Most French desserts look like they took forever to make. However, looks can be deceiving. While French desserts have classic presentation and delicious flavor, they are usually fairly easy to make.
A traditional Napoleon is a layered dessert that consists of baked puff pastry, pastry cream, and fondant. Also known as the mille-feuille, the Napoleon is a French dessert of unknown origin that dates back to before the 16th century. With a long list of hard-to-find and labor-intensive elements, Napoleons are notoriously difficult to make. Fortunately, you can use pre-made puff pastry and substitute other ingredients, as well, making the process far easier.
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry the size of a cookie sheet
- 1 package vanilla pudding
- 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
- 8 ounces heavy cream
- Thaw the puff pastry on your counter for several hours.
- Roll the puff pastry out to the size of your cookie sheet.
- Let the pastry rest in your refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- While the pastry is resting, make the vanilla pudding according to the package directions.
- Let the pudding rest in the refrigerator.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
- Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan over a medium flame.
- Once the cream starts to simmer, pour it over the chocolate and stir with a whisk to make ganache.
- Prick the surface of the puff pastry with a fork.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper over the pastry.
- Place a second cookie sheet on top of the pastry.
- Bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove the top cookie sheet and bake for 10 more minutes until lightly golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and let cool.
- Cut the cooled puff pastry into thirds widthwise.
- Spread a layer of vanilla pudding over one of the puff pastry rectangles.
- Place a second puff pastry layer over the pudding.
- Spread a layer of pudding over the second pastry.
- Place the final puff pastry on the pudding layer.
- Pour the ganache over the Napoleon.
- Place in your refrigerator and let set, at least one hour.
- To make it look like a real Napoleon, make a batch of royal icing and pipe it in a thin line over the ganache.
- Using a toothpick, drag it over the ganache across the lines of royal frosting.
The Most Perfect Cookie
Legend has it that in 1909, Marcel Proust bit into a madeleine and his mind was flooded with memories of his childhood. Inspired by this experience, he started his famous seven-volume novel Remembrance of Things Past.
In order to make these delightful little cakes, you will need a madeleine pan. A madeleine pan is a shallow pan with shell shaped molds. You can find them at any baking and cooking supply store and also online. They are made out of many materials, including cast iron, non-stick aluminum, and even flexible silicone. Use the non-stick version if you can, because it makes removing the madeleines easier.
- 2/3 cup butter
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
- 1 cup sifted flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- Sugar to garnish
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Grease and flour your madeleine pan or, if using a non-stick pan, give it a good spray with non-stick spray.
- Melt butter and then let cool to room temperature.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs, adding the confectioners' sugar slowly.
- Continue beating until the mixture is thick and pale.
- Add the lemon zest.
- Sift the flour with the baking powder.
- Gently fold the flour mixture into the eggs.
- Add the melted butter and mix well.
- Using a spoon, fill the molds 2/3 of the way full.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove from the mold and let cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with sugar before the madeleines cool.
- 2 eggs, separated
- 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/8 cup sugar (1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup)
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1/8 cup cocoa
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat.
- Remove from the heat and let cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and cocoa powder.
- Beat the yolks slightly and then add them to the flour mixture.
- Combine thoroughly.
- Beat the egg whites slightly.
- Add them to the yolk and flour mixture.
- Add the butter and vanilla extract.
- Whisk to combine.
- Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into each of the madeleine molds.
- Bake for 4 minutes.
- Reduce heat in oven to 375 degrees and continue to bake for another 4 minutes.
- While the madeleines cool, turn the oven back to 425 in preparation for the next batch.
- The falling oven temperature (going from 425 to 375) allows the insides of the cookies to properly cook while the outsides become crisp.
Clafouti is a custard-like baked dessert made by baking fruit, usually cherries, in a batter. It originated in France's Limousin region, where dark cherries are common. You can choose to use other fruits, as well. The name derives from clafir, which means "to fill." The desert is essentially a filled custard-like pastry. This batter is similar to crêpe batter, so you can mix all the ingredients in a blender, which makes the mixing easier.
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3 cups fresh cherries, pitted
- 1/3 cup sugar for sprinkling on the cherries
- Powdered sugar for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix together the milk, first measure of sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
- Add the salt and flour and mix until well combined.
- Pour 1/4 of the batter into an 8-cup oven-safe baking dish or 9x9 baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.
- Bake for 3 to 5 minutes until a light film develops on the batter.
- Remove from the oven and spread the cherries over the batter.
- Sprinkle the second measure of sugar over the cherries.
- Pour the rest of the batter over the cherries.
- Bake for 45 minutes.
- It is done when the batter is puffy and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Crème Renversée looks very impressive when you serve it, but if you can make a simple syrup and a simple custard, you can put this together with ease. Once you have made Crème Renversée a couple of times, you can experiment with the flavoring of the custard. This recipe is for vanilla Crème Renversée but you can try cardamom, cinnamon, or orange, if you like.
You can make Crème Renversée up to three days in advance. The flavor matures nicely as it rests in the refrigerator. This recipe makes six 5-ounce desserts, so you will need six 5-ounce ramekins.
- 8 ounces granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 4 ounces water
- 12 ounces whole milk
- 2 3/4 ounces granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 vanilla bean
- Place the 8 ounces of sugar, 1 tablespoon of light corn syrup, and 4 ounces of water into a saucepan and place over a medium-high flame.
- Cook to a medium amber color.
- Remove from heat and let cool for a minute or two.
- Pour the caramel into the bottom of the ramekins.
- Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds out.
- Place the milk and a teaspoon of the remaining sugar in a saucepan with the scraped vanilla seeds and vanilla pods.
- Place over a medium low flame and bring to a simmer.
- Whisk eggs and remaining sugar together in a heatproof bowl.
- Once the milk is quickly simmering, remove from the heat.
- While whisking the eggs, pour a small amount of the scalded milk into the eggs to temper them.
- Pour the eggs into the scalded milk while whisking.
- Strain into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve.
- Pour into the ramekins.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Place the ramekins into a roasting pan and place the roasting pan into the oven.
- Pour water into the roasting pan until it reaches halfway up the ramekins.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.
- You will know that the custard is ready when the sides are set and the center is a bit wobbly.
- Remove from oven and let come to room temperature.
- Chill overnight.
Apple Tarte Tatin
Tarte tatin is a traditional upside down fruit tart. To add flavor and sweetness, the fruit is caramelized with sugar and butter before the tart is baked. A baker at Hotel Tatin created the dessert in the 1800s by accident when she left apples for pie cooking too long in butter and sugar. The hotel guests loved the surprise dessert, and a French classic was born.
The fun part of this tart is that it can be made with either puff pastry or pie dough, either of which can be bought pre-made at the store. Once you have your puff pastry or pie dough, all you need is some apples, sugar, and a 10-inch skillet.
- 3 pounds cooking apples, like Granny Smith apples
- 3 ounces butter
- 8 ounces sugar
- 1 9-inch pre-made pie crust or a 9-inch puff pastry round
- Peel the apples and cut them in half.
- Remove the core.
- Cut into wedges.
- Place a heavy 10-inch oven-safe skillet (like a cast iron skillet) over medium heat.
- Place the butter into the pan and let melt.
- Cover the melted butter with an even layer of sugar.
- Place the apple wedges standing on end around the edge of the pan.
- Arrange the remaining apple wedges around the center of the pan.
- Cook the apples over medium heat until the apples are soft, about 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Lay the pie crust over the apples.
- Bake for 35 minutes until the pastry is light golden brown.
- Let the tart cool to room temperature.
- Invert onto a platter.
French Desserts Made Easy
French desserts don't have to be complicated to be fun and tasty. Once you get the hang of these desserts, give French chocolate dessert recipes a try. There's a whole world of deliciousness waiting to be discovered.