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Jan 4, 2014 03:58 AM

Do french boulangeries make their own patisseries ?

We all know that most boulangeries these days don't really make croissants, pain aux chocolats, etc. anymore... (they buy frozen doughs and cook them). Of course, those are not the boulangeries mentionned on Chowhound, but I do feel that these sort of bakeries are becoming the majority...

But what about the patisseries ? Most of those low-grade boulangeries sell patisseries that look dreadful and sloppy, so I can't imagine they're buying them premade, as an industrial pastry would at least "look" polished. However, knowing the hard work that every single patisserie is, I have trouble thinking that a boulangerie with crappy bread and frozen croissants, makes éclairs, opéras, flans, mille-feuilles, etc. from scratch.

I've searched the internet a bit, but couldn't find any info on this.
My theory is that they use pre-prepared elements, and they only combine them (sloppily) on the premise. They buy creme patissière, pre-made genoise, pre-made glaçage, etc...
Am I right to think that, or am I being unfair with the "common-folk" boulangerie ?

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  1. Boulangeries make bread and other "bread products" like croissants.

    Patisseries make eclairs, Mille-feuilles, ..,

    The better boulangeries and patisseries make their products on site from scratch while others will either do it from an external kitchen (from scratch ) because they do not have the real-estate to do it on site.
    And there are other places that will buy frozen bread or pre-made patisseries from whole-sellers.

    I think that for boulangeries that do not makes their own bread they are called "depot de pain" ?

    1. Boulangers and pâtissiers are not the same people, you're trained either as a boulanger or a pâtissier. That explains why the better pâtissiers are the ones that are "only" pâtissiers, not the boulangers-pâtissiers, and that boulangers generally make mediocre pastries.
      However a pâtisserie business is profitable while a boulangerie business is not. Have you ever wondered why "service" is so bad at boulangeries and you're always rushed to ask for your baguette and leave? Because boulangeries only make 1 euro on a baguette and have no time for customer service. And when there is a long line, they have to make it move fast, and the faster it moves, the more bread you sell, the more euros you make. The fact that a boulangerie often doubles as a pâtisserie is explained by the unprofitability of boulangerie. Pastries help put butter on the spinach.

      While what I just explained does not exactly answer your question, it might give you a clue. I do not know what boulangers-pâtissiers do individually in their workshops, whether they work from scratch or not, but pastries at boulangeries are normally not great because they are not the result of the best pâtisserie skills. About ingredients, I have no particular information.

      3 Replies
        1. re: Ptipois

          Another bit of wisdom I picked up from Pti on some ancient thread is that if you see something in the showcase, under the lights, it is probably full of all kinds of stabilizers that you really would prefer weren't there.

          Pti? Can you straighten out my reference?

          1. re: mangeur

            No, not necessarily. I only remember saying that big trendy pâtissiers (no names) whose creations depend on rely on some sort of architecture and have to remain intact through shelf time and carrying home necessarily contain massive doses of gelatin, sugar, and various texture agents & stabilizers. That does not necessarily applies to all pastry shops, only to some of the trendier ones.

            I would not apply that reasoning to "common folk" pâtisseries. They can't afford such sophistication, are not vitally dependent on innovation, and thus don't need such props.

            In the trendy department, the ones I would trust above all others would be the ones who have an atelier right at the back of the shop - i.e. Marletti, Gaudard, Adam, Genin. Interestingly enough, they are the ones who prefer to make classic-type pastry.

            L'Eclair de Génie showcases their éclairs under the lights but the turnover is fast, the products are sound, so go.

        2. Thank you both for your answers.

          Yes I was aware about the differences between boulangers and patissiers, as well as between good places and mediocre places.

          I didn't know that patisseries were more profitable than bread though. That is interesting, because even though a patisserie is always more expensive, I would assume that there is also more work involved, and more ingredients, so in the end the price is justified. But that clearly explains why most boulangeries do both, instead of focusing on their specialty

          I realize my question is not very clear... as my definition for a "low-grade boulangerie" is obviously subjective... But I'm not talking about "dépot de pain" and I'm not talking about chains like "Paul", I'm specifically wondering about all those boulangeries you see everywhere, the ones with poorly made sandwiches at lunch, with bad looking baguettes, and with pastries that look like they had a car accident... those 3 boulangeries you pass by each time you are going to the one that's good... Those boulangeries who only seem to hire one guy, and cannot possibly have a person only focusing on patisseries...

          The reason I'm wondering, is because those places look like they don't give a damn about what they are serving, yet they do so many pastries which are hard work (even looking sloppy, an "opéra" is still involving 3 to 5 different layers...). It seems counter-intuitive... although the money aspect of it is definitely an explanation I didn't think about.

          1. If the sign says "boulangerie", then the bread is made (risen and formed) onsite (that's why Paul doesn't have a sign that says boulangerie -- stuff is baked onsite, but they make nothing) A boulangerie is allowed to buy bulk dough delivered from a tanker truck, but the it's formed and baked there.

            "Artisan boulangers" make the dough from yeast, flour, and salt. The bread is produced onsite from raw ingredients to finished product.

            As to the quality of what's in the window? Just keep in mind that fully 50% of boulangers and patissiers graduated in the bottom half of their class.

            I'd rather have something that's a little rough around the edges than something that is impossibly perfect and obviously came from a factory somewhere. It probably tastes just fine.

            And someone is shopping at those boulangers with misshapen goods....they're still open.

            13 Replies
            1. re: sunshine842

              Thanks for the reply.

              "I'd rather have something that's a little rough around the edges than something that is impossibly perfect and obviously came from a factory somewhere."

              100% agree.

              "It probably tastes just fine."

              Well, nope, all the boulangeries' pastries in my neighborhood taste like crap... but they're still open, selling, and actually there often are lines of people waiting... but that's another problem altogether :)

              1. re: sunshine842

                "Just keep in mind that fully 50% of boulangers and patissiers graduated in the bottom half of their class. "

                PERFECT! It applies to chefs and winemakers as well.

                1. re: jock

                  Jock: I heard a fabulous story today about someone who failed their/his Bac and is now a starred chef; then we have Zuckerberg and Jobs and Gates. Makes you wish you hadn't studied all night.

                  1. re: John Talbott

                    Not graduating is a world away from failing i.e. Jobs etc. And what did the starred chef fail - was it a cookery course?

                  2. re: jock

                    The one I've always loved is "What do you call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his class in med school?"


                    1. re: mangeur

                      Rio Yeti: A classic Opéra has 8 layers, at least according to the Lenôtre recipe they teach at their school. It doesn't include any stabilizers, etc. I can't vouch for the ones sold in their chain bakeries following that classic recipe exactly. However, I find my own Opéra using their classic recipe lasts a day in the fridge with no problem.

                      Sunshine842: My Opéra probably looks "a little rough around the edges" but I promise it is fully "fait maison" with the best ingredients. Unfortunately, it takes me 2 days to make it.

                      Mangeur: The one I love (or hate) is what you call a Supreme Court justice who graduated near the bottom of his law school class. He's called Mr. Justice.

                      1. re: RandyB

                        Thanks RandyB, I hope I'll be able to taste your Opéra one day ! It used to be my all-time favorite dessert when I was a child, since then I've discovered many other pastries I love, but it still is special to me.

                        So as you mentioned : 8 layers (although some layers are repeated) and 2 days work... which again tends to steer me in the direction that a boulangerie with bad bread, and frozen croissants cannot possibly take the time to do a real opéra from scratch, so I'm pretty sure they buy the different ingredients separately, and just assemble them on the premise.

                        1. re: RandyB

                          Randy -- that's exaactly my point... I'd far rather have a lovely "fait maison" with a blemish or two than a visually-perfect patisserie with no flavor (and that's gone soggy after being held too long)

                          Mostly, I admire you for taking up the challenge of making an Opéra "fait maison"!

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Just to make things clear, I totally agree with you sunshine842.

                            I wasn't talking about "perfect looking" vs. "a blemish or two", I was just pointing out the fact that those "mediocre" boulangeries have sloppy looking pastries, which I find interesting only because it suggests that they really do them on the premise (or at least assemble them there) which seems surprising to me, not because I want my pastries to look perfect.

                        1. re: jock

                          Not really true - many academic and non-academic (technical) institutions moderate marks and the bottom third fail.

                          It's also worth remembering many technical cookery schools in France are highly selective (and I mean the French academic ones not those that are geared to the rich culinary tourist) and so just to get through the doors is a very very difficult, and to actually stay and graduate is even harder (they are not courses for those that are not committed). Graduating from a French technical school in pastry, baking or any other craft is bloody difficult.

                          In other words the worst of the best is still a lot better than the best of the worst.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            Would that the same were true in the US. With grade inflation of the past few decades, and fear of offending parents paying dearly to send their mediocre children to expensive private high schools and universities, and more politically volatile issues that could get a prof in trouble, the bottom of the class even at a top university can be pretty bad indeed.

                            1. re: PhilD

                              Yes, really true.

                              The statement makes no mention of the calibre of the program -- but that 50% of the students graduate in the bottom half of their class.

                              This is a mathematical truism.

                        2. There was an interesting article about that in the December issue of 750 g, in which they give tips about finding the best (chocolate) desserts. They point out that it's almost impossible to work with chocolate and cream fillings in a hot bread-centered boulangerie.