Everyone always wonders what the best pastries are to buy at pâtisseries (purveyors of fancy cakes and cream-filled treats) and boulangeries (bread specialists). Which is why we deemed it necessary to create this super-fun list, along with a few tutorials for those who want to try their hand at making these baked goodies at home. Whether you go classic or creative, something very buttery and flaky awaits.
The croissant is just about the Frenchiest thing out there. But the concept was actually born in Austria, under the name "kipferl." The recipe was then adapted and adopted by the French, where it arguably came into its own.
Made by incorporating an insane amount of butter into a dough while folding and refolding it, croissants have a heavenly, airy texture and buttery, rich flavor. The exterior crackles when you bite into it, giving way to a soft interior. And yep, baking 'em at home — and even filling them — is totally doable.
An éclair is a long, thin cylinder of choux pastry (a light dough) filled with pastry cream and topped with icing. Or, as the Chambers Dictionary says, it's “a cake, long in shape but short in duration.” Ha!
While the classic version combines chocolate icing with vanilla cream filling, creative bakers play around with flavors like black currant, caramel or coffee. Once you've mastered the basic recipe, feel free to experiment in your own kitchen, too.
3. Kouign Amann
You don't need to pronounce the name right (say "queen ahmahn") to appreciate these delectable pastries from the Brittany (or Breton) region of France. Made with a croissant-like dough that's folded and refolded into rounds, it bakes slowly at a low temperature so the dough can puff to form many layers while the sugar caramelizes into a crispy crust that crackles delightfully between your teeth. As for the name? In the unique Celtic-sounding dialect of Brittany, it translates as "butter cake."
4. Opera Cake
The elegant opera cake is composed of thin layers of cake soaked in a coffee syrup, that are then layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache . It's assembled as a large square or rectangle and sliced into bar-shaped slices to serve. Trust us, it's worth singing about!
A macaron is simply a meringue-like cookie made with ground nuts. But as the legend goes, some brilliant person at Ladurée in Paris had the idea to sandwich two of them together with rich cream or ganache, and all of a sudden a classic was born. In France, macarons are viewed as an artistic canvas as well as a cookie, with creative bakers producing these jewel-like confections in exotic flavors like strawberry-balsamic, black sesame and even ketchup.
You may know this pastry as a Napoleon, but the French call it a mille-feuille (pronounced "meel-fway"). This translates as "thousand leaves," referring to the thin and crackly layers of pastry that are sandwiched with rich pastry cream and topped with marbled black-and-white icing. People also eat variations on this cake in Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia.
Think of the religieuse as a tricked-out cream puff . It's generally made up of two tiers of choux pastry , filled with pastry cream and covered with and held together by icing. The combo of chocolate icing and piped vanilla cream looks a bit like a nun's habit, thus the name.
Imagine a ring of choux pastry split in the middle and sandwiched with rich cream. That's exactly what you get with this creation — the name was inspired by a bicycle race between the French cities of Paris and Brest, and the shape looks like a bicycle wheel, of course. Consider it the ideal way to carbo-load before a race (at least, according to us).
9. St. Honoré
St. Honoré, or Gâteau St. Honoré, starts out with a circle of puff pastry, then is topped with a ring of pâte à choux (choux pastry dough). The well in the middle is filled with crème chiboust before it gets topped with a series of small cream puffs dipped in caramelized sugar. Finally, the whole shebang is finished with elaborately piped whipped cream for the ultimate fancy schmancy treat. It was created in honor of the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, Saint Honoré, and is every bit as over-the-top-delicious as it sounds.
10. Tarte Tatin
This is the OG upside-down cake. The tart tatin is a fruit tart that's baked pastry-side up, then flipped before serving so the gooey butter and sugar drip onto the fruit. There are a number of true (or not) stories about its invention; the most famous of which involves an accidental flip from a flustered baker who just served the tart anyway. Result: instant classic.