L'Autre Boulange's Flan NatureFigaroscope, the culture magazine published by Le Figaro, recently conducted a study to find the best flan nature in Paris (table of results set forth below). Flan is not something I eat often, but I was intrigued and determined to try some of the flans that Figaroscope considered the best. Besides, someone has to keep Le Figaro honest, however unpleasant the job.
I started with the winning flan, from l'Autre Boulange (pictured above), located in a working class neighborhood in the eleventh arrondissement, and it really is sensational. The dark color, thick, almost-but-not-quite-too-gelatinous texture and almost-too-strong vanilla flavor are extraordinary. This is a hearty flan, not to be confused with what we get in Mexican restaurants, which is much lighter (more like a panna cotta) and usually topped with a caramel sauce. (French flan is baked in a hot oven, not surrounded by a bain marie as is the lighter Spanish type flan.)
Second stop was the runner-up, Poilane. Also delicious and quite similar. Perhaps a touch less vanilla and a touch less color on the top, but really the equal of l'Autre Boulange's flan, and in a neighborhood where you are much more likely to find yourself.
Next was a deviation from the published order, Gérard Mulot (ranked sixth). This had the best crust so far, was very dark (but a little too uniformly so) and somewhat less aggressively unctuous and vanilla-y than l'Autre Boulange's. Close call.
After this I tried Gosselin (ranked third), whose flan is very light-colored and more lightly (and pleasantly) flavored. However, I thought it had a really weak crust, flat and thin.
Tied for sixth with Gérard Mulot is Cohier, which also only had cherry flan when I visited. I tried this and found the taste and texture to be satisfactory, but the crust to be nearly tasteless. I presume the crust for the nature is similar.
Next, the Juliens. First, I then strayed from the list to try the flan of the excellent boulangerie/pâtisserie Julien at St-Philippe-du-Roule, which is not on Figaroscope's list. This had a mild taste but excellent crust, important because it is served in individual round tart crusts rather than in slices. Then the Julien that is on Figaroscope's list (ranked ninth), which was very light in color, delicious in taste but with a thin cardboard-like crust.
Julien's Flan NatureFinally, I got to Dalloyau (ranked fifth), one of my favorite pâtisseries in Paris and one that, like Gérard Mulot, is good in all domaines of the field, including tarts; financiers, pâtes de fruit, chocolates, croissants. I was optimistic based on past experience, but was disappointed in the end. Dalloyau's is an individual flan in what I think is a puff pastry crust. It lacks the intense flavor and unctuous texture that most of the others displayed and would not make my list.
So, having tried seven of Figaroscope's top ten and one additional one, I have reached some conclusions. I agree that l'Autre Boulange sets the standard for flan nature; it is as near to perfect as I found. After that, I give more weight to the pastry than the Figaroscope judges; thus my second choice was Gérard Mulot on the strength of their excellent pâte brisée and fine classic custard.
In addition to being quite delicious, flan is a real deal. Seven of the ten top-ranked were 2.10 euros or less for a big slice. Only Gérard Mulot (2.70 euros) and Dalloyau (3.70 euros but for a whole individual flan) were more than 2.50 euros. So trying a bunch of flans (even eating less than half of most of them, as I did) is a good way to find a reason to go into those tempting little bakeries that you see all the time as you walk around Paris.
Here is Figaroscope's top 10 list (based on appearance, texture, taste, and value):
1. L'Autre Boulange, 43, rue de Montreuil, 75011
2. Poilane, 8, rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006
3. Gosselin, 125, rue Saint-Honoré, 75001
4. Carette, 4, place du Trocadéro, 75016
5. Dalloyau, 101, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, 75008
6. Gérard Mulot, 76, rue de Seine, 75006
Cohier, 270, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, 75008
8. Jacques Bazin, 85 bis, rue de Charenton, 75012
9. Julien, 75, rue Saint-Honoré, 75001
Blé Sucré, 7, rue Vollon, 75012