France is so well renowned for its desserts, that even the term ‘pastry chef’ is derived from the French language. With so many delicious French desserts to choose from, it’s no wonder that France is home to the best patisseries in the world.
Thanks to the French, specialist dessert chefs, or ‘pâtissiers’, first became fashionable in the 18th century. A French pâtissier named Marie-Antoine Carême owned a patisserie in the fashionable French city of Paris and was the very first celebrity chef. His creations became so famous that they spread throughout the royal courts of Europe to the table of George IV in Britain and the nobility. French desserts soon became the epitome of fine dining, not just in France, but in the whole of Europe.
If you have a taste for the finer things, then make sure you try this list of top ten delicious French desserts when you visit the home of the pâtissiers.
The secret to a good crème brûlée is a silky-smooth vanilla custard that’s rich and indulgent. Topped with sugar that’s crystallised by applying a quick blast of heat, this classic French dessert is served cold – simple, yet parfait!
First documented in 1691 by François Massialot in his recipe book, the humble crème brûlée is said to have been influenced by the Spanish dish, crema catalana. After falling out of fashion, crème brûlée vanished from the recipe books until it enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s. Now a staple French dessert, it’s well worth tasting!
This French favourite dish can be served savoury or sweet. Inflated to a height from the ramekin by its whisked egg whites mixed with crème pâtissière, the solution rises on baking as the trapped air tries to escape the mixture. Known for being light and fluffy, soufflé tends to remain liquified in the middle, giving it a rich, indulgent centre.
Its invention is attributed to the master pâtissier, Vincent La Chapelle, who invented it in the early eighteenth century. Baked as a dessert, it is commonly served in chocolate or lemon flavour. Sweet soufflé is best served hot out of the oven, accompanied by crème anglaise, cream or ice cream.
A firm French favourite dessert is the chocolate éclair. This light, choux pastry bun is filled with indulgent whipped cream or crème pâtissière. The bun is finished with icing, which is usually chocolate flavoured.
Taken from the French word for ‘lightning’, it is thought that the éclair is aptly named because it is so moreish, that it is eaten in a flash. Originating from the French town of Lyons, this classic French dessert first appeared in patisseries in the 1860s, named ‘petite duchesse’.
The French macaron is one of the most fashionable foods. The delicate biscuits are made with egg whites to create a light, round, almond-flavoured biscuit of the consistency of meringue. Sandwiched together with flavoured ganache, macarons come in many flavours and colours and often grace the tables of high-end cafés and patisseries.
Thought to originate from Sicily, the macaron is derived from ancient Arab recipes for nut-based cakes with almond cream inside. In the sixteenth century, the recipe for macarons travelled to France with Catherine de Medici when she married Henry II of France. The modern understanding of a macaron is slightly different, and recipes developed in the twentieth century included colourings.
Mille-feuille is popular French dessert that usually has 729 layers of pastry! Known by a variety of names, including ‘Napoleon’, ‘vanilla slice’ and ‘custard slice’, this French dessert is made from three layers of puff pastry that are separated by crème pâtissière filling. The top layer is traditionally decorated with royal icing and marbled chocolate.
The first mention of mille-feuille is in a French recipe book by Vincent La Chapelle in 1733. It increased in popularity during the Napoleonic era of the early 1800s and was sold in many Parisian patisseries. ‘Mille-feuille’ translates as ‘cake of a thousand sheets’ and is thought to be the origin of stacked bakes.
Another popular French dessert is tarte Tatin. Sticky, sweet apples are paired with a pastry tart base to create a sugary masterpiece. Baked in the oven like an upside-down cake, when the tin is flipped, the top of the tart reveals a tasty, caramelised apple topping.
Created in the 1880s by two sisters at the Hôtel Tatin, tarte Tatin was the venue’s signature dish. Supposedly, Stéphanie Tatin baked an ordinary tart upside down after overcooking the filling for an apple pie. She tried to recover the dish by placing pastry on top of the caramelised apples and cooking the whole thing in the oven. The dessert was an immediate success with customers!
French toast is the perfect sweet breakfast or alternative dessert. White, crustless bread is dipped in a sugary egg mix and fried to create a crisp, sweet treat that tastes similar to a pancake. Often the batter has vanilla or cinnamon added to give more flavour. A drizzle of maple syrup, a handful of blueberries and a sprinkling of icing sugar finishes the dish off wonderfully.
It’s thought that this classic French dish originated in the Roman empire, so it’s approximately 2000 years old! The French name for this dish is ‘pain perdu’, which translates as ‘lost bread’ and reflects the medieval history of the dish when stale bread was recovered by frying it.
Madeleines are cakes made from genoise cake mixture and baked into petite shell-shaped moulds. Each madeleine is only a bite or two in size and is lightly flavoured with ground almonds, which are mixed into the cake. They make a delightful dessert if you haven’t time for a sit-down meal.
Madeleines are thought to originate from the Loraine region of France and there are many conflicting stories about their origin. A favourite story links the small shell-shaped cakes to pilgrims on their way to Compostela in Spain. You can learn more about the Christian pilgrims and the tradition of leaving shells in our blog about the French town of Vézelay.
Profiteroles, or choux à la crème, are a favourite dessert in France. Light, choux pastry buns are baked until they’re hollow and then piped with cold crème pâtissière, cream or custard. Drizzled with melted chocolate, they are often served in a decorative pyramid.
Invented by the Head Chef to Catherine de Medici following her marriage to the French King, Henry II, profiteroles were a firm favourite of the Queen. From the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century, the recipe was adapted as pastry chefs mastered the art of desserts. Profiteroles were perfected in their current form by Marie-Antoine Carême, in the late 1800s and have been a French staple ever since.
Almond cream combines with crème pâtissière in this delicious dessert, enjoyed throughout France. A French variation on the original Frangipane Tarte is known as Gallette des Rois. Made with puff pastry and filled with almond cream filling, it is eaten at Epiphany as the ‘king cake’.
Frangipane Tarte is a dessert claimed by both the French and Italians. Frangipane tarte was supposedly invented by sixteenth-century Parisian chefs and named after the almond-custard used in the tart. It is said that the filling was likened to the frangipani plant, which has a pungent jasmine-like smell. Other sources claim that the dish was invented by an in Italian nobleman whilst he was visiting the court of the French King, Louis XIII.
Ready to Try these Classic French Desserts for Yourself?
Guests who cruise with us in France will have the opportunity to try some of the delicious french desserts listed above, all freshly prepared by our master chef using the finest local ingredients.