It’s an affliction. This I know after living in Paris for nearly two years. I used to think that, in New York, it was natural and inevitable that I was such a sweet freak. Everywhere I looked, there were seductive displays of oozing chocolaty chip cookies, obscenely large sticky buns and towering three-layer red velvet cakes. Irresistible!

But in Paris, I was just as big a leche-vitrine—maybe more so, drawn as I was to the rows of pristine gateaux, Technicolor macarons and perfect dark chocolate pavés. Having spent significant amounts of time and invested gazillions of glorious calories in both cities, it’s still a question I find difficult answering: who has the best sweets, New York or Paris? A transatlantic smackdown might tell.

Brownies versus Moelleux au Chocolat

Left: a warm brownie with ice cream on the top; right: a chocolate fondant cut open with chocolate sauce oozing out and cocoa sprinkled on top.
Top: photo by Melanie boers
Above left: photo by Oscar Ramirez; right: photo by Jennifer Schmidt

A pastry Neanderthal might say: what’s the difference? They’re two brown chocolaty-cakey treats. But the pastry connoisseur understands the difference between dense and molten. Between fudgy and finessed. Between a snack that can be dunked in milk with your fingers and an haute dessert that oozes into a pool of uber-rich ganache on your dessert plate.

Verdict? A brownie is comfort and joy; moelleux is hedonism and bliss. They’re both worthy and delicious. But as good as a dense, fudgy brownie is, anything with molten chocolate wins, n’est-ce pas?

Winner: Moelleux.

Doughnuts versus Brioche

left: several glazed donuts sat on a pink plate; right: a brioche cut open on a wooden cutting board
left: photo by Yoga Nova; right: photo by Youjeen Cho

Ah, breakfast. What better way to start the day than with an oversized yeasty doughnut, flash-fried, sugar-glazed and piped full of delicious jelly, peanut butter or Nutella? Unless, of course, you’re French and prefer mornings to be a little less obscene. More dignified. Then maybe something like the airy, buttery bread ball with a tender crumb known as brioche would be better.

Verdict? Fried dough is obscene. And that New Yorkers shoot doughnuts up with dulce de leche, dot them with hibiscus, and roll them in cacao nibs… sorry, but wispy brioche is… wimpy.

Winner: Doughnuts.

Pecan pie versus Tarte tatin

Left: slice of pecan pie on a clear plate photographed from above, held over a grass lawn; right: a tarte tatin made with pears, sat on a white plate placed on a wooden cutting board.
left: photo by Nikohoshi; right: photo by Geraud Pfeiffer

The French are masters of the tart. Likewise, Americans go hand-in-hand with pie. French tarts are typically uncovered. Nothing but a layer of fruit and maybe some crème pâtissière to cover the buttery pastry base. Pies usually have a crust covering. It’s better to trap in the flavors of the filling. Tarts and pies: so close, yet so different.

Verdict? Of the infinite variety of the two classics, we’ll start with a pitting between caramelized and crunchy; fruity and nutty; sweet and savory. Between the iconic tarte tatin (apples caramelized in butter and sugar—hurt me) and pecan pie (nuts, bathed in butter and molasses—miam), I have to give it to the French.

Winner: Tarte tatin.

Cheesecake versus Millefeuille

left: a slice of strawberry cheesecake sat on a white plate on a wooden table; right: a millefeuille from Pierre Hermé sat on a white plate.
left: photo by Kofi Okyere; right: photo by Shiokuma

Their names say it all. Cheesecake: cake made with a cheese of sorts. Millefeuille: a cake of a thousand layers. They’re both gut-busters; both soft, creamy and decadent to their core. But whereas a mouthful of cheesecake is like a giant cloud of heaven, whipped into perfect consistency, millefeuilles dance between crispy pastry layers, oozing cream and fruity or chocolaty accents.

Verdict? Though they’re both signature cakes, the French demonstrate more nuance and grace than the Americans do inventiveness.

Winner: Millefeuilles.

Muffins versus Madeleines

left: freshly baked blueberry muffins on a black cooling rack sat on a jute place mate, with blueberries sprinkled around; right: two madeleines sat on a glass cake plate with the lid sat on the counter behind.
left: photo by Aneta Voborilova; right photo by Jordane Mathieu

left: freshly baked blueberry muffins on a black cooling rack sat on a jute place mate, with blueberries sprinkled around; right: two madeleines sat on a glass cake plate with the lid sat on the counter behind.

Disregard the steroid-sized, candy-studded bastard muffins that are popular in New York to consider the classic blueberry or corn muffin. Simple. Wholesome. Lovely and delicious. Not too far from the madeleine: a wee sponge cake, both moist and light, sometimes covered with a citrus glacage, that can be put down in a mere four to five bites.

Verdict? Dare I give the shell-shaped Madeleine my nod, thereby pushing Parisian sweets to a runaway victory? Or should I be true to a muffin’s modest cakey deliciousness and let a neck-to-neck transatlantic battle ensue? You decide, for this sweet freak simply cannot.

Disclaimer: The HiP Paris Blog bears no responsibility for the sweet fight that may follow publication of this article.

  • We hear a lot about the differences when you move to a new place, but what about reverse culture shock when you move home? .
  • Need something healthy after all those sweets? Meet chef Julien Sebbag and head to his restaurant Créatures on the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette for the best vegetarian food and views in Paris.
  • In search of your morning fix? Here are the best croissants in Paris

Written by Amy thomas for HIP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long or short term, or buy in France? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person? Check out our marketplace shop and experiences.


Amy Thomas

Amy Thomas is a sweets-obsessed writer based between New York and Paris. She published her best-selling “foodoir” (food writing meets memoir), Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate). This was followed up with the 2018 book Brooklyn in Love: A Memoir of Food, Family and Finding Yourself. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, T Magazine, New York Post, National Geographic Traveler, New York Magazine, Town & Country, Bust, Every Day with Rachel Ray and others.

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