Patisserie, Boulangerie, Viennoiserie What’s The Difference?

A patisserie, boulangerie and viennoiserie are where flour-based products are sold in France. But what is the difference between them?

Patisserie’s, boulangerie’s and viennoiseries all produce baked products on site. They hail from France, yet, viennoiserie originates in Vienna. Viennoiserie products have become adopted by French culture, originally in Paris. Patisserie and viennoiserie products are sweet bakery products, found in France. Containing lots of sugar and fat, they are eaten as a snack with coffee but have other uses. A boulangerie is where bread is baked and sold.

Further reading: What’s the difference between Italian and French bread.

So let’s explore, what is a patisserie? And what is the difference between patisserie and viennoiserie?

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What is patisserie?

The word “pastry” is very liberally used in English. But it is only used in France and Belgium for bakeries that employ master pastry chefs. The definition of a patisserie is where pastry is made and sold on-site.

Pastry chefs are highly trained and use classical techniques to make authentic products. Artisan patisserie is traditionally light and delicate, sweet and decadent.

Since much of patisserie is complex, it can only be executed by a well-trained hand. The finished products are not only expected to taste delicious but look exciting as well.

great bakery eclairs

Types of patisserie

The main components of pastries are eggs, butter, milk, cream, and sugar. Products such as tarts, pastries, quiches and gâteaux are made by a pâtissier (pastry chef). Yet, most items that are made with flour but without contain yeast fall into this category.

Patisserie has changed over the years, as tastes and food fashions have developed. Here are some iconic delicacies:

Paris Breast

This dessert is made in the shape of a wheel and filled with praline cream. It was created in 1910, to commemorate a bike race from Paris to Brest and back.

Croquembouche

This is a large profiterole (choux pastry filled with pastry cream) with caramel thread. It’s often decorated with honeyed almonds or chocolate. Croquembouche is traditionally served during French national holidays and is renowned as very hard to make!!

Eclairs

Choix pastry is piped into oblongs and lightly baked. Once cool, they are filled with crème patissier and topped with chocolate icing. Modern variations include coffee flavoured eclairs or vibrant fruit combinations using raspberries, passion fruit and mango. 

Mille-feuille

A dessert consisting of layers of cream and puff pastry. Usually topped with sprinkled sugar and combed icing.  

What is viennoiserie?

Viennoiserie is a collection of baked products that typically feature at breakfast time. They were developed by Viennese bakers, some in their homeland and others after immigrating to Paris. They became quickly adopted in Paris, the rest of France and soon across many developed nations.

Viennoiserie is a bridge between pastry and bread. The products are sweetened and rich, often by the use of sugar, eggs and butter. They are usually made from white flour and an active levain (yeast) to make them rise. When baking viennoiserie, the dough rises to form layers of perfectly flaky pastry.

Types of viennoiserie

They go hard relatively quick so it’s best to eat viennoiserie on the day, or even better just after they arrive from the oven. Viennese foods are not generally iced although they may be filled with frangipane, chocolate, fruit, and other pastes.

Croissants

This famous French bread is made with yeast, butter and sugar. It can be made by hand or for best results, with a laminator. The layers in croissants are created by rolling out the dough, folding a slab of butter into it and a combination of repeatedly rolling and folding. This provides several layers of butter and dough. 

A croissant dough will be the same dough used for pain au chocolate, pain au raisin and many other local viennoiserie products. These are often specific to the baker or the local area.

Croissants pain au raisin

Brioche

This viennoiserie product is similar to typical bread. In fact, expect to find brioche in boulangeries too. Brioche is a yeast-leavened bread, with additional eggs, butter, milk, and sugar. This gives them a rich, sweet flavour. Served as a snack with coffee or as a part of breakfast.

Palmier

Translates as a pig or elephants ear, these delicious pastries are perfect with a café au lait! Despite being similar to a croissant, they are harder and more biscuit-like. A beautiful snack!

Vienna bread

This iconic bread is a proper treat! I fell in love with Vienna bread on my last trip to France. The steam oven that these were originally baked has evolved into the oven used in bakeries across the world today. By using steam on a sweet bread a unique glaze is created on the crust which makes Vienna bread so characteristic.

Vienna bread can be eaten with a sandwich filling. A brioche-style Vienna bread can be made by enriching the dough with additional butter and (sometimes) chocolate chips.

vienna bread

The difference between Viennoiserie and Patisserie

Viennoiserie is fattier and sweeter than everyday bread whilst less indulgent and flamboyant compared to patisserie. The biggest difference in a Viennoiserie vs Patisserie definition is the use of yeast. Patisserie does not utilise yeast. It focuses on preparing and decorating individual cakes, bakes and mouses.

You can’t go to France and not try viennoiserie and patisserie!

What is a Boulangerie?

A boulangerie is a French term for a bakery. It comes from “Boulanger”, meaning “bread baker”. A “boule” is the round shape that many traditional loaves of bread were shaped.

In a boulangerie, expect to find popular sweet and savoury bread. A premises can only call itself a boulangerie in France if its bakers bake the bread on the site. It’s common for a boulangerie to also produce viennoiserie as the skills of working with yeast are reasonably transferred. The bakers may also make patisserie, or hire a skilled pâtissier to produce an exciting range for them.

Further reading: What makes French bread taste French

Boulangerie vs patisserie

Boulangeries produce bread and sandwiches. Patisseries make elaborate cakes and gateaux. They need time, precision and balancing flavours, a different approach to bread. It’s common for boulangeries to sell a range of patisserie alongside their bread but different skills are required.

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