Starting the morning with a warm, butter and sugar pastry is one of the best ways to power through your day. Perhaps you swing by a local coffee shop or bakery on your way into work, or maybe you buy your pastries elsewhere but regardless of where you get them, we all should be thanking the French. Traveling to France for a pastry is a little out of reach (don’t put it past me). They have their pastry making down to a work of art, and we are lucky they decided to share. These are the best types of French pastries every baker and pastry consumer should know about.
Bet you’re not surprised this layered, buttery goodness is #1 on the list. This is a French staple, but it was actually based of the kipfer in Austria. The French adapted the recipe into what it is today. This flaky viennoiserie is made by mixing butter into a dough while folding and refolding it. Croissants have a heavenly, airy texture and buttery, rich flavor. You can get them plain, but they also can be baked with other ingredients such as chocolate, almond, fruit, and even Nutella. Chocolate croissants are the most common (and my personal favorite). There are also savory croissant options such as croissant sandwiches or ham and cheese croissants. In my opinion, eating croissants can be a little messy. Probably not the best in the car, on the way to work snack but that hasn’t stopped me. I have a vacuum. Croissant options are endless. You can even make your own!
At first glance, an eclair may look like the classic Long John doughnut but, I can assure you, they have their differences.This pastry is a long, thin cylinder of choux pastry filled with pastry cream and topped with icing. Alright, so they sound similar to Long Johns, too, but eclairs are something that can’t be beat. It’s not as sweet, French pastries usually are not. They are a much lighter dough and can have a variety of fillings. Chocolate eclairs are something I should be cut off from but can’t stop eating. The classic version of eclairs combines chocolate icing with vanilla cream filling, but creators and bakers play around with flavors like black currant, caramel or coffee. There are even ways to create eclair cakes and other desserts. Feeling creative? Try your own.
I admit it, I can be extremely basic at times. This is one of those times. I freaking love macarons. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing to look at, they taste amazing and they have so much variety! I haven’t had a macaron that I didn’t like. Remember when I mentioned French pastries being a work of art? Well in France, macarons are viewed as an artistic canvas as well as a cookie, with creative bakers making these jewel-like confections in exotic flavors. Please don’t confuse these with macaroons, it’s insulting. If you need help knowing the difference, check this out. You can make your own macarons or plan your next trip around where these babies are located (don’t worry, they’re in the USA). Macarons are made with egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almonds, and usually consists of a ganache, buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two delicate and delightful cookie shells. Art.
4. Kouign Amann
First off, this French pastry is pronounced “queen a-mahn” and it is quite deserving of that title. The dough uses the same method of folding in layers of butter as croissants. The main difference is that kouign amann is made with sugar as well. It is baked slowly, at a low temperature, as the dough puffs to form many layers, and the sugar caramelizes into a crispy crust. Absolutely delicious.
Pronounced “meel-fway”, this pastry is a patient work of art. Bakers layer puff pastry with cream and repeat the process at least two or three times to create this delicious dessert. The thin and crackly layers of this pastry that are sandwiched between rich pastry cream is usually topped with marbled black and white icing. It takes a while to make and requires a lot of patience. Kudos to the bakers that can accomplish the task. You can make it yourself if you’re up to the challenge!
This pastry is a combination of food, art, and history. The treat is split in the middle and sandwiched with rich cream. This pastry name was inspired by a bicycle race between the French cities of Paris and Brest. The circular pastry resembles a bike wheel. Neat, right? No better way to carbo-load before a race or the work day.
7. St. Honore/St. Honore Cake
Created in honor of the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, Saint Honoré, this pastry is as extra as you’d think it’d be. This delicious treat begins with a circle of puff pastry and then is followed by being topped with a piped ring of pâte à choux (choux pastry dough). The well in the middle is filled with crème chiboust, then topped with a series of small cream puffs dipped in caramelized sugar. Then the whole thing gets whipped cream on top. This one may be more complicated, but you can make it at home as well.
8. Tarte Tatin
The tarte tatin is a famous French upside-down apple tart. The treat is made by covering the bottom of a baking dish with butter and sugar, then apples and finally a pastry crust. The sugar and butter blend to create a delicious caramel that becomes the topping when the tart is served upside-down. The only rule is that it must be served warm!
I’d like to collectively thank the French once more for their pastry art. Until I can afford another trip overseas, I’ll settle for the coffee shop’s pastries on the corner of my street.