14 French Cookies: from Simple to Fancy
While French pastries such as croissant or pain au chocolat are famous worldwide, there is also a whole world of lesser-known cookies to discover when traveling to France.
From the celebrated macarons to the simple and humble petit-beurres, here is a taste of traditional French cookies.
These are probably the most iconic and celebrated French cookies, and yet… they are historically Italian!
Originally made with two crunchy almond meringues filled with a creamy ganache, macarons today can take many different flavors and combinations, from fruity to nutty to chocolaty, pistachio being a firm favorite.
The contrast in textures is everything, and, even more so than crème brûlée, it requires great skill to get it right, which is one of the reasons why macarons are expensive.
2. Petit Beurre
Perhaps the most basic cookie on this list, petit beurres are a quintessential part of French gastronomy. Not only are they famous worldwide, they are also the basis for many more elaborated French pastries and desserts. And yet, they are very plain: small, flat, dry, with very little sugar and a hint of buttery taste.
However, their crunchy texture and shape makes them a kid’s favorite. And the fact that they are only slightly sweet and almost tasteless gives them an unmatched versatility.
A very popular version of the petit beurre consists of adding chocolate on top. You will find many industrial versions of them at any supermarket in France. But it’s still better to DIY!
Another staple of traditional French bakery, boudoirs are nothing else than ladyfingers. Made from wheat flour, eggs, and sugar, these airy biscuits can be either very soft or very crunchy, but always covered with a layer of sugar.
Traditionally served along with tea or hot chocolate, they are also used as the basis of one of France’s most celebrated desserts: the charlotte.
A very simple cookie, the “palm tree” is made from a large chunk of buttery puff pastry that is then rolled and cut into thin slices. Depending on how much it’s baked, a palmier can be crunchy or soft.
It is usually sprinkled with caramelized sugar, but some more elaborate versions also feature cinnamon, raisins, or even a glazing on top.
5. Sablés Bretons & Palets Bretons
Sablés bretons, as indicated by their name, come from Brittany, a part of France that is famous for its cookies and cakes, all of them including a good amount of butter.
The sablés (literally sandy in English) are a generic category of cookies which can take different shapes. One of them stands out: palet breton. Palets are round and flat, which explains their name: it resembles a palet (the puck,) that is used to play hockey.
These buttery cookies have a sandy texture and are the Britton equivalent of the British shortbread, so, lots of egg yolks and sugar. While palets bretons are usually plain, they can also include orange zest, pieces of almonds or other ingredients.
There are industrial versions of them sold in supermarkets, but it’s not the same than the real, handmade thing!
6. Palets de Dame
Here is another variety of flat, round cookie. These come from the North of France and Belgium. There are several versions of these palets, but the most typical features a thin layer of apricot jam topped with lemon-flavored sugar icing and a little bit of rum for a nice kick.
Sometimes, raisins, almonds or nuts are added to the mix. You can find them at any respectable bakery in the North of France, and enjoy them along with a cup of tea. Story has it that they were named after an 18th-century game played by ladies using a puck.
Madeleines are a classic of French bakery. These delicious buttery cookies are soft, tender, and airy on the inside, but not spongy, and the exterior is slightly brown and harder.
Some of them have an added layer of hard, crisp chocolate at the bottom, making them look like tiny boats and creating a great contrast of textures. There are also flavored versions, of which two stand out: gingerbread madeleine and hazelnut madeleine.
Another regional specialty, this time from Alsace. Tiny enough to be eaten in one bite, these butter cookies can take many different shapes and are usually flavored with lemon, honey, or almonds.
Bredele are typically served in tin boxes and are traditionally made during Christmas holidays.
9. Langues de Chat
Literally “cat’s tongues”, these thin, crunchy cookies have an elongated but rounded shape which is supposed to resemble, you guessed it, the tongue of a cat.
Despite their thinness, langues de chats manage to be soft in the center. Another explanation for the name is that you are supposed to quickly dip the tip of the cookie into your tea or hot chocolate, just the way a cat would do when drinking.
10. Lunettes de Romans
Take two oval-shaped shortbread biscuits, one of them with two round holes in the middle. Spread the first cookie with your favorite jam, typically raspberry or strawberry, though. Put the second one on top and cover it with confectionary sugar.
You now have your very own lunettes de Romans (Romans’ glasses), a traditional cookie that looks like a pair of red eyes staring at you as if saying: “you wanna eat me?”
Originally from the Southern town of Romans, this large cookie is widely spread across the country and can be found at any traditional bakery.
This recipe is said to be the result of an accident. Legend has it that a cook from Brittany left their crêpe (France’s celebrated thin pancake) cooking for too long. As a result, the thin dough turned from bendy and smooth into hard and crispy, yet still bendy enough to fold it several times.
The result? A lighter-than-air, crunchy delicacy made with very thin layers of dough with a caramel taste. Gavottes are also known as crêpes dentelle and are typically served with coffee.
Another regional specialty, from the island of Corsica are the long, crispy, and flaky canistrelli. These are very simple cookies, made with wheat flour, sugar, and rather than butter, olive oil is used to give them a unique taste. They are usually flavored with almonds or dried fruit such as raisins.
13. Croquant aux Amandes
Perhaps the hardest cookie on this list, it is sometimes nicknamed “tooth breaker”. This flat, dry almond biscuit from the South of France is very, very crunchy.
If you like to exercises your jaws, this is the cookie for you! Made with flour, sugar, and whole almonds, the croquant also features orange blossom to add some taste.
Good news if you are afraid you might damage your teeth is that these are very good for dunking in your tea or coffee.
Known as lace cookies in English, florentines are famous for their incredibly thin, delicate, crispy texture. These elaborate treats integrate tiny pieces of nuts, candied fruits or chocolate into the dough.
The baking process brings a toffee-like flavor: the tricky part for the baker is knowing exactly when to turn off the oven so the thin florentines don’t burn.
These elegant cookies are welcomed as a gift when invited to a fancy dinner and are great with a tea or coffee, like many other French biscuits. But these ones are particularly delicious!
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