What Are the Classic French Pastries?

Pastries are a delicate balance of sugar and butter, crust and cream, nuts and fruit. There is something for everyone to enjoy in a pastry. French pastries have been around since the ancient Greeks made the first tart. We'll run you through what we think are the best French desserts, explaining how they're made with a list of classic recipes from some of your favorite bakeries.

French pastries have been around for centuries! Back in the day, they were considered an important part to an aristocrat's meal. Nowadays, modern or classic French pastries are served all over the world in a variety of ways and have become popular among many cultures.

In order to be considered a "classic French pastry" it must be made with some form of sugar and butter, but also contain at least one other item: fruit, nut, or cream. These pastries were named for their origin country of France. There are many classic French pastries, but we've narrowed it down to 7 French pastries that we think are the most well known and absolutely delicious.

Now let's get to it! We'll start with the éclair, which is the most popular pastry in France.

1. Éclair

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The classic French pastry: the éclair.

Everyone has heard of an éclair, a pastry that is made with choux dough, which in French means cabbage. Eclairs are usually filled with cream and can come in a variety of flavors and colors—vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, raspberry—but the most famous éclairs are the chocolate ones iced with white fondant.

2. Croissant

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Well-known around the world, this flaky, buttery pastry is also one of the most famous French pastries. The word croissant literally means crescent, which describes a croissant’s shape. However, in France, you will only find the flaky treat with a crescent shape in bakeries. You will never see it at any fast food restaurants and even some cafés won’t serve it with cream cheese like you might see in America and England.

If you want to see how croissants are made, check out this video from the New York Times:

3. Kouign Amann

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Another famous pastry that comes from Breton, a region in France. These pastries are usually made in a rectangular shape, similar to a bread loaf, and also flaky and buttery. They’re usually served with coffee or tea at breakfast time as an alternative to bagels and toast.

4. Galette Des Rois

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The traditional holiday pastry that is enjoyed during Christmas in France. It’s a pastry made with puff pastry. The crust is filled with ham, cream, and fruits like strawberries and currants. However, the traditional version does not contain any cream or fruits at all; the decorations on top are usually made of sugar and golden raisins called nuggets.

5. Kouglof

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A French pastry with German roots.

The kouglof comes from the region of Alsace in northeastern France, which is a historically German area. The pastry is made with a yeast dough that contains raisins, almonds, and cinnamon and can be topped with apples or cherries if desired. It’s usually served on special holidays like Christmas or New Year’s Eve for dessert or for breakfast with coffee or tea.

6. Macaron

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Macarons are the new hot item!

These infamous pastries have gotten a lot of attention lately in France and around the world, due to their popularity on social media and in coffee shops. Macarons are little cookies that are made with a specific technique and contain no flour or leavening agent. The macaron is made with meringue, ground almonds, egg whites, sugar, and food coloring.

7. Madeleine

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From the region of Lorraine in northeastern France, these small cakes are usually made with a sponge cake batter or puff pastry. It can be eaten plain or filled with jam like traditional French pastries, but most often, the cakes are topped with butter and cinnamon to make it resemble an angel’s wing.

French pastries are a unique culinary experience. The breads, cakes, tarts, and croissants that you will find in bakeries throughout France are unlike any other. It’s no wonder that these flaky treats have become symbols of French culture.

However, what makes a French pastry special is not just the taste, but the history and technique behind each pastry. Paris has been home to some of the most famous French pastries for centuries. From giant croissants and eclairs to macarons, these 7 classic French pastries you shouldn’t miss.

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