PARIS – Cream-filled sugar-packed wheat-laden French pastries, a staple of the country’s culinary scene, are now available to those with gluten sensitivities. François and Marie Tagliaferro launched France’s first gluten-free bakery in Paris, called Helmut Newcake, bringing traditional French pastries to gluten-intolerant customers.
Many people suffer from gluten-allergies. A more severe intolerance is Celiac disease whereby consuming wheat can interfere with the digestive and developmental processes in the body. With an estimated 1% of both British and American populations suffering from the disease, and even more with less severe allergies, shops catering to these no-wheat consumers have been widespread in the English-speaking world. In France, however, gluten allergy and intolerance remains underground, little publicized, and poorly catered to in the French culinary world. French pastry shops are never equipped to provide pastries for those who can’t stomach gluten.
The Tagliaferros are changing all that. After discovering that she was a Celiac at age 20 while studying to be a pastry chef, Marie Tagliaferro and husband François decided to confront the problem head on instead of running from it and forgoing their passion. While living in London, the idea of opening a pastry shop became enticing. “There is nothing 100% gluten-free. We were disappointed by the gluten free products in France,” François said.
So after scouting locations and nearly giving up, the couple found a storefront on rue Bichat in a less-traveled part of Paris and Helmut Newcake was born. The trendy Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood has been a host to food joins boasting organic pizza crusts, healthy smoothies, and high quality bread, so the address seemed right. Still, tucked away on a street with no pastries to speak of, the couple was optimistic. “There’s not a lot in this neighborhood,” Marie said, “and you need to cross the canal to find good pastries.”
“We knew it would work here,” her husband said.
With a name punning famed photographer Helmut Newton, Helmut Newcake is putting a few spins on traditional recipes. Their pastries, entirely made by Marie in the kitchen, are vamped up gluten-free versions of classic French pastries with certifiably gluten-free products. Varieties like cream-filled réligieuse, lemon meringue tart, canelé, and almond tart fill the display case visible when customers walk into the shop.
The gluten-free pastries hold their own next to the other pastries around the city, attracting customers who don’t even realize they are specialty items. “The goal is to show you can gluten-free with pleasure,” François said, “and it’s not a punishment.”
They also stock English gluten-free goods for locals to purchase, since the French market often poorly represents and packages gluten-free goods. “We try not to give the impression that you are buying medicine,” he said.
For the couple, an unexpectedly large number of customers have been coming to the store. While the percentage of gluten intolerant French remains unknown, Tagliaferro has been surprised by the numbers. “We know it’s more than we think” he said.
With a brunch on the menu starting this February, the Tagliaferros will have plenty of work ahead of them, pumping out salads, sandwiches, and pastries each day for a growing clientele at Helmut Newcake.
Helmut Newcake, 36 rue Bichat Paris 75010
Photo: Helmut Newcake/Tagliaferro