France is known worldwide for its cuisine, especially its pastry arts. French desserts include both homey, rustic treats and elegant, complex creations requiring expert technique to achieve perfection. From airy soufflés to decadent tarts, the flavors and visual appeal of French desserts are like nothing else in the world.
Here, we present the top 12 popular desserts that have captured the hearts and taste buds of people around the world.
1. Crème brûlée
Crème brûlée is arguably the most well-known French dessert outside of France, a staple on menus from Paris to New York. Its popularity comes from its elegant simplicity - a rich, creamy custard capped with a brittle burnt sugar crust.
To make this classic custard, egg yolks are whisked with sugar, cream and vanilla beans and slowly baked in ramekins until just set. The silky texture comes from the high proportion of egg yolks to cream. Once cooled, the crème brûlée is topped with an even layer of sugar that is caramelized with a kitchen torch or under the broiler for a crisp contrast to the creamy interior.
While crème brûlée has become a staple in many international restaurants, it remains one of the most popular desserts in France. It originated in the 17th century in the Normandy region, but since the 19th century, its popularity has spread across the country. The desire to shatter the caramelized sugar crust and enjoy the vanilla custard underneath is universal. Crème brûlée is the ultimate simple French dessert done to perfection.
2. Chocolate Soufflé
The chocolate soufflé is a classic dessert that can be found on menus all over France. Light, airy, and filled with rich chocolate flavor, soufflés exemplify the decadence and elegance that French pastry is known for worldwide.
In France, soufflés are traditionally served warm with crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream to complement the intense chocolate flavor. The addition of fruit purées or liqueurs such as Grand Marnier also makes for popular soufflé variations.
While soufflés have a reputation for being difficult to make, French home cooks will tell you that with careful technique, this impressive baked dessert can be achievable for any amateur chef.
3. The Mille-Feuille
The mille-feuille is a quintessentially French dessert made of layers of flaky puff pastry and pastry cream. It's simply known as the mille-feuille meaning 'thousand leaves' referring to its many layers.
To make a proper mille-feuille, you will have to use several sheets of puff pastry that are baked until golden brown and flaky. Then, a light and tasty pastry cream enriched with vanilla will be placed between each layer.
When sliced, the mille-feuille reveals its striated texture with crisp, buttery pastry and rich custard. The top is dusted with powdered sugar or glazed for an elegant finish. Variations may include different flavors of custards, chocolate ganache top, or fruit inside the layers.
4. Fruit Tarts
The fruit tart is a French dessert staple that can be found in every patisserie across the country. Built on a buttery sweet pastry crust, colorful arrays of fresh fruit adorn the top for a light and elegant finish to any meal.
The base of a French fruit tart is a sweet pastry dough made from flour, butter, egg yolks, and sugar. This is pressed into a tart pan and pre-baked until golden. A layer of pastry cream is spread into the shell providing a lush binding layer for the fruit. Decoratively arranged slices or pieces of seasonal fresh fruit like apricots, berries, kiwi, and figs are artfully placed on top and glazed with an apricot or red currant jelly for sheen.
One of the most famous fruit tarts is the classic apple tart. Flaky puff pastry dough will be used for this iconic dessert where thin slices of apple are elegantly arranged in neat concentric circles to give this tart visual appeal and make it one of the most recognizable French pastries. French apple tarts have been around since the 14th century and remain ubiquitous in every patisserie in France. Their beautiful presentation and contrast of sweet apples and flaky crust make them an irresistible treat. It’s a dessert that exemplifies French baking techniques. No list of classic and popular French desserts would be complete without the timeless classic French recipe of apple tart.
The fruit tarts are loved by the French, reflecting the country’s abundance of fresh produce and expertise in pastry arts. They make frequent appearances as the finale of dinner parties and luncheons but are equally enjoyed as an afternoon snack with tea or coffee.
5. Apple Tarte Tatin
To continue with another famous apple tart, we will now reference the Tarte Tatin, a classic of French gastronomy.
Created by two sisters whose namesake is Tatin and from what we think we know how that recipe was created (a few variations exist!) in the late 19th century; one of the sisters who meant to bake an apple tart, placed the apples in the oven without the dough at the bottom of the dish. Seeing her mistake too late, she decided to keep the cooked apples and to place the dough on top. Once fully cooked, she served it upside down and it was a huge success!
You will certainly approve of this delicious yet simple dessert once you try it. This iconic recipe is on every French brasseries and high-end restaurants’ menus and is such a delectable pastry to end your meal with.
This famous dessert was created to celebrate and honor the cycle race between Paris and Brest located in Brittany which is the reason behind its shape.
Made of a large “choux” cream puff similar to a donut shape to represent the bicycle wheel, it is cut in half to place a praline flavored cream in between, and topped with shredded almonds and powdered sugar. Biting into this iconic dessert, it offers you the perfect balance of nutty praline cream with the light baked ring choux.
This imitable pastry became a symbol of French culture and history, and its rich flavors also show the creative minds of French pastry Chefs.
7. Ile Flottante
This “floating island” is made of a light cooked meringue served with crème anglaise (vanilla custard) and topped with caramel.
This quintessential dessert, also called œufs à la neige or “eggs in snow”, is a delicious French classic which was also one of Julia Child’s favorites. It is a simple and elegant dish that can easily be made by whisking egg whites at a gentle speed with sugar until they’re frothy. It then goes into a baking dish and is baked for a short time at high temperatures to get this smooth, tender, and silky texture. Prepare your custard sauce on a large dessert plate or in individual ramekins and place the airy meringue. To add some crunch to your island dessert, pour a caramel drizzle or sprinkle some toasted and candied nuts.
You will certainly impress your guests with this timeless dessert.
8. Eclair & Religieuse
You cannot visit a French bakery or pastry shop without trying at least an éclair or religieuse. Those two are such classics that you cannot even miss them even if you tried!
They are made of a choux dough filled with pastry cream and icing - the main flavors are chocolate or coffee. The éclair is a long circular shape like a mini baguette and the religieuse is the French word for nun because the squat cream puffs resembled a Catholic nun in her black and white habit. Despite their different shapes, those desserts are both made of a choux pastry which contains butter, water, milk, sugar, salt, flour, and eggs. Once baked, those choux become hollow and crisp on the outside. The inside is then filled with delicious flavors of pastry cream, a thick and creamy custard, like chocolate, coffee or vanilla. Finally, a ganache icing is the final touch to those delicious pastries.
So many famous pastry chefs and fine pastry shops have created their signature éclair or religieuse, so don’t think twice, just book your trip to France to have a taste of those two classics!
9. Sweet Crêpes
Crêpes are an iconic dessert in France, served with a variety of sweet and savory fillings. The paper-thin pancakes can be filled and folded into portable treats found everywhere from Brittany street vendors to Parisian cafés.
The basic sweet crêpe batter contains flour, milk, eggs, sugar, butter, and salt whisked into a smooth, thin batter. Cooked briefly in a skillet until delicate edges form, they are flipped and cooked for just a minute on the other side. Sweet crêpes may be smeared with salted butter, chocolate hazelnut spread, lemon curd, or jams. They can also be filled with ingredients like fresh fruits, whipped cream, ice cream, and chocolate or caramel sauce before being folded or rolled up.
Another variation exists made with buckwheat flour to create delicate savory crêpes which are often filled with ham, cheese, vegetables, seafood, or meats. Visit Brittany to enjoy the finest sweet and savory crêpes which are deep rooted in tradition, and don’t forget to pair them with French cider (sparkling dry apple cider).
As its name stands for this popular and iconic dessert is made of strawberries “fraise”.
It consists of two layers of “génoise” sponge cakes filled with silky “crème mousseline” pastry cream, decorated with strawberries all around, and a thin layer of marzipan (almond paste) on top. It is a beautiful and elaborate dessert that will please anyone’s eyes and taste buds.
Seeing the fraisier in the bakeries’ window means that it is strawberry season! You can find so many versions of this beautiful patisserie with complex piping work and fruit gelée but the true stars of that cake are the fresh strawberries.
11. Cherry Clafoutis
Clafoutis is a classic French baked dessert featuring fresh fruit baked in a light, custard-like batter. Cherries are the most common filling, but raspberries, plums, apricots, apples, and other fruits are also used. The simplicity of clafoutis allows the fresh fruit flavor to shine through.
A basic clafoutis batter contains eggs, flour, milk, sugar, vanilla, and butter. The fruit is arranged in a buttered baking dish and then covered evenly with the thin batter. As it bakes, the batter sets into a flan-like custard.
This is a classic example of taking simple ingredients and transforming them into one of the most popular French desserts.
12 . Macarons
One of the most popular treats in France, the macaron is a sweet meringue-based confection made from egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar, and almond powder. This classic French pastry has a crunchy exterior and a soft, chewy interior. The raspberry macaron is arguably the most famous variety, featuring a brightly-hued pink shell sandwiching a raspberry jam or pastry cream filling.
Now, no trip to a French bakery would be complete without picking up a box of these precious pastel-colored petit fours. Macarons are ubiquitous in Paris, with pâtisseries competing to create the most unique flavors.
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of France's most loved and classic desserts. France’s diverse regions yield local specialties while classics like crêpes and éclairs can be found everywhere. Whether simple or fancy, sweet or savory dishes, French desserts focus on letting quality ingredients shine. From street corner bakeries in Provence to patisseries in Paris, dessert is serious business in France!
What Is the Most Popular Dessert in France?
The most popular dessert in France is likely the éclair and religieuse. They are beloved all over France by adults and kids. Their simplicity and versatility filled with sweet chocolate or coffee pastry cream have made them an iconic French patisserie and one of the most loved desserts in France.
What Dessert Is Believed to Have Originated in France?
The crème brûlée is believed to have originated in France in the 17th century in the Normandy region. This elegant custard dessert capped with a brittle burnt sugar crust has become a globally recognized classic and remains one of the most popular desserts in France.
What Is the Name of The French Custard?
The famous French custard is known as Crème Patissière. It is made by slowly baking egg, milk, flour, sugar and vanilla to create a rich custard. It is used to make many desserts and is very versatile as you can add any flavors to it. The crème patissière exemplifies French expertise in custards and elegant simplicity.
What Is Special About French Desserts?
What makes French desserts special is the quality of ingredients like fresh fruit and cream paired with technique-driven pastries involving complex doughs and fillings. French desserts celebrate both rustic, homey dishes like clafoutis and elaborate creations like mille-feuille. Many popular desserts in France also reflect regional specialties and seasonal ingredients. Overall, French desserts are refined, complex yet simple, visually stunning, and delicious.