If you’re strolling along Paris’ Canal Saint-Martin and happen to spot a long line snaking through (and congesting) a side street, you may have just homed in on one of the area’s best bakeries. Du Pain et des Idées– translating to “Bread and Ideas”– is a neighborhood institution. But it’s also more than that: many say it produces some of the tastiest bread and pastries in the capital, tout court.
Former fashion industry executive Christophe Vasseur quit his job to open the boulangerie in 2002, choosing a building that has been the site of a bakery since 1875. Vasseur has gained quite a following since then, earning regular accolades for his creative breads and viennoiseries in particular.
In 2008, the self-trained Vasseur was named best baker of Paris by the gourmet French guide Gault et Millau– and it’s not difficult to see (and smell, and taste) how he managed that coup.
Walking into the eternally-busy boulangerie on what I expected would be a calm weekday morning (it’s closed on weekends), I was pleasantly assailed by thick aromas of yeast and caramelized sugar drifting on the air.
The bakery still boasts much of the original late 19th-century decor, including glassy painted ceilings, beveled mirrors and an ornate facade. Meanwhile, the display cases heave with some of the bakery’s most-loved treats, including several varieties of enormous escargots (literally, “snails”): buttery puff pastry folded into spiral shapes not unlike the Parisian arrondissement map, and filled with one of several flavors: praline, chocolate and pistachio, rum-raisin, red forest berries and others.
Other specialties include the chausson aux pommes, a delicate turnover with fresh apple that focuses on the native flavor of apple rather than dousing your palate with cinnamon or cream as others might; also unlike many varieties I’ve tried, it’s filled not with a mushy applesauce, but instead firmer chunks of apple that I personally find more pleasing.
On the bread side of things, the “Pain Mouna” is a brioche-style bread flavored with orange blossom, following a traditional North African recipe. And there’s the signature “Pain des Amis” (literally, “friends’ bread”): a crusty, thick organic loaf full of complex aromas and infused (somewhat mysteriously) with a hint of smokiness. This one has won ardent fandom from any number of well-known Parisian food writers.
Obviously, visiting any bakery of this quality comes with a familiar frustration and borderline sadness: you can’t taste everything, and choices have to be made. We ended up trying three “signature bakes” over coffee at our hotel. Below are our tasting notes and impressions.
We Tried It: The Escargot aux Pralines
The praline-laced escargot consisted in an enormous spiral of beautifully structured, flaky puff pastry (see those well-differentiated, golden layers?) piped with a rich hazelnut praline that was neither too sweet nor too sticky. It lent crunch, tenderness and deep nutty flavors to the escargot, without overwhelming it or taking away from the pastry’s strong buttery notes and flaky-yet-pliant textures.
In short, this was a win. I look forward to trying the other escargot varieties on my next visits to the bakery.
We Tried It: The Pain au Chocolat (“Chocolatine”)
Next up was the chocolatine, or pain au chocolat (this bakery chooses to use the former term, which is more prevalent in Bordeaux and the south of France).
While the chocolatine had a pleasing bite and lovely buttery notes, I found it to be a bit stingy on the chocolate, and it was a little crunchy for my taste. Still, the puff-pastry layers were (once again) nicely structured, and the flavors came through beautifully.
The verdict: this is a solid chocolatine/pain au chocolat, but not one of the best we’ve tasted in Paris. On the other hand, it’s probably best tasted immediately after buying it, and while still warm– about an hour had passed since I’d picked it up, and pain au chocolat is typically not its “finest self” at room temperature.
We Tried It: The Signature “Pain des Amis”
We bought a large chunk of the signature bread, a dense, intensely crusty creation made with organic flour and lots of complex flavors from the meticulously selected levain (leavening agents). The bakery sells the pain des amis in hunks that resemble thick slices of foccacia bread, with the beautifully risen interiors displayed for general admiration.
While I do wish we had accompanied the bread with some good salted butter or a bit of cheese, it was simply delicious, even ungarnished: it had a satisfying bite, and flavors so subtle and complex I could hardly make them out (is that a bit of rye flour, maybe? and where does that smoky note come from?)
The Pain des Amis is comparable, I think, to a traditional French “country bread” (pain de campagne) but with an interior that seems much lighter– it’s not at all stodgy.
Our verdict? This bread more than deserves its renown.
Location, Contact & Practical Info
The bakery is located in the heart of the Canal St-Martin neighborhood, in Paris’ 10th arrondissement. See our guide to the area for ideas on what to do nearby, including walks and boat tours around the canal, restaurants and more.
- Address: 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris
- Metro: Jacques Bonsergent or République
- Tel: +33 (0)1 42 40 44 52
- Open Monday to Friday, 6:45 am to 8:00 pm (closed on weekends)
- Visit the official website for more info, online orders etc.