it would be fun to bring him on as the guest of honor for this month’s Top III! (Also, the Roman numerals were an unwise choice, I’ll have to change that in 2024. Taking recommendations for naming the series!). His first book features Flan recipes from some of the country’s best chefs but aren’t necessarily available at all times in their establishments so I’ve asked him to select his favorite flans that you can try. And since not everyone likes flan (crazy, right?), I’ve asked him for his top spots for all pastry. Enjoy!
LES FLANS: TOP III
First, it’s worth understanding the role that flan has played in the French diet.
As François told me:
“the flan is eminently nostalgic, an after-school snack from the bakery that we grew up with. For too many years, however, it was executed poorly— mass produced or factory-made — and adults turned away from it. But Palace hotel pastry chefs, like Cédric Grolet, elevated it again. He and his peers were able to do this because the reality is these hotels have the means to spend on the best vanilla and large quantities of it, the chefs can spend the time working the dough because they have a team and aren’t churning out the same quantities as the average bakery. So many of the best flans can still be found at high-end hotels. But the flan has found its way to neighborhood pastry shops where it is now essential— rustic, but essential.”
As a personal fan of flans, with the kinds of cravings I might only have for peanut-butter cups, François can’t help but celebrate the sweetened custard pie’s revival. The catalyst for the book was the work of Quentin Lechat, currently the executive pastry chef at the Royal Monceau hotel— he contributed a number of twists on the classic flan, including to-die-for flan croquettes I tried at François’s book launch. Since he’s somewhat of a fixture in the book, François opted to put the spotlight on three other spots, below.
The Peninsula Hotel
19 Avenue Kléber, 75016 Paris
“Anne Coruble, the head pastry chef, has an incredible vanilla flan on the hotel’s tea time menu. It almost has an air of the puits d’amour, in the sense that it's very fluid, not at all compact, it barely holds together. But it's very good. The puff pastry is incredible. And for the book, I asked her to create a new recipe just for me: a flan with hay praliné, tonka bean and roasted grains.”