France is a culinary powerhouse and no stranger to baking delectable breads and world class pastries. In fact, baking is one of the defining hallmarks of French culture. You can find boulangeries and patisseries in almost every town. Some sweets need no introduction while others will have you wishing you knew more French. Here is my personal compilation of what I found to be the most popular pastries found in Paris and patisseries throughout France. This list of course is non-exhaustive. There are too many wonderful treats to list. But I hope you have a chance to enjoy some if not all of the ones mentioned. Bon appétit!

Baba au RhumFlan PâtissierMille-feuillePalmier
CaneléIspahanMont BlancParis-Brest
ChouquetteKouign AmannOpéraReligieuse
ÉclairMacaronPain Au ChocolatGâteau Saint Honoré
EscargotMadeleinePain d’ÉpicesTarte au Pomme

1) Baba au Rhum

Baba au Rhum | Photo by Hamonsemonovich, Depositphotos

A Baba au Rhum is a rum soaked yeast cake topped with Chantilly cream or pastry cream. It was invented by Nicolas Stohrer, the pastry chef of Stanislas Leszczynski (ex-king of Poland exiled in Alsace, France). The basis of the recipe is the Polish kouglof. The story goes that one day Stanislas thought a kouglof was too dry and so his pastry chef drizzled it with Tokay wine (or Malaga). The new recipe was a hit. One of Stohrer’s later descendants switched the wine to rum, creating the modern Baba au Rhum. You can still find this delicacy at Stohrer’s namesake store on 51 rue Montorgueil, the oldest pastry shop in Paris founded in 1730.

2) Canelé

Canelé | Photo by, Depositphotos

A canelé or cannele is a small custard-filled, fluted, French pastry. Its signature crunchy, caramelized crust is thanks to the copper tins that gave it its shape. This pastry originated in the wine making regions of Bordeaux in Southern France sometime between the 15th to 18th century. Back then winemakers would use egg whites to clarify wine and donate the leftover yolks to convents as food for the poor. Nuns made full use of this precious ingredient and in time invented the canelé Bordelaise. In 1985 a group of patissiers’ banded together to create a secret recipe and took an oath to uphold its uniform standards as the cultural pride and property of Bordeaux. For more information on the origins of the canelé, read “Classic Canelé: The History of the Fluted French Pastry” by Rory Macdonald.

3) Chouquette

Chouquette | Photo by Frederiquewacquier, Depositphotos

A chouquette is a round choux pastry with no filling, topped with pearl sugar. Also known as pets de nonne or nun’s farts, these cheeky, fried puffs date back to the 16th century. They were created by the Italian Chef Pantarelli (aka Pantanelli), pastry chef for the queen of France Catherine de Medici. He was the original inventor of choux pastry, which is used to make this pastry.

4) Éclair

Éclair | Photo by Jm.hydrofeel, Depositphotos

An éclair is a glazed, cream-filled, elongated choux pastry. While an unadorned chocolate glaze is the traditional form, contemporary French éclairs can be adorned with glazes reflecting any color of the rainbow and topped with an endless array of garnishes. These finger shaped pastries were created in the 19th century by chef Marie-Antoine Carême as an adaption to the Duchesse, almond, choux pastry. Carême is also credited for inventing the profiterole and the croquembouche.

5) Escargot

Escargot or pain aux raisins | Photo by Lenyvavsha, Depositphotos

An escargot, also known as a pain aux raisin, is a laminated dough pastry rolled into a flat pinwheel with raisins and/or chocolate. Some versions may have an added crème pâtissière (custard) filling. The shape of this pastry may look like a snail, but no actual snails are involved in its ingredients.

6) Flan Pâtissier or Flan Parisien

Flan pâtissier or flan Parisien | Photo by FreeProd, Depositphotos

A flan pâtissier, also known as a flan Parisien, is a vanilla custard tart baked with a pastry crust. Flan can be traced back to ancient Rome as a savory dish in the 13th century. It then made its way to Spain, where caramelized sugar was introduced. Then it spread around the world. Unlike the water bath versions in Spain, French flans are baked in tarts.

7) Ispahan

Ispahan macaron | Photo by Lenyvavsha, Depositphotos

An Ispahan is a rose petal garnished large pink macaron filled with fresh whole raspberries, lychee, and rose petal cream invented by Pierre Hermé. This tender, rose tinted macaron was named after an ancient Persian city famous for its Damask roses and thought to be inspired by the complementary raspberry fragrance and lychee flavors of Gewürztraminer, a wine native to his hometown in Alsace. This pastry was Chef Hermé’s passion project for 10 years before its initial release while working at Laduree in the 1990s. For more about this pastry and Pierre Hermé, read Dorie Greenspan’s “Elevating the Humble Cookie” in the New York Times.

8) Kouign Amann

Kouign Amann | Photo by Noblige, Depositphotos

A Kouign Amann is a laminated sweet Breton cake with a caramelized crust. This butter cake is like a canelé but more akin to a brulée croissant with its 40/30/30 ratio of dough/butter/sugar. It is thought to be invented around 1860 by the baker Yves-René Scordia. The legend goes that he ran out of desserts so he laminated leftover bread dough with butter like a croissant and added copious amounts of sugar. For an in depth look at this French favorite, read Caitlin Gunther’s “The Story of France’s Most Extraordinary Pastry” at Food52.

9) Macaron

Assorted macarons | Photo by Tashka2000, Depositphotos

The modern day macaron is a meringue-based, almond cookie sandwich with a ganache, buttercream, or jam filling. The cookies themselves originated from Venetian monasteries in the 8th century as “priests’ bellybuttons.” In the 1500s, Catherine de’ Medici brought the cookie recipe over from Italy to France. In the 1790s, 2 Carmelite nuns began selling their version of the cookies. Then in the 1830s, Parisian confectioners invented a macaron parisien version, sandwiching the cookies with a filling. It was later made even more popular by Ladurée in the 1860s. Today, there is an incredible array of cookie flavors and fillings to choose from. For more historical background, read Roberta Dencheva’s “The History of the Delicious Macaron” in The Culture Trip.

10) Madeleine

Madeleine | Photo by Alp_Aksoy, Depositphotos

A madeleine is a traditional sponge cake shaped in a shell mold. Its origin story is an uncertain one with many legends in the fold. Some center around a “Madeleine” as the creator, whether it was Madeleine Paulmier, a stand in cook in the 18th century for Stanislaus I (Duke of Lorraine and exiled King of Poland), or a pilgrim named Madeleine who brought the recipe back from Spain and shared the little cakes with other pilgrims in Lorraine. While others stories attribute the recipe to someone other than a Madeleine figure, such as the 17th-century cardinal and rebel Paul de Gondi of Commercy or the 19th century Jean Avice pastry chef for Prince Talleyrand. But the latter is unlikely, as the recipe is thought to be much older. Wherever and whenever it came from, this little morsel of joy is ingrained in French culture and is a solid staple at breakfast time or afternoon tea. Even the French novelist Marcel Proust celebrated it and wrote about the nostalgic properties of madeleines harkening memories of his childhood in his 1920s autobiographical novel “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu” (Remembrance of Things Past). This unassuming pastry has staying power indeed.

11) Mille-feuille

Millefeuille | Photo by Koss13, Depositphotos

A mille-feuille or millefeuille, known as a Napolean in the US, is a dessert with 3 layers of puff pastry alternating with layers of pastry cream in between and topped with more cream, icing, or an almond fondant. The earliest writings, about this precursor to layer cakes, is by François Pierre de la Varenne in his 1651 cookbook “Le Cuisinier François,” per Gourmandise. Since its beginning, many centuries ago, its recipe has been tweaked and flourished upon.  

12) Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc | Photo by, Depositphotos

A Mont Blanc, or Torche Aux Marrons as it is called in Alsace, is a sweet chestnut cream piped into long vermicelli strands over or with whipped cream. It has been attributed to the Parisian pastry shop Dessat sometime before 1847. Its name is ascribed to its shape’s resemblance to the snow-capped peak straddling the border of France and Italy in the Alps.

13) Opéra

Opera Cake | Photo by M-StudioG, Depositphotos

An opéra cake is an almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, layered with French coffee buttercream and coffee ganache. Like other French desserts, its origins are unclear. Both Cyriaque Gavillon in 1955 and Gaston Lenôtre in 1960 laid claim to its invention. But it was the pastry house for Cyriaque Gavillon, Dalloyau, who popularized this layer cake with his wife Andrée Gavillon naming it “Opéra” in tribute to the auditorium of the Palais Garnier.

14) Pain Au Chocolat

Pain au chocolat | Photo by Pixinoo, Depositphotos

A pain au chocolat (or chocolatine in Southwest France) is 1 or 2 pieces of chocolate wrapped with laminated dough like a chocolate filled croissant. While it is uncertain, stories attribute its creation to August Zang who introduced viennoiserie pastry to France. In the 1830s, August Zang, then an Austrian officer, and Ernest Schwarzer, an Austrian aristocrat, partnered together to found their Viennese bakery in Paris located at 92, rue de Richelieu. It was here that they sold schokoladencroissant, which started off as a crescent-shaped brioche with chocolate inside and then evolved into the modern day laminated dough that is popular around the world.

15) Pain d’Épices

Pain d’épices | Photo by StudioM, Depositphotos

A pain d’épices (or pain d’épices d’Alsace) is a French cake or gingerbread made with 7-spices, rye flour, honey, and other ingredients. In the Alsace region, where this spice cake is most popular, a pinch of cinnamon is incorporated. Its precursor is thought to be a Chinese wheat-flour based bread made with honey called “mi-kong.” This field ration for Genghis Khan’s army made its way to the Middle East. European crusaders then took its recipe from there to Europe where it made its way from Belgium to Burgundy by way of Margaret of Flanders, Philip-the-Bold’s wife, in the 14th century. The commercial production of pain d’épices became a specialty of Reims; but after World War 1’s destruction, Dijon overtook Reims as the leading producer.

16) Palmier

Palmier | Photo by Hayaship, Depositphotos

A palmier, short for feuille de palmier (palm tree leaf), is a sugar coated puff pastry cookie without yeast that has two sides rolled up together to meet in the middle. The origins are unclear, but it is believed they came about in the 20th century. Palmiers also goes by the name elephant ear cookies, cœur de France, french hearts, shoe-soles, glasses, schweineohren, and palmeritas.

17) Paris-Brest

Paris-Brest | Photo by Irina2511, Depositphotos

Paris-Brest is a wheel-shaped, split, choux pastry filled with hazelnut praline mousseline, topped with slices of almonds for garnish. This beloved pastry came about when newspaper editor Pierre Giffard commissioned local pastry chef Louis Durand in 1910 to create a pastry to promote the inauguration of his long distance, cycling race from Paris to Brest (the tip of Brittany).

18) Religieuse

Religieuse | Photo by Ruben25, Depositphotos

Religieuse are 2 cream filled choux pastries stacked on top of one another to resemble a nun in a habit or papal mitre. Its origin is attributed to Italian pastry chef Frascati who worked in a Paris patisserie in 1850.

19) Gâteau Saint Honoré

Tarte Saint Honoré Mogador by Pierre Hermé | Photo by Jacyln

A gâteau Saint Honoré is a ring of sugared choux pastry cream puffs encircling crème chiboust on top of a puff pastry base. Individual portions can be a smaller, singular choux pastry on top of cream and puff pastry. Also known as St. Honoratus cake, this pastry was named after the bishop of Amiens and French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. It was invented in 1847 by Auguste Julien at the Maison Chiboust bakery in Paris.

20) Tarte au Pomme

Tarte au Pomme | Photo by Belchonok, Depositphotos

Tarte au Pomme is a French tart with glazed apples typically fanned out with geometric artistry. It is hard to pinpoint where this classic dessert originated from. But it is a delicious piece of art nonetheless.

Article last updated August 23, 2023 by Jacyln

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About Jacyln

Jacyln is luxury culinary travel advisor, Japanese tea ceremony practitioner, and frequent traveler to Europe and Asia. When she is visiting France, she is often looking for regional specialties that her clients and whole family will enjoy.

What are your favorite French pastries?

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