A new crop of pastry chefs is lending a fresh perspective to the historically male-dominated craft.

By Regan Stephens
Updated April 17, 2019
Claire Heitzler
Credit: © Julian Schlosser

Paris has long had the market cornered on spectacular sweets. Stroll around any arrondissement in the French capital, and you’ll stumble upon storefronts stocked with dazzling assortments of macarons, éclairs, cream puffs and tartes. While these window spreads are tantalizing (and can lead to indulgent sightseeing breaks), rarely do the pastries themselves break from traditional techniques and flavors; a pain au chocolat is a pain au chocolat, and you’ll find them at virtually every patisserie, even if you have your favorite. But in the last few years, a new crop of pastry chefs — including a number of women — is lending a fresh perspective to the historically male-dominated craft. They’re catering to the tastes of patrons who are increasingly curious and adventuresome.

American-born journalist Lindsey Tramuta has been living in Paris for the past decade, documenting this evolution along the way. In her first book, The New Paris, Tramuta explores the transformation of a city steeped in tradition to one that embraces new ideas and talent in gastronomic fields like food, wine and pastry.

“In the last ten years, the worlds of pastry and chocolate have become more innovative and dynamic with a greater emphasis on quality sourcing, transparency, diversity in flavors and the sensorial experience,” says Tramuta.

And while it remains a male-dominated field, a growing contingency of women have been integral to the industry’s shift, setting a new standard with expertly-crafted sablé, tarte au citron and more.

Here, Tramuta shares a few of her favorite patisseries, all helmed by women responsible for some of the most delicious sweets in the city.

Des Gâteaux et du Pain, Claire Damon

Damon, who previously worked under the tutelage of Pierre Hermé, is the first female pastry chef in Paris to open her own haute pâtisserie (at age 29) and remains among the few. Militant about seasonality and inspired primarily by fruit, plants and botanicals, she is known for her fruit-based desserts that are light on sugar and big on flavor. Le Kashmir, one of her signature desserts, is a soft, round cake with notes of saffron, dates and orange.

Bontemps Pâtisserie, Fiona Leluc

Leluc didn't begin her career in baking, but after years in finance feeling unfulfilled – and baking as a cathartic exercise – she switched gears to make what was a serious hobby into a full-time focus. At the north Marais bakery she runs with her husband and sister, she riffs on the quintessential French shortbread treat, sablé, and works them into cakes, tartes (pecan, raspberry) and mini sandwich cookies filled with fruit, lemon curd and homemade spreads.

Ladurée, Claire Heitzler

The international creative director of the iconic confectioner Ladurée since early 2016, the 37-year-old has brought a fresh approach to an old name. One by one, Heitzler has overhauled the classics, from the Religieuse and the Saint-Honoré to a beautifully balanced tarte au citron, sourcing better and more exotic ingredients, updating the flavors throughout the seasons and making the recipes lighter overall. Though much of her experience has been with plated desserts at fine dining temples like the Ritz and Lasserre, she has demonstrated not only her versatility but her deft ability to innovate a brand some considered staid.

Café Pouchkine, Nina Métayer

I first discovered Métayer's talents when she was a finalist on the pastry show Qui Sera le Prochain Grand Pâtissier? (Translation: Who will be the next great pastry chef?). Yet she properly captured my attention after she was made head pastry chef at Jean-François Piège's Michelin-starred namesake restaurant in 2015. The rigor, aesthetic precision and visible respect for ingredients that I experienced firsthand as a diner will soon become more accessible as she takes over creative direction at Café Pouchkine, the Moscow-born pâtisserie founded in 1999, in April.