8 of the best French desserts (with recipes)

France is of course the home of patisserie, which means you are spoiled for choice when it comes to rounding off your meal with a sweet treat.

8 of the best French desserts (with recipes)
All photos: AFP

In good news for non-cooks, buying your desserts at the patisserie is actively encouraged and if you visit any bakery at the weekend you will see French people leaving with large cardboard boxes containing the dessert they intend to serve at their dinner or lunch party.

But for people who enjoy getting stuck in in the kitchen, here are some French classics that are delicious, timeless and low calorie. (We’re joking about the low calorie bit obviously, but you can always go for a run later).

1. Tarte tatin

This caramel and apple upside down tart was invented by accident, so the legend goes, at the Hotel Tatin but has stuck around because it’s delicious and hearty with its simple combinations of apples (although pears can be used too), caramel and pastry.

The recipe itself is fairly simple, but involves making caramel so shouldn’t be attempted if you have young children in the kitchen, and you do need a pan that you can cook the caramel in on the stovetop and then put in the oven to bake the pastry.

Click here for a recipe

2. Crème brulée

Literally translated as ‘burnt cream’ this is nicer than it sounds, a silky smooth custard with a topping of caramelised sugar. Serve these in individual pots for your guests and let them have the fun of breaking through the caramel crust with their spoon.

Click here for a recipe

3. Île-flottant

This ‘floating island’ dessert is a beautiful combination of a creamy set custard and a topping of fluffy poached meringue. Serve them in a cocktail glass if you’re looking for an elegant appearance.

Click here for a recipe

4. Tarte aux fruits

It is perhaps with tarts that France really excels itself and there are dozens of different varieties from the simple apple tart to the delicious and sticky tarte aux noisette.

This recipe is for probably the most common kind – a pastry case filled with crème patissière and topped with glazed fruit. This is great for gardeners wanting to show off their latest fruit crop as your homegrown strawberries/raspberries/whatever really get to be the star of the show on top of the tart.

Click here for a recipe

5. Clafoutis

This dessert originates in the Limousin area, but is now popular across France. It is usually made with cherries, but recipes for plums, pears and rhubarb that are equally delicious. Served warm with cream, ice cream or (if you feel like Anglo-French fusion) custard, it’s particularly good for cold nights.

Click here for a recipe

6. Profiteroles

While making choux pastry is not the simplest technique, once you’ve got the knack you can start creating profiteroles, éclairs and many variations.

This recipe is for a simple profiteroles with chocolate dessert, but if you’re feeling ambitious you could sculpt your profiteroles into a towering croquembouche, the traditional centrepiece for a French wedding.

Click here for a recipe

7. Crèpes

Crèpes are of course good at any time of the year, and can be served with sweet or savoury accompaniments, but France has a special day for eating crèpes – la chandeleur – which comes with a whole pack or weird and wacky traditions.

For dessert popular toppings include fresh fruit, lemon and sugar (with optional liqueur) or the French favourite – Nutella.

Click here for a recipe

8. Galette des rois

This cake is traditionally eaten on epiphany – January 6th – and also has some fun traditions.

READ ALSO Galette de rois: Everything you need to know about France’s royal tart

The cake is of course great at any time, but if you’re making it for the epiphany festival don’t forget to include the magic bean which determines which family member will get all the luck in the coming year.

Click here for a recipe

This is of course by no means an exhaustive list, so please feel free to share your dessert suggestions and recipes at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. 300 ml double cream for the profiteroles? Where the heck do you get that in France? It’s what makes French desserts underwhelming – no cream!

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

Whether it's Christmas dinner with your French in-laws or a meal with some new friends or neighbours, after you have been in France for some time you will probably be invited for dinner in a French home - so what should you expect and what manners do you need to know about? 

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

In France, like every other country, manners and formalities vary – where you are in France, the age of the people you are socialising with and the social setting will all have an impact – some families are very formal and traditional while others are more casual.

Naturally the occasion matters too – a formal state dinner is very different to being invited round for a family meal with some parents from your kids’ school.

But here is a guide to some of the things you can expect, the first thing being that – in general – French dinners last longer than in the anglophone world and have several different courses, with short pauses in between that are intended to help facilitate socialising.

When you walk into your French friend’s home, the first thing you should do is say hello to everyone that is already there. Many anglophones underestimate the importance of saying bonsoir, and as such, risk being perceived as rude by giving a general ‘hello’ to the whole room.

There are some other faux-pas to keep in mind while eating in a French home, like keeping your hands on the table rather than in your lap. You can learn more from The Local’s guide on table etiquette:

READ MORE: Cheese knives, hands and wine glasses – French table manners explained

Step 1: Aperitifs

This initial step typically involves a light alcoholic beverage before food is served. Apéro has its own culture and  if you’re invited to apéro don’t expect food beyond a few little snacks. Apéro generally takes place between 6pm and 9pm, though certainly before dinner.

READ MORE: Apéro: All you need to know about the French evening ritual

But before your big meal with your French friends or family, you will likely be offered a glass of something – whether that be champagne, Kir (or Kir Breton, if you find yourself in Brittany), Pastis (for those in the south) or a light cocktail. This is the time of night where people are chatting with a drink in their hand, and that drink will likely be influenced by the region you are visiting, so if you are in the south west you might enjoy an Aperitif of sweet wine or a Pinneau if you’re in Charente.

In terms of snacks, the relatively universal trend is light and salty – so you might expect to see olives and nuts, and perhaps even some raw vegetables with a dip. 

For those looking to avoid alcohol, soda or sparkling water, like Perrier is often the go-to alternative.

Step 2: The Entrée

The entrée – not to be confused with the main course, as it often is in the United States – is the first course – the starter or apetizer. In French, the verb entrer means “to enter” and this is the symbolic start of the meal.

As with most parts of your French dinner party, the food and drink offered will depend on regional tastes, as well as what is in season. For example, during the winter, you might have an onion soup. 

The first course is often cold or room-temperature foods – like Œuf mayonnaise. Some other common appetizers are smoked salmon canapé and escargot, the latter most common in Burgundy.

If you are along the Mediterranean, you might be offered tapenade – a purée of chopped olives, capers, and anchovies, and if you are on France’s western coast you might eat oysters.

If you are given a specific utensil to eat with – for instance a special fork for snails or a long pick for bulots (whelks) – then that should be used. If you’re having oysters they are traditionally slurped, all in one go, straight from the shell.

At this point in the meal, there will likely be  bread on the table to accompany the food but remember to save some room, because there are lots more courses to come. 

Step 3: The Main Course

Now it is time for the plat principal. Hopefully you are still hungry.

Tradition dictates that you should let your host serve you with wine, and old-fashioned French households would say that this rule applies specifically to women, who should wait for a man to come pour their wine. That being said, times have changed and most younger French people cheerfully ignore this. 

The wine poured will be paired with the meal, and the French abide by the general rules that red wine goes with red meat and tomato-based dishes, while white wine goes with fish, seafood, and dessert.

One for Americans – in France it’s considered polite to keep your fork in your left hand, and your knife in your right, and try to avoid the temptation of switching as you cut through the meat.

While it is considered polite to finish what is on your plate, if you find yourself getting full you can always say “C’était délicieux, mais ça suffit” (It was delicious, but that’s enough). While it may be tempting to tell your host “Je suis plein” (I am full) – be careful of false friends, you might be accidentally telling your host that you are pregnant. 

READ MORE: From rude to mince: 21 French ‘false friends’ that look English

Step 4: Dairy

This step in the French dinner timeline is not for the lactose-intolerant. After finishing the main dish, your French host will likely take out a cheese platter.

As there are hundreds of different types of French cheeses, it would take a long time to list all of the possible options you might encounter. The main thing to remember is not to use your hands (or your fork) when eating cheese. That might sound a bit tricky, so you can consult The Local’s cheese etiquette guide to prepare for this part of the meal.

READ MORE: Best Briehaviour: Your guide to French cheese etiquette

In some households – especially with children – your host might offer you a yogurt instead of cheese. This will likely be a small pot (cup) of a plain yogurt that you can add fresh fruit or compote (cooked fruit) to.

Step 5: Dessert

Dessert in France comes after cheese (not before as in the UK) and is generally quite small. Do not go into the meal expecting to leave lots of space in your stomach for a huge, sugary banana split ice cream or a sticky toffee pudding and custard. Instead, dessert might consist of some light pastries, chocolate, or small crème brûlée (when eating crème brûlée it’s considered elegant to tap the burnt sugar layer to break it first, rather than just shoving your spoon into the dish).

While eating dessert, you might be offered a sweet wine, like one from Sauternes.

Step 6: Coffee

At this point, it might be pretty late at night, but you will likely still be offered a coffee. Typically, this will be an espresso. If you want a little dash of milk in your short coffee, you can always ask for a noisette

Step 7: Digestif

This is the true end to the meal. Now that you have finished eating, and you’ve likely had a few glasses of wine, your host might put away the wine and take out a bottle of Cognac, Amagnac or similar.

The digestif is meant to settle your stomach, and they’re usually pretty strong so be careful if you have to be up early the next morning. Depending on where you are in France you will often be offered a local speciality like a Calvados (apple brandy) if you’re in Normandy.

Digestif: Do France’s after-dinner drinks actually help to settle your stomach?


If you’re invited for a family meal, expect that the children will eat with you and will probably eat the same thing.

Depending on the age, the children might go away and play while the adults have the cheese and dessert courses and continue to chat but it’s usual for even young children to sit at the table and eat the first course and main course with their parents.