The Ultimate Guide to French Pastries

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Yes, you know your basics. Croissants, pain au chocolat, macarons. But here’s your crash course on everything else you can expect to find at your quintessential French pâtisserie.

Tarte au citron

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This tangy portion-controlled pie has a thick pastry crust that is blind-baked before being filled with lemon custard. Unlike the American version, it’s typically not made with a layer of meringue on top. Learn how to bake your own here.

Tarte au framboise

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Similar to the tarte au citron, this mini pie is filled with cream and topped with delicious framboises, or raspberries.

Mont-Blanc

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This rich dessert, named for the mountain it represents, is made of puréed marrons, or chestnuts, squeezed into fine spaghetti-like lines and topped with globs of whipped cream.

Mille-feuille

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Named for its “thousand sheets” of puff pastry, and similar to an Italian or American “napoleon,” the mille-feuille’s three layers of pastry are held together with vanilla or hazelnut (noisette) cream, and topped with a fine vanilla glaze. Watch Canadian chefs try to construct innovative variations of the dessert here.

Saint-Honoré

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Did you know that the French have a patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs? Are you that surprised? His name is Saint Honoré, and he inspired this dessert, a collection of cream-filled puffs dipped in chocolate and glued to a pastry base with whipped cream.

Opéra

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This lavish dessert is made from layers of almond sponge cake held together with chocolate- and coffee-flavored buttercream, topped with a layer of decadent chocolate ganache.

Religieuse

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Similar to a Saint-Honoré (and with a name that means “nun”), the religieuse is a chocolate-filled cream puff on top of a larger chocolate-filled cream puff, both doused liberally in chocolate ganache. What more is there to ask for?

Divorcé

Gastronomiac

Close to a religieuse or a Saint-Honoré, the divorcé is made from two cream filled puffs, one chocolate and one coffee-flavored, attached at the hip by buttercream frosting. A most delicious splitting of affairs.

Éclair

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You might be familiar with the chocolate éclair, but in many French pâtisseries you can find alternate flavors. Most French desserts have a fundamental color-coding system, so if an eclair is dark brown that means chocolate, light brown means coffee, magenta means raspberry, and pale green means pistachio.

Canelé

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The beautiful, distinct shape of the canelé makes its thick caramelized crust shine from all angles. A hearty crunch will lead you into a soft, heavy rum- and vanilla-flavored custard center. Though generally found at holiday markets around Christmas time, they can also be found at boulangeries throughout the year. Learn how to bake them yourself here.

Choux

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Choux, or pâte à choux, is essentially the building block of most French pastry. You fill the little puffs with cream and fiddle with the size, shape, and stacking to create croquembouches, profiteroles, and the St. Honoré. It’s even used to make the fictional courtesan au chocolat in the Wes Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Kouign-Amann

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The Kouign-Amann is a round, crusty Breton cake made of layers of dough with sugar and butter folded in. It is slowly baked until the sugar caramelizes and creates a texture about halfway between a brioche and a croissant. The dessert has been recently re-popularized, but you might not recognize it under its new name in the US: the “DKA,” a version produced by the Dominique Ansel bakery in New York.

Tarte au flan

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The use of custard was actually borrowed from the English during the Middle Ages, but the French perfected it with recipes like the custard tart, sometimes known as flan pâtissier, a gooey mouthful of yellow custard with a lightly caramelized surface.

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