If You're Looking for a Great Old School Style Bakery in San Francisco, Go to Fillmore Bakeshop
When it comes to bakeries in San Francisco, there are the iconic stalwarts (think Arizmendi or Tartine) and, happily, a whole roster of exciting places which have opened in the last few years (look to Belinda Leong's b. patisserie for beautifully executed traditional French pastry or Emily Day's comforting, classic American treats at Flour & Co.)
By contrast, it's not so much a town of local bakeries in the way that you can still find old school Italian bakeries—the kind that pack up your slightly dry cookies in a white box and tie it with red string—in most neighborhoods in New York. I love these bakeries, the ones with reasonable prices and friendly cashiers and a motley assortment of goods (lacey Florentines next to chocolate snacking cake, something for every palate!). In my mind these places don't need to offer the best of everything because their purpose is to live at the intersection of nostalgia and function (where else do you buy cookies by the pound to bring to your office holiday party?). But there are the ones that, despite the cartoon artwork painted onto their windows (and really, someone has to employ the local high schoolers), actually make delicious sweets. Fillmore Bakeshop is one of these places.
Fillmore Bakeshop is a family owned business that specializes in "a contemporary European-American style of baking", meaning you can get everything from marzipan covered Princess Cake to almond croissants. I think it says it all that the cakes can be ordered by the 6-inch, 8-inch, 10-inch, 1/4-sheet, 1/2-sheet, or full sheet for all your birthday, anniversary, graduation, and baby shower needs.
Though they like to tout themselves as specialists in the still trendy macarons, their best items are often the breakfast sweets. Why? They nailed the dough. With all the bells and whistles poured into and over breakfast sweets (sugar, cinnamon, frosting, etc.), some people overlook the importance of a good base. Not Fillmore Bakeshop—the dough in their breakfast pastries is just as tender, soft, buttery, or eggy as it's supposed to be, and it holds its own against the crowning sugar accoutrements. If you stop by, here are some pastries you should give a try.
Poppy Seed Almond Snail ($2.75)
This pastry makes me sad that poppy seed pastries aren't more widely avaible. The large coil is richly layered with seeds; they coat each ring, crunching under your teeth and imparting a distinctively earthy poppy flavor. The dough is the same as you'll find in a pain au raisins or snail, but, smartly, flatter, allowing for a higher poppy seed to dough ratio. The top of the pastry is lacquered in a clear confectioner's sugar glaze which adds sweetness to balance the savory poppies. The almond flavor isn't incredibly present, but adds a subtle marzipan background.
Morning Bun ($2.75)
This morning bun is permeated with the flavor of cinnamon sugar and butter. Pull it apart and you can see why: there is a lightly crackly coating of cinnamon sugar on the outer crust as well as veins of cinnamon running through the center. While the top is textured, the body of the pastry has a light and springy crumb which, in my mind, is ideal. I don't want my morning buns to shatter like a croissant, I want something that pulls apart like a prop in a Pillsbury commercial, and this does just that.
Doughnut-Croissant Hybrid ($2.50)
Yes, this is a knock-off of a certain famous NYC creation, but that doesn't mean it isn't good. Like the original, this hybrid sweet borrows from both doughnuts and croissants. The flakey, buttery layers are made, croissant-like, from stacked sheets of dough. Like a doughnut, the outer crust is fried (and for that reason, you really need to get this one fresh.) The result is a pastry with an indulgently buttery flavor, a tender middle, and a browned, toasty crust.
Hot Cross Bun ($2.50)
These buns are seasonal, but they are so good that while they're available, they're worth mentioning. Soft and sweet, they're permeated by the scent of candied citrus. The dough is like a brioche— texturally a little dense and with a pleasant chew, and full of rich, eggy flavor.
About the author: Carrie Vasios Mullins is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios