Sweet things in Paris (Photo: Thinkstock)
If there’s one thing Parisians love, besides rosé and state-mandated vacation, it’s being the first to figure out what’s fashionable before it’s fashionable, purchase it, and then look astonished when a friend admires it — or, as happens more frequently, a friend says absolutely nothing and goes out and buys it, too. This culture practice applies to food as much as it does skirt lengths and shoes. For the past five years, there’s been a rotating cast of chic, sweet treats du jour, from the avant-garde macaron (think: Pierre Herme’s chocolate fois gras version) to the haute couture éclairs (think: L’Éclair de Génie).
All that whimsical — and delicious — invention now seems to have sent the pendulum back in time. Simple, old-fashioned candy classics are back in vogue, otherwise known as bonbons. But not just any bonbons. These classic made-by-hand confections not only look exquisite enough to belong in an antique jewelry shop, they’re also concocted with recipes and ingredients dating from the 17th century.
Here’s where to indulge:
The exterior of À la Mère de Famille, in Paris (Photo: Francisco Gonzalez/Flickr)
The oldest bonbon maker in Paris was founded in 1761 as a farmhouse grocery store, with sweets, liquors, jams, and hams sold to the revelers of the risqué Faubourg-Montmartre. The 9th-arrondissement shop was last redone in the 19th century and looks exactly as it did then — a fantasy of black-and-white tile, mirrors, and high wooden shelves stacked with fat clear jars of boiled sweets, nougats, and other delights. Like most very old candy stores, this one used to double as a drugstore. In the far left corner, you’ll find a hundred-year-old glass case filled with medicinal bonbons like licorice root (a real, barky-looking root) and honey lozenges for coughs.
The sweet shelves at À la Mère de Famille (Photo: Leigh Newman)
Behind them are candied fruits: whole pears, kumquats, and orange. The house favorites are the caramels: salted chocolate, passionfruit, and cherry, wrapped in a twist of cellophane. Other delectable treats include whole sugared flowers: entire violets and poppies dipped in sugar so that if you pop one in your mouth, the sweet melts and explodes into a perfume of flavor that will make you swoon. Then there are the lollipops (les sucettes), the nut brittles (nougatines), and, my personal favorite, les berlingots — tiny striped candies with hard shells and soft, chewy insides that come in a “fruit salad” of flavors.
What to know before you go. La Mère still runs like a shop from the 19th century. That means no touching the candy, no matter how good it looks. Find a clerk, point to what intrigues you, let her give you a free taste, and then allow her to select and measure quantities for you. When you’re done with all your picks, go to the cashier in the cage, and he’ll total all your purchases.
Like La Mère, Fouquet is located in the 9th arrondissement — a quarter that been transformed from gritty to boho-glamorous in the past five years. The return of old-fashioned candy — like the rise of newfangled Parisian brunch — is mostly due to the phenomenon now seen all over the world: yuppies who love to go yum.
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The exterior of Fouquet (Photo: Leigh Newman)
For the past five generations, however, the same family has owned and operated Fouquet, producing chocolates as well as candies. (Please note: Chocolate shops are a different category than candy shops. Most bonbon makers — or confiserie — carry a chocolate line, but not so the chocolate makers, who usually do only chocolate). The store is understated and tiny. Look in back and you’ll see the open working kitchen as well as some of the candy makers, lifting thick fat bags of sugar or spreading glazes (depending on the time of day). In the front, the selection is limited — and elegant.
Candies in a jar at Fouquet (Photo: Leigh Newman)
Most of the candies come in classy little jars at nine euros a pop, but I like to pick my own kind and quantities from the large assorted bowls in the back of the store: crunchy toffee-covered caramels (made to suck for a while, then crack open with your teeth and chew the soft buttery inside); simpler toffee-covered almonds; flavorlicious lozenges in tangerine, honey, and bergamot (a citrusy, tealike taste).
Other finds include the all-too-often-overlooked soft caramels tucked away in waxed paper and stuck in a tiny case at the front of the store and the pastel Jordan almonds. And then there’s the favorite of all French candies — marrons glacés, candied chestnuts, which are available, sadly, only in the fall.
What to know before you go. Do not take pictures, please! I beg you. The photos here were only due to much begging on my part.
Not far from the two shops listed here used to be an old store called À l’Étoile d’Or, which blew up last year in a gas explosion (plans are to reopen it in 2015). Luckily another candy maker, Angelina, sells some of their confections at the garden shop of the Musée de la Vie Romantique (also in the 9th if you’re trying to locate all the candy you can in one long day). But for a real trip into the fantastical, you’ve got to take the Metro to the Rue de Rivoli, where Angelina has just renovated its flagship store. The shop dates back to 1903 (a newcomer in this city). Walking in is like walking into a wedding cake — white shelves from floor to ceiling, frosting with chandelier light, and giant glass jars of bonbons.
Through the window of Angelina (Photo: Bob Hall/Flickr)
One of the house delights is the poppy-flavored lozenges — tiny fragrant boiled-sugar candies the color of raspberries with an entirely different, strange, perfume-y taste. Other include their chestnut creams, which you can spread on bread (or eat off of your finger).
Angelina’s chestnut cream (Photo: Leigh Newman)
Their calisson leaf-shaped candies are made of fruit and nuts and drenched in a hard shell of icing.
What to know before you go. Angelina is also a tearoom, serving pastries and chocolates piled in amazing fantastical displays. And do not miss their Monte Blanc — a chestnut-cream-and-whipped-cream poof of a confection that is so light it defies gravity.
Related: Paris — the Cool Kid’s Guide
A towering cake at Angelina (Photo: Leigh Newman)
Leigh Newman is the author of the Alaskan memoir Still Points North (some of which takes place in Paris). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, O the Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Condé Nast Brides, and other publications.