A Guide to French Pastries

A comprehensive guide to all-you-can-eat French pastries on your next Paris trip.

The Classics:

Croissant

It’s hard to go wrong with this flaky, buttery, crescent-shaped pastry. They’re everywhere, usually cost about €1, and come in many varieties. Look for a croissant au beure for an extra gluttonous treat, or its cousins, pain au chocolat (chocolate stuffed croissant) and croissant amande (filled with almond paste and topped with sliced almonds and powdered sugar). Ever wonder why they’re crescent shaped? Following the Muslim defeat in the Battle of Tours in 732, French bakers created the pastry to represent the Islamic crescent.

Beautiful little croissant.
Julia Bunte-Mein | Lets Go Cutie-pie little croissants. Photo: Heather Gill @heathergill

Éclaire

This oblong pâte à choux (a pastry with a flaky, doughy base) is customarily filled with coffee, vanilla, or chocolate-flavored cream. Occasionally, you’ll encounter varietals filled with run, almond, or chestnut-flavored custard.

Macarons

These delicate sandwich-like pastries consist of two soft cookies glued together by a thin layer of icing. Madewell, they are slightly crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and come in dozens delectable flavors and colors.

Profiterole

These are basically cream puffs (read: short, squatty éclairs). The bold pastry is baked in the shape of a hollow ball, filled with custard cream, and iced with caramel or chocolate sauce.

Mille-Feuille

A decadent, striped puff pastry alternating between sweet-flavored cream and flaky sheets of dough, topped with iced sugar or fondant in swirling black and white patterns.

The Specialties:

Canelé

This small, ridged, cylindrical pastry is a specialty of Bordeaux. It has a thick, caramelized crust surrounding a tender and spongy center. The traditional Canelé d’Or is flavored with rum and vanilla, but you can often find pure vanilla and chocolate varietals.

Gâteaux Basque

Julia Bunte-Mein | Lets Go Yum! Photo: Irina @sofiameli

A crumbly, flour-based pastry with dense almond-flavored filling, topped with a cherry or raspberry garnish. These almond-based cakes dominate nearly every pastry shop in Basque country.

Paris-Brest

Essentially a doughnut, chopped in half lengthwise, filled with ornate swirls of praline cream, and topped with powdered sugar and sliced almonds. AKA it is not very breast-like.

Gâteaux Opéra

Consisting of an almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup and smothered in chocolate ganache, layered with coffee buttercream, and drizzled with chocolate glaze, this brick of rich chocolate and coffee is the ultimate gourmandize treat.

Rum Baba

A savarin cake soaked in rum syrup, topped with vanilla cream.

Frasier

A delightful strawberry cake infused with cream and covered with a thin layer of almond paste.

Tarte Tatin

This upside-down pastry was actually created by accident in the 1880s at the Hotel Tatin outside of Paris. Basically an apple pie gone wrong, the mistake is now a signature dish found at restaurants and pâtisseries throughout France.

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