French desserts run the gamut from simple, flavorful cheeses paired with fruit, such as Camembert or Roquefort served with grapes, to complex and elaborate creations such as croquembouche, a tower of cream puffs held together with caramelized sugar. Depending on your ambitions and skills, you'll find plenty of sweets to provide an authentic French feel to dinner. Impress your guests with French desserts they'll recognize, or try something more unusual as a special treat.
Poached fruit, including cherries, peaches and pears, with a variety of flavorful sauces and add a French flair to your dinner -- flambe the fruit sauce with cognac or rum for a dramatic display. The same fruit, with apples being used most often, turns into tarte tatin baked with flaky pastry crust. Tarte tatin has a shiny glaze over the fruit which comes from inverting the tart after baking so the caramelized juices glaze the top.
Puddings and Custards
Puddinglike mousse and custardy creme brulee appear in French bistros and high-end American restaurants. Mousse involves beating egg yolks and sugar over a double boiler until the eggs become light yellow and creamy, then folding egg whites into the mixture. Mousse au chocolat includes melted chocolate, but you can also substitute fruit purees or liqueurs. Although creme brulee mirrors American baked egg custards, it differs in the thin layer of brown sugar melted on the top of the custard just before serving. If the eggs won't be thoroughly cooked in a particular dish, consider buying pasteurized eggs to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.
Made famous around the word by the Marcel Proust, author of “Swann’s Way," madeleines are buttery, cakey cookies that are made in shell-shaped molds. Another cookie, macaroons, not to be confused with American coconut macaroons, look like puffy sandwich cookies with two meringue sides flavored with almonds or almond extract and colored with food coloring to match the fillings. Frosting flavored with chocolate, almond paste or fruit provides the filling.
Crepes and Souffles
French crepes resemble ultra thin pancakes made with more eggs, no leavening and less flour than their American cousins, and come with either sweet or savory fillings. For crepes Suzette, let the crepes soak up a mixture of fresh orange juice, sugar, butter and orange liqueur, then flame the pan. Make dessert souffles flavored with chocolate, orange extract or a combination of chocolate and strawberry jam.
Oeufs a la neige, also called floating islands, consist of mounds of meringue cooked to a soft consistency in warm milk and served chilled over a sea of egg custard. Served at Christmastime, buche de noel is a rolled cake filled with a buttercream frosting sometimes flavored with chestnut paste. It's frosted with chocolate icing to look like a Yule log, sprinkled with powdered sugar snow and surrounded with meringue mushrooms.
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