Paris Secrets: Le Cupcake Français
Tue 24 Dec 2013
Pâtisserie is not the biggest of Paris secrets. It’s more a showcase of beautiful art that’s visible every day, all over the city. Few locals indulge themselves in pastries at the rate of visitors, but they keep an eye on every change or novelty. Parisians passing through the 6th Arrondissement have noticed a new presence—the smallest pâtisserie in town.
All photos by Steve Sampson.
About the size of a (European) closet, this maison is located at 1, rue du Four. Squeezed between the Mabillon metro and a Ben & Jerry’s, it’s easily hidden by the local newsstand. But although it’s tiny—two square meters—this is the home of a real cupcacatier-macaronier. An ultraspecialized operation, it offers one item: le cupcake français.
The start-up behind it is called Cupcake & Macaron. It was born last year, as the union of two reciprocal passions. One (the result of a three-year stint at Ladurée) is an obsession with glaçage, or glazing and frosting. Its other inspiration is the American cupcake.
Like the hotdog or bagel, cupcakes are well known in Paris. Over the past few years, they have been media darlings. What French pâtissiers really love is their concept—a tiny, festive cake with great decorative possibilities.
According to the cupcakiers of rue du Four, the actual article has many debits. “An Anglo-Saxon cupcake is often very pretty and, right now, it is très à la mode. So, in the past few years, there has been a lot of cupcakerie.” Pretty as the “Anglo-Saxon” cupcake is, they say, it proves problematic. The French customer finds it far too heavy and much too sweet.
Le cupcake français remains a Paris secret—but the staff is happy to describe their improvements. In fact, they do this with each and every sale; like the greeter outside their door, it’s part of their “presentation.” (Once a client stuffs himself or herself into their space, a full explanation of all choices follows.)
Says the saleswoman, “These little cakes are very charming. But to seduce a Parisian palate, they have to be refined. We banish the heavy icing and do away with the butter. We use no gelatin and our cakes are moist yet much, much lighter.”
There you have it: le cupcake français! It’s the basis of the company, now headquartered in the 9th Arrondissement. The mainstay of their business remains bespoke catering. Nor is their new mini shop front the only news. Their customers now include Beyoncé and Leonardo DiCaprio and L’Express has dubbed theirs the best cupcakes in Paris.
What does that mean to a stylish French girl? I asked Virginie, who works in a nearby Institut de Beauté. “Of course I had to try them—their shop is adorable! But I don’t really consider the cupcake pâtisserie. They’re part of a market we love: the world of the pinup, of lingerie and tattoos and vintage aprons. But it’s more about the presentation than the taste.”
Extra small and truly light, topped with faux-macaron trimmings, the shop sells its cakes starting with a box of five. (Often, a free “sample” will be thrown in.) There is a gros cake suitable for 6–8 people, but one bite-size cupcake purchase is not an option. Nevertheless lines have been long and mostly they are Parisians, buying a box for office or home.
For them, it’s a combination of the funky and familiar: a Paris-Brest cupcake or a poire belle-Hélène, plus flavors such as Nutella and spéculoos. There are, of course, the basic parfums of patisserie: strawberry, lemon, hazelnut, chocolate and pistachio. The main difference is that here nothing is discreet. The cakes, the logo, the packaging—all are joyously colorful. It’s a match for the lively, friendly staff.
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Cupcake & Macaron