Choux-Choux-Be-Doo: A Guide to French Patisserie in Manchester

The French are said to be the best chefs in the world. However, if these food guides I've been doing have taught us (mostly me) anything, it's that statement might not necessarily be the case.

By Manchester's Finest | February 19th '18

Be that as it may, there is one thing that is inarguably true, and that is the French are the best in the world when it comes to their Pâtisseries. We’re talking beautiful pastel colours, sugary centrepieces and edible works of art which are usually too pretty to eat.

Sure, everyone needs to get themselves off to Paris at least once in their lives and pop in for a €14 choux bun at Pierre Hermes, but in the meantime here are a few places you can get your fix here in Manchester.

Tarts
An excellent place to start on this gastronomic guide to Patisserie is with the humble tart. Tarts can most appropriately be described to us Mancunians as a pie without the lid, and are usually lacking in gravy- but please don’t panic. Tarts transcend culture- from the Portuguese Nata, the Butter tart over in Canada to the coconut Buko pie over in the Philippines but it must be said that the motherland has to be France. The concept is a simple one; sweet, crumbly shortcrust pastry filled with custard (usually crème Anglais made with eggs, cream and vanilla) and topped with fresh fruit and glazed with apricot jam which gives a glossy finish.

Tarte de Fruit is the purest form, but another classic would be a Tarte au Citron, which is a tangy lemon custard often topped with meringue. It is utterly lip-puckering, but this little delight makes the perfect way to finish off a meal with its bitter-sweetness. Naturally, chocolate tarts exist, but if you want to try something new, I would suggest a Noisette Tart which is a smooth, creamy filling flavoured with toasted hazelnuts. I love the ones from Patisserie Liberte in the Northern Quarter- this spot is a bit of a hidden gem so make sure you check it out on your next lunch break.

Pièces individuelles
Ten points to Gryffindor if you can guess the translation of this one. It means little bits that aren’t for sharing (which I am entirely on board with) and is a term which can describe a wide range of pastries such as eclairs, choux buns, BaBa’s, mini gateaux and mille-feuilles just to name a few.

Eclair charmingly translates to ‘flash’ because they are so delicious they are gobbled up in a flash of lightning. I’m sure we have all tried one at least once. In case you haven’t, they are formed from an oblong of choux pastry which is filled with cream and piped with icing on top. Traditionally, they are chocolate, coffee or strawberry but the possibility of flavours is endless. Bisous Bisous in East Didsbury sell classic chocolate, passionfruit and praline flavoured Eclairs which are almost too beautiful to eat- but you will get over that pretty quickly as soon as you take a bite as they will indeed, be gone quicker than you can say “Bibliotheque”.

Macarons
All Patisserie is beautiful, but nothing is quite as Instagrammable as a pretty box of pastel macarons. Yes, I am choosing to say and spell it that way A) because a ‘macaroon’ to me is a coconut based mound and a totally different thing and B) I’m a bit of a pretentious twat.

Anyway, macarons are gorgeous- made from ground almonds, sugar and Italian meringue, they have a crisp outer shell, a soft middle and a buttery icing in the middle to sandwich it together. They are characteristically challenging to make as they are dependent on all sorts factors such as room humidity, the age of egg whites and temperature of sugar when they are being made which, granted, seems like an awful lot of hassle for something that can fit in the mouth in one go.

So, when it comes to macarons- go to the masters and pay through the nose for them because they are going to be worth it. The English Rose Bakery is my favourite choice as they are expertly executed, and they have the most delicious flavours available- like Chambord, Pear & Allspice, Blood Orange, Apricot & Amaretto and my personal favourite- Rose.

 

Entremets
This term refers to desserts in general, but in Patisserie terms, it relates to a larger cake which is formed with layers of mousse, cake and an often glossy or ganache topping. These cakes are divine because of all the varying textures and tastes they combine and are usually eaten as a dessert rather than an afternoon treat like the other members of this list.

I am going to have an angry mob of French people outside my door for saying this, but I adore the ones from the secret patisserie kitchen at San Carlo which serves the restaurants and the Gran Café at Selfridges.

Hidden away in the depths of the King Street location is a team of Pastry Chefs cooking up delicious cakes, macarons and litres of ice cream- and although it isn’t strictly French with the whole classic Italian vibe they have going on it is definitely worth a mention. Check out their Chocolate and Pistachio Entremets that they have at Gran Café with the mirrored ganache- it is worth getting hit over the head with a baguette for.

Viennoiseries
This category of French patisserie is perhaps the most celebrated in the world. When I think of France, I think about Audrey Hepburn in a stripy top on a bicycle with a basket full of croissants and a pain au chocolat in her mouth. However, the moon-shaped treats aren’t even from France at all- they are in fact from Vienna, the term ‘Viennoiseries’ meaning ‘stuff from Vienna’.

This included brioche which is a bread product which uses yeast and is enriched with milk, eggs, sugar and butter. If it is Brioche that you are after look no further than The Bread Factory. Toast it and smother it in jam and enough butter to block all your arteries at once or slide a big juicy burger in there.

When it comes to croissants, it is safe to say that Pollen Bakery has some of the best this side of Paris and nothing is more of a testament to this than the hefty queue you will find there on the weekend.

Croissant dough is made with layers and layers of butter which puffs up when cooked and creates a beautiful crunch which just seems to last forever. Pollen has mastered it. Their Croissants are orgasmic, their Pain au Raisin is orgasmic, and their Cruffins  (that’s croissant dough in a muffin tin, filled with crème patisserie or crème Anglias and topped with seasonal fruit) just make me explode. C’est Magnifique.