Cover Photo: Conor Brown / Unsplash

No, ‘pâtisserie’, ‘boulangerie’, and ‘viennoiserie’ are not simply interchangeable—avoid an embarrassing faux pas by learning the nuances behind the jargon

Pop into a pâtisserie looking for a croissant, and you may have committed a faux pas. Worse yet—set up a bakery in France and call it a pâtisserie willy-nilly, and you’ve committed a crime. The vernacular surrounding French bakeshops and their technical classifications are much stricter than you may think. Brush up on your gastronomic jargon and read all about the differences between a pâtisserie, boulangerie, and viennoiserie.

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Like ‘viennoiserie’, the word ‘pâtisserie’ can refer to both the classification of a bakeshop and the classification of goods sold at the store: just as a pâtisserie sells pâtisserie, a viennoiserie sells viennoiserie.

Though its international use is far less restrictive, the term ‘pâtisserie’ is legally controlled in France and Belgium—only pastry shops with licensed maître pâtissier (master pastry chefs) have the right to call themselves a pâtisserie. Therefore, even if a shop offers pâtisseries, they legally cannot advertise themselves as a pâtisserie unless they have employed a licensed maître pâtissier.

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Photo: Dilyara Garifullina / Unsplash
Above Photo: Dilyara Garifullina / Unsplash

But which goods are considered to be pâtisserie? Elegantly delicate, these sweet treats are typified by the likes of mille-feuille and croquembouche. Furthermore, pastry chefs generally work with “exclusively cold materials”, distinguishing these craftsmen from the artisans who helm boulangeries.

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Boulangeries best-resemble the colloquial notion of a bakery - think classic baked bread like baguette and pain de campagne, ideal for a jambon beurre sandwich or to serve alongside soup or stew. While these may be their signature offerings, a boulangerie might also churn out a selection of pâtisserie and viennoiserie.

The title is not free from nuance, either. In order to advertise themselves as a boulangerie, the bakery must bake their bread on-site—no external deliveries from commissaries and the like. Unlike pastry chefs, a boulanger “work[s] with the heat of the oven to create more rustic products”. Thus, a boulangerie may be thought of as the polar counterpart to a pâtisserie. So where do viennoiseries fit in?

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Photo: nikizhang1995 / Unsplash
Above Photo: nikizhang1995 / Unsplash

As its etymology suggests, ‘viennoiserie’ harks back to its origins in Vienna, Austria. The term encapsulates the array of breakfast pastries born in the Austrian capital, including two surprising French staples and their delicious variations: brioche and croissants.

Yes, that’s right—the famed croissant, though a national product of France since 1920, actually has its roots in Vienna. The laminated confection is a direct derivative of the Austrian kipferl, which bore a similar crescent shape and was also enjoyed plain, with nuts, or with fruit, indulgently packed with butter or lard.

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Often considered to be the philosophical “bridge between pâtisserie and French bread”, viennoiserie have both pastry and bread-like properties, encompassing a wide range of techniques and styles. Often considered to be a form of bread, brioche is distinguished by its high egg and butter content, producing a richness similar to pâtisserie. Yet, achieving a perfectly golden crust against its tender interior is certainly reminiscent of a boulanger’s craft - unlike in the case of croissants, where engineering a delicate, flakey architecture calls for the handiwork of a pâtisserie.


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