French breakfast: 13 Foods and ideas to start your morning

Find out what a typical French breakfast looks like, with ideas and dishes that you can prepare for that hearty meal in the morning.
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The typical French breakfast may not be quite what you think. There is no bacon and sausages, and while there may be the odd croissant or two, it is not the norm for every morning.

The traditional breakfast in France is quite light, although it is often quite relatively sweet. If you are looking for inspiration, here are top French breakfast ideas that will help you start your day in the morning. Allons-y!

1. Tartine

The simplest of all French breakfast ideas, and the absolute favorite of most kids: slather a bit of nutella or chocolate cream spread on a piece of baguette and you have a tartine au chocolat.

Chocolate tartine - French snacks
Nutella for a chocolate tartine

This seems absolutely decadent, but if you use whole wheat bread and a good chocolate spread, it is certainly better than an industrially-produced cake.

A tartine is the act of spreading something on a baguette, or sliced bread, it could be jam, butter, cream cheese, etc. This is the usual breakfast that a lot of French people indulge in every morning.

2. Cafe Au Lait (Café crème)

Coffee with milk is always a favorite in France for breakfast. (Tea is only now slowly gaining in popularity.)

drinking coffee from a bowl
Courtesy of Brodie Visseurs

Café crème the French version of what foreigners may call Café au lait meaning “coffee with milk”. (It sounds french, but no French person actually calls it Café au Lait. Even the Wikipedia page of Café au lait doesn’t have a French translation.)

Instead, coffee in the morning is called café crème which is not coffee with cream, but coffee with milk added. The base is an espresso in a larger cup to make room for the added milk.

This is also the coffee is usually drunk from a bowl for breakfast in France. The reason is so that you can dip your tartine or croissant into it. This is only at breakfast in France, at other times of the day the coffee served is a small plain café in an espresso sized cup.

3. Buckwheat Crepes

A crêpe is one of those things that you can have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on its toppings. In France, we have two types of crêpes, sarrasin and froment.

savory crepe with egg, ham and cheese

Froment is regular wheat and is usually used for the crêpe sucrée (sugary crêpes), such as crêpes with honey, fruit toppings, or ice cream.

Sarrasin crêpes, on the other hand, are made from buckwheat. You can get the recipe for crêpes salées (savory crêpes) with cheese, ham, eggs here.

4. Chocolat chaud

If you are not a tea or coffee persion, try a chocolat chaud. Hot chocolate, but not the industrial powdery stuff that you get at a grocery store.

The real chocolat chaud at a chocolaterie like Angelina or Ladurée, will be made from the finest chocolate melted in a pot, with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and just a hint of milk. Each chocolatier will have his own recipe, so don’t hesitate to try a few different recipes to find your favorite 😉

5. Brioche

A brioche is a light sweet French bread containing eggs and butter.  It is a cross between a bread, a cake, and a viennoiserie (pastry).

It is believed to originate from Normandy in the 16th century. The purportedly famous saying by Marie-Antoinette was actually “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!, not “cake”, which is gâteau in French.

You can use it for a tartine with jam or butter, or just eat it plain by dipping it in your coffee or hot chocolate.

Brioche in shop window

There are several types of brioches, with each region having its own recipe and speciality:

  • Brioche Parisienne – the classic brioche made from butter, eggs, milk, flour, sugar, salt, yeast. Brioche de Paris is recognizable for its shape, made up of two superimposed balls, the smaller one on top of a larger one.
  • Brioche de Nanterre – the historic brioche dating back to the days of Saint Genevieve in 450 AD. Unlike the brioche parisienne, the brioche de Nanterre is rectangular and made up of balls of dough placed side by side.
  • Brioche tressée de Metz – a braided brioche (three pieces of dough braided together) from Metz during festive occasions.
  • Brioche au sucre – brioche with small bits of sugar on the crust.

6. Pain Perdu (French toast)

It is not called french toast in France, but rather a pain perdu (which translates literally to lost bread). Beat the eggs in a bowl and add a little bit of milk.

Pain Perdu
Pain Perdu

Place the bread in an oven sized pan, and cover with the egg mixture, and bake for 15 minutes at 180C (350F). Once cooked, add some sliced fruit or cinnamon on top for the perfect French breakfast.

7. Croissants and viennoiseries

Legend has it that the croissant was a tradition that the young Marie-Antoinette of Austria brought with her to France, when she married French King Louis XVI. Hence it became known as a viennoiserie or “thing from Vienna (the capital of Austria)” to have at breakfast.

close up of croissants and other viennoiseries on a plate

Today, croissants and other viennoiseries like pain au chocolat, chausson aux pommes, etc. are an indelibly considered French foods (although, the Austrians might disgree).

While you can find croissants all over the world these days, there is nothing like a french croissant, light and airy fresh out of the oven. However, it is not actually that common in the morning, as fresh croissants are best and it is not always practical to go to the boulangerie first thing in the morning to fetch your breakfast.

8. Oeufs cocotte

Oeufs cocotte is a type of baked eggs, where the eggs are cracked open in an individual-sized flat-bottomed dish that is called to cocotte.

Aspic, a type of oeuf cocotte
Aspic, a type of oeuf cocotte

The eggs in the cocotte are then baked for about 10-15 minutes are so, and then served while still in the cocotte.

9. Pain au Chocolat

The debate has lasted for centuries: is it a pain au chocolat or a chocolatine? If you are from Paris and the north of France it is a pain au chocolat for breakfast, but in the south-west of France it is a chocolatine.

Pain au chocolat (Chocolatine)

Made from the same pastry layers as a croissant with chocolate added to it, pain au chocolat literally translates to “chocolate bread”.

In the French part of Belgium, it is referred to as couque au chocolat, while the Quebecois also call it chocolatine. And the Germans? They call it schokoladencroissant. In all, a debate that is bound to continue.

10. Canistrelli

Canistrelli is a type of sweet bread biscuit made from wheat flour and sugar, with variations including raisins, anise or lemon. The canistrelli are usually dipped in the morning tea, coffee or milk.

Other variations include the addition of hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, chocolate chips, etc.

11. French Scrambled Eggs

Known as oeufs brouillés, scrambled eggs are a grand classic in French cuisine. Eat them plain, mixed with some potatoes, or on top of a piece of bread for an easy and healthy breakfast.

Potato egg scramble
Potato and egg scramble

They can be cooked in under 10 minutes and can be as hard or soft as you wish. You can get the recipe for a cheesy potato egg scramble here.

12. Beignets

Donuts are not the healthiest of breakfasts, they do exist in France as well. Beignet is the French word for “donuts”, although if you looked at them you may not necessarily recognize as a donut.

Beignets à la framboise and au chocolat in a shop window

Dating back to the 13th century in France, these balls of dough sometimes contain a filling like a fruit compote, jam, or chocolate. They are then fried in butter.

Each region in France has their own beignet, with the most popular varieties being:

  • Beignets bretons – from Brittany
  • Bougnettes – in Pays Catalan (near Spain)
  • Bugnes – in Savoy and Lyon
  • Chichi frégi – Provence
  • Fantaisies – Burgundy
  • Faverolles or frivolles – in Champagne
  • Fritelles – in Corsica
  • Ganses – in Nice
  • Oreillettes – in Languedoc
  • Risoles – in Jura (served during New Year)
  • Schankala – in Alsace (during carnival)

13. Oeufs au four

If you are looking for an easy breakfast idea, French egg muffins, aka oeufs au four is your answer. The egg muffins can be prepared in a batch in advance, and served whenever you want.

Egg cupcakes on a plate - oeufs au four

With a provençale influence of tomato and garlic, it is somewhat similar to a French cake salé (savory cake) and a breakfast egg casserole, but in bite-size servings. You can get the recipe for French egg muffins here.


If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about a typical French foods. A bientôt!

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