Classic French Desserts and Pastries for Christmas

Marron glace candied chestnuts recipe

The Spruce / Victoria Heydt

Classic French holiday desserts are the finale for an already wonderful holiday meal. From simple sweets and easy baked goods to elaborate and 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 le gros souper, the traditional meatless Christmas Eve dinner in Provence. The 13 desserts are a reference to Jesus and his 12 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.

Enjoy these French recipes during the Christmas holiday served on their own or as part of the 13 desserts.

  • 01 of 18

    Chocolate Bûche de Noël

    Chocolate Bûche de Noël

     The Spruce

    During the late 1800s, a French pastry chef created the Christmas yule log cake or bûche de Noël, and it became a tradition. This chocolate version of the original recipe showcases a light-as-air, vanilla genoise cake (sponge cake) rolled into a cylinder with rich, homemade chocolate buttercream frosting.

  • 02 of 18

    French Dark Chocolate Madeleine Cakes

    Chocolate Madeleines

    Verdina Anna / Getty Images

    Madeleines are a classic French small bake. The delightful little cakes deserve to be at every celebration. This recipe adds chocolate to the mix, making them extra special.

  • 03 of 18

    French Almond Macarons

    Easy Macarons

    The Spruce

    There is no better way to celebrate in true French style than with a plate of delicious almond macarons. They are one of the prettiest confections, although not considered the easiest to bake. However, with a few easy tips, even beginners can make the best macarons every time.

  • 04 of 18

    French Cinnamon Palmiers

    Palmiers

     

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    French palmiers are buttery and flaky little morsels that can be served warm or at room temperature. Use store-bought puff pastry for an easy shortcut, and serve with tea, coffee, or a hot toddy in a Christmas mug.

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  • 05 of 18

    Quince Paste

    Quince paste
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    This quince paste recipe or cotignac d'Orléans has been a specialty of the French city of Orléans since the 15th century. It is notably less sweet than similarly prepared pâtes 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

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    Most of the world’s supply of calissons—a unique almond paste candy—comes from Aix-en-Provence. Visitors to Aix often come away with a taste 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 Bread

     The Spruce

    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

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    Croquembouche is a traditional French wedding cake that also is served for special occasions and for the holidays. The classic 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. You can make it even more fancy with flavored pastry cream and decorations.

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  • 09 of 18

    Opera Cake

    French Opera Cake

    The Spruce

    This opera cake recipe is well worth the time investment. Layers of light almond sponge cake, coffee buttercream, and dark chocolate ganache come together to make it a truly spectacular dessert worthy of the holidays.

  • 10 of 18

    Speculaas

    Christmas Spiced Cookies

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    Belgian in origin but loved in France, speculaas cookies are crispy, fragrant, and full of not-too-sweet spice, making them perfect for dipping in coffee. The varied blend of aromatic spices in this recipe creates the signature flavor that has made these cookies well known for centuries.

  • 11 of 18

    Crème au Caramel

    Crème au Caramel

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    Crème au caramel, also known as crème caramel, is a wonderful dessert recipe for dinner parties. You will also appreciate that you can make this sophisticated treat a day in advance. Find an attractive plate and serve it simply in a pool of its own caramel sauce.

  • 12 of 18

    Dark Chocolate Truffles

    Dark Chocolate Truffles

    Vladimir Shulevsky / Getty Images

    You and your guests will be seduced by homemade dark chocolate ganache generously coated with cocoa powder. These dark chocolate truffles only take a few minutes to make, but they are meant to be slowly savored to enjoy every bit of their chocolaty flavor.

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  • 13 of 18

    Lemon Tart

    Lemon Tart

    The Spruce 

    You will find lemon tarts year-round in French patisseries and cafés, but they are also great for the holidays. Make the tart ahead of time and top with a dollop of Chantilly cream to finish.

  • 14 of 18

    Candied Chestnuts

    Marron glace candied chestnuts recipe

    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt

    Marrons glacés are a step up from chestnuts roasting on an open fire. These candied chestnuts are a Paris holiday favorite. They require some planning ahead, as they must be boiled and soaked in syrup repeatedly before they are finally dried and ready to serve.

  • 15 of 18

    Apple Cider Pound Cake

    Apple Cider Pound Cake

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    The apple orchards and cider houses of Normandy and La Route des Cidres in Quebec were the inspiration for this apple cider pound cake. You can enjoy it with tea or coffee, or serve it with ice cream and fruit.

  • 16 of 18

    Individual Chocolate Soufflés

    Individual Chocolate Souffle

     

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    Mastering the simple chocolate soufflé is often the first step into the world of baking French desserts. Your guests will be honored as you serve individual soufflés fresh from the oven, allowing them to freely enjoy the airy deliciousness.

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  • 17 of 18

    Poached Pears

    Poached Pears

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

  • 18 of 18

    Snow Eggs

    Oeufs a la neige (snow eggs)

    The Spruce / Molly Watson

    Oeufs à la neige, or snow eggs, make an elegant presentation for your holiday festivities without weighing you down after a full meal. The light-as-air meringue islands float in a sea of sweet, golden custard for a tasty French treat.