14 Delicious French Pastries to Try—That Aren’t Croissants

Embrace la belle vie, one bite at a time.

There’s nothing quite like that first crunch into the crisp outer layer of a flaky, freshly baked croissant. Even devoured straight from a paper bag on the street, it’s a thing of beauty—and along with the pain au chocolat, the most emblematic of France’s viennoiseries. It’s also just the tip of the butter-drenched iceberg.

Like the country’s cuisine, French pastries are deeply regional and traditional. Flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and cocoa are whisked into ever more elaborate creations depending on whether you’re closer to Bordeaux or Brest. Discovering them all is a lifetime’s work, a delicious journey from boulangerie to pâtisserie, maybe even ending up in your own kitchen.

1. Mille-feuille

The mille-feuille is a masterpiece. The beauty of this pastry is its simplicity: three layers of crisp, golden puff pastry stacked with two layers of piped crème pâtissière. Some bakers add a marbled fondant topping; others opt for a dusting of powdered sugar.

Breaking through all three layers is a messy job, but it’s all part of the experience. If your plate looks like a modern art piece gone wrong, you’ve done something right.

2. Paris-Brest

Forget about crème brûlées and chocolate fondants. If there’s one dessert you’re going to seek out on a restaurant menu or at the best Parisian pâtisseries, make it the Paris-Brest.

Invented by pâtissier Louis Durand to commemorate the Paris–Brest cycle race in 1910, the wheel-shaped dessert is choux pastry perfection. It’s decadent, sweet but not too sweet, and guaranteed to leave you in a trance-like state of satiation if you devour one yourself in a single sitting.

Inside the choux pastry wheel is crème mousseline pralinée (a crème pâtissière flavored with almonds and hazelnuts). It’s topped with powdered sugar and toasted flaked almonds.

3. Tarte au citron meringuée

Lemon meringue pie by another name, the tarte au citron meringuée is one of the incontournables (essentials) of French pâtisserie. It’s also one of the few tarts at its best when bought in large sizes to share, rather than individual portions.

The classic recipe couldn’t be simpler. It starts with a pastry base that is loaded with a thick layer of lemon curd then mounds of foamy Italian meringue. The higher the peaks the better, as they’re blowtorched for color and caramelization.

In Paris, the French Bastards make some of the tastiest.

4. Kouign-amann

Until the 1500s most French regions were subject to a salt tax known as the gabelle, but the independent and salt-producing region of Brittany was exempt. The result? A local cuisine rich in salted butter and salted caramel.

There’s no clearer incarnation of Bretons’ enduring love for all things salty-sweet than the kouign-amann. Half cake and half pastry, made from thin layers of yeasted dough laminated with butter and sugar (folded and rolled over and over again), it’s crisp and carmelized on the outside yet cloyingly dense within.

Try picking just one.

Try picking just one.

Photo by Yana Fefelova / Shutterstock

5. Canelés

Is Bordeaux more famous for its wine or its canelés? Depending on who you ask, you could have a serious fight on your hands. But neither side would dispute that these rum and vanilla flavored cakes rightfully deserve a place in France’s pastry hall of fame.

Canelés are always made in the same distinctive molds, slim cylinders between two and three inches high with a little circular indent on top and grooves down the sides. Old-fashioned copper trays give them the best crusty outer shell and chewy, moist interior. The rum is added liberally, but most French families happily give canelés to their kids without a second thought. Connoisseurs know that you can request them lightly, medium, or well baked.

Connoisseurs know that you can request them lightly, medium, or well baked at locals’ spots such as la Toque Cuivrée in Bordeaux.

6. Mont-Blanc

The Mont-Blanc, named after France’s highest peak, makes an appearance in pâtisserie displays in the early fall when the first chestnuts are collected. Parisian tearoom Angelina claims to have invented the recipe, which sees a miniature “mountain” of meringue topped with whipped cream and a silly-string-like veil of chestnut purée.

In the best Mont-Blancs, the chestnut purée is only lightly sweetened, making them as delicious for dessert as with a cup of black tea in the afternoon.

7. Opéra

If you like your chocolate bitter and your coffee strong, the elegant, oblong opéra is the French pastry for you. Each wafer-thin layer packs in flavor, beginning with an almond Joconde sponge that’s soaked in coffee syrup before being alternated with chocolate ganache and coffee buttercream.

The last layer is always a smooth, dark chocolate glaze. It never covers the sides of the opéra, leaving the meticulously constructed layers and pâtissier’s precision on show.

8. Baba au rhum

The baba au rhum was invented in the oldest pâtisserie in Paris, Stohrer, which first opened in 1730. It’s said that King Louis XV’s pastry chef and Stohrer founder Nicolas Stohrer created this yeasted and rum-soaked cake for Stanislas Leszczynski, the former King of Poland and father of the French king’s wife, Marie Leszczynska.

What you really need to know is that rum is to the baba what ice cream is to apple pie. The more you add the better. Order a baba au rhum for dessert in a restaurant and you’re often free to liberally douse it in liquor yourself.

The tartelette aux fraises is an essential seasonal treat.

The tartelette aux fraises is an essential seasonal treat.

Photo by Maria Tebriaeva / Shutterstock

9. Tartelette aux fraises

The arrival of summer in France is heralded by the first strawberries of the season. First the early-ripening gariguettes in early May, then other varieties such as the clery. You know the season is truly in full swing when pretty little strawberry tarts start to decorate boulangerie windows and picnic blankets alike.

There’s no standardized recipe for a tartelette aux fraises, but purists stick to a shortbread base, crème pâtissière filling and fresh strawberry topping. The secret to getting the strawberries to shine at the end is to brush them with a little melted jam.

For more unusual versions, you can always rely on Parisian pâtisserie Boulangerie Utopie, which might add an elderflower cream or a charbon végétal (black charcoal) base.

10. Galette des rois

You’ll need to visit France around the Catholic holiday of Epiphany on January 6 for a chance to try a galette des rois, or king’s cake. These flaky frangipane tarts are traditionally baked to mark the arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus.

Boulangeries top each galette with a gold paper crown. Hidden inside is a lucky charm, known as a fève. If you find it in your slice, you become king (or queen) for the day and the crown is yours to wear.

11. Brioche aux pralines roses

Croissants aside, brioche is the one staple that appears on almost every French breakfast table. It comes in many shapes: bouncy loaves, little round buns, even baguette-like batons studded with chocolate chips. Generous amounts of egg and butter give the dough its trademark richness.

Arguably the best and most distinctive of all its forms is brioche aux pralines roses, a Lyonnaise speciality. Barbie-pink pralines, crunchy sugar-coated almond candies, are added right into the mix and hide like nuggets of gold amid the brioche’s fluffy layers.

You’ll find some of the best in Lyon’s famous covered market, the Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse.

12. Chausson aux pommes

As with many recipes in France, even the humble apple turnover comes with a 400-year history—one that’s celebrated every year at the fête du chaussons aux pommes in the town of Saint-Calais in Pays de la Loire.

Legend says that during a famine the local châtelaine (“mistress of the castle”) distributed flour and apples to the poor. So, the first chausson aux pommes was born. Today, they’re still made in much the same way, only now the apples might be stewed with a hint of cinnamon before being encased in their golden puff pastry pocket.

For a fail-safe recipe, Poilâne’s classic interpretation is a reference across France. Its cookbooks are a worthy investment, if a Parisian weekend isn’t on your upcoming travel agenda.

13. Chouquettes

If you’re invited to a coffee morning in France, don’t expect to be served doughnuts and an americano. You’re more likely to find yourself sipping an espresso and snacking on chouquettes, hollow bubbles of choux pastry embellished with chunky pearl sugar crystals that make an oh-so satisfying crunch between your teeth.

Chouquettes are just about the cheapest pastry you can buy in a boulangerie—often sold in bags of 10—but by far among the most addictive.

14. Macarons

No list of French pastries, or picnic beneath the Eiffel Tower, is complete without the macaron. Every candy-colored selection box might look identical, but all macarons are not made equal.

For the best of the best, look for those made by pâtissiers holding the prestigious title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, such as Jean-Paul Hévin in Paris. No matter the flavor, when you bite into the macaron the outer shell should be thin and crisp, yielding quickly to a dense and chewy center. You can’t go wrong with the classics: pistachio, chocolate, coffee, raspberry, and vanilla.

For the best of the best, look for those made by pâtissiers holding the prestigious title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, such as Jean-Paul Hévin in Paris. No matter the flavor, when you bite into the macaron the outer shell should be thin and crisp, yielding quickly to a dense and chewy center. You can’t go wrong with the classics: pistachio, chocolate, coffee, raspberry, and vanilla.

>> Next: An Expert’s Guide to Fromage in Paris for Traveling Cheese Lovers

Eleanor Aldridge is a writer based in Paris and the author of Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide. She specializes in food, travel, and (often natural) wine.

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