Top 10 French indulgences: Confessions of an amateur pâtissière


Perhaps it all began that teenage summer when I visited my French friend Zoë in Paris. It was my first time in the City of Lights (although City of Pastry would be more apt).

Ever since then I have been fanatique about pâtisserie, especially whenever I’m in France. Each pastry shop is worthy of that famous guidebook phrase, vaut le detour. I become impossible to travel with. Patisserie windows get my full attention until I am forcibly dragged away. I love the look of pastries, the smell of them, and naturally their sweet delicate crusts, their ethereal fillings, their gooey unctuousness

For a time, back home in the U.S., I took to working in bakeries to satisfy my lust. I rolled croissants and petit pains au chocolat each Saturday morning at an upscale restaurant. I even sold my own French-style pastries at a local farmer’s market.


I know people will swear by one French pâtissier or another – perhaps they’ve been doing that since the Middle Ages when pastry-cooks went by the name of oubleyeurs, from the French word for a wafer, the oublie.

I am more of an equal opportunity shopper. I make lists of new establishments and check them out. But I also go back to ones that have served me well over time. Like the place where I special-order the Gâteau Basque. It’s actually a double crust pie filled with pastry cream.

Pastries don’t have to be the fancy, over-the-top constructions that Carême, the celebrated late-18th century cook, wrote about. Délicieux is what counts. Next time you’re in striking distance of a patisserie, you might look for one of these top ten.

Top 10 French indulgences

10. Gâteau St. Honoré
Named after the patron saint of bakers. A circle of cream puffs dipped in caramelized sugar, nesting on a layer of pastry. The middle of the circle is filled with pastry cream.

9. Figue
Green-colored marzipan in the shape of a fig. Underneath the cover, fig paste and chocolate.


8. Religieuse
Two rounds of choux paste, one on top of the other, filled with flavored pastry cream, and iced with fondant. The religieuse is supposed to resemble a nun in habit, hence its name.

7. Gâteau Breton
A Brittany butter cake, simple, always satisfying.

6. Any gâteau au chocolat
Double chocolate is even better.


5. Tarte aux pommes
A classic apple tart but there are many variations on the theme.


4. Tarte aux fraises
A fresh strawberry tart on a bed of pastry cream.


3. Tarte Tatin
An apple upside-down pie. Make sure it’s fresh or you’ll be disappointed.

2. Tarte au citron
Sweet and sour lemon tart, sometimes with the French word inscribed on top in chocolate. A bistro favorite.


1. Gâteau Basque
As discussed earlier in this article.

Which is your #1 and why?

About the Contributor

Ronnie Hess

“I’ve had a long and passionate interest in France and especially French food. An American now based in Madison, WI, I’ve lived and worked in Paris as a reporter for CBS News and in Burgundy as a teacher. I’m the author of Eat Smart in France and Eat Smart in Portugal, both culinary travel guides. See my web page for further information.”

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  1. Hannah Duke Sep 6, 2012 at 9:21 AM - Reply

    So delicious! I don’t think I can pick a favourite from this list… But Gateau St Honoré is incredibly yummy. I think I’ll have to swing by a patisserie on my way home now….

  2. Emmanuelle Tremolet Sep 6, 2012 at 11:08 AM - Reply

    I miss France !

  3. Celine Mangiardi Sep 9, 2012 at 9:08 PM - Reply

    Tarte aux fraises is my favorite! Especially the one from my Grand Mother 🙂

  4. Kah Kit Yoong Sep 10, 2012 at 6:18 AM - Reply

    I’m also partial to tarte aux fraises especially when made from fraises des bois.

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