The Search For Paris' Best Cinnamon Rolls
France, in my opinion, suffers from a cinnamon deficiency. Despite being the culinary capital of the world, the French don’t really mess with cinnamon. It’s a spice cabinet staple, but there are very few French desserts that feature cinnamon. There’s no cute pastries with cinnamon (imagine my surprise finding that Bordeaux’s canelés have no canelle), no breakfast cereals with cinnamon, no cinnamon sugar to sprinkle on churros (although I have found a crêpe guy who will do it by request). It feels like Chocolate Rules Everything Around Me. So what do you do when it’s fall, and there’s a little chill in the air, and you want something warm/sweet/spicy? If you’re like me, you might crave a cinnamon roll.
When I was a teenager, looking for my first part time job, the place I most wanted to work was Cinnabon. In case you’re not familiar, Cinnabon is an American shopping mall staple, a chain bakery that makes one thing: the biggest, sweetest, gooey-est, most amazing smelling cinnamon rolls I’d ever had. Indonesian cinnamon, with cream cheese frosting spread over the top. When they were baking (and they were always baking), the fragrance would waft through the air, and make you forget whatever else the food court had to offer. Despite my multiple job applications, Cinnabon never hired me. It’s probably good they didn’t, because I’d have overdosed on their heroin-like cream cheese frosting. While Cinnabon was my first love, I’ve since toned down my tastes. The ideal cinnamon roll does not have to be obnoxious to get my attention. But it does have to have that certain combination of soft dough and sticky cinnamon interior and be fresh from the oven.
I’ve hiked all over Paris in search of where to go when the cinnamon jones hits, and this is what I’ve found so far.
This boulangerie is literally in the shadow of Boneshaker Donuts, another destination for cinnamon rolls. Order a canelle roulé, and you will receive a fist-sized sort of brioche marbled with cinnamon, with a light honey glaze brushed on top. It’s kind of a low-key roll: not super sweet, overly moist or too intense with the cinnamon (the anti-cinnabon). It’s a french interpretation of a cinnamon babka. I imagine it’s quite good warmed up with your morning coffee (even though I’m a tea drinker). My trusty tasting sidekick gave it a 3.5 out of 5 stars (she was also very vexed that her dad ate the last one). (3 rue du Nil 75002)
Boneshaker’s cinnamon roll is an American style affair. It's a decent sized, doughy spiral with cinnamon spread between the layers, and icing over the top. It’s quite popular too, because they were out of them two of the three times I visited the store. As a consolation prize, I did try their “Beach Haven” donut, which is sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. It was a yummy distraction as I dejectedly headed back to the metro. Anyway, the roll is probably the closest to a Cinnabon you can get in Paris, and, sadly, that’s not really a good thing. The first thing you taste is sugar. The icing is simply sweet and there’s nothing else to it, and it overtakes the cinnamon and the pastry.
I liked the texture and taste of the roll. Part of the fun of a Cinnabon was undoing the spiral and getting to the soft gooey center. Visually, this felt like eating a cinnabon, but I couldn’t enjoy the center because it was so very sugary. It made me question whether I’m losing my sweet tooth. My daughter, reluctant to ding Boneshaker too hard for the sweetness, said it was “a well made American cinnamon roll”. Thus, 3.5 stars. (86 Rue D’Aboukir 75002)
Alma The Chimney Cake Factory .
Chimney cakes are dough wrapped around a metal baton and baked, then coated in whatever topping you like. The first topping on the list? Cinnamon! Technically, this isn’t a cinnamon roll, but it’s a vertical spiral of pastry rolled in cinnamon sugar, made to order, served warm. It counts! Alma’s is a very cute shop, with lots of woodwork, ambient lighting and cozy seating. They have a full coffee menu, so you can have your cannelle with an artfully foamed cappuccino (I almost ordered one just because they’re pretty). Anyway, the experience of going to the shop, sitting down and savoring a freshly baked chimney cake is worth having. The cinnamon sugar is light and has notes of orange blossom. The granules almost sparkle as you pull apart the pastry, daring you to play with your food. If this place was closer to my neighborhood, it would definitely be a laptop and chill destination. (59 Rue Beaumarchais, 75003)
Mamiche. A bright, welcoming, corner boulangerie, with the aroma of bread and cinnamon summoning me, even in the rain. Mamiche gives you a large, moist, golden brown, twirled knot of cinnamon-striped heaven. My sidekick, ever the spice girl, detected the flavor of cardamom. It had a slight glaze of sugar or syrup on top, but it wasn’t super sweet, or sticky. Everything about it was perfection: pretty to look at and wonderful to eat, even the next day when I warmed one up for breakfast. Spice Girl gave it 5 stars, and I concur. (32 rue du Château D’Eau 75010, 45 Rue Condorcet 75009)
Frappe Boulangerie Urbaine
Frappe is a bright little bakery near Bastille. It took two attempts to score a roulé canelle, but it was well worth the effort. Another divine golden brown twisty roll, very similar to Mamiche. I liked the intensity of the ground cinnamon, the texture of the pastry and the light glaze of sweetness. Sidekick and I gave them 4 stars. Also, they have very good madeleines, which I gorged on when the rolls were sold out. (7 Rue Sedaine 75011)
Babka Zana Eureka! This one was excellent. This round torsade reminded me the most of
what I loved about Cinnabons- dark, rich cinnamon spread, looking like melted chocolate, hiding in little nooks between the twists, and perfectly sweet. The moist pastry is denser than brioche, but still heightened by air pockets. Each bite made me nostalgic for the mall. Definitely worth the trip. The Pigalle location is solely a bakery with no seating, but the Marais location is a cafe where one can chill and enjoy Place des Vosges. Five enthusiastic stars! (65 Rue Condorcet 75009, 8 Rue de pas de la Mule 75004)
Overall, what I learned from this search for the perfect Paris cinnamon roll is that all the great bakeries are on the right bank. What’s up with that? Rive Gauche has several vendors of last resort rolls, like at Pret A Manger, and Starbucks. They might do in a cinna-mergency, but I’m feeling a little left out on the left bank. Also, you have to start early. Pretty much every cinnamon roll we scored was sold out in the afternoon, by goûter time. Get your roll on!
Blog Readers: If you’re a cinnamon connoisseur, and you’ve got suggestions, secret spots, or even a recipe to make your own, please share in the comments.
About the Author:
Rachelle Chapman is the mom of Camille (11) and Message Paris Blog Manager. Originally a Chicago native, she has been living in Paris since 2014.
All photos in this article taken by Rachelle Chapman.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message.