The 15 Most Iconic French Desserts
Head to any pâtisserie in Paris, and you'll be bowled over by the beautiful assortment of colorful cakes and pastries before you. These flavors will astound and transport you — and luckily, you can recreate them right at home. From simple tea cakes to multi-layered entremets, the recipes below will show you the ins and outs of France's most famous desserts.
Easy Yogurt Cake
In French households, yogurt cake is often the first recipe a child makes (almost) all on their own. This simple recipe uses a yogurt pot as a measuring cup, combining flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs, oil, and yogurt to make a tender cake perfect for le goûter — an after-school snack.
Apple Tarte Tatin
If you believe the legend, tarte Tatin was invented by the Tatin sisters in central France. At the hotel they owned and ran, one of the sisters accidentally forgot to line her apple pie pan with dough. Thinking quickly, she covered the apples with a sheet of puff pastry, thus creating this buttery upside-down apple tart.
These gorgeous sandwich cookies have captivated the hearts of many a dessert lover. Naturally gluten-free, macarons are made by assembling two light almond cookies around the filling of your choice. A perfect macaron will have a frilly "foot" at its base. Color your cookies with food coloring to help them match the flavor in your filling.
Originally hailing from Brittany, paper-thin crêpes are now sold at stands all around France. Garnish them with whatever filling you fancy: Nutella and banana, or lemon and sugar are common combinations, but so is a simple layer of your favorite jam.
Rich, creamy crème brûlée gets its name — literally "burnt cream" — from the crisp layer of caramelized sugar on top of the thick custard. Usually flavored with vanilla, you can change up your crème brûlée by adding almond extract, cinnamon, or cocoa.
French Apple Tart
With apple slices arranged in a rose atop a brandy-spiked frangipane filling, this tart is as beautiful as it is delicious. Serve it dolloped with rich Normandy crème fraîche to truly gild the lily.
Eclairs are just one of many French pastries made with choux dough, which is stirred together on the stovetop before being piped and baked. The result is airy and light: perfect for filling with rich pastry cream. Tradition demands that the filling and icing for éclairs be of the same flavor: Chocolate and coffee are the most common choices, but caramel, vanilla, pistachio, and even speculoos can be found too.
Canelés de Bordeaux
Cannelés are a cake typical of the Bordeaux region, where legend has it they were invented to use up egg yolks left over from filtering local wine through egg whites. The fluted cakes are rich and moist — and they're particularly delicious when spiked with a spot of rum.
In French, a madeleine de Proust is an expression referencing something that inspires a visceral memory — usually a flavor or food. The saying comes from Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, in which the main character tastes a bite of madeleine cookie dipped in tea and finds himself propelled back to his childhood — perhaps one of the first instances of flashback in literature. One bite of this buttery cookie, and you'll soon see why it was such an evocative memory!
This cake may be difficult to pronounce, but it's not hard to love! This cake hails from Brittany; in local Breton dialect, its name means "butter cake." Made with a laminated dough similar to a croissant, it's enriched with sugar to become buttery, flaky, and just sweet enough to satisfy.
This cake gets its name for its "thousand layers" of crispy, buttery puff pastry that sandwich the rich vanilla cream. In the U.S., it's perhaps better known as a Napoleon, though the French never use the name of their most famous emperor for this towering pastry.
Brandied Cherry Clafouti
This rich, eggy dessert is typically made with fresh, seasonal cherries. Baked into the custard-like batter, they burst and infuse the dessert with their delicious flavor. A bit of brandy makes this dessert extra special.
French Chocolate Mousse with Orange
The perfect chocolate mousse is a study in contrast: rich and chocolatey, but light as air. In this recipe, a hint of orange brings out the bitterness in the chocolate. Naturally gluten-free, this dessert is also dairy-free if you opt for vegan dark chocolate.
Buche de Noel
A French Christmas wouldn't be complete without a "yule log," the ornate cake made of rolled sponge and buttercream. Decorations can be as simple as carving some bark detail into the frosting or as elaborate as making mushrooms and moss out of meringue or marzipan.
Croissants may seem like the most emblematic of all French pastries, but say that to a French person, and you'll quickly find yourself rebuffed! In the French mindset, a croissant isn't a pastry at all, but rather a "viennoiserie" or "Vienna bread." These crescent-shaped buttery morsels are eaten for breakfast, but when homemade with top-quality butter, they're enough of a treat to have for dessert – or any time you like!