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10 Essential French desserts & sweet recipes

April 14, 2023   Food

For those of you with a sweet tooth, we bring you a sugar-coated follow up to our list of 10 Essential French Dishes & Recipes. In the first part of this series, we covered French favorites from breakfast to dinner, plus the classic tarte Tatin and mousse au chocolat. This time around, it’s all about dessert! Explore some of France’s most famous, along with some lesser-known creations. We’ve added recipes en français and en anglais for each one so you can recreate them easily at home!




The Fanciest

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As the name suggests, île flottante is a super-sweet, light-as-air dessert consisting of an “island” of meringue floating atop a crème anglaise. You won’t find it on the menu of every French restaurant, but it makes for a special treat if you’re able to find it. It’s known as Julia Child’s favorite French dessert, and if it’s good enough for Julia, it’s good enough for us! 

  • If you’re interested in Mastering the Art of French Cooking yourself, why not take some notes from the woman who wrote the book on it? Try Julia Child’s île flottante recipe here.
  • Here’s a quick version of île flottante with a video to help you along the way!



The ultimate comfort

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The French take on a universal classic. Riz au lait (French rice pudding) is quick and easy to make. It doesn’t call for eggs, so it’s a bit lighter than a traditional American rice pudding. Instead of nutmeg, cinnamon and raisins, riz au lait calls for just a touch of vanilla and orange. Mainly served at home, it’s a nostalgic, go-to comfort food. 

  • When in Paris… The restaurant L’Ami Jean is famous for their riz au lait, chef Stéphane Jégo’s signature dessert. What makes his recipe shine is​ the addition of house-made caramel and nougatine – a foodie’s dream!
  • If you’re not planning on visiting Paris anytime soon, fear not! You can attempt chef Jégo’s riz au lait from home. Get the recipe here.




It’s all about custard

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When we hear “flan” in the States our minds immediately go to the Mexican dessert, but the French have a version of their own! Like riz au lait, this is another childhood favorite that any mamie can whip up in a flash. It is a sweet custard that’s baked in a decorative mold. For some added sweetness, you can make it a flan aux œufs au caramel by adding some caramel at the top. It is widely known as crème caramel outside of France.

  • This article has an amazing recipe for crème caramel and gets into all of those little nuances between crème brûlée, flan aux œufs, and flan!
  • Try this classic recipe for flan aux œufs at its most authentic.



A classic

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Tarte aux pommes is a simple and satisfying apple tart and a national favorite of France. Not to be confused with the tarte Tatin or American apple pie, this dessert consists of a flaky crust topped with thinly sliced apples that are dusted with sugar and glazed in the oven. For some extra tang, try spreading some apricot jam across the dough before baking. 

  • Alain Passard, chef and owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant Arpège, has developed his own unique and beautiful take on tarte aux pommes, the “bouquet de roses”. In this recipe, the apples are ultra-finely sliced and shaped into roses. You can try his recipe here!
  • Try a more traditional recipe here.



The most famous

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This icon of French cuisine needs no introduction, but we could never talk about French desserts without mentioning
crème brûlée. Literally translating to “burnt cream”, crème brûlée is a heavenly combination of creamy vanilla custard and caramelized sugar. It’s quite simple to make, but you’ll know it was prepared just right when you tap its crispy top layer with the back of your spoon and hear an oh-so-satisfying crack.

  • 750g is one of France’s top recipe sites, but they also have an amazing YouTube channel with cooking tutorials. Watch this tutorial to have a professional guide you through every step of making the perfect crème brûlée.
  • For an interesting twist, try out this recipe that uses a custard infused with bay leaves!



Perfect for kids

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The gâteau au yaourt is a simple cake and a classic for French children. It’s easy to prepare and is often one of the first recipes children learn since there’s no measuring required! All you need is an individual yogurt container and the correct ratio of ingredients. It’s often served at birthday parties and for the goûter (after-school sweet).  

  • Did you know? The average French person has yogurt at least once per day, while the average American will have yogurt 0-3 times per week. If you’ve ever wondered why the yogurt aisle in French grocery stores is so extensive, now you know!
  • Try an easy recipe for gâteau au yaourt here and here.



The most decadent

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Tarte au citron meringuée (lemon meringue pie) is a bright and refreshing pie made of lemon curd served in a buttery crust. The entire thing is topped with fluffy meringue that is torched to reveal a pattern of golden swirls. You can find this dessert in nearly every pastry shop in France!

  • For those who love meringue: Big Mamma is an Italian restaurant group that’s become incredibly popular in Paris and beyond. One of the highlights of their menu is their larger-than-life tarte au citron meringuée served with a mountain of meringue piled twenty centimeters high. Get the recipe straight from their cookbook here!
  • This French chef takes a more minimalist (but beautiful!) approach to the tarte au citron.



For fruit lovers

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Clafoutis is a fruity dessert made of a flan-like dough that’s baked in the oven and served warm. It’s traditionally made with black cherries, but blackberries and blueberries are also popular. It’s a treat that can be enjoyed year-round, and lends itself well to experimenting with whatever fruit is in season. Apples, pears, peaches… it’s up to you!

  •  Here’s a recipe for clafoutis that shows off French homestyle cooking.
  • Do as the French do and try out this recipe from Marmiton! One of the top recipe sites in France.



PERFECT for Brunch

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You may not be able to tell from its French name, but this dessert is one Americans know well. Pain perdu (literally, “lost bread”) is the dessert that inspired French toast. It’s made from stale bread, as it originates from a time in France when every item in the pantry was precious, and people couldn’t afford to be wasteful. The recipe takes bread that would have otherwise been “lost”, and turns it into something delicious!

  • While French cooking has a certain air of elegance across the world, it doesn’t always have to be complicated. Try Michelin star-awarded chef Philippe Etchebest’s recipe for pain perdu here.
  • Learn more about the history of pain perdu here.



For le goûter

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Quatre-quarts (literally, “four-quarters”) cake is a pound cake that originated in France’s Brittany region. The batter is made from four ingredients equally added by weight: sugar, flour, butter, and eggs. The recipe doesn’t call for baking soda, so it’s dense and perfectly sliceable. It makes for a great afternoon snack, especially when paired with un café. 


  • Pro tip: The easiest way to properly measure your ingredients is to first weigh your eggs in the shell (most recipes call for 4-6, but this can depend on how much cake you want!), then weigh out the remaining ingredients until you hit that same number each time. Here’s a recipe!
  • Watch this video for some French practice and a recipe with a bit of extra flavor.

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