In 2010, UNESCO chose The gastronomic meal of the French, which also includes pastries, as part of the world heritage. The purpose of this post is to present what pastries originated in France.
French cuisine is based on rich traditions, and its masterpieces are known worldwide. Refined French pastries are famous for their amazing taste and aesthetics. Their preparation requires a high degree of technical knowledge, creativity, and precision.
The most famous pastries invented in France include: • Viennoisire (pastries made from a yeast-leavened dough): brioche, croissant, pain aux raisins, pain au chocolat • Pastries made from puff pastry: millefeuille, palmier, pithivier • Pastries made from pâte à choux: éclairs, profiteroles, croquembouche, Paris-Brest • Cakes, tarts and small treats: charlotte, savarin, tarte Tatin, madeleines, cannelés, macarons, baba au rhum, financiers, tuile, gâteau opéra, gâteau Saint-Honoré
In addition to the authentic French pastries and desserts, there are also those that were inspired by the cuisines of other nations and have become known as part of French cuisine.
There are interesting stories about the invention of some French pastries and desserts. You can read about them in the following chapters.
A brief history of French pastry making
The beginnings of French pastry-making date back to the Middle Ages. In the 1400s, pâtissiers took over the making of pastry products from bakers, and from then on, French pastry making began to evolve and new products started to appear.
Pastry production became more and more sophisticated after cane sugar, cocoa, and chocolate from the Americas became available in the 1500s.
After the French Revolution, products previously available only to the nobility became affordable to everyone.
The most significant representative of French pastry making was chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833). With his brilliant desserts and pastries, he raised his profession to an artistic level. His book Le pâtissier royal is the first systematic description of pastry cookery.
The English term pastry is the same as the French pâtisserie, which is used for a bakery that makes and/or sells pastry products. The French pastry chef is called a pâtissier.
Brioche is one of the oldest French pastries, a type of bread made from leavened dough. Its first mention dates back to the 1400s.
In addition to flour, the brioche dough also contains milk, eggs, butter, and sugar, which makes it more cake-like.
Brioche is also the base of Tarte Tropézienne, a cake filled with lemon pastry cream.
Madeleines are small, soft cakes that are baked in the shape of a shell. The recipe for madeleines was a secret for a long time and was only available at a high price. Their main ingredients are butter, flour, eggs, and sugar.
The Larousse gastronomique notes several possible stories of the invention of madeleines.
According to one origin story, they were invented by Avice, the famous 19th-century pastry chef, but it’s unlikely according to many experts. Madeleines were known in Commercy long before that, in the 1730s.
Based on other expert opinions madeleines were invented in the Middle Ages when they were baked in real seashells.
The origin of Financiers can be traced back to the 18th century when they were baked by nuns. These buttery almond cakes were probably named after the small, square baking tins in which they are made.
Cannelés are desserts baked in small, fluted cylindrical copper molds, flavored with rum and vanilla. They are caramelized on the outside and soft on the inside.
Cannelés come from the Bordeaux region and were probably created in the 15th or 18th century. 20th-century French pastry chefs added rum and vanilla to the ingredients and made them popular again.
Tart Tatin is actually an upside-down fruit tart. It’s made mostly of apples, caramelized with butter and sugar, and covered with pastry. After baking, it must be turned out of the pan, so that the caramelized fruit is on top.
Tarte Tatin is named after its inventors, the Tatin sisters. They served this special dessert to the guests of their hotel. According to the legend, Stéphanie Tatin baked the apple cake upside down by mistake, which turned out very delicious.
The upside-down apple tart was not a new idea at that time, as Carême had already written about it in one of his books.
The croissant made of laminated yeast dough as we know it today appeared in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. It was inspired by the Viennese crescent-shaped kipferl made of leaven dough that became popular in Paris in the 1830s.
The invention of the choux pastry is attributed to the chef of Queen Catherine de Medici. The development of the recipe that is still used today is attributed to Antoine Carême.
Profiteroles are small choux pastry balls that are filled with chantilly cream or vanilla custard. They are coated with chocolate on the outside.
Profiteroles are also used to make Saint-Honoré and croquembouche cakes.
The croquembouche is a pyramid consisting mostly of cream-filled profiteroles – choux pastry spheres, which are stuck together with caramel. In France, it’s a popular cake for festive occasions, especially weddings.
Many people attribute the invention of the croquembouche to Marie-Antonin Carême, as he describes it in his writings. But the creation of the croquembouche is older than that, as it already appears in culinary books of the early 1800s.
The Saint-Honoré cake was created by Parisian confectioners in honor of St. Honoré, the patron saint of pastry chefs and bakers.
The base of the cake is a circular shortcrust or flaky pastry, the outer edge of which is made of profiteroles dipped in caramel. The cake is filled with chilboust cream, which is a mixture of pastry cream, and whipped egg whites.
The Paris-Brest cake is a choux pastry wreath filled with praline cream. The Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race inspired its creation in 1910, so its shape resembles a bicycle wheel.
Baba au rhum (Rum baba)
Rum baba is a small cake made from yeast dough, soaked in rum and syrup. It’s served as an individual dessert with whipped cream and dried fruit.
The forerunner of the rum baba was probably created in the court of Lorrain, and its inventor was none other than the King of Poland.
The Baba au rhum recipe was brought to Paris by Nicolas Stohrer, Louis XV’s pastry chef. The Pâtisserie he founded in 1730, still operates in its original location, on rue Montorgueil.
The creation of savarin was inspired by the baba au rhum. It originated in Paris in the 1800s.
Savarin is made of yeast dough baked in a ring shape, soaked in syrup flavored with kirsch or rum and various spices. It is served with chantilly cream or pastry cream and fruit.
Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert from the Limousin region. According to the Larousse gastronomique, it’s a pastry or thick pancake enriched with black cherries.
Small desserts made from almond flour, egg whites, and sugar known as macarons were probably invented in Italy. They were baked in Italian monasteries as early as the 8th century and were brought to France during the Renaissance.
The Parisian macarons we know today, filled with ganache, buttercream, or jam, were created at the beginning of the 20th century in the Parisian pâtisserie Ladurée.
It is not clear whether the charlotte cake originated in England or France. According to Wikipedia, the first recorded recipe for the English charlotte dates back to 1808.
For the English charlotte cake, the sides of the pan are lined with slices of buttered bread. The filling is made by layering apples, sugar, and bread soaked in milk.
The charlotte à la parisienne (also known as à la russe) dates back to 1915 and was invented by Marie-Antoine Carême. Ladyfingers are used to line the mold, and the filling is Bavarian cream, or custard and fruit.
French cuisine is based on rich traditions, and is well known and recognized worldwide. Many famous pastries and cakes were invented in France.
The best-known pastries of French origin include, for example, brioche, profiteroles, éclairs, mille-feuille, savarin, financiers, madeleines, savarin, and tarte Tatin.
You may be interested in my article on famous European pastries.