Whether you’re strutting the streets of Paris or wandering through a Provençal village, one thing is sure: a bakery isn’t far. You certainly know France’s heritage of baguettes and croissants, but these staples are only the beginning. Americans may have their brownies, cheesecake and pies. But the French have a laundry list of different pastries, all hailing from different regions and utilizing different techniques and ingredients. As you walk through French bakeries and pastry shops, you might be overwhelmed by all the choices. We’re explaining some of the most popular French pastries as well as how you can enjoy them best during your trip to France.
Your Guide to Popular French Pastries
Pain au Chocolat
Many French pastries have unique names, but we’ll start with an easy one: pain au chocolat, or bread with chocolate. These buttery, flaky goods are filled with chocolate and can be found in your typical French boulangerie. If you’d like to start a heated debate amongst the French, you can head to the southwest region of France, namely Bordeaux, and order a pain au chocolat. Because there, this bakery item is known as a chocolatine in that region, per Lingoda. (And they feel quite strongly about it!)
Paris is the capital; Brest is a city in northwestern France. But a Paris-Brest is a French pastry filled with praline mousse. It’s a much more sophisticated donut, with two pastry “wreaths” sandwiching the creamy filling, all topped with sliced nuts. This pastry is over 100 years old. Pastry chef Louis Durand created this sweet treat with its name inspired by the bike race between these two cities, per The New York Times.
This pastry name translates to “a thousand sheets,” which doesn’t sound all too appetizing. But trust us: this rectangular pastry will have you drooling. Often topped with a layer of white icing with chocolate designs, this puff pastry has several layers (but probably not a thousand) married with layers of cream.
Let’s not get confused with macaroons, an Italian coconut-based cookie, or Macron, France’s current president. Macarons are delicate French cookie sandwiches with an almond flour base. These two “cookies” sandwich a layer of creamy filling. These French treats demand excellent technique to be both tasty and beautiful.
From chocolate to pistachio, coffee to vanilla, these oblong puff pastries are filled with and topped with icing. Although its origins date back to Catherine de Medici’s time, the éclair was named in 1860, according to Gault & Millau.
These dome-shaped pastries with ridges hail from the region of Bordeaux, but you can find them throughout France. Canelés boast notes of rum and vanilla. This pastry’s history isn’t crystal clear, but it may date as early as the 15th century, according to the Institute of Culinary Education.
This stacked puff pastry is often covered in chocolate- or coffee-flavored icing. Its origins can be traced back to the mid 1800s, per Gault & Millau. This pastry name directly translates to “religious,” which is a nod to it somewhat resembling a nun.
Wanting to try one of these popular French pastries for yourself or perhaps make it, too? At French Side Travel, we’ve rounded up several experiences, which allow you to dive into the delicious culture of French pastries.
Pastry Cooking Class in the Loire Valley
You’re not just gourmand; you dream of learning the craft behind French pastries. During your stay in the Loire Valley, we’ll organize a private class where you’ll have privileged time with a pastry chef. You can choose to make éclairs, Religieuses, Paris-Brest, St Honoré or Opéra pastries. After preparing your masterpieces, you can take them to-go or enjoy them right on the spot.
Baking Class in Brittany
Dive into the rich culture of Bretagne with a private class where you’ll learn how to make regional favorites. You’ll try your hand at Kouign-amann, a regional cake; palets bretons, their take on butter cookies; and soft salted butter caramels. Your chef will explain the best techniques to succeed at these classics from Brittany. Enjoy your handiwork with tea or coffee.
Macaron-Making Atelier in Paris
You’ve seen the brightly colored cookie sandwiches from Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. But you’re ready to try your hand at French macarons — with the help of a French pastry chef, of course. In this afternoon small-group class, you’ll learn the intricate techniques of making these sweet treats. From making the filling to understanding how to make Italian meringue, you’ll leave this atelier not only with a full tummy but also the skills to recreate the recipe back home.
Pastry Workshop in Lyon
With the help of a culinary expert, you’ll create your own box of handcrafted pastries. You’ll enjoy learning the art of French pastry making over a glass of wine or cup of coffee as you hone your baking skills.
Alain Ducasse’s Manufacture de Chocolat Visit and Tasting
Calling all chocoholics. Discover behind the scenes of master chef Alain Ducasse’s chocolate making. On your private tour with the chocolatier, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the craft of chocolate. You’ll get to try a handful of different chocolates paired with French champagne.
Where to Stay in France
Les Maisons de Bricourt
This luxury collection of villas near Saint Malo jumped right out a fairytale. Perhaps you fancy a stay in its Château Richeux in one of its 11 rooms or two apartments facing the bay of Mont Saint Michel. Or maybe you’d like to indulge in a stay in its boutique hotel, Les Rimains. This foliage-covered stone building feels more like a home than a hotel. You can wander the hotel garden’s pathway to the bay. And if you’re deeply longing for tranquility, enjoy a stay at one of its Seafront Lodges. Each morning, you’ll wake up to freshly baked French bread, fruit and milk products on your doorstep.
Hôtel Fleur de Loire
Indulge in a luxurious stay at the five-star Hôtel Fleur de Loire in Blois. These 44 rooms are fit for royalty; they’re located in a building designed by Gaston d’Orléans, the son of Henri IV and Marie de Médicis. The chic rooms are but a foretaste of all this hotel has to offer; don’t miss dining in Michelin-starred chef Christophe Hay’s restaurant.
Do these popular French pastries have you craving even more? Take a look at some of our foodie tours: Exclusive Private Culinary Tour of Paris and Luxury Dive Into French Gastronomy. Need some help planning your trip?