All About French Pastries and Desserts
From tarte tatin to profiteroles
There is this wonderful small patisserie in Hamburg that, for a very long time, I thought was most well-known for their fantastic buttery, always still-warm croissants. But then, one slow Sunday afternoon, I was surprised with a petit four from the patisserie. This small French pastry was deliciously creamy, perfectly sweet and decorated with so many delicate details. I had heard and eaten this pastry before from other shops but, I must admit, had never treasured it as something so special until that day. Today, I see a petit four as a small act of self love, a ray of sunshine on a rainy day, my award for times of success, or a little extra something to show someone I care.
The Berlin counterpart or this patisserie is Du Bonheur. You can observe the bakers through a window from the counter where the many small French pastries and desserts in all forms and colors are put together in a row, neatly and side by side. From petit fours to cakes, tarts to delicate desserts, France is known for its sweet treats. Here are 9 you need to know.
Amongst all French sweets, these small cakes are some of the most classic beauties. Elegant and not too sweet, they attract one’s attention with their scalloped edges but lay low at the same time. Madeleines are perfect to accompany your café au lait or tea in the morning, and make a nice little pick me up when you’re on the go. To make them at home, you’ll want to invest in a special madeleine baking pan to get those characteristically crispy scalloped edges. The secret to the tender texture is a resting time of at least 1 hour, but 3 is even better.
Let’s get one thing straight, this dessert isn’t for sharing. The first scoop is always the best, as you need to crack open the caramelized sugar—and this very satisfying part of crème brûlée is something no one should have to give up. Don’t let someone steal your crackling, first-bite thunder out of politeness and please order or make yourself your very own crème brûlée.
Mousse au chocolat
Mousse au chocolat is a dessert that brought me closer to French cuisine in the first place. I used to prepare it again and again to bring to parties or serve at home. In a similar way that I can’t bring myself to compare crêpes to pancakes, I cannot compare mousse au chocolat to chocolate pudding—it just stands on its own. A scoop, a glass, or even a whole bowl to share of fluffy (maybe even vegan?) mousse au chocolat is something that can make the world seem a little bit brighter.
French macarons are delicate and fragile creatures. The meringue pastries have to be carried with caution, nothing new compared to their French sisters and brothers, and to prepare them at home isn’t as hard as it seems. A silicone baking mat will make the process a lot easier, and they even have special ones specifically for macarons with a set size and form. All you have to do is decide on your flavors and off you go.
Similar to profiteroles but with their own characteristics, éclairs are also made out of choux pastry but are piped into oblong shapes instead. Éclairs usually also have a vanilla, chocolate, or coffee cream filling and are drizzled or dipped in a sugary glaze. If it sounds quite rich, that’s because it is, and just like many other French recipes, éclairs follow the rule: The more fat the better.
I wrote about crêpes Suzette and how to make classic crepes in more detail recently, but it’s worth pointing this recipe out once again. If that’s not enough to encourage you to make them yourself, I’m not sure what is.
When I first started off writing for print magazines, I worked for a lovingly designed local journal near my hometown. For every issue, I met an elderly and very kind lady for coffee and some cake. With each gathering, cake for cake, we baked our way through her life. One of these times, I remember her boldly removing the cake from the pan on a white tablecloth in her dining room—revealing a classic tarte tatin.
Canelés—what can I say? They are originally from the Bordeaux region and are traditionally baked in small copper baking forms. The recipe was a simple (and delicious) way to use up remaining egg yolks. They are perfect when they look close to looking burned because the outer part will have the ideal crunchy and caramelized texture while the inner part be left custardy, soft, and creamy. A canelé is a good way to finish something—or start something—always and everywhere.
Published on October 22, 2019