When in France, one of the ‘must do’ activities is a visit to a pâtisserie or cake shop. Even if you are not a fan of sweet treats, I think it is worth having a look at the displays of amazing cakes. The pâtisserie shop windows are works of art in themselves.

The word pâtisserie is derived from the Latin ‘pasticum’, meaning pastry. It is a word that is used for both the shop and the delicious pastries that are sold there.

You may be wondering what is the difference between a boulangerie and a pâtisserie. A boulangerie is a bakery that sells mainly, but not exclusively, bread and croissants and a pâtisserie specialises in making cakes for birthdays and other occasions. A pâtisserie must employ a maître pâtissier who has a diploma in pastry making.

Continuing my series of the most popular food and drink in France, I am turning my attention to cakes. As in previous posts, this is not a scientific study but is based on asking French friends, researching on the internet, and my preferences!

As there is such a variety of cakes in France, it is difficult to select just a few. So, in no particular order:

Éclairs: An éclair is made with choux pastry which is also used for profiteroles. When baked, and cooled, it is filled with cream or crème pâtissière that can be flavoured and iced. The most well-known éclair is chocolate. I have recently discovered that there is a National Chocolate Eclair Day, on June 22nd. This is celebrated in the States, not France!

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Bûche de Noël: This Yule Log is the traditional French Christmas dessert. It dates back to around 1870, when a Parisian pastry maker was inspired by the Christmas eve ritual of burning a log in the fire (a tradition that can be traced back to the winter solstice rituals of ancient Celts). The basis of the cake is sponge, similar to a Chocolate Swiss Roll. It is covered with chocolate icing. There are many variations of the basic recipe to try.

Galette des Rois: Another traditional French cake eaten on January 6th. This date is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas. The Galette is made of puff pastry and filled with almond paste and is a celebration of the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem.

The fun of this cake, is the ‘secret’ contained inside – un fève! Originally, this was a bean but over time this has been replaced by a small figurine. At one time these were religious figures but nowadays you are more likely to see, as I have, figurines of the Simpsons or Harry Potter!

Whoever is lucky enough to find the fève is King for the day!

Opera cake – Gâteau opéra: One of the most classic French cakes is the Gâteau Opéra. It consists of alternating layers of almond sponge cake (known as ‘jocande’), coffee-flavoured buttercream and chocolate ganache. This is topped with a thin layer of chocolate glaze.

There is more than one explanation for the origin of the Opera Cake! One of the most popular, suggests it was created in Paris in 1955, by a pastry chef called Cyriaque Gavillon. It is also said the cake’s name was chosen because its layers resemble the levels of an opera theatre.

Mr FF will treat himself to a slice of Opera Cake occasionally but it’s too rich for me!

Gâteau Saint-Honoré:  The Gateau St Honoré originated in 1847, named after the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, St Honoratus, Bishop of Amiens. It consists of a puff pastry base, filled with crème pâtissier, surrounded by profiteroles with a caramel glaze.

There is even a St Honoré Day which I have written about previously. If you want to see how to make this cake, there is a video clip at the end of the post.

I’d love to know if you have a favourite cake. It doesn’t have to be French!