French Traditional Cakes

Picture a typical French patisserie, its window displaying row after row of dainty perfectly-formed cakes of all imaginings, the skill of the pâtissier evident in every delicate chocolate swirl.

The pâtissier’s art is one that takes years of practice to perfect.

That’s why so many French housewives choose to buy their cakes from him rather than make their own.

But we do have three recipes for Traditional French Cakes that can be made fairly easily at home.

Cream Puffs

Light airy puffs of pastry oozing with cream

  • 8 level tablespoons plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • ¼ pint water
  • double cream
  • vanilla essence
  • icing sugar

Sieve the flour. Lightly beat the eggs.

Put the butter and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and tip all the flour in at once. Beat with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come away from the sides of the pan. Continue beating until it just starts to form a ball. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

Now you really need an electric mixer for the next bit. Add the eggs a little at a time beating vigorously in between additions. The idea is to ‘catch’ as much air as possible in the pastry. Keep beating madly until the dough takes on a sheen. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC, gas mark 6.

Pipe into tangerine-sized balls onto a wetted baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with a well-fitting inverted roasting tin – if necessary seal around the edges with a flour and water paste. Bake for about 45 minutes. To test if the puffs are cooked, shake the tin gently. If the puffs move, they are ready.

Split the puffs open and allow to cool. When cool, fill with whipped cream, lightly flavoured with vanilla essence. Replace the top and dust with icing sugar. Or serve with Chocolate Sauce.

Chocolate Sauce

  • 110g (4oz) good quality plain chocolate
  • 1 small tin evaporated milk

Gently melt the chocolate and slowly stir in the evaporated milk. Beat well to give a smooth sauce.

Mille Feuilles

(thousand leaves Fr.)

These may not have 1,000 layers but bite into the thin crispy Pastry and let the jammy sweetness mingle on your tongue with the rich cream and you won’t really care!

  • 210g (7½ oz) packet ready-made puff pastry
  • raspberry jam
  • 150ml (5fl oz or ¼ pint) double cream
  • glace icing

Preheat the oven to 230ºC, gas mark 8. Damp a baking sheet with cold water. Whip the cream until thick.

On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry out into a rectangle measuring 4” by 12”, and about ¼” thick. Place the pastry on the baking sheet and cut it widthways into strips 2” wide. Bake for about 10 minutes.

Carefully separate the strips and cool. Split each one into 2 and sandwich the thin strips together with raspberry jam and whipped cream. Carefully spread the tops with glacé icing.

Glacé Icing

Sieve 110g (4oz) icing sugar into a bowl and gradually add about a tablespoon of warm water. You want the icing to be runny but thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add colouring or flavouring as required. Use immediately.


A glazed French bread enriched with butter and eggs.

  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • ½ teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 225g (8oz) strong plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 egg for glazing

Grease 12 brioche or deep muffin tins.

Heat the milk to lukewarm. Whisk in the yeast and ½ teaspoon caster sugar. Cover and leave in a warm place for about 10 minutes or until frothy. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and melt the butter.

Sieve the flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast mixture, 2 eggs and cooled butter. Mix well until the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until smooth. Return to the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for about 1½ hours or until doubled in size.

Again turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 12 roughly equal pieces. Use about ¾ of each piece to form a ball. Place the balls in the brioche tins and, using your finger, press a hole in the centre of each. Place the remaining small pieces of dough in the holes. Glaze with beaten egg, cover and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour or until light and puffy.

Preheat the oven to 230ºC, gas mark 8. Brush with the beaten egg glaze and bake the brioches for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

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