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Old pâtissier sign | © Tavallai / Flickr
Old pâtissier sign | © Tavallai / Flickr
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A Guide to the Best French Pastries

Picture of Holly Howard
Updated: 6 February 2018
What’s your favourite French pastry? The classic croissant or something sweeter with a little cream? France is universally renowned for its delightful pastries and so whether you’ve got a trip on the horizon or want to know what to look out for locally, read our guide covering all the favourites.

Canelé

The small French pastry canelé hails from the Bordeaux region of France. It is known for its thick caramelized crust and softer, vanilla center. These pastries are perfect for a snack or finishing off an evening meal with some Chantilly cream.

Opéra

If you’ve never tried an opéra cake then you’re super missing out. These are easily identifiable next to other French delicacies by their thin and oh-so-pretty layers of almond and coffee soaked sponge, ganache, coffee, buttercream, and topped off in a usually very glossy chocolate glaze.

Kouign Amann

The Kouign Amann comes from Brittany, the coastal region in the north of France. Its main ingredients are butter, bread dough and sugar, so very much a treat pastry. See what you think, but most people say it tastes like a crunchy croissant. Heaven…

Macaron

Macaraons originate from Italy, but have been made and enjoyed in France since the early 1500s. It is believed that the macaron that we salivate over today – the two almond meringue pieces filled with buttercream, ganache and so on – is the creation of the French pastry chef Ladurée, whose pâtisseries in Paris are inundated by visitors each year.

Mille-feuille

Mille-feuille (translates as thousand-leaf) is a real French pastry classic. Traditionally, it is constructed from three layers of puff pastry and two layers of the delicious crème pâtissière.

Paris-brest

This delightful praline pastry has quite a fun history. It was created in 1910 to commemorate the Paris to Brest roundtrip bicycle race and was very popular with the cyclists. Not hard to see why! I think we’ll take two…

Croissant

Of course, we couldn’t forget the croissant. The first mention of the croissant in literature was in the 1840s, so give or take a few years, the croissant has been on the scene for a long, long time. If you want to start your day off in a French way, choose a croissant every time.

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Basket of croissants | © Marco Verch / Flickr

Flan pâtissier

Everyone loves a bit of custard. Portugal has their little round pastéis de nata, Britain a good ‘ol trifle and in Paris, a slice of flan is probably one of the only things you’ll see people eating on the street. Not headed to Paris? No problem, every boulangerie in France will sell it.

Éclair

Originated during the 19th century in France, an éclair is almost impossible to beat. That is if you sample a proper French éclair. By this we mean one that has the flavoured crème pâtissière filling and not just whipped cream.

Galette des Rois

The Galette des Rois is an Epiphany cake filled with frangipane, which gets enjoyed on 6 January in France. The fève (a small figurine) gets hidden inside and if you see little crowns resting on top of them in the bakeries, it’s because the name means the King’s Cake.

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Galette des Rois | © Gaël Chardon / Flickr

Fraisier

A gloriously light and fruity French cake, usually made with a base of strawberries, although you can also find framboisier if you are a raspberry fan. Made with sponge and cream, you can find these cakes either in cute individual portions or as a bigger sharing cake.

Tarte Tatin

Even though the tarte tatin originated in France in the 1880s, country-specific varieties of this tasty pastry can be found the world over. In France, it is a fruit tart – apples usually, but pears can be used, too – where the fruit is caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked.

Palmier

A puff pastry treat with lots of butter and sugar, palmier translates to ‘palm tree’ and its shape is meant to represent that of a palm leaf. Traditionally, a palmier is as pictured below, however you’ll find everything from flavoured to savoury varieties that are just as tasty.

Breakfast pastries

Croissants are already on the list, bien sûr, but what about a pain aux raisins? A pain au chocolat? These French pastries are called Viennoiseries and are typically eaten for breakfast or as snacks. They get their name from being baked in a style originating from Vienna in the 1840s.

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Pain aux raisins | © stu_spivack / Flickr