It’s 5,000 miles from Seattle to Paris as the crow flies. Despite the distance, the Emerald City is shining proudly in the area of pastries—good news for those who can’t quite cross the Atlantic for the real thing.
The most ubiquitous pastry round these parts is the plain croissant, with enough choices to warrant a comparative tasting challenge. (I’ve chosen two that are the cream of the crop.) But it doesn’t stop there—you can find lesser known pastries, such as kouign amann, as well as Japanese bakeries with inspired takes on French classics.
These 10 pastries all stand out in the shop, bearing the right levels of buttery flavor, sweetness, appealing texture, and a little something extra which would make me point and say, “You want that one.”
Some rave about the croissants at Ines Patisserie, but I especially recommend the tarts—and the Tarte aux Prunes ($6.00) above all. While some of Ines’ tarts, like the apricot, are made from a brioche dough that yields a light base, the plum has a slightly heavier and flakier crust made from croissant dough. In addition to the delicious crust, the plum tart (which also contains pluots) has a wonderful tartness that contrasts with the creamy vanilla bean filling. A plum reduction glaze is a fantastic finishing touch.
The Kouign Amann ($2.45) is king at Honoré Artisan Bakery. Living up to the literal meaning of “butter cake,” this is a fairly tall version with delicious caramel layers and kissed with a perfect amount of salt. You can sit outside in your throne of an Adirondack chair and be the envy of all as you crack into your crusty pastry and admire how well butter and sugar mingle together.
Everything’s delicious at the new Crumble & Flake Patisserie, but most beguiling is the Smoked Paprika and Cheddar Croissant ($3.75). There’s a great balance of butter and cheese flavor, plus a wonderful hint of paprika. That cheese in the dough makes the croissant even crisper on the outside, resulting in a shattering of crumbles and flakes that you’ll surely be salvaging and savoring.
Brioche is your best bet at Belle Epicurean. Those fond of citrus notes can typically find orange-scented or lemon brioche buns, but my pick is the Almond Pear Brioche Bun ($3.75) with rum-soaked golden raisins. More cakey than flaky, the bun is nicely caramelized on the outside and offers good textural contrast from the almonds and the squishy, rummy raisins.
Cafe Besalu has consistently bested the opposition for best croissant ($2.30) in Seattle. It’s on the smaller side, but what it lacks in volume it makes up for in buttery flavor. Plus, this plain croissant has a perfectly flaky exterior with an inside crumb with just enough pull. If you brave the lines and eat inside, you’ll get some homemade jam to accompany the croissant—though there’s so much butter you might not need or want it.
Seattle has long had a small Scandinavian community. For a non-Parisian change of pace, I turn to Nielsen’s Pastries, which has been selling snitters, danishes (including the classic poppy seed), and more since 1965. Here you’ll find big, buttery, pretzel-shaped kringles, but I opt for the Apple Kringle Slice ($2.75). Filled with Granny Smith apples, custard, and almonds, it’s a little like eating a sweet pizza, with more almonds on the “crust.”
Over the bridge in West Seattle, Bakery Nouveau is a popular destination for a wide variety of pastries. I like one of their more recent experimental discoveries: the Honey Bun ($3.35). While playing with honeycomb, the Nouveau team discovered they liked the combination of honey blended with butter and decided to put it on the flaky exterior of a bun. I find the flavor to be fairly subtle, with prominent notes of brown sugar and cinnamon.
Bar Ferd’nand is one of many excellent eating establishments inside Melrose Market. Perhaps better known as an oyster and wine bar, you can also find Stumptown coffee and a few pastries here, including the Canelé ($3.00). I call Canelé “flan in a caramel shell,” as the dark, caramel-crusted exterior supports a soft custard-like interior. Ferd’nand’s version is especially fine, run through with delicious notes of vanilla and rum.
If you visit Le Rêve, you’ll find all the French bakery standards from baguettes to macarons and kouign amann. A variety of croissants includes plain and twice-baked almond, but I recommend the Pain au Chocolat ($3.75). It’s large with lots of layers and two tell-tale sticks of Belgian dark chocolate. If you like this, you can also try the twice-baked version.
Fuji Bakery prepares French-style baked goods with a Japanese influence and an often subtle sweetness. I like the Brioche Japon ($2.00), which is a brioche dough filled with red bean paste and raspberry puree, then baked in the shape of a cube. The geometric fun continues with a triangular dusting of powdered sugar. In a nod to the Pacific Northwest, Fuji also sells Brioche Saumon: a cube of brioche dough filled with wild salmon.
(Originally published here at Serious Eats on 7/10/12.)