For those wondering what to taste while strolling the streets of Paris, buying treats from an Aussie patisserie, or keen to try their hand at baking at home, we explore some of the best French pastries on offer – sweet and savoury.
In France, apple pies are found in many shapes, textures and forms. These range from the famous tarte tatin – where the apples are proudly displayed, placed on a puff pastry base – to more closed tarts such as the thresher doughhalf-moon-shaped pies that celebrate apples at harvest time.
Generally, apple pies, including these two, share the classic ingredients of butter, sugar, and vanilla bean.
Donuts originated in France and are now found all over the world, which means there are many adaptations. The traditionally French variety looks like a kind of beignet, made either from a choux pastry or a yeast dough. Donuts are usually eaten warm and simply sprinkled with icing sugar. Others are more glamorous filled with cream or chocolate.
Canelés are heavenly little cakes defined by a pastry cream center protected by a caramelized crust.
The four fundamental ingredients of a canelé are flour, egg yolks, vanilla and rum. Pastry chefs do not usually play with the classic shape of canelés: a cylindrical shape with fluted edges. They are perfect with coffee.
Chouquettes adorn an inordinate number of patisseries and bakeries in France, and are often hung near the counter, inviting a last-minute purchase.
Baked “little cabbage balls”, as they translate, are sprinkled with pearl sugar and are served as is or topped with a mousse or custard. Try a plain version first to fully appreciate the simplicity of the dough, crispy on the outside and melting on the inside.
Croissants are a staple, the breakfast pastry of choice for many in France. Croissants in France are generally not as tall, chunky or puffy as some of their foreign counterparts. A good plain dish may suffice, but if you want a little more, get your hands on a ham and cheese or almond version.
Eclairs are the ideal sweetness for the afternoon express and come in endless variations. The coffee éclairs are excellent pick-me-ups and the pistachio or chestnut ones are for umami lovers. You can also opt for a fruit filling, such as strawberry cream, for something sweeter. Sealed with shimmering frostings, it can be hard to stop at just one.
If you want to enjoy the best of fresh French produce, consider fruit tarts.
You’ll find plenty of pies crowned with amazing raspberries, blueberries, apples, or peaches when those fruits are in season. Under the fruit fillings is often pastry cream or custard. Other pies simply display the fruit itself.
Macarons should not be confused with macaroons. Both are indeed fancy cookie sandwiches, but the macaroon cookies are made from meringue and almond flour, while the macaroons are made from coconut.
Macaroons were introduced to France by the Italian Medici family during the Renaissance. Sweets have become an integral part of French cake culture. They come in a kaleidoscope of flavors and the French style ones are filled with jam, buttercream or ganache.
A classic millefeuille, which translates graphically to “millefeuille,” features layers of puff pastry and vanilla pastry cream with a dusting of icing sugar. Although it sounds simple, in its purest form cake is incredibly difficult to master.
France is full of modern versions that contain ingredients such as chocolate frosting, jams and fruits. Basically, what unites different types of mille-feuilles are three layers of dough and two layers of cream.
Named after the famous French Mont Blanc, this sweet treat features meringue, encased in sprigs of chestnut puree. It is often garnished with whipped cream or icing sugar, evoking the summit of the snowy mountain. These pretty desserts make common appearances at afternoon teas and bridal showers.
An opera cake is the French answer to tiramisu, an ideal dessert for coffee lovers. Architecturally, it is based on three layers: an almond sponge soaked in coffee syrup, a rich chocolate ganache and a coffee buttercream. The layers are meant to represent the levels of a real opera – logical and decadent.
Pain au chocolat is bluntly translated as “pain au chocolat” because it was originally made from brioche.
The pastry has adapted to rely on leavened puff pastry, which wraps around a stick of chocolate before it is baked. They are the favorite of children on the way to school, as well as older children.
The Paris-Brest, although founded in Paris, is found throughout France. It was designed to promote the Paris-Brest-Paris cycling race, explaining its resemblance to a bicycle wheel. These are available in small sizes for one person or large sizes ideal for sharing. The pretty circle of choux pastry, garnished with a hazelnut cream and topped with slivered almonds, will make a beautiful centerpiece at dessert time.
This quiche is a mainstay of French cuisine, a quintessential treat known around the world. It combines bacon, cheese and onion to create a smoky yet comforting quiche. Some pastry chefs include vegetables, but in France try to find a traditional quiche Lorraine before trying others.
Speaking of look-alike pastries, here are the religious cakes. These were created in 19th century Paris by Italian pastry chef Frascati. Nun is the French word for ‘nun’, who is lovingly honored in dessert form by two chocolate-topped puffs that are stacked on top of each other – the larger bottom bun and the top bun, representing the body and the head. The buns are filled with pastry cream, pastry cream, coffee, caramel or rose cream.
In the same category as the Paris-Brest, is the St Honoré. Named in honor of the French patron saint of pastry chefs. It is a little more elaborate than the Paris-Brest, with a puff pastry base holding the choux pastry. It is filled with pastry cream and gloriously topped with cream puffs.
Pies are a great way to showcase French cheeses. Maroilles is a soft cow’s milk cheese from the regions of Thiérache and Avesnois. Cheese is often described as strong, nutty and pungent, so if you can’t stand strong cheeses, this one isn’t for you.
A shortcrust pastry contains a simple mixture of cheese, fresh cream, butter and eggs, ensuring that there aren’t many distractions from the hero that is cheese. It is baked until the cheese is gooey and the top is golden brown.
Here’s another one for the big cheese lovers. This tart combines Roquefort and caramelized onion, a genius balance combining the saltiness and acidity of Roquefort with the sweetness of caramelized onions. This is ideal for lunch with a salad.
Yule logs or yule logs are popping up all over the country during the Christmas season.
A sheet of plain Italian-style sponge cake is topped with chocolate cream and rolled into a log shape. Why a newspaper, you ask? It refers to the tradition of families burning logs on Christmas Eve, in an effort to bring good luck in the New Year.
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