Get fancy with these famous French pastry ideas that make us say oui.
Tried and Tasted: The Best French Pastry Desserts
Whether strolling down the Seine or pressing your nose against the patisserie window, French desserts never fail to tantalize. For centuries, the French have been perfecting their baking skills, somehow turning sugar and eggs into works of art. There are several different categories that fall under the banner of French sweet treats - from melt in the mouth meringues to crumbly viennoiseries and layered pastry delights. We take a look at some classic desserts from La République.
A family of French desserts made from dough and formed in a thousand different ways, viennoiseries are all flaky buttery goodness. These pastries are often served at breakfast or alongside coffee. From the croissant to the Chausson, here are a few select French pastries to know about...
While not technically a dessert, the French breakfast pastry of a croissant is about as continental as it gets. Made for smearing with the best butter from the dairy-rich regions of Bretagne or Normandy, the plain croissant with a cafe au lait is the only way to start the day. The best thing about croissants is that you don't have to hunt far to find them. Any bakery will serve up this French flaky pastry and they are also super affordable too. For those who want a sweeter breakfast fix, you can pick up one of the croissants' cousins. The croissant amande comes with a creamy almond paste and powdered sugar for a pinch of sweetness.
Pain au Chocolat
The pain au chocolat shares much in common with the humble croissant. It's made with the same batter but formed into a different shape. Rather than being folded and layered into the classic crescent, it is square-shaped. True to its name, the pain au chocolat has two deliriously dark chocolate sticks running through it. The result is a flaky buttery pastry heightened with bittersweet bites of chocolate. If you are swanning around the South West of France you will be ordering a chocolatine instead. There are few finer pleasures than waking early and stumbling into the boulangerie for a pain au chocolat straight from the oven - all warm and with chocolate oozing out at every bite.
Pain Au Raisins
This French raisin pastry comes in a spiral swirl. The Pain au Raisin is crafted from a heavy leavened butter pastry loaded with raisins. In-between the swirls you will also find a sweet crème pâtissière filling that helps bind everything beautifully. Part of the French Danish pastry family, it's not uncommon to tear apart this bread at breakfast.
Chausson aux Pommes
Packed with soft apples sweetened with cinnamon, butter, and brown sugar, the Chausson aux Pommes can be compared to the apple turnover. Rumour has it that this heady sweet pastry dates back to the 16th century when France was struck by the plague. With food supplies running low, the lady of Saint Calais handed out flour and apples to help people survive. Someone got creative in the kitchen and the rest was history. The Chausson aux Pommes is crafted with a thick puff pastry and is best munched on when hot and steaming alongside a cup of tea or coffee.
Pâte à Choux
Sweet choux pastry is like a puff of air and even better when crammed with cream and glazed with chocolate. This form of pastry is made from butter, eggs, flour, and water. It rises when steamed which gives it that lofty lightness. Choux pastry forms the base for many different styles of French desserts. Here are a handful you can't say non to...
With a name that means lightning in French (a hint of how quickly you are meant to eat it), the Eclair is one of the world's most well known French treats. The fluffy choux pastry is filled with sweet cream and topped with thick and indulgent chocolate fondant. The choux pastry is the star of the show when it comes to the eclair. As light as a puff of air, this pastry rises only through the action of steam rather than relying on yeasts and powders to give it lift.
Pronounced meel-foy and with a name that translates to 'a cake of a thousand leaves', the French are showcasing all their skills in terms of poetry and pastry. This French pastry is very similar to the Napoleon cake, the difference being the napoleon pastry uses almond paste instead of cream. While the finest Mille-Feuille is said to be found on the Champs Elysees, you can find this layered pastry in any good boulangerie or chic little cafe. Feather-light puff pastry comes piled high and razor-thin and is filled with a delicious buttery cream custard and to keep it all together. It can be adorned with bright bursting berries, powdered sugar dustings, whipped cream, and even a drizzle of chocolate if you are lucky.
The dainty little cake that comes from the wine country of Bordeaux, canelé is both a sweet breakfast treat and an afternoon delight. With a soft centre and a crisp caramelized crust, the canelé is la creme de la creme. The name comes from the word for fluted, which in essence describes exactly the shape this little cake takes. The history of the canelé is forever fascinating. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, winemakers in the south of France would use egg whites to clarify their wines. The yolks would be donated to the local nuns to make food for hungry children. Thus the canelé was born. Over time, the simple recipe was adapted for rum and vanilla (in classic port town tradition). The modern canelé is a standout pastry and should be as dark in colour as possible to celebrate the bittersweet flavour that makes it so famous.
A grand name for a grand desert - the opera french pastry could be compared to the Italian Tiramisu. For those who can't get enough of the coffee and chocolate combo, the opera cake is sure to make you sing. Crafted from six or so layers of almond sponge separated by coffee flavoured buttercream and gorgeous ganache, the Opera cake is both light and airy and sweet and satisfying. For an added touch of extravagance, the cake comes glazed with bittersweet chocolate. Encore!
Les Meringues and Tartes
Now we come to the dainty sweet treats and rich wedges of wonder. French meringues and tartes always take our fancy. These are the pretty picture cakes you see piled high in Parisian bakery windows. Tantalizing with gleaming fruits and delicately painted in pastel shades, they are the ultimate indulgence...
Full of whimsy and wonder, these pastel coloured confections are a dainty dream. Whipped up from meringue and straddling the line close to a cookie sandwich, macarons are mostly egg white, almond powder and sugar, sandwiched together with a flavoured ganache. Introduced by an Italian chef in the Renaissance period, these pretty little sweets are one of the desserts that France is most famous for. The ganache filling can be made of anything from sweet vanilla to salted caramel, chocolate and zesty lemon buttercream. The exterior has a crisp start and a chewy finish. From palest pink to forest green, macaron colours are ever enticing. With a thousand flavours to choose from, French patisserie chefs have the best time getting creative by customizing the recipe.
Tarte au Citron
A tangy lemon-fresh delight, the lip-puckering perfection of the tarte au citron is a palate pleaser. Lemons first made their way into France from the Roman Empire during the second century AD. But this thick pastry crust pie didn't pick up steam until the 19th century. While the Americans have their 'lemon pies' and the English have their 'lemon custards', the French put their sophisticated spin on things by turning it into a tarte. Thick and buttery, the crust is a sweet-tart dough, filled with sharp lemon curd whipped up from fresh eggs, sugar, creamed butter, and lots of lemon juice. The tart is quickly baked and then cooled so it keeps its stiff sweet shape when cut. If the tarte au citron has got your juices flowing, you can also try the tarte au citron meringuée. This show-stopping dessert bakes the curd topped tart before frosting with snow whipped white meringue, which is then flamed with a pocket-sized flame thrower called a chalumeau. Mon Dieu.
Tarte aux Fraises
If you have ever wandered into a French dessert section, no doubt the gleaming jewel of the Tarte aux Fraise would have captured your attention. A thick and buttery shortcrust pastry is filled to the brim with crème pâtissière and then adorned with glazed strawberries. They are almost too pretty to eat. The Tarte aux Fraises is usually crafted in singular servings so you can take a whole beautiful cake for yourself without the guilt. You can also find the Tarte aux Framboises served in a similar style but topped with raspberries instead.
Tarte au Chocolat
For those who consider fruit a little too healthy to be the ultimate indulgence, you can swap the berries for chocolate. A flaky pastry shell is filled with a rich and dark ganache. There are no shortcuts in the Tarte au Chocolat - heavy cream, intense chocolate, and a texture that sticks to the roof of your mouth. Apparently, this French dessert was first featured in the pages of a book in the 19th century under the title 'Opulent Families'. Make no mistake, this cake is not about doing things by halves.
Here we have a handful of famed French desserts that don't go neatly into a category but definitely go neatly into our stomach. Some famous names make an appearance alongside some lesser-known delights. From scorched Crème Brûlée to light as air soufflés, here are the other desserts we didn't want to miss...
A teatime delight or a high-class end to any dinner party, Petit Fours are bite sized French delights that became popular in the 19th century. The name can be translated to mean 'small oven'. After cooking up a storm in the kitchen, French chefs would pop a tray of petit fours into the oven as it was cooling down, making the most of the leftover heat. There are many different versions of petit-fours - some are made from French pastry into a cookie and others are glazed with fondant. There are even savoury versions that can be served as canapes at cocktail parties. The bite sized treats called Petit-Fours are a bright addition to any table of nibbles.
Get cracking with this famed dessert that can be notoriously tricky to make. The soufflé means 'puffed' and was perfected in the 19th century by Marie-Antoine Carême. It's a dessert that weaves in and out of fashion. It's a classic that continues to have its moment before ducking back behind the curtains in favour of a new and more exciting dessert. But the soufflé is all about time and skill. It demands patience to make a perfect version and any error can lead to it being a flop. Each bite should be like eating sweet foamy air. Composed mostly of beaten egg whites baked carefully, you can find soufflés made with cheese or chocolate, vanilla or raspberry. There's no end to discovery with the sacred soufflé.
The beautiful Crème Brûlée always causes quite a stir. Many places want to take credit for this crisp burnt cream dessert. It's very similar to the Spanish version that goes by the name Crema Catalana. An almost identical dessert also dates back to the 19th century when it was introduced by Trinity College in the UK and titled 'The Cambridge Burnt Cream'. Yet, the Crème Brûlée is synonymous with France. Whipped up from light and sweet custard and crowned with a brittle and crisp layer of caramelised sugar, this dessert is flame torched to give it that beautiful bite.
Tiny sponge cakes that come from the Lorraine region of France, Madeleines are the perfect buttery bite. Madeleines have a meltingly good crumb and a crisp edge. They are rich without being heavy, and they have a shell-like shape that adds to their visual appeal. They sometimes come dusted with sugar too. You can serve up a Madeleine in the morning alongside your coffee or you can take it as the French equivalent of afternoon tea. The Madeleine is an essential part of French history and these little cakes were beloved by Louis XV who brought them home to his Queen Marie. They were a favourite in the French court, cementing their role as being an adored French delicacy. These cakes are so ingrained in French culture that they even have their own expression tied in with Marcel Proust's novel 'In Search of Lost Time'. The famed novelist wrote about a sensory experience of dipping a madeleine into tea and unlocking a childhood memory soaked in nostalgia. Today, we still call it Proust's madeleine when a sensory experience reminds us of a memory. For Proust lovers, there is nothing finer than snacking on a madeleine and visiting The Grand Hotel Cabourg -MGallery and booking the 414 suite. This is the very room where Proust used to stay and the beautiful Belle Epoque style has been lovingly restored.
By now your sugar cravings should have kicked in. We hope each bite sized delight whisks you away to cobbled streets and fragrant bakeries. The good news is, you don't have to go all the way to France to feast on these evocative French desserts. Francophile fun has made it across the channel and London is stuffed full of these treats. You can pack up petit-fours for a picnic in Hyde Park, nibble on macarons at a classy champagne afternoon tea, and work your way through all the French pastries over breakfast at the elegant Sofitel London St James. Bon Appétit!