Apple Croissant, La Farine
The East Bay mini-chain La Farine may be famous for their morning buns, but I fell in love with their apple croissant ($2.50). The croissant dough itself was excellent; flaky, buttery and crumbly, with ample hunks of fresh, juicy apples within. The fresh crispness of the apple was the best, and most surprising part—dusted with cinnamon and sugar, the fruit is really allowed to shine. There are four locations of La Farine (one in Berkeley, three in Oakland), but this croissant came from the Piedmont Avenue location.
Cinnamon Roll, Devil's Teeth Baking Company
I was so taken with the donut muffin at the Devil's Teeth Baking Company, that I talked myself into taking yet another very long bus ride out towards Ocean Beach in pursuit of their massive, caramel-y looking cinnamon roll ($3.50). And oh, was it worth the trip. This is, in short, everything a cinnamon roll should be: gooey, buttery, and dripping with melty cinnamon as the chewy but flaky layers pull apart. Ask for it heated up if it's not hot out of the oven—a few seconds in the microwave take this roll to a new level. This is one big cinnamon roll, but you'll have a hard time not eating it all, piece by peel-away piece.
Devil's Teeth Baking Company
Blueberry Brioche Muffin, The Sentinel
Come 11 am, the scent of fresh bread wafting from The Sentinel's window will sorely tempt you to stop in for a sandwich. But the really hard part is walking by earlier in the morning, when the freshly baked brioche blueberry muffins ($2.50) are being pulled from the oven. Huge, but still fluffy, the muffin's sweet brioche dough has a vanilla taste to it, the perfect complement for the ample amounts of tart blueberries. Most of the berries are whole and bursting with juice, even popping out of the craggy muffin top. Hot from the muffin pan, I found myself mumbling "Best blueberry muffin ever?!" to my dining companions, while carefully making sure I didn't lose a single crumb.
Bigote, La Mejor Bakery
When waiting in line at La Mejor on 24th Street, I took the fact that I was the only person ordering in English to be a good sign. Taking the recommendation of the friendly woman behind the counter I walked away pulling off pieces of a bigote ($1.10), a crescent-shaped pastry dusted in sugar and named after a mustache, which it really does resemble. The bready interior had an excellent yeasty flavor—the dough was subtly sweet, enhanced by the light sugar coating. The only thing that could have made it better was a cafe con leche, which, of course, everyone else at La Mejor had the good sense to order.
La Mejor Bakery
3329 24th Street, San Francisco CA 94110 (map)
Magnolia Stout Coffee Cake with Pecan and Caraway Streusel, Blue Bottle Coffee
When waiting in line at Blue Bottle Coffee, it can be easy to become singularly focused on your desire for coffee. But it would be a shame to miss out on their most excellent Magnolia stout coffee cake ($3.50), a moist, round serving of deliciousness. Anything with a streusel top is fine by me, and the addition of caraway seeds makes for a distinct and interesting flavor. Imagine french toast made with rye bread—but really, really delicious. The overall effect is maple syrup-sweet, and a perfect complement to your drip coffee.
We got the coffee cake at the Ferry Building, but most Blue Bottle locations in San Francisco offer it.
Blue Bottle Coffee
Morning Bun, Tartine Bakery
Okay, Serious Eaters. I promise. I tried many morning buns for this particular round up. But despite many taste tests, none were quite as good as the morning bun ($3.75) at Tartine Bakery. That impeccable, flaky croissant pastry dough! The caramelized sugar, coating the pastry and forming a crackly exterior! The subtle, citrusy zest of the burnt orange! Suffice it to say, despite being very full of pastry, I finished this one off. And I have no regrets.
Almond Croissant, La Boulange
If only all chains could be like La Boulange. Each location feels like it belongs in the neighborhood, and you can almost always count on uniform excellence in their bread and pastries. The almond croissant ($2.75) would easily give a French patisserie a run for its money. Covered in a crust of toasted almonds with a small sprinkle of powdered sugar, the interior of the croissant reveals a healthy amount of almond paste with just the right amount of sweetness. Of course, all of this would be for nothing if the pastry were subpar, but the croissant interior is light and airy.
The almond croissant is available at all La Boulange locations, but this one came from La Boulange de Columbus.
La Boulange de Columbus
Scone with Plum Bavarian Cream, Nopa
I don't think I've tried one thing on Nopa's brunch or dinner menu that I haven't liked. So it was no surprise that I was completely taken with their scone ($4), studded with currants and served with a healthy dollop of Bavarian plum cream. That cream on its own is tangy and sweet—you'll find yourself taking swipes at it with your finger when the scone is long gone. The scone itself is made from a standard recipe, but apparently, the pastry chef "triples any of the fat." Meaning cream, creme fraiche, and butter. When it comes to pastry, there's really no way that can go wrong.
The scone is a regular feature on Nopa's brunch menu, but should you happen by the restaurant in between brunch and dinner service, stop in for a drink. More likely than not, you'll be brought a scone on the house.
Pain au Chocolat, Douce France
How do you make a great pastry even better? Dip it in chocolate, of course. That's the route taken by Douce France, with their pain au chocolat ($2.50). The small French bakery has been in Palo Alto for years, and has always been excellent. The croissant itself is filled with a generous amount of delicious, high quality chocolate. And then there's the dip—the added touch of additional chocolate makes all the difference, separating this pain au chocolat from the rest.
855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto CA 94301 (map)
Brioche Knot, Arizmendi Bakery
This bakery collective has never disappointed with their loafs, rolls, bialys, and beyond. So spotting their brioche knot ($2.50), a sizable coil coated in cinnamon and studded with raisins, I knew we had a winner on our hands. The flavor was more similar to challah than brioche, but the best kind of challah—eggy, airy, and flavorful. The cinnamon was applied sparsely compared to, say, a cinnamon roll, but I liked it that way—it's sweet but not too sweet, it accentuated the excellent bread while adding a little something extra to it.
This knot came from the new(er) Mission location, but they're available at the Inner Sunset bakery as well.
Custard Tart, Golden Gate Bakery
You have to be lucky to score a custard tart ($1.15) at Chinatown's Golden Gate Bakery. The owners have a taste for vacation, and often are not open for business. But we keep walking by their Grant Street shop, knowing that the day they are open may be the best day ever. The dan tat is warm when you buy it, and modestly sized. Bite into it right away, and allow the incredible combination of flavor and texture to wash over you: the flaky, crumbly crust; the silken, panna cotta-like texture of the interior; the marvelous, eggy taste. It's something that causes you to wonder, "How can this be so good?!" mid-mouthful. Don't ask questions. Just be grateful for your good luck.
Golden Gate Bakery
1029 Grant Avenue, San Francisco CA 94133 (map)