You've heard the phrase "like a kid in a candy store," but what's the grown-up equivalent? Like a dude in a short DMV line? Like a lady who doesn't get picked for jury duty?? Those are pretty bleak, so let's go with another culinary comparison: like an adult in a bakery. Because really, bake shops are just more sophisticated candy stores that allow you to enter on the pretense of buying a lovely loaf of sourdough, and come out with 16 peanut butter cupcakes instead.
In celebration of the noble service bakeries provide, we selected 21 of the bravest and boldest in these United States of America. Behold below the best Cronut and Crack Pie purveyors, macaron specialists, and customizable cake makers this country has to offer.
It's probable that the Lululemon-clad, stroller-jogging residents of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood share an unspoken rule that it's perfectly acceptable to ditch any granola bar for a Sweet Mandy B's ranger cookie. Get ahold of one of the large cookies filled with coconut, chocolate chips, and... oats (those are good for you, right?). The sweets shop also makes confetti cake Rice Krispies Treats, snickerdoodle cupcakes, and seasonal pies.
If you've never had the buttery Breton pastry kouign amann, first, shame on you, and second, head here for the finest version of it outside of France. The extremely talented pastry chef Belinda Leong started the bakery several years ago, and has since turned into a wild success thanks much in part to her sugary French cake. Still not convinced? How about this: in celebration of National Kouign Amann Day last June, Leong and her staff made 12 different kinds of the pastry including maple bacon and Speculoos versions. It was a pretty good day.
Opened 15 years ago as a solo bakery in the South End that peddled the world’s greatest pecan sticky buns (suck it, Bobby Flay), Joanne Chang’s Flour has grown into Boston’s nationally acclaimed pastry and sandwich empire. And although that empire -- now with four outposts -- may have been built on a pile of buns (and chocolate brioche and old-fashioned sour cream coffee cake and…), it specializes in far more than breakfast. Do yourself a favor and also grab a roasted lamb sandwich with tomato chutney and goat cheese, a slice of Boston Cream pie, and, of course, a raspberry “Pop Tart” to go.
They say everything's bigger in Texas and bakeries are certainly no exception. The woman behind Bribery earned a serious local following thanks to her oversized Gruyere and bacon popovers, which she sold bake sale-style on weekend mornings to long lines of hungry Austinites outside her former restaurant Foreign & Domestic. The popularity of the pop-up pastry events led her to turn to baking full-time. Now, her newly opened shop continues the bigger-is-better theme with cinnamon rolls the size of a personal pizzas and a host of other girthy pastries like sweet potato whoopie pies stuffed with maple chai cream cheese. Get there early or risk missing out on the seasonal donuts.
Want to know how good the bread is at Tartine? The shop offers pre-orders with three days' notice and cash upfront, because once they release the daily batch at 4:30pm, by 4:35pm it, like Kanye, is gone. Only a precious, ruthless few successfully beat that bread rush, but lucky for you, opting for a banana cream tart instead is hardly settling.
There aren't a ton of famous Lorraines out there, but, with apologies to Bracco and Toussaint, this San Antonio bake shop might be the best one. The duo behind the oven, Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell, met while working with Thomas Keller in California. They realized they like-liked each other, and moved to the Lone Star State together to start their own space.
Ng is a big fan of macarons, which are heavily featured on the menu. In July, you can get them in America's colors, and in the winter, you can get them in peppermint hot chocolate or gingerbread.
Denver's food/drink market The Source is filled with standouts, but Babettes is a destination. Proof: it sells out of almost all of its five to eight breads (porridge bread, a daily country loaf, rye) and 12-16 pastries (apple croissants, molten-center chocolate cake) every day. That's why showing up at 8am -- when the sweets and breads come piping hot out of the over -- is your best bet. And although some might say the bread looks "burnt," the real food nerds know better -- it's caramelized, moist, and delicious.
It can be hard to stand out when you're Stall 161 of a sprawling public market, but the line at Salty Tart proves this hasn't been an issue. Although Andrew Zimmern's repeated endorsements might have something to do with that, the place wouldn't have earned those without its famous coconut macarons or endlessly customizable cakes. Want a 10in carrot cake with seasonal fruit compote filling, and "whatever-you-think-of" buttercream? Order away, you fascinating weirdo!
Noted Ho Ho hater Francois Payard has been rapidly building an empire for himself in Manhattan, and even abroad. (What's up, Japanese and Korean department stores?) His macarons tend to get most of the hype -- and seeing as they come in flavors ranging from raspberry lychee to salted caramel, it's easy to see why -- but don't just stick to small bites here. His mousses and meringues are not to be missed, and neither is his hot chocolate.
Coffee nerds will feel at home at Baked and Wired, which stocks beans from roasters like Stumptown, Intelligentsia, and Elixr. (There's also microbrewed chai from Oregon, tea freaks.) But the "Baked" part of the name comes first for a reason. The treats include buttermilk biscuits, homemade Fig Newtons, and even "Zillabonez" for your pup. That said, the Elvis Impersonator Cakecup made our DC bucket list for a reason, so eat that.
It takes some hardcore bakers to man Proof's temperamental, truck-sized oven, but owner/chef Na Young Ma doesn't employ any wusses. Since they took over the old Rollin' Pin Bake Shop space in Atwater Village in 2010, Ma and her team have become local favorites. The croissants are a huge draw, but if you only accept exotic baked goods with at least three dominant flavors, keep an eye out for the Blood Orange Chocolate Cardamom Cake.
From a husband and wife team (the Millers, get it?) who helped launch another bakery that was a strong contender for this list (Bang Bang Pie Shop), Baker Miller's setting itself apart by milling (levels, man) its own carefully sourced grains. You know what works even better? Incomparable sweet treats (s'mores pie, sourdough cinnamon rolls) and breads (order the "Toast Bar" and you'll be forever changed) that make you feel slightly better about loading up on carbs because you at least know they were sourced and treated with care. Bonus: they're not technically a baked good, but the grits and oatmeal bowls, always with some sort of seasonal toppings, are also not to be missed.
After winning the World Pastry Championships and an entire season of Top Chef while commanding lines out the door as the assistant pastry chef at Bellagio, Chris Hanmer really only had one place to go: South Dakota. Yep, rather than being the 947th reality TV chef to open his own spot in a New York or Miami, Chris Hanmer opted to be a big cock in a small field and opened this gem right on the main drag in Sioux Falls. Inside are desserts that are up there with what you'll find in cities that don't require two connecting flights, like the Petit Gateau carrot cake with cream cheese, vanilla bean, and caramel glaze.
Primarily known as the place to get bread if you live in Brookline and value delicious things (NOTE: get the black sesame sticks with garlic butter or the fantastic oatmeal cinnamon raisin), Clear Flour also makes some of the best pastries in the Boston area, notably the sticky, chewy morning buns and the molasses spice cookie, which pairs unusually well with hot apple cider on a cold day.
Yes, he invented the Cronut, but we wouldn't single Dominique Ansel out merely for smashing a croissant into a circle. (And, by proxy, inspiring a blood feud outside his shop every morning at 7am.) The man is constantly turning baked goods into a madcap science experiment, whether by torching the shit out of some frozen s'mores or defying gravity with his magic souffles. He's also quite skilled at more garden-variety desserts, if you'd rather stick with a safe chocolate eclair.
Sure, you could just close your eyes, point a finger at the menu, and be confident in whatever baked good you just selected off the Sugar Bakeshop menu, but A) pointing at strangers is rude, and B) the place has too many good local delicacies to pass up. Consider a classic Southern chocolate bourbon pecan pie, a Hummingbird cake (spice cake with pineapple, bananas, and pecans), or a Lady Baltimore cake, which deceptively has zero ties to Maryland. It actually originated in Charleston's Lady Baltimore Tea Room, and comes with a generous supply of walnuts soaked in sherry.
In 1965, Monsieur Poupart left his pastry chef gig in Paris to settle in Louisiana with his wife. He quickly delighted locals with his fresh breads, quiches, and sweet treats. Fifty years later, his shop still brags about being the "only authentic French bakery in Acadiana." He's made one important concession to his new home state, though -- in addition to making traditional French king cakes every February, Poupart's also churns out a "Mardi Gras king cake" packaged with beads and the all-important fake baby.
Pearl Bakery routinely shows up in the (web)pages of Serious Eats, The Daily Meal, and Food & Wine. But almost none of them can decide what you're supposed to eat there. Is it the raspberry brownies? The chocolate chip cookies? The fig anise panini? We're taking a stand: eat them all, and then pop a few truffles on your way out.
Mud stopped being tasty once you turned 6, but Muddy's is bound to hook you in one visit. The famed Prozac cupcakes will make you question whether they snuck medication into the chocolate batter, while the Nancy's Boy Pie is perfect for anyone who likes to mainline coconut. It's also got an impressive vegan menu for dairy-shunning folks, and an appreciation of Douglas Adams, which is an important quality in any bakery.
When you're paired up with David Chang's network of restaurants, you can't just bake some cookies and call it a day. You need to be exceptional, and luckily, Christina Tosi's sister bakery absolutely is. New Yorkers speak of her cake truffles, Crack Pie, and cereal milk in the same hushed, reverent tones usually reserved for rent-controlled apartments. And they aren't the only ones raving -- Tosi's talents have netted her two cookbooks and a line of baking mixes. Let's be real, though, you're not going to copy her moves with a box of powder from Target. Get the genuine thing instead at one of the five US Milk Bar locations.
Macrina is named after an ancient Greek lady, but you don't have to be a dusty classics professor to appreciate this place. Although the staff would be happy to make you a wedding cake, Macrina's has built its name on simple, superb breads. Seriously, there's a whole bread menu. For purists, there's plenty of brioche, ciabatta, and rye to go around. But for those who just LOVE fall, go with the whole wheat cider.
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Kristin Hunt is a staff writer for Thrillist. She still hasn't had a Cronut, but she would probably live inside Momofuku Milk Bar if she could. Follow her to B'Day truffles at @kristin_hunt.
With delicious confections like cakes that come in flavors that range from Pumpkin to lemon to Snickerdoodle, Mandy B's is your one-stop-shop for sweets in Lincoln Park. Don't miss their stand-out cookie, The Ranger, that's crammed with coconut, oats, and chocolate chips.
You may have noticed that buttery, sugary Breton pastry, kouign amann, in just about every bakery these days. Well, you can thank B. Patisserie's Belinda Leong for introducing it to pastry-crazed San Franciscans several years ago. Beyond said sweet standout, you can also hit this Pac Heights institution for other Gallic treats like colorful macarons and impeccable croissants (plus more American creations like key lime tarts and chocolate banana bread). Feeling more savory? Tartines like mushroom ragout with goat cheese or ham and gruyere are equally covetable.
Joanne Chang's award-winning bakery is usually known for its amazing pecan sticky buns, but many don’t know that the bakery also makes killer donuts. Its rich, brioche-based jelly donuts are a must try, but make sure you get there early since they sell out fast.
Country Bread from this well-known bakery and cafe is the original Cronut-like craze. Each day, 240 loaves are made, and within an hour, they are GONE. The bread pudding is also a mainstay at this justifiably-packed carbohydrate haven, and if you're planning on grabbing some sweets to-go, try the chocolate-rye tart with snowy meringue and a chocolately lattice.
Duo Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell started this bakery after meeting while working with Thomas Keller in California. Their space crafts handmade treats with a focus on macarons. Get them in patriotic colors around the 4th of July and, come winter, snag their peppermint and gingerbread flavors.
7. Babettes 3350 N Brighton Blvd #140, Denver, CO 80216 (Five Points)
Customers from the country over travel to this bread kingdom for a taste of the freshly baked loaves, which the craftsmen here mix primarily by hand, using freshly ground flour. The shop's signature item is its dark, almost burnt-looking bread, but everything from the crispy croissants, to the Breton butter cake, will make you question all the pastries you've ever called your favorite. Come early if you want a baguette (which many compare to Parisian classics); these are usually gone by lunchtime.
Stall 161 of a sprawling public market in Minneapolis doesn't have to worry about standing out. With repeated accolades from Andrew Zimmern and a never ending line, Salty Tart has seen nothing but love for their famous coconut macarons and endlessly customizable cakes.
Noted Ho Ho hater Francois Payard has built an empire for himself, both in Manhattan and abroad. His macarons tend to get most of the hype -- and seeing as they come in flavors ranging from raspberry lychee to salted caramel, it's easy to see why -- but don't just stick to small bites here. His mousses and meringues are not to be missed, and neither is his hot chocolate.
Sweets take center stage at this Georgetown hotspot, where baked goods are made fresh daily. Get there as early as you can to find the best selection of cookies. But if you're not in the mood to break the calorie bank, Baked and Wired offers expertly pulled shots. They brew with beans from Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Ceremony Coffee Roasters, and more.
It didn't take long for Proof to achieve superstar status, especially because of its flaky croissants and scrumptious sea salt chocolate chip cookies. Opened by Na Young Ma, this tiny, neighborhood spot is whipping up treats like fruit tarts, galettes, financiers, canelés, and cakes in its massive, decades-old oven. You'll want to arrive here early to get your hands on them, as a line tends to form before they even open on weekends. Be sure to check out their savory options, too, like sandwiches on little baguettes.
The former owners of Bang Bang Pie Shop bring us their passion project in Lincoln Square: a grain-centric sweet and savory bake shop where all the items from breakfast to lunch are made in-house daily. If you're coming to this bright and homey spot for breakfast, go for a comforting bowl of the hand-rolled oatmeal with homemade seasonal jam, cultured cream, and toasted pecans. There are a few sandwiches at lunch (like a BLT with feta and tomato jam), which are served with a slice of pie or side salad. That's a no-brainer.
Chris Hamner, Top Chef and World Pastry Championship winner, didn't open a restaurant in Miami or New York like one would expect. Instead, he went to South Dakota and became a big fish in a small pond with this patisserie. Opt for one of his elevated cakes like the Petit Gateau carrot with cream cheese, vanilla bean and caramel glaze.
This classic European-style bakery specializes in Italian and French breads and pastries. Its light, oven-baked currant donuts have been touted as some of America’s best. You'll get donuts that are pillowy-soft, subtly sweet, and not the least bit greasy.
Master pastry chef Dominique Ansel’s eponymous SoHo bakeshop is best known as the birthplace of the Cronut, a croissant-doughnut mash-up that attracts lines of tourists every morning. There’s a limit of two Cronuts per customer, but luckily the hybrid pastry isn’t all Ansel has in store. The shop sells bite-size fruit tarts, rich chocolate cookies, and Ansel’s other signature sweet, the kouign amann.
This bakeshop offers delicious local delicacies like Southern chocolate bourbon pecan pie, Hummingbird cake and Lady Baltimore cake, the last of which comes with an ample amount of sherry-soaked walnuts.
Monsieur Poupart moved from Paris to Louisiana with his wife in 1965 and quickly gained followers for his delicious breads and pastries. Today, the place is still churning out a range of delicious eats from king cakes to cookies.
This bustling bakery features everything from artisan breads and pastries to coffee and light fare. Get the raspberry brownies, the chocolate chip cookies or the fig anise panini...actually, just get it all.
Baked goods here are made with organic milk and cage-free eggs, and the coffee refills come free. Their famed Prozac cupcakes make you wonder if there really is medication in the batter, but ultimately they just know that chocolate really is the best remedy.
The original, pint-size location of pastry wizard Christina Tosi's Milk Bar serves all of her signature confections: the sugar-and-butter-based crack pie, birthday cake truffle balls, and the pretzel-potato-chip-coffee-oatmeal-butterscotch-and-chocolate-chip creation known as the compost cookie. Milk Bar's most famous outpost is arguably its cereal milk soft serve, which tastes like a creamier and sweeter version of the leftover milk in a bowl of cornflakes.