Classic French Desserts and Pastries for Christmas

Holiday Sweets

These French holiday dessert recipes are the impressive icing on the cake, so to speak, for an already wonderful holiday menu. They are classics ranging from simple sweets and easy baked goods to elaborate traditional French fare. There's something here to fit every winter holiday menu.

The 13 desserts of Christmas, or les treize desserts de Noël, are enjoyed after gros souper, the traditional meatless Christmas Eve dinner, in Provence. The 13 desserts are in reference to Jesus and his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. As tradition goes, there must be at least 13 sweets available, all served at once, and each guest must have at least a small bite of each dessert. 

Not every dish served has to be a full-blown dessert. The "four beggars" portion of les treize stands for four monastic communities and includes offerings of walnuts for the Augustinians, almonds for the Carmelites, raisins for the Dominicans, and figs for the Franciscans.

A platter of fresh fruit usually counts as one dessert and can be a selection of oranges, apples, pears, and grapes. Any combination of seasonal fruit is welcome, and fresh berries rarely make the list, although they would be considered acceptable, as well.

Enjoy these recipes during the holiday, served singly or as part of the 13 desserts.

  • 01 of 18

    Chocolate Buche de Noel Recipe

    Buche de Noel

    Clive Bozzard-Hill/Getty Images

    The first Christmas yule log cake or Buche de Noel was cleverly created in the late 1800s by a French pastry chef. This chocolate version of the original recipe showcases a light-as-air, vanilla genoise cake (sponge cake) rolled into a cylinder with the richest, homemade chocolate buttercream frosting.

  • 02 of 18

    French Dark Chocolate Madeleine Cakes Recipe

    madeleines
    Getty Images

    Madeleines are a classic French small bake. The delightful little cakes deserve to be at every celebration. Include them with a little chocolate and you hit the jackpot.

  • 03 of 18

    French Almond Macarons

    macarons

    sodapix sodapix/Getty Images

    There is no better way to truly celebrate than with a plate of delicious almond macarons. They are one of the prettiest confections and also utterly delicious. What is not to like?

  • 04 of 18

    French Cinnamon Palmiers

    palmiers
    James And James

    French palmiers are buttery and flaky little morsels that can be served warm or at room temperature and are so lovely with tea, coffee, or a hot toddy for Christmas. 

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  • 05 of 18

    Quince Past

    French Quince Pate
    Santiago Urquijo

    This quince paste recipe or Cotignac d'Orléans is a specialty of the French city of Orléans since the 15th century. It is notably less sweet than similarly prepared pates de fruits, or fruit-paste candy. The paste is known in other countries as a quince cheese, and in Spain as membrillo. Serve slices of the prepared quince paste with a selection of cheese, nuts, and fruit on a cheese board. The paste is also delicious with cold game meats such as venison.

  • 06 of 18

    Calissons

    calissons

    Laurent Giraudou/Getty Images

    Most of the world’s supply of calissons—a unique almond-paste candy—comes from Aix en Provence. Most visitors to Aix come away with a penchant for the distinctive candy. They’re hard to find, but taking the time to make them from scratch is worth the effort.

  • 07 of 18

    Fougasse

    Fougasse

    Owen Franken/Getty Images

    Fougasse or pompe à l'huile, an olive-oil flatbread, is eaten with grape jam made during the last harvest season of the year. The tradition is to break the bread into individual servings with the fingers, rather than cut the bread with a knife. The legend goes that this protects your wealth from bankruptcy in the coming year.

  • 08 of 18

    Croquembouche

    croquembouche

    Brian Hagiwara/Getty Images

    Croquembouche is a traditional French wedding cake that also is served for special occasions and for the holidays. The traditional croquembouche recipe is made of cream puffs filled with vanilla pastry cream "glued" together in a tree shape with caramel and decorated with sugared almonds and spun sugar. Modern croquembouches are made with creative pastry cream flavors and decorated with flowers, sugar art, and even melted chocolate.

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  • 09 of 18

    Opéra Cake

    Classic French Opera Cake

    Riou, Jean-Christophe/Getty Images

    This opéra cake recipe is well worth the time investment. Layers of light almond sponge cake, coffee buttercream, and dark chocolate ganache make it a showstopping dessert.

  • 10 of 18

    Speculaas

    Christmas Spiced Cookies
    Getty Images

    Irresistibly fragrant, this speculaas recipe makes a crispy, not-too-sweet spice cookie that begs to be dipped in coffee. The varied blend of aromatic spices in this recipe creates the signature flavor by which Belgian speculaas cookies have been known for centuries.

  • 11 of 18

    Creme au Caramel

    Creme Caramel

    svariophoto/Getty Images

    Creme au caramel, also known as creme caramel, is a wonderful dessert recipe for dinner parties. Not only is the flavor mellow, sophisticated, and versatile, this bistro classic can be made up to one day in advance. Served in an impressive pool of homemade caramel, it needs no garnish other than an attractive plate.

  • 12 of 18

    Dark Chocolate Truffles

    Dark Chocolate Truffles

    Vladimir Shulevsky/Getty Images

    Soft melting dark chocolate ganache lavishly dusted with cocoa powder is a decadent treat like no other. These dark chocolate truffles are so delicious, so flavorful, that they require eating slowly.

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  • 13 of 18

    Lemon Tart

    Tarte au Citron
    Getty Images

    Lemon is the quintessential flavor in French tarts. They can be found at patisseries and cafes year-round and are especially good for holiday times. Cool, sharp lemon filling contrasts nicely with the flaky, slightly sweet pastry. A little dollop of chantilly cream served with the dessert makes the ideal treat.

  • 14 of 18

    Candied Chestnuts

    candied chestnuts

    Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

    If chestnuts roasting over a crackling fire are evocative of happy times and holidays, then these marrons glacés are their upscale cousins, served only as the most indulgent of treats. So beloved is the flavor in France, that the Berthillon Glacier in Paris usually sells out of their dreamy candied chestnuts within hours. 

  • 15 of 18

    Apple Cider Pound Cake

    Apple Cider Bundt Cake

    Paul Poplis/Getty Images

    Take one bite of this apple cider pound cake recipe and you'll be transported to the orchard country of Normandy. This deliciously spiced quatre quarts cake was, in fact, inspired by a drive on La Route des Cidres in Québec which, like Normandy, is dotted with apple orchards, cider houses, and picturesque inns. 

  • 16 of 18

    Individual Chocolate Soufflés

    Chocolate Souffle
    Diana Miller

    Among the best French recipes for a beginner to learn must be a simple chocolate soufflé. The soufflé is a magical, airy, delicious, confection with a complex flavor profile that is relatively easy to prepare. Served fresh out of the oven, they round out any meal and delight and impress your family and dinner guests.

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  • 17 of 18

    Poached Pears

    Ruby Red Poached Pears

    beyhan yazar/Getty Images

    Poached pears make for an exceptional, appealing dessert that couldn't be easier to prepare. This recipe showcases fresh pears poached in wine syrup until they turn buttery soft and a gorgeous, ruby-red color.

  • 18 of 18

    Eggs in Snow

    oeufs a la neige

    Dr. Heinz Linke/Getty Images

    Oeufs à la neige, or eggs in the snow, make an elegant presentation for your holiday festivities yet are not overly heavy after a full meal.