As the saying goes, “Paris is a moveable feast”, and that is certainly the case when it comes to desserts. And all over France for that matter. There are so many wonderful French desserts, that it is impossible to catalog them all.
But there are certain desserts that are “tried and true classics” in brasseries all across France. We try to cover them all (without putting on an extra 5kg!)
1. Baba au rhum
The Baba au Rhum is said to be invented by the same guy who invented French onion soup.
Ex-Polish King Stanislas (whose daughter Marie happened to be married to French King Louis XV) was in exile in the Alsace-Lorraine region, when he decided to take their traditional gugelhupf cake and douse it in liquor.
With a dash of cream, fresh berries and rhum, this dessert is one for the ages. You can get the recipe for baba au rhum here.
A Paris-Brest is a donut-shaped pastry filled with praline cream. It isn’t the lightest dessert on the list, but it is definitely one to try (and share with a friend).
The dessert was created in 1891 to commemorate the creation of a long distance bicycle race (the predecessor of the Tour de France.) Brest is a city on the coast of Bretagne (Brittany), and the bicycle race went from Paris to Brest and back.
The Paris-Brest bicycle race ended in 1951, but its namesake dessert lives on.
If you have never had a crêpe before, you definitely have to plan to have one in Paris. Made from buckwheat flour for savory crêpes and regular flour for the sugary version, it is the French version of the pancake.
Topped with strawberry syrup, nutella, ice cream, the choices are aplenty. Crêpes are specially served during the French celebration of Chandeleur, but there is no need to wait for it, you can serve it all year round.
Macarons might be as ubiquitous in North America today as the cookie is in France, but there’s still something to be said to having one freshly prepared at one of Paris’s finest patisseries.
5. Bertillon’s ice cream
Ice cream may sound a little boring, but this little family ice cream shop in the heart of Paris, has a passionate following. They have over 90 flavors of ice creams and sorbets, although only 30-40 are on the menu at any one time.
Address: 29-31 rue saint louis en l’ile, Paris 75004
The traditional sweet from Aix-en-Provence is not really a dessert, but I had to include it on this list, since it is unlike anything I have tasted before. It is more of a confiserie (candy) made from melon and almond paste and is very sweet.
They are catching on in popularity like the macaron however, so perhaps soon to come to a grocery store near you?
7. French Flan
Flan might be a french word, but the flan you are thinking of is actually a crème caramel.
A French flan has a crust and is usually served as a pie slice. Not that a crème caramel is not great, but if that is what you are looking for, don’t be disappointed if you accidentally receive a flan instead!
The french flan is not very sweet itself but is sometimes served with caramel or chantilly cream on top.
Get the French flan recipe here.
The fiadone is a corsican tarte made normally with brousse or ricotta cheese, grated coconut, a hint of lemon and vanilla.
It is normally very light and fluffy and goes down well on a hot summer’s day, which is why you find it typically in the South of France.
9. Café Gourmand
Now, this is the French dessert you pick if you can’t decide which dessert to get. The café gourmand is a small cup of coffee served with 3 small-size desserts.
You don’t get to pick the dessert, that will be the “surprise du chef” as we say in French, but the choices are usually pretty good.
The picture above is a panna cotta, crème brulée and a small piece of chocolate cake.
Note: The coffee that you will be served with a café gourmand is, by default, an espresso. For a larger cup of coffee or decaf, you can follow my article on ordering coffee in France (hint: there are a lot of possibilities!)
10. Chocolate Eclairs
The grand classic of French desserts is of course the chocolate eclair. An oblong pastry, stuffed with cream and custard, and topped off with chocolate icing.
Forget the pastry filled with industrial sugar that you get in North America, and try one in Paris at one of the city’s famed patisseries like Ladurée and Angelina’s. I promise you it doesn’t taste the same.
11. Mille feuille
An exquisitely complicated dessert to make, the mille feuille means 1000 layers, and is composed of layers of puff pastry and cream. It is sometimes also called the gâteaux Napoléon.
The pastry is folded several times, which is why it is called mille feuille, and the butter cream filling then added to the layers and cooled overnight.
Fun fact: The French love of paperesse is called the “millefeuille administrative”.
The clafoutis is similar to the French flan, but is made traditionally with black cherries.
Like the flan, it is baked with a crust at the bottom, and sometimes served with whipped cream.
The name religiouse means “nun”, but there is nothing nun-like about this dessert.
It is made with two choux pastry, one larger than the other and filled with crème. It can also be filled with chocolate or mocha cream. It is then usually covered on top with chocolate icing.
14. Tarte au citron
Tarte au citron, otherwise known as a lemon meringue pie, is another one of those classics that has travelled the pond.
A pastry shell filled with lemon filling and topped with a smooth meringue cream, what could be better?
15. Tarte aux Pommes
If you don’t like lemon, how about a tarte aux pommes? Topped with sliced apples, the tarte is a variation of the classic american apple pie and is usually flavored with nutmeg or cinammon.
A variation of tarte aux pommes is the Tarte Tatin where the apples are caramelized and a pastry covering is cooked on top.
The traditional meringue from Provence is hardish on the outside, and soft and airy on the inside. They coming in many flavors such as lemon or lavender, and are often topped with nuts.
17. Tartlette frambroise
If you enjoy raspberries, a light tartlette frambroise could be just what you are looking for. Often containing pistachios, you could almost eat the whole thing with one bite! (Almost.)
Nothing says summer like a classic French fraisier. The name comes from fraise, meaning “strawberry”. A dessert filled with cream and strawberries, you could eat one every night and discover a different flavor or texture to it.
A dessert filled with cream and strawberries, you could eat one every night and discover a different flavor or texture to it.
19. Riz au Lait
Riz au lait is one of those underrated desserts that most people overlook.
It is basically a rice pudding, with subtle notes or fruit or cinnamon added to it. It is not as indulgent (in calories) as some of the other desserts on the list, but that is not to say it isn’t as delicious.
Get the riz au lait recipe here.
20. Mousse à la fraise
A mousse à la fraise (strawberry mousse) may seem like a rather plain dessert, but each patisserie chef will bring his own délicatesse to it.
If you don’t like strawberries, any other fruit such as berries, cherries, watermelon, cantaloupe, etc. will do nicely.
Get the Mousse à la fraise recipe here.
21. Eclair au Café
Eclairs don’t just have to be for chocolate you know. This sumptuous looking thing is an eclair au café, or coffee eclair.
The cream is made with coffee extract giving that rich coffee flavor, while filling in the classic pate à choux.
After chocolate, coffee eclairs are the most popular, but you can get various other flavors such as pistachio, raspberry, etc.
22. Bûche de Noël
Bûche de Noël, meaning Christmas log, is the staple of the Christmas meal in France.
There are many other christmas traditions, but this is one of those that is followed religiously (pun intended!). It is basically a chocolate roll cake, but can also come in other flavors such as strawberry.
23. Gâteau au Yaourt
Gâteau au Yaourt (translated as “yogurt cake”) may be the cake specially made for kids, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy it as well.
24. Galette de Roi
If it is early January, you will likely find your local French patisserie packed with people trying to buy a galettes des rois. And that is because this treat is especially reserved for 3 Kings’ Day or Jour de l’Epiphanie.
The galette des rois is a type of pancake made from pastry that has been browned in the oven. It is sometimes filled with frangipane, fruits or creams.
25. Piece Montée
You won’t see a piece montée unless you go to a traditional French wedding, but if you do, you should definitely try it. Instead of elaborate cake, weddings in France usually have a doughy pastry pyramid called the croquembouche or la piece montée.
This literally translates to bite in the mouth and is made out of small choux pastries. If you do want to try a pâte à choux without going to a wedding, you can easily try them at your local French patisserie. (For Canadian readers, they are a bit like timbits!)
26. Charlotte Russe
The charlotte russe is said to have been created by famed French chef Antoine Carême in 1803, when he opened up a patisserie in Paris. (It is not clear how he came up with the name.)
The cake is immediately recognisable by the small pieces of sweet white bread or biscuits that line the bottom and all around. The biscuits are called biscuits à la cuillère or boudoirs aux oeufs and are easily available in grocery stores across France and in North America as “lady finger biscuits”.
Typically made with raspberries, fruit charlottes usually combine a fruit purée or preserve with a custard filling, chantilly, or whipped cream. But you can also have a chocolate charlotte is made with layers of chocolate mousse filling.
Originally from Bordeaux, a canelé is a small French cake flavored with rum and vanilla. It usually has a soft custard center and looks like a small bite-sized cupcake.
Sometimes topped with cream, it is now widely available across France, and is often given as a gift. It is also often included as part of the café gourmand.
The Dacquoise is a cake from the southwest of France in Nouvelle Aquitaine. It consists of two or three layers of almond dough separated by layers of butter cream and sometimes fruit.
Often nuts like pistachios, coconut, or hazelnuts will be baked into the dough as well.
29. Gateau St. Honoré
The gâteau Saint Honoré is a dessert cake named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, Saint Honoré or Honoratus (600 A.D.) who was the Bishop of Amiens.
Don’t be fooled though, the cake was only invented in the 19th century at the Chiboust bakery on Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris. It features small pâte à chou (dough balls) encircling a butter cream center or chantilly, like a halo.
30. Gâteau Opéra
Named after the Opéra Garnier in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, the gâteau opéra is an almond sponge cake. It is usually made with a coffee, chocolate filling and icing, however it can also be covered it fruit syrup.
It is usually highly decorated and soaked in coffee syrup (or the digestif Grand Marnier).
It is believed to have been invented in around 1955, intended as a luxury dessert to attract the bourgeoisie crowd, hence the name.
Gauffres, or waffles as they are called in English, are a specialty in the north of France and Belgium.
A pastry made with a light dough, they are baked in a waffle iron consisting of two metal plates that leave tile-shaped square imprints in the dough.
They are usually served as a dessert since the dough is sweetened, and topped with fruit, chantilly, chocolate, or other creams.
A profiterole is another chou pastry, but unlike the chouquette, it is filled with butter or vanilla cream.
Usually topped with chocolate syrup, they can also be topped with sugar or other creams.
They became world-famous when renowned French chefs like Antoine Beauvilliers and Marie-Antoine Carême wrote about them in their cookbooks during the 19th century.
So many desserts, so little time! And don’t forget to try a digestif with your dessert. Happy eating and à bientôt!