While breakfast breads in the United States tend to consist of bagels, muffins, and English muffins, Europeans tend to go for croissants and other viennoiseries. Although I generally associate these types of baked goods with France, patisseries and bakeries are abundant even in the UK, and nearly every café, grocery store, and cafeteria offers a variety of croissants and other buttery baked goods. What's great is that even in the UK, great patisseries can be found which produce pastries far superior to almost anything I've had in the US. While the US has the market on bagels cornered, Europe is the standard bearer for viennoiseries, and after trying out Paul, a French patisserie and bakery chain with a ton of locations scattered throughout the world, I have to say that I am extremely jealous of Londoners for their ease of access to such great pastries.
According to their website, Paul started out as a small bakery in northern France in 1889 and gradually expanded to the point where it can be found in 19+ countries, including a couple of locations in Florida. Despite their status as a huge international chain, Paul still manages to maintain the integrity and quality of its products and epitomizes what all chain restaurants and bakeries in the US should aspire to become.
Upon my arrival in London, I first wanted to drop my bag off at the hostel where I would be spending the night. On the way, I stopped by at a Paul and entered to find trays of fresh-from-the-oven baked goods emerging from the back.
When I saw the Beignet Chocolat, I immediately knew that I had to get it because, well, I like chocolate and I like fried dough, so there you go. The first thing I noticed was that it was not as crisp as a typical beignet would be. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Beignet Chocolat is actually baked rather than fried, which explains why it was on the softer side. The doughnut itself was still a bit warm and was pleasantly soft, albeit a bit greasy, but the star of the show was the chocolate filling, which must have had some Nutella in it because I noticed a nice hazelnut flavor that complemented the chocolate quite nicely. This was easily the best doughnut that I've had in quite some time.
|Chausson au Pommes|
And since I was such a fan of Balthazar Bakery's Chausson au Pommes, I ordered one of those as well. However, it was a bit of a letdown because while the flaky pastry was sufficiently flaky and tasty, I was disappointed with the fact that the filling was more like an apple sauce rather than the chunky apple pie-type filling that was found in Balthazar's iteration. It tasted fine, but I would have preferred more texture to the filling.
|Pain au Chocolat aux Amandes|
I enjoyed my first visit to Paul so much that I went back again the next morning. Once again, I ordered a Beignet Chocolat, but this time it was accompanied by a Pain au Chocolat aux Amandes because chocolate is obviously an integral part of a healthy and nutritious breakfast. The Beignet Chocolat was every bit as delicious as it was on my previous visit, and the Pain au Chocolat aux Amandes, with its molten chocolate-filled center and crisp, flaky dough, was a winner of a pastry as well.
The high quality and freshness of the baked goods from Paul set the standard for food from a chain establishment. If American chains could emulate Paul's success, then maybe I wouldn't be so down on the state of most chain establishments in the US. While the US does bagels and muffins better than most other countries, I would gladly trade excellent bagels for great viennoiseries in a heartbeat. After all, with more numerous and creative ways of sneaking chocolate into breakfast goods, the French viennoiseries would certainly give me a good excuse to make chocolate a part of my first meal of the day. If this is how good the pastries are from a chain bakery in Europe, I am excited to see what lies in store for me at the patisseries of Paris.
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