10 French Pastries You Most Definitely Need to Try

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.

1. Croissant

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.

Croissants are made up of layers of dough alternating with layers of butter. Get started as Colette shares the secrets to creating the perfect butter block to fold into your dough for tender and delicious results.

2. Éclair

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.

Meet your instructor, pastry chef and author Gesine Bullock-Prado. In this lesson, you'll learn about classic French pastries made from pâte à choux, and make a panade. Gesine will help you master the consistency of the choux paste so your pastries are perfect!

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."

Meet baking master Colette Christian and begin with an introduction to kouign amann, a round crusty cake. Then follow along as Colette shows you how to mix the dough, incorporate the butter and bake this beloved Breton pastry to flaky perfection. After that, experiment with various fillings such as jam and lemon curd.

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!

Build on several of the techniques you've already learned as you make the famous chocolate-and-coffee Opera cake, "a cake in six acts." Bake an airy sponge cake with whipped egg whites and almond flour, make a rich French buttercream and spreadable chocolate ganache to fill the cake and, finally, prepare a coffee simple syrup to soak the cake layers.

5. Macarons

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.

Master the quintessential French sweet, the macaron. Find out how to prepare your ingredients, whip egg whites to the perfect peak and discover what gives macarons their signature color. Learn the proper technique for macaronage -- the process of removing excess air from your batter -- and how to pipe your macarons and know when they're done baking. Guests will think you had these little cookies flown in from Paris!

6. Mille-Feuille

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.

7. Religieuse

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.

Are you ready for a religieuse experience? 

8. Paris-Brest

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).

Paris–Brest is a classic international dessert. Created in 1891 by a pastry chef along the route of the Paris-Brest bicycle race, the commemorative treat became an instant hit with both cyclists and spectators. And while it's been around for quite some time, it isn't dated in the least — the flaky French pastry still draws a crowd thanks to the delicious pâte à choux, a pastry cream flavored with hazelnut paste, and a rich layer of Chantilly cream.

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.

The pièce de résistance is the opulent Gâteau St. Honoré, a combination puff pastry/pâte à choux base edged with caramel-glazed cream puffs and filled with vanilla and chocolate pastry cream, with a party hat of spun sugar on top. Bon appétit!

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.

Conclude the class by making a class pear tarte Tatin. This elegant, caramelized upside-down pie might just become your go-to dessert. It's delicious with apples, too!

December 16, 2019
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10 French Pastries You Most Definitely Need to Try