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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8. Galette des rois
This cake is traditionally eaten on epiphany – January 6th – and also has some fun traditions.
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.
This is of course by no means an exhaustive list, so please feel free to share your dessert suggestions and recipes at [email protected]