10 Easy French Desserts You Don't Have to Be a Pastry Chef to Master

Overhead view of chocolate pots de creme desserts topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate
Photo: Meredith

The first stop on any foodie's Paris bucket list is undoubtedly a pâtisserie. From cream-stuffed éclairs to a classic tower of croquembouche, it's not for nothing that Marie-Antoine Carême, the 19th century pâtissier who became France's first celebrity chef, dubbed confectionery the "main branch" of architecture. But while meticulously made desserts are some of France's most famous, they are not the only options. When tasked with a homemade dessert, locals opt for other delicacies: just as delicious, but deceptively simple, and thus easy for any home cook to master — even one without French blood running through their veins. Read on to get recipes for easy French desserts, from paper-thin crêpes to decadent chocolate mousse, fruit-filled tarte tatin, and more.

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overhead view of Crepes recipe garnished with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup

Hailing from the northwestern French region of Brittany, where they've been enjoyed since the Middle Ages, crêpes are made with an eggy batter ladled thinly over a hot pan or griddle. (Their savory counterpart, the galette complète, is made with gluten-free buckwheat flour.) Flipped high in the air, the lacy pancakes can be filled with anything from jam to Nutella to fruit to a simple dusting of sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

In France, they're traditionally made on the second day of February, aka Candlemas. The superstitious among them hold a gold or silver coin in one hand while flipping the crêpe in the air with the other. If it lands on the pan on the first try, the year ahead will bring good fortune!

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Yogurt Cake (Gâteau au Yaourt)

slice of cake on a white plate with cake in the background
Diana Moutsopoulos

What Rice Krispies treats or chocolate chip cookies are to Americans, yogurt cake is to the French: a cake easy enough that a small child could make it almost entirely on their own. The secret to success? The yogurt cup traditionally doubles as the measuring cup, too!

This French yogurt cake recipe goes the French route, using the yogurt container to measure ingredients. As an alternative, you could try an even more authentic measuring system: Count out one pot of yogurt, one of oil, three of flour and two of sugar. You can cut down on the sugar by half and use a flavored yogurt instead, if you prefer. Add a half measure of mini chocolate chips (as shown) for a delightful variation.

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Chocolate Mousse

There's something magical about the way that the decadence of chocolate mousse is inversely related to how difficult it is to make. A classic of both French home kitchens and bistro menus, this simple chocolate mousse contains just three ingredients: chocolate, eggs, and rum. The secret ingredient? Air. By whipping the egg whites to medium-stiff peaks and then carefully folding in the melted dark chocolate (let it cool until it's barely warm so the eggs don't scramble), egg yolks, and rum, you'll find yourself facing off with the richest, most luscious chocolate mousse you've ever had.

Gild the lily with a touch of whipped cream…or don't! The choice is yours. The only difficult part of this recipe will be waiting the five hours it takes to set up in the fridge! (Editor's note: This recipe contains raw eggs. We recommend that pregnant women, young children, the elderly and the infirm do not consume raw eggs.)

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Chef John's Cherry Clafouti

As fun to say as it is to eat, clafoutis (claw-foo-TEE) is a dense, eggy custard that's poured over fresh, seasonal fruit and baked until just set. Enjoyed hot or cold, plain or dusted with powdered sugar, it's one of the best ways to enjoy summer's bounty.

Clafoutis originally hails from the Limousin region — also home to Limoges and its beautiful pottery. The local bounty demands that cherries be at the heart of a more traditional clafoutis; any similar dessert made with a different fruit should technically be dubbed a flaugnarde.

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Apple Rhubarb Cake

slice of French-Style Apple Rhubarb Cake recipe topped with slivered almonds

The perfect blend of rusticity and charm, this gateau vite fait or quickly-made cake is the ideal sweet treat to have around for that oh-so-French of traditions, le goûter.

The French, by and large, are not big snackers: They eat a small, sweet breakfast of pastry or bread and jam with coffee and enjoy leisurely, hours-long lunches (even during the work week). By dinnertime, they're ready to tuck into reasonably-sized portions of mains like beef bourguignon, finishing with a bit of cheese and perhaps fruit or yogurt for dessert. But around 4 p.m., the stomach demands a little nibble, and that's where le goûter comes in. Originally envisaged as an after-school snack for little ones too young to wait for their 8 p.m. supper, le goûter is enjoyed by many French adults as well, and a bit of buttery, vanilla-scented cake crowned with rhubarb, apples, and almonds is just the ticket — with or without un petit café.

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homemade French Butter Cakes (Madeleines) arranged on a decorative white plate with a lace-patterned rim.
Jane Bynoe

Another classic of le goûter? A shell-shaped madeleine: the prototypical snacking cake that Marcel Proust immortalized in his A la Recherche du Temps Perdu as the perfect example of the nostalgia associated with the flavors of our childhood. Madeleines are traditionally from eastern French Lorraine, though they've taken the French capital by storm of late, appearing in the finest pastry shops, occasionally glazed and filled with other flavors like fruit, honey, or chocolate. They're just as divine plain — and if you're looking to evoke Proust, you'll want to dip them ever so slightly into a cup of tea sweetened with honey.

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Crème Brûlée

A favorite of Amélie Poulain made famous in the eponymous film, crème brûlée, when made properly, is sheer perfection: A sweet, vanilla-infused custard is just barely set in the oven before being chilled until set and smooth. Just before serving, the individual ramekins are sprinkled with sugar and caramelized with a blowtorch to create that crackly crust that's oh-so-satisfying to break with the tip of your spoon.

And if you don't have your own blowtorch, not to worry: Reviewers have found that, in a pinch, a (closely surveyed!) trip under the broiler can burnish these bad boys just as nicely.

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Flourless Chocolate Lava Cake

Is there anything sexier than a chocolate cake that oozes delicious melted chocolate from within its barely set heart? The ideal date night dessert, these lava cakes are surprisingly simple to make. Use good quality dark chocolate to ensure the flavor of these little gâteaux is positively parfait.

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Tarte Tatin

If you believe the legend, it was Stéphanie Tatin who first created this tart at the hotel she ran with her sister, Caroline, in France's central Loire Valley. One (particularly stressful) day, Stéphanie accidentally placed her famous apple tart in the oven upside down. She let it be, flipping it right-side-up when it emerged, caramelized and crisp, from the oven. It was an immediate success — so much so that Maxim's Restaurant of Paris sent a spy to suss out the recipe.

While the original tarte Tatin is made with apples, this pear version is a delicious play on the classic, jazzed up with a touch of warming cinnamon, nutmeg, and a good glug of maple syrup. And since it relies on ready-to-use puff pastry, it couldn't be easier to make.

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Pots de Crème

Overhead view of chocolate pots de creme desserts topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate

Think of a pot de crème like a fancy pudding. To make it, a combination of cream and half-and-half is thickened with egg yolks and sweetened with sugar, chocolate, and a touch of vanilla. Coffee adds depth and just the right bitter undertones to these pots, while a touch of salt offsets all of the sweetness without ever becoming cloying. Make these up to three days in advance of your next dinner party or gathering, crowning them with fresh berries and whipped cream or shards of shaved chocolate for the perfect finishing touch. Chef John makes a version of pots de crème without egg yolks: Try his recipe for Ultimate Chocolate Dessert.

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