If there’s one thing you’re sure to never be disappointed with in France, it’s sweet treats. There’s a bakery (boulangerie or pâtisserie) on every street corner, so you’ll never go hungry or have low blood sugar — but expect to go up one pant size after your trip. If you only know about macarons, you’re missing out on hundreds of different pastries to try in France. So to make things easy for you, we selected the ones that you will be able to find all over the country, no matter the bakery. As a French person with a sweet tooth and a last name that proves I am an expert in this field, you can be sure that this compilation of the 7 most delicious pastries in France will be up to snuff.
Editor’s Note: For the purpose of this article, we included what the French call “pâtisseries” (pastries and cakes) and “viennoiseries” (bread-based pastries) under the umbrella of “pastries”.
If you want a bite-sized treat that is not a pretentious macaron, get a cannelé. It may not look as fancy as the hyped-up La Durée goodies or follow the colorful-cake trend that is all over The Food Network, but it tastes amazing — think custard with a hint of vanilla and rum. Cannelés originate from the city of Bordeaux (their full name is cannelés Bordelais), but can be found just about anywhere in France for less than 1.50 EUR a piece. My favourite way to enjoy them is with a cup of coffee or hot cocoa, but you can pop them in your mouth in any way you’d like and they’ll still be the bomb.
2. Tarte tatin
A tarte tatin is basically an upside-down apple tart with a twist — a super tasty layer of caramel. This tart’s layers combine a lot of different textures: a crunchy crust, soft, cooked apples, and sticky caramel. It’s a sweet dessert that packs the calories, but keep in mind that it’s got apples, so it’s somewhat healthy (not). You can usually find individual tarte tatins for about 3.50 EUR or less a piece, as well as large ones for 4, 6, or 8 people in just about any bakery. I personally like them warmed up a little, so if the baker asks you if you want it nuked for a second or two, say yes. If your tastebuds ask for more when you get back from France, note that it is a very simple dessert that can easily be made in your own kitchen — and because you’re home you can even add vanilla ice cream on the side.
Chouquettes are usually sold per weight rather than per piece because they are nothing more than empty choux buns (or empty cream puffs, if you’d like) covered in sugar crystals. You’ll usually pay less than 2 EUR for 100g of these sweet treats packed in a paper bag. I suggest you never just get 100g — you’ll start eating them as soon as you step out of the bakery and because they are light and delicious, they’ll be gone before you know it. Chouquettes are often given to kids as their 4:30 PM snack, so reassure yourself in the fact that French kids eat these very frequently and never worry one bit about the nutritional information.
Unlike the pastries mentioned above, the mille-feuille is not snack material. Because it is filled with crème patissière (or pastry cream, if you must), it is difficult to eat without a spoon or dessert fork, so get it packed in a little box to be eaten after lunch or supper. Mille-feuille means “a thousand layers” and tastes just like a thousand flaky layers of delicious, super thin, and buttery strips of puff pastry separated by vanilla crème patissière. Mille-feuilles are quite rich, but they’re very much worth clogging your arteries for. They are easily distinguished by their marble-like top layer.
Religieuses are similar to éclairs, but their shape is different and they are bit bigger — hence our suggesting them! Religieuses are made with two choux buns (one big and one small) filled with crème patissière that is usually chocolate or coffee-flavored, stacked on top of each other, glazed with chocolate or coffee, and held together by buttercream. If it sounds heavy-duty, it’s because it is. It’s the perfect dessert to have with a cup of coffee after a (light) meal. Like the mille-feuille, it’s not the easiest pastry to eat with your hands, so you’ll need cutlery. If you’re wondering why such a decadent pastry is called “nun”, you’re not alone. It is thought that this moniker comes the fact that the color of the pastry resembles a nun’s habit, but nobody really knows for sure. You’ll find them in just about any pastry shop in France for less than 4 EUR.
6. Kouign amann
The Kouign amann is a pastry that originates from Brittany (a Celtic region in northwestern France), so you’ll find it in every bakery in this area (and in Paris), but it might be a bit trickier to find it in other parts of the country. The kouign amann is the most buttery pastry I know and is the most delicious food item on this planet (I grew up eating these so I may be biased). If the baker asks you if you want it warmed up, go for it; they are much easier to eat that way and the taste of warm butter is divine. Kouign amanns are not meant to be desserts but rather morning or afternoon snacks. I like them best with hot cocoa around 4 PM, so you have plenty of time to digest the pound of butter before supper.
7. Baba au rhum
The Baba au rhum is a dessert that you need a spoon for — mostly to scoop up the remaining liquor left at the bottom of the container that the pastry sits in once you’ve eaten it. The baba is a small and round yeast cake that is soaked in rum and topped with whipped cream and small fruits. It’s very boozy, so don’t eat two of them before hitting the road. This is a bit of an old-fashioned French pastry (it’s both my grandpa’s and my dad’s favorite), but you can find still them just about anywhere for about 3.50 EUR a piece.