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!

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Fears for 2022 French wine vintages because of ‘stressed grapes’

Forced to start picking grapes much earlier than normal because of torrid temperatures, winemakers across France are worrying that grape quality will suffer from the climate-induced stress.

Fears for 2022 French wine vintages because of 'stressed grapes'

The exceptionally dry conditions spread from the rugged hills of Herault along the Mediterranean, where picking is already underway, to the normally verdant Alsace in the northeast.

Waves of extreme heat this summer accelerated grape maturation, meaning harvests had to begin one to three weeks early or more — in Languedoc-Roussillon, some growers even started in late July.

“We were all a bit surprised, they began maturing very rapidly these past few days,” said Francois Capdellayre, president of the Dom Brial cooperative in Baixas, outside Perpignan.

He said the shears came out on August 3 for the region’s typical muscat grapes, followed by chardonnay and grenache blanc.

“In more than 30 years I’ve never started my harvests on August 9,” said Jerome Despey, a vineyard owner in the Herault department.

Stressed out

Like other farmers, French winegrowers have been grappling for years with increasingly common extreme weather including spring freezes, devastating hailstorms and unseasonably heavy rains.

But this summer’s combination of a historic drought — July was the driest month on record since 1961 — and high temperatures are taking a particular toll on vineyards.

READ MORE: French AOP cheese the latest victim of France’s drought

Only 10 percent of France’s winegrowing parcels use artificial irrigation systems, which can be difficult or prohibitively expensive to install.

And while grape vines are more hardy than many other crops, with roots that descend deep into the ground over years of growth, even they can withstand only so much.

When water is scarce, the vines suffer “hydric stress” and protect themselves by shedding leaves and no longer providing nutrients to grapes, stunting their growth.

In Alsace, “we haven’t had a drop of rain in two months,” said Gilles Ehrhart, president of the AVA growers’ association.

“We’re going to have a very, very small harvest” after picking begins around August 26, he said.

And when temperatures surpass 38C, “the grape burns — it dries up, loses volume and quality suffers” because the resulting alcohol content “is too high for consumers,” said Pierre Champetier, president of the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for the Ardeche region south of Lyon.

Champetier began harvesting Monday, when “40 years ago, we started around September 20,” he said.

Now he worries that global warming will make such premature harvests “normal.”

Quality at risk

Some winemakers are still holding off in hopes of rain in coming weeks, such as red grape producers in Herault, where harvests should begin as usual in early September.

In Burgundy, which two years ago saw its earliest harvest debut — August 16 — in more than four centuries of keeping track, picking will start at cellars in Saone-et-Loire around August 25.

READ MORE: Ask the expert: Why is France’s drought so bad and what will happen next?

But just south in the Rhone Valley, “the heatwave has accelerated maturation by more than 20 days compared to last year,” according to the Inter-Rhone producers’ association.

They nevertheless hope grape quality will hold up, as do Champagne growers in the northeast, where harvesting will begin late August — though yields are set to fall nine percent year-on-year because of a brutal spring cold snap and hailstorms.

Bordeaux plans to kick off on August 17 with the grapes for the region’s sparkling wines — appreciated by connoisseurs but just one percent of overall production.

Next will come “dry whites, sweet whites and then the reds,” said Christophe Chateau of the CIVB producers’ group, though the precise dates will be set only next week.

But he warned that even rainfall from storms forecast across France starting this weekend will “not be enough” to ensure a “beautiful vintage.”