Last month in Paris, I was at a dinner party and a friend asked us: What’s your favorite pastry to buy at a boulangerie? Not, she clarified, the dainty cakes found at a pâtisserie, but the everyday workhorse treats: pains au chocolat, chaussons aux pommes, chouquettes, financiers, pains aux raisins. My own favorite is a good old éclair au chocolat, so imagine my surprise when almost half the guests answered: flan pâtissier.
First of all, what is flan pâtissier? It’s a wobbly, starchy, slightly singed custard encased in a pastry crust. It’s sold at most corner boulangeries in Paris, thick wedges that Parisians consume out of hand, one of the few things I’ve seen them eat on the street. In all my years of living in Paris, I’d never been tempted by a slice of flan pâtissier. But after all the raves, I went to Poîlane, bought a jiggly slice and brought it to the cinema (Zero Dark Thirty) to share with a Flan Lover.
What did it taste like? Well, flan pâtissier, mes amis, tastes exactly like it looks: sweet, vanilla-scented, eggy, a little stodgy, with a slightly damp pastry crust. It’s the Monsieur Milktoast of desserts — inoffensive and — dare I say it? — bland. Could it replace an éclair au chocolat in my affection and desires? In two words: HELL NO.
Want a more expert opinion? My friend, the Flan Lover, found the Poîlane version “Just okay. Not the best. It was too rubbery.”
I left Paris before I could sample more flan pâtissier and, to be honest, after Round 1, I had lost my zeal. But upon reflection, I think I have to chalk up the French Love of Flan to a souvenir d’enfance — much like those sugary chlorophyll-green syrups they use to flavor perfectly good mineral water, or their innate fondness for Barbapapa — they’re part of a sweet childhood nostalgia that I didn’t experience and, thus, cannot appreciate. Bring on the peanut butter.
Martha Stewart makes flan pâtissier with prunes (and inexplicably suggests serving it as dessert for Easter dinner)
The best flan pâtissier in Paris (Figaroscope)
Another recipe for flan pâtissier (Zen Can Cook)
All about éclairs (Croque Camille)
Paris Pastry app (David Lebovitz)