America's Best Bakeries

  • America's Best Bakeries: Sugar Bakeshop

    Photo: Courtesy of Sugar Bakeshop

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    From Charleston to L.A., these bakeries put a creative, seasonal twist on cupcakes, pies, and cookies.

    From August 2013 By

    Theresa Velazquez’s D.C. bakery business is thriving, yet she has no interest in expansion. “We own this one place, and we really make ourselves part of the neighborhood,” says the co-owner of Baked & Wired in Georgetown, where hazelnut ganache cupcakes are playfully displayed in upside-down coffee beakers.

    Many of America’s best bakeries are family-run establishments that take a similar approach and pride in their community. They’re appealing, one-of-a-kind spots where travelers can break to enjoy made-from-scratch pastries that often highlight local ingredients.  

    At Standard Baking Co. in Portland, ME, Alison Pray recently debuted Maine miche, an organic whole-wheat bread made with 100 percent single varietal wheat grown by a local farmer. “You couldn’t have imagined this 18 years ago when we started,” she says.

    Great bakeries are not afraid to evolve or experiment, reinventing classic desserts as well as offering lesser-known European treats. So on your next trip, head to one of these bakeries for a sweet start to the day—whether an apricot puff pastry tart with almond cream or the gibassier, a French citrus-flavored bread.   

  • America's Best Bakeries: Proof

    Photo: Proof Bakery

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    Proof, Los Angeles

    The owner and head baker at this pared-down Atwater Village bakery has a self-described “low sweet threshold,” but that may just be her secret to success. Na Young Ma’s seasonal-fruit-packed pastries like plum herb galettes and mango hand pies never verge on cloyingly sweet and have attracted celebrity fans like Kristen Wiig. The offerings change daily and often include unorthodox ingredients. Black sesame financiers, for instance, are flavored with nutty black sesame powder, brown butter, and fresh raspberries or candied orange.

    Must-Try Item: The flaky twice-baked almond croissant filled with a thin layer of almond cream. proofbakeryla.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Floriole

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    Floriole, Chicago

    Originally a stand at Chicago’s Green City Market, Floriole is now a buzzy café in the Lincoln Park neighborhood with expanded offerings of sandwiches, salads, and wood-oven-fired pizza. Baker Sandra Holl’s caramel pecan sticky buns, fruit galettes, and crème fraîche tea cakes use the finest ingredients, from Valrhona chocolate to European-style butter. She has a knack for turning mistakes into inspired treats; a botched batch of pistachio brittle became pistachio croissants with a lemon glaze.

    Must-Try Item: Gateau Basque, an almond cake filled with pastry cream and seasonal fruit. floriole.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Baked

    Photo: Courtesy of Baked

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    Baked, Brooklyn, NY

    Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito rocketed to fame when Oprah named their dense, fudgy brownie one of her favorite things. Three cookbooks later, Baked’s owners are still accomplishing their mission of elevating classic American desserts. The Peanut Butter Crispy is an elegant ganache-topped crisped rice cereal treat, and dessert hybrids include the Brookster, a deep, dark brownie shell filled with a chocolate chunk cookie. You’ll find them at the un-frilly Red Hook shop, with its wood-paneled walls and faux taxidermy.

    Must-Try Item: A layer of salted caramel oozes throughout while baking, making for an incredibly moist and indulgent sweet and salty brownie.

  • America's Best Bakeries: Salty Tart

    Photo: Kris Hase

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    Salty Tart, Minneapolis

    It’s true that great things come in small packages—just consider this 400-square-foot bakery in the bustling Midtown Global Market. French windows on three sides let customers watch chef and owner Michelle Gayer (a three-time James Beard nominee) work her magic on rustic French pastries like seasonal fruit Danishes and pastry-cream-filled brioche rolled in vanilla sugar. Her crisp and chewy coconut macaroons have become so popular they’ve earned the nickname “crackaroons.”  

    Must-Try Item: Bostock, a French pastry typically made with brioche bread. Gayer’s is toasted sourdough soaked in orange simple syrup, topped with brown butter and blueberries, and baked in the oven. saltytart.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Vergennes Laundry

    Photo: Adam Jackson

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    Vergennes Laundry, Vergennes, VT

    The owners of this bakery in a former laundromat are so devoted to serving simple, fresh food that every sweet and savory tart is made to order. Baker Julianne Jones was inspired after apprenticing with renowned Vermont bread baker Gérard Rubaud; Jones was reportedly one of the only students to last the entire three-month stint. Together with her French husband, a candy maker, they created a light-filled space featuring Baltic birch and a wood-fired oven where Jones bakes tartes flambées and perfect Bordeaux-style cannelés—think crème brûlée in mini-Bundt-cake form.

    Must-Try Item: The seasonal berry tart filled with blackberries, gooseberries, and raspberries. vergenneslaundry.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Baked & Wired

    Photo: Courtesy of Baked & Wired

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    Baked & Wired, Washington, D.C.

    As its name suggests, this Georgetown institution takes coffee as seriously as its homespun baked goods. Baristas train for months, and the concrete coffee bar serves only the best roasters in the country (Stumptown, Intelligentsia). Cupcakes are playfully displayed in upside-down coffee beakers, and decadent flavors include hazelnut ganache–topped vanilla cake with a dulce de leche center. Other coffee-pairing options range from breakfast breads to strawberry pistachio pie.

    Must-Try Item: The Bee Sting, a shortbread bar with a honey and sliced almond topping, is the perfect balance of salty and sweet.

    bakedandwired.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Le Panier

    Photo: Jonathan Cook

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    Le Panier, Seattle

    This venerable Pike Place bakery opened in 1983 with a commitment to making Normandy-style pastries (one of the owners still makes regular reconnaissance trips to France). Stop in for tarte aux abricots—a traditional fruit tart with puff pastry crust, almond pastry cream, and sour apricots—or the Feuilletés, a Le Panier creation of puff pastry with savory fillings like delicate chicken in cream sauce. The salmon-colored space with a wooden communal table is cheery enough to brighten any gray Seattle day.

    Must-Try Item: The flaky jamon croissant topped with Mornay sauce and a sprinkle of Emmental cheese. lepanier.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffeehouse

    Photo: Mud Pie bakery

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    Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffeehouse, Kansas City, MO

    Mud Pie has managed to do the near impossible: bake vegan goods that taste as good, if not better, than their traditional counterparts. Baker Ashley Valverde says the secret is countless hours of experimentation and the range of vegan ingredients now on the market. Mostess (a twist on a Hostess cupcake) and French Toast (a maple cinnamon, maple frosted cupcake) are among the award winners. Located in a two-story 1880s house, the bakery has an old-fashioned feel as well as ultra-fast Google Fiber broadband Internet.

    Must-Try Item: The flaky cheddar sausage scone made with vegan cheddar and seitan sausage. mudpiebakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Sugar Bakeshop

    Photo: Courtesy of Sugar Bakeshop

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    Sugar Bakeshop, Charleston, SC

    Owners Bill Bowick and David Bouffard showcase the desserts they ate growing up, such as a Lady Baltimore cupcake of almond cake with sherry-soaked golden raisins and a meringue frosting (a special treat sold only on Thursdays). The duo meticulously restored the 1940s-era stucco building’s concrete flooring and distressed painted walls. Customers will also appreciate the ivy-adorned walled garden, which provides a dose of tranquility on downtown’s Cannon Street.

    Must-Try Item: The sweet and tart cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting and homemade lemon curd filling. sugarbake.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Tartine Bakery & Cafe

    Photo: Tartine Bakery

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    Tartine Bakery & Café, San Francisco

    While the lines at this Mission District bakery can be an hour long, that hardly detours the fans clamoring to try Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt’s pastries. Inspired by time spent in France, the couple uses only organic ingredients in desserts like a shortbread cookie with kamut, an ancient grain, and local honey. Because the bakery makes small batches throughout the day, Tartine’s doughy croissants laminated in butter can often be enjoyed just out of the oven. Now that’s worth waiting for.

    Must-Try Item: Tres Leches Cake made with organic goat’s milk cooked down to a caramel, coconut milk, Bavarian cream, and a puff pastry base. tartinebakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Standard Baking Co.

    Photo: Christine Tsai / www.christinetsai.com

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    Standard Baking Co., Portland, ME

    Follow your nose through the Old Port and down an alley to a 1920s-era brick warehouse, where Alison Pray and Matt James turn out the finest baked goods in town. Browse the bread selection—country boules, focaccias, anadama, cinnamon raisin, pain de mie, baguettes. Pastries include pain au chocolat, spicy gingerbread slices, and wild Maine blueberry hand pies, made with a cream cheese and butter pastry shell.

    Must-Try Item: The Morning Bun, a croissant-like dough rolled up with brown sugar and cinnamon.

  • America's Best Bakeries: Levain

    Photo: Levain Bakery

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    Levain, New York

    Two friends opened this cozy Upper West Side bakery, won a following for their rustic breads and hockey-puck-size cookies, and now satisfy cravings in Harlem and the Hamptons too. The award-winning chocolate chip walnut cookie has the perfect consistency—a nice outer layer of crunch with a melt-in-your-mouth gooey center—and is loaded with semisweet chocolate chips and walnuts.

    Must-Try Item: The cookies, whether oatmeal raisin or decadent dark-chocolate peanut butter chip, and the rustic blueberry muffins, which sell out most mornings. levainbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Pearl Bakery

    Photo: Pati G

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    Pearl Bakery, Portland, OR

    This Pearl District institution (est. 1997) has been a training ground for many of Portland’s new artisan bakers and remains on top of its game thanks to family involvement, ingredients sourced weekly from a farmers’ market, and commitment to quality control. The smell of fresh-baked baguettes wafts through the light-filled bakery, and the pastry case teems with chocolate chunk cookies, Danishes, and gibassier, a treat from Provence made with fruited olive oil, anise, and orange flower water.

    Must-Try Item: A seasonal fruit tart like fresh rhubarb or summer berries in a buttery pie crust. pearlbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Upper Crust

    Photo: Jeremy Wall

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    Upper Crust, Austin, TX

    The cinnamon sugar–covered rolls for sale here in Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood were created almost by accident when the bakery was trying to come up with a way to use its leftover Danish dough. The result is a denser, less flaky roll baked in a cupcake tin that has sparked countless imitators. Upper Crust’s fans also come for seasonal pies like blueberry and a coconut cream pie with a layer of Callebaut chocolate.

    Must-Try Item: The chocolate Italian cream cake combines sweetened coconut flakes, buttermilk, organic Texas pecans, and chocolate cream cheese icing. uppercrustbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Elizabethan Desserts

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    Elizabethan Desserts, San Diego

    Owner Elizabeth Harris bakes her strawberry rhubarb pie with a shortbread cookie crust and is so thorough that even the peanut butter cups used in her peanut butter pie are made from scratch. In fall 2013, she will convert the original Sunshine Nursery space into Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon (serving sweet and savory pies) while moving the full-service bakery to a new El Camino Real location. Expect a 1940s vibe—vintage cookie jars, a mint-and-white palette—and the welcome addition of air-conditioning to keep those Beeze-kneeze chocolate and buttercream cupcakes cool.

    Must-Try Item: The St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake Bar, a vanilla cake filled with creamy vanilla custard and topped with fresh berries. elizabethandesserts.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Pacific Way

    Photo: Paula K. Niziolek

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    Pacific Way Bakery, Gearhart, OR

    Baker and co-owner Lisa Allen works through the night to bring this Oregon beach town pastries on par with those found in France. The results are displayed in a case of rustic fruit tarts and croissants as well as American-inspired goodies like sticky buns. The self-taught baker makes everything you see—as well as desserts in the adjoining restaurant. Black-and-white-tiled floors and gilded mirrors lend a fitting French country look.

    Must-Try Item: The not-too-sweet scone loaded with fresh Oregon marionberries.

  • America's Best Bakeries: Bakery Lorraine

    Photo: Courtesy of Anne Ng

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    Bakery Lorraine, San Antonio, TX

    Bouchon Bakery and culinary school alums Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell own this bakery in a 1920s home, which they redid with restored hardwood floors, art, and stainless-steel countertops. The pair takes a refined approach to American and French pastries, namely, plum upside-down cake, Pop-Tarts™, and frangipane tarts with seasonal fruit. Another customer favorite: macarons in sophisticated flavors like dark chocolate cassis, lavender honey lemon, and mojito with cucumber gelée and mint ganache.

    Must-Try Item: A fig and goat cheese tart topped with a filo dough crown and a layer of honey and almonds. bakerylorraine.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Muddy's

    Photo: Amanda Raney

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    Muddy’s Bake Shop, Memphis, TN

    Take one look at the pastry case, and it’s clear that owner Kat Gordon has a healthy sense of humor. Classic American desserts are labeled Prozac (chocolate cake with chocolate frosting) and Frankly Scarlet (red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting). Mismatched coffee mugs and vintage furniture complete the quirky vibe at Muddy’s, named for her grandmother. Yet the banana pudding, molasses gingerbread cookies, and blueberry pie confirm that this bakery means business.

    Must-Try Item: The Nancy’s Boy pie, a classic chess pie with coconut. muddysbakeshop.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: La Mie

    Photo: Courtesy of La Mie

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    La Mie, Des Moines

    Marble-topped tables piled with rustic Danish, fruit tarts, and croissants take center stage within this industrial space in Des Moines’s Kingman Place Historic District. It’s a feast for the eyes, and patrons get the instant gratification of being able to serve themselves before paying at the counter. Daily offerings scribbled on a chalkboard often include more hearty fare like avocado tartines or fromage omelettes. La Mie also takes artisanal bread baking seriously, shaping and scoring all dough by hand before baking it in an on-site deck oven.

    Must-Try Item: The gooey pecan bun or the chocolate caramel tart. lamiebakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Bake Lab

    Photo: Sophia Malik

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    Bake Lab, Houston

    Baker Anita Jaisinghani marries French technique with South Indian flavors to whip up inspired pastries like chocolate chili cookies and an award-winning chai pie made with a biscuit-like crust and filled with chai caramel. Classic Indian desserts like berfi (a chickpea fudge) can also be found among the dizzying array that the bakery puts out each morning at 7:30 within her restaurant Pondicheri.

    Must-Try Item: Bake Lab’s lighter take on gulab jamun is a spiced donut dipped in rose cardamom syrup then rolled in white poppy seeds, pistachios, and finely chopped rose petals (available only on weekends). pondichericafe.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Little Tart Bakeshop

    Photo: Andrew Thomas Lee

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    Little Tart Bakeshop, Atlanta

    Baker Sarah O’Brien, who once studied at the Sorbonne, brings a slice of Paris to Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood with her pastries and tarts. A commitment to area ingredients means you’ll find crème fraîche quiche made with cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy and local vegetables as well as muscadine galettes and turnovers with mustard greens. The light-flooded bakery shares space with Octane Coffee, so the scent is the perfect mix of just-baked croissants and cappuccinos.

    Must-Try Item: A galette featuring lightly sweetened and spiced fruits such as peach and lemon thyme. littletartatl.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Gracious Bakery & Café

    Photo: Ethan Anderson

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    Gracious Bakery & Café, New Orleans

    Owner Megan Roen Forman worked as a pastry chef for 20 years in New York and at Sucré in New Orleans before opening this Mid-City bakery in 2012 within the LEED- certified Woodward Design and Build Headquarters. But word has quickly spread beyond those offices about her rustic American breads, pretzel croissants, and savory dishes like a coppa ham brioche filled with pesto ricotta cheese.

    Must-Try Item: A decadent brownie wrapped in brioche and topped with a chocolate almond glaze. graciousbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Happy Cakes Bakeshop

    Photo: Laura Reynolds

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    Happy Cakes Bakeshop, Denver

    The owners of Happy Cakes say they bake what they love: playful cupcakes in flavors like chocolate-covered strawberry, pomegranate margarita, and salted caramel that change daily. Sweet potato pie, frosted sugar cookies, and French macarons are also in regular rotation. The whimsical space features an orange painted brick wall and a “sprinkle wall,” where the colorful selection used to decorate baked goods is stored. A second location in Longmont with community seating is slated to open in fall 2013.

    Must-Try Item: The Scotcheroos, a peanut butter “rice crispy” treat topped with chocolate butterscotch. happycakesdenver.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Ken's

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    Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Portland, OR

    With a popular wood-fired-oven pizza restaurant, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook, and a new bakery and bar concept on the way, Ken Forkish is Portland’s undisputed dough king. And his reign began in 2001 at this bright bakery with large windows and open kitchen. Forkish quickly gained a following for his rustic breads and pastries with a Pacific Northwest accent: croissants with local berries and hazelnut cream; croque monsieur sandwiches on country bread with local Tails & Trotters ham.

    Must-Try Item: The honeycomb-flavored cannelé made in a mold lined with 100 percent beeswax.

  • America's Best Bakeries: Sweet Bar

    Photo: Copyright 2013. Treve Johnson

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    Sweet Bar Bakery, Oakland, CA

    Mani Niall opened downtown’s first artisan bakery in a historic building that once housed MacFarlane’s Candy and Ice Cream. It’s the latest successful stint in a career that has included being Michael Jackson’s private chef and running an L.A. bakery for 20 years. His passion for natural and organic baked goods translates to gluten-free oatmeal sour cherry chocolate chip cookies and vegan chocolate truffle cupcakes with almond brittle. Mocha chip whoopie pies are a guiltier pleasure.

    Must-Try Item: Banana Cake Fauxnut, a vegan, Bundt cake–like donut. sweetbarbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Flour

    Photo: Keller + Keller 

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    Flour Bakery + Café, Boston

    Joanne Chang’s original bakery in the South End exudes a relaxed, neighborhood feel and draws locals throughout the day. Breakfast items include scones and cinnamon cream brioche; lunch brings sandwiches and savory items like a Tuscan white bean salad with focaccia croutons; and delicate, sweet pastries are always on hand. Three more Boston-area locations mean you’re never too far from a lemon lust tart or triple chocolate mousse cake.

    Must-Try Item: The meringue clouds and ginger molasses cookies have proven to be addictive.

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  • America's Best Bakeries: Sugar Bakeshop

    Theresa Velazquez’s D.C. bakery business is thriving, yet she has no interest in expansion. “We own this one place, and we really make ourselves part of the neighborhood,” says the co-owner of Baked & Wired in Georgetown, where hazelnut ganache cupcakes are playfully displayed in upside-down coffee beakers.

    Many of America’s best bakeries are family-run establishments that take a similar approach and pride in their community. They’re appealing, one-of-a-kind spots where travelers can break to enjoy made-from-scratch pastries that often highlight local ingredients.  

    At Standard Baking Co. in Portland, ME, Alison Pray recently debuted Maine miche, an organic whole-wheat bread made with 100 percent single varietal wheat grown by a local farmer. “You couldn’t have imagined this 18 years ago when we started,” she says.

    Great bakeries are not afraid to evolve or experiment, reinventing classic desserts as well as offering lesser-known European treats. So on your next trip, head to one of these bakeries for a sweet start to the day—whether an apricot puff pastry tart with almond cream or the gibassier, a French citrus-flavored bread.   

  • America's Best Bakeries: Proof

    Proof, Los Angeles

    The owner and head baker at this pared-down Atwater Village bakery has a self-described “low sweet threshold,” but that may just be her secret to success. Na Young Ma’s seasonal-fruit-packed pastries like plum herb galettes and mango hand pies never verge on cloyingly sweet and have attracted celebrity fans like Kristen Wiig. The offerings change daily and often include unorthodox ingredients. Black sesame financiers, for instance, are flavored with nutty black sesame powder, brown butter, and fresh raspberries or candied orange.

    Must-Try Item: The flaky twice-baked almond croissant filled with a thin layer of almond cream. proofbakeryla.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Floriole

    Floriole, Chicago

    Originally a stand at Chicago’s Green City Market, Floriole is now a buzzy café in the Lincoln Park neighborhood with expanded offerings of sandwiches, salads, and wood-oven-fired pizza. Baker Sandra Holl’s caramel pecan sticky buns, fruit galettes, and crème fraîche tea cakes use the finest ingredients, from Valrhona chocolate to European-style butter. She has a knack for turning mistakes into inspired treats; a botched batch of pistachio brittle became pistachio croissants with a lemon glaze.

    Must-Try Item: Gateau Basque, an almond cake filled with pastry cream and seasonal fruit. floriole.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Baked

    Baked, Brooklyn, NY

    Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito rocketed to fame when Oprah named their dense, fudgy brownie one of her favorite things. Three cookbooks later, Baked’s owners are still accomplishing their mission of elevating classic American desserts. The Peanut Butter Crispy is an elegant ganache-topped crisped rice cereal treat, and dessert hybrids include the Brookster, a deep, dark brownie shell filled with a chocolate chunk cookie. You’ll find them at the un-frilly Red Hook shop, with its wood-paneled walls and faux taxidermy.

    Must-Try Item: A layer of salted caramel oozes throughout while baking, making for an incredibly moist and indulgent sweet and salty brownie.

  • America's Best Bakeries: Salty Tart

    Salty Tart, Minneapolis

    It’s true that great things come in small packages—just consider this 400-square-foot bakery in the bustling Midtown Global Market. French windows on three sides let customers watch chef and owner Michelle Gayer (a three-time James Beard nominee) work her magic on rustic French pastries like seasonal fruit Danishes and pastry-cream-filled brioche rolled in vanilla sugar. Her crisp and chewy coconut macaroons have become so popular they’ve earned the nickname “crackaroons.”  

    Must-Try Item: Bostock, a French pastry typically made with brioche bread. Gayer’s is toasted sourdough soaked in orange simple syrup, topped with brown butter and blueberries, and baked in the oven. saltytart.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Vergennes Laundry

    Vergennes Laundry, Vergennes, VT

    The owners of this bakery in a former laundromat are so devoted to serving simple, fresh food that every sweet and savory tart is made to order. Baker Julianne Jones was inspired after apprenticing with renowned Vermont bread baker Gérard Rubaud; Jones was reportedly one of the only students to last the entire three-month stint. Together with her French husband, a candy maker, they created a light-filled space featuring Baltic birch and a wood-fired oven where Jones bakes tartes flambées and perfect Bordeaux-style cannelés—think crème brûlée in mini-Bundt-cake form.

    Must-Try Item: The seasonal berry tart filled with blackberries, gooseberries, and raspberries. vergenneslaundry.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Baked & Wired

    Baked & Wired, Washington, D.C.

    As its name suggests, this Georgetown institution takes coffee as seriously as its homespun baked goods. Baristas train for months, and the concrete coffee bar serves only the best roasters in the country (Stumptown, Intelligentsia). Cupcakes are playfully displayed in upside-down coffee beakers, and decadent flavors include hazelnut ganache–topped vanilla cake with a dulce de leche center. Other coffee-pairing options range from breakfast breads to strawberry pistachio pie.

    Must-Try Item: The Bee Sting, a shortbread bar with a honey and sliced almond topping, is the perfect balance of salty and sweet.

    bakedandwired.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Le Panier

    Le Panier, Seattle

    This venerable Pike Place bakery opened in 1983 with a commitment to making Normandy-style pastries (one of the owners still makes regular reconnaissance trips to France). Stop in for tarte aux abricots—a traditional fruit tart with puff pastry crust, almond pastry cream, and sour apricots—or the Feuilletés, a Le Panier creation of puff pastry with savory fillings like delicate chicken in cream sauce. The salmon-colored space with a wooden communal table is cheery enough to brighten any gray Seattle day.

    Must-Try Item: The flaky jamon croissant topped with Mornay sauce and a sprinkle of Emmental cheese. lepanier.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffeehouse

    Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffeehouse, Kansas City, MO

    Mud Pie has managed to do the near impossible: bake vegan goods that taste as good, if not better, than their traditional counterparts. Baker Ashley Valverde says the secret is countless hours of experimentation and the range of vegan ingredients now on the market. Mostess (a twist on a Hostess cupcake) and French Toast (a maple cinnamon, maple frosted cupcake) are among the award winners. Located in a two-story 1880s house, the bakery has an old-fashioned feel as well as ultra-fast Google Fiber broadband Internet.

    Must-Try Item: The flaky cheddar sausage scone made with vegan cheddar and seitan sausage. mudpiebakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Sugar Bakeshop

    Sugar Bakeshop, Charleston, SC

    Owners Bill Bowick and David Bouffard showcase the desserts they ate growing up, such as a Lady Baltimore cupcake of almond cake with sherry-soaked golden raisins and a meringue frosting (a special treat sold only on Thursdays). The duo meticulously restored the 1940s-era stucco building’s concrete flooring and distressed painted walls. Customers will also appreciate the ivy-adorned walled garden, which provides a dose of tranquility on downtown’s Cannon Street.

    Must-Try Item: The sweet and tart cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting and homemade lemon curd filling. sugarbake.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Tartine Bakery & Cafe

    Tartine Bakery & Café, San Francisco

    While the lines at this Mission District bakery can be an hour long, that hardly detours the fans clamoring to try Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt’s pastries. Inspired by time spent in France, the couple uses only organic ingredients in desserts like a shortbread cookie with kamut, an ancient grain, and local honey. Because the bakery makes small batches throughout the day, Tartine’s doughy croissants laminated in butter can often be enjoyed just out of the oven. Now that’s worth waiting for.

    Must-Try Item: Tres Leches Cake made with organic goat’s milk cooked down to a caramel, coconut milk, Bavarian cream, and a puff pastry base. tartinebakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Standard Baking Co.

    Standard Baking Co., Portland, ME

    Follow your nose through the Old Port and down an alley to a 1920s-era brick warehouse, where Alison Pray and Matt James turn out the finest baked goods in town. Browse the bread selection—country boules, focaccias, anadama, cinnamon raisin, pain de mie, baguettes. Pastries include pain au chocolat, spicy gingerbread slices, and wild Maine blueberry hand pies, made with a cream cheese and butter pastry shell.

    Must-Try Item: The Morning Bun, a croissant-like dough rolled up with brown sugar and cinnamon.

  • America's Best Bakeries: Levain

    Levain, New York

    Two friends opened this cozy Upper West Side bakery, won a following for their rustic breads and hockey-puck-size cookies, and now satisfy cravings in Harlem and the Hamptons too. The award-winning chocolate chip walnut cookie has the perfect consistency—a nice outer layer of crunch with a melt-in-your-mouth gooey center—and is loaded with semisweet chocolate chips and walnuts.

    Must-Try Item: The cookies, whether oatmeal raisin or decadent dark-chocolate peanut butter chip, and the rustic blueberry muffins, which sell out most mornings. levainbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Pearl Bakery

    Pearl Bakery, Portland, OR

    This Pearl District institution (est. 1997) has been a training ground for many of Portland’s new artisan bakers and remains on top of its game thanks to family involvement, ingredients sourced weekly from a farmers’ market, and commitment to quality control. The smell of fresh-baked baguettes wafts through the light-filled bakery, and the pastry case teems with chocolate chunk cookies, Danishes, and gibassier, a treat from Provence made with fruited olive oil, anise, and orange flower water.

    Must-Try Item: A seasonal fruit tart like fresh rhubarb or summer berries in a buttery pie crust. pearlbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Upper Crust

    Upper Crust, Austin, TX

    The cinnamon sugar–covered rolls for sale here in Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood were created almost by accident when the bakery was trying to come up with a way to use its leftover Danish dough. The result is a denser, less flaky roll baked in a cupcake tin that has sparked countless imitators. Upper Crust’s fans also come for seasonal pies like blueberry and a coconut cream pie with a layer of Callebaut chocolate.

    Must-Try Item: The chocolate Italian cream cake combines sweetened coconut flakes, buttermilk, organic Texas pecans, and chocolate cream cheese icing. uppercrustbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Elizabethan Desserts

    Elizabethan Desserts, San Diego

    Owner Elizabeth Harris bakes her strawberry rhubarb pie with a shortbread cookie crust and is so thorough that even the peanut butter cups used in her peanut butter pie are made from scratch. In fall 2013, she will convert the original Sunshine Nursery space into Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon (serving sweet and savory pies) while moving the full-service bakery to a new El Camino Real location. Expect a 1940s vibe—vintage cookie jars, a mint-and-white palette—and the welcome addition of air-conditioning to keep those Beeze-kneeze chocolate and buttercream cupcakes cool.

    Must-Try Item: The St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake Bar, a vanilla cake filled with creamy vanilla custard and topped with fresh berries. elizabethandesserts.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Pacific Way

    Pacific Way Bakery, Gearhart, OR

    Baker and co-owner Lisa Allen works through the night to bring this Oregon beach town pastries on par with those found in France. The results are displayed in a case of rustic fruit tarts and croissants as well as American-inspired goodies like sticky buns. The self-taught baker makes everything you see—as well as desserts in the adjoining restaurant. Black-and-white-tiled floors and gilded mirrors lend a fitting French country look.

    Must-Try Item: The not-too-sweet scone loaded with fresh Oregon marionberries.

  • America's Best Bakeries: Bakery Lorraine

    Bakery Lorraine, San Antonio, TX

    Bouchon Bakery and culinary school alums Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell own this bakery in a 1920s home, which they redid with restored hardwood floors, art, and stainless-steel countertops. The pair takes a refined approach to American and French pastries, namely, plum upside-down cake, Pop-Tarts™, and frangipane tarts with seasonal fruit. Another customer favorite: macarons in sophisticated flavors like dark chocolate cassis, lavender honey lemon, and mojito with cucumber gelée and mint ganache.

    Must-Try Item: A fig and goat cheese tart topped with a filo dough crown and a layer of honey and almonds. bakerylorraine.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Muddy's

    Muddy’s Bake Shop, Memphis, TN

    Take one look at the pastry case, and it’s clear that owner Kat Gordon has a healthy sense of humor. Classic American desserts are labeled Prozac (chocolate cake with chocolate frosting) and Frankly Scarlet (red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting). Mismatched coffee mugs and vintage furniture complete the quirky vibe at Muddy’s, named for her grandmother. Yet the banana pudding, molasses gingerbread cookies, and blueberry pie confirm that this bakery means business.

    Must-Try Item: The Nancy’s Boy pie, a classic chess pie with coconut. muddysbakeshop.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: La Mie

    La Mie, Des Moines

    Marble-topped tables piled with rustic Danish, fruit tarts, and croissants take center stage within this industrial space in Des Moines’s Kingman Place Historic District. It’s a feast for the eyes, and patrons get the instant gratification of being able to serve themselves before paying at the counter. Daily offerings scribbled on a chalkboard often include more hearty fare like avocado tartines or fromage omelettes. La Mie also takes artisanal bread baking seriously, shaping and scoring all dough by hand before baking it in an on-site deck oven.

    Must-Try Item: The gooey pecan bun or the chocolate caramel tart. lamiebakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Bake Lab

    Bake Lab, Houston

    Baker Anita Jaisinghani marries French technique with South Indian flavors to whip up inspired pastries like chocolate chili cookies and an award-winning chai pie made with a biscuit-like crust and filled with chai caramel. Classic Indian desserts like berfi (a chickpea fudge) can also be found among the dizzying array that the bakery puts out each morning at 7:30 within her restaurant Pondicheri.

    Must-Try Item: Bake Lab’s lighter take on gulab jamun is a spiced donut dipped in rose cardamom syrup then rolled in white poppy seeds, pistachios, and finely chopped rose petals (available only on weekends). pondichericafe.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Little Tart Bakeshop

    Little Tart Bakeshop, Atlanta

    Baker Sarah O’Brien, who once studied at the Sorbonne, brings a slice of Paris to Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood with her pastries and tarts. A commitment to area ingredients means you’ll find crème fraîche quiche made with cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy and local vegetables as well as muscadine galettes and turnovers with mustard greens. The light-flooded bakery shares space with Octane Coffee, so the scent is the perfect mix of just-baked croissants and cappuccinos.

    Must-Try Item: A galette featuring lightly sweetened and spiced fruits such as peach and lemon thyme. littletartatl.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Gracious Bakery & Café

    Gracious Bakery & Café, New Orleans

    Owner Megan Roen Forman worked as a pastry chef for 20 years in New York and at Sucré in New Orleans before opening this Mid-City bakery in 2012 within the LEED- certified Woodward Design and Build Headquarters. But word has quickly spread beyond those offices about her rustic American breads, pretzel croissants, and savory dishes like a coppa ham brioche filled with pesto ricotta cheese.

    Must-Try Item: A decadent brownie wrapped in brioche and topped with a chocolate almond glaze. graciousbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Happy Cakes Bakeshop

    Happy Cakes Bakeshop, Denver

    The owners of Happy Cakes say they bake what they love: playful cupcakes in flavors like chocolate-covered strawberry, pomegranate margarita, and salted caramel that change daily. Sweet potato pie, frosted sugar cookies, and French macarons are also in regular rotation. The whimsical space features an orange painted brick wall and a “sprinkle wall,” where the colorful selection used to decorate baked goods is stored. A second location in Longmont with community seating is slated to open in fall 2013.

    Must-Try Item: The Scotcheroos, a peanut butter “rice crispy” treat topped with chocolate butterscotch. happycakesdenver.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Ken's

    Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Portland, OR

    With a popular wood-fired-oven pizza restaurant, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook, and a new bakery and bar concept on the way, Ken Forkish is Portland’s undisputed dough king. And his reign began in 2001 at this bright bakery with large windows and open kitchen. Forkish quickly gained a following for his rustic breads and pastries with a Pacific Northwest accent: croissants with local berries and hazelnut cream; croque monsieur sandwiches on country bread with local Tails & Trotters ham.

    Must-Try Item: The honeycomb-flavored cannelé made in a mold lined with 100 percent beeswax.

  • America's Best Bakeries: Sweet Bar

    Sweet Bar Bakery, Oakland, CA

    Mani Niall opened downtown’s first artisan bakery in a historic building that once housed MacFarlane’s Candy and Ice Cream. It’s the latest successful stint in a career that has included being Michael Jackson’s private chef and running an L.A. bakery for 20 years. His passion for natural and organic baked goods translates to gluten-free oatmeal sour cherry chocolate chip cookies and vegan chocolate truffle cupcakes with almond brittle. Mocha chip whoopie pies are a guiltier pleasure.

    Must-Try Item: Banana Cake Fauxnut, a vegan, Bundt cake–like donut. sweetbarbakery.com

  • America's Best Bakeries: Flour

    Flour Bakery + Café, Boston

    Joanne Chang’s original bakery in the South End exudes a relaxed, neighborhood feel and draws locals throughout the day. Breakfast items include scones and cinnamon cream brioche; lunch brings sandwiches and savory items like a Tuscan white bean salad with focaccia croutons; and delicate, sweet pastries are always on hand. Three more Boston-area locations mean you’re never too far from a lemon lust tart or triple chocolate mousse cake.

    Must-Try Item: The meringue clouds and ginger molasses cookies have proven to be addictive.

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