By 6AM on weekdays, dense baguettes, gooey brown-sugar pecan brioche, and heavenly croissants—flaky and brown on the outside, sweet and chewy inside—start issuing from the ovens of Essential Baking Company’s former executive pastry chef. William Leaman, Seattle’s own international champion of baking, won the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie for pastries and breads, and now the trophy holds pride of place on the counter at Leaman’s West Seattle storefront bakery. By lunchtime, neighbors and Junction shoppers file into the austere, mocha-walled café for croque monsieurs and delectable quiches. The giant trophy reminds folks not to leave without a sunflower rye ring or a loaf of challah; nobody needs reminding about the Parisian-style chocolates and candies. Leaman’s macaroons, in flavors like pistachio, raspberry, and mocha, embody that most delicious contradiction: airy and light as a feather yet rich and decadent as a lost weekend in Paris.
Down in Georgetown, on a quiet street off Sixth Ave, lies this cafe that, ever so briefly, transports you to a warmer and decidedly laid-back place. Hawaiian reggae music gently booms out of the speakers inside its recently expanded space, where a case full of cakes and pies of all sorts, both whole and by the slice, make you think dessert for lunch is gravely underrated. Nab something like a slice of their passion fruit cake or coconut cream pie, or go the full-on pastry route with custard-filled Long Johns, aka America’s eclairs, and a lineup of malasadas. Malasadas, a holeless, Portuguese-style yeasted doughnut, will come coated in sugar, dusted in cinnamon sugar, or filled with various custards. And one is rarely, if ever, enough.
Just beneath the Pike Place Market skybridge lies Ludovic Guillaume and Elizabeth Bastoni’s Choukette, in which the humble bakery focuses on the pâte à choux dough-based eclair. After 18 years of living in France, the husband-and-wife duo brought a piece of Paris to Seattle: Inside a glossy pastry case, you’ll find 10 or so flavors such as hazelnut praline, classic chocolate, huckleberry marscarpone, and one with lychee, raspberry, and rose water. Some of the Northwest-meets-French combinations come and go with the seasons, but each eclair’s artful construction is steadfast.
At her white-tiled, chandelier-lit bakeshop in Greenwood, Rachael Coyle mixes French patisserie tradition with Americana and a dash of England’s baking culture. But mostly she offers confections she terms “either difficult or nonsensical to make at home”—more puff pastry and Paris–Brest than peanut butter cookies. The morning queue is mostly for her croissants, later seasonal tarts, galettes, cocoa-imbued sables, and supermodel layer cakes fill the pastry case. It’s undoubtedly a neighborhood spot, yet worth a drive across the city.
If a bakery is an exercise in eating with your eyes first, then Cubes Baking Company is the kind of workout we can get behind. It’s all too easy to—with the unchecked voracity of a blue, cookie-obsessed puppet—pillage the shelves of this Wallingford bakeshop, a place where the likes of cupcakes and scones take on a boxy silhouette. Indeed the baked goods here are square. But don’t get it twisted; they’re not the slightest bit boring. Half of the treats inside Cubes are inspired by the pastries of owner and baker Kevin Moulder’s heritage and childhood. He grew up in San Antonio, where panaderias bless nearly every corner with Mexican goods—conchas, or seashell-shaped sweet breads; marranitos, or cookies that look like little pigs; and a puff pastry filled with fruit that takes the form of a soup pot, a cazuela. He’s taken a bit of nostalgia and baked it into a quadratic snack.
Dovetailing Seattle’s loves of mason jars and refined spins on sweet American standards, Hot Cakes offers argument that dessert needn’t be an afterthought. Hit the Ballard or Capitol Hill cakery and try one of the eponymous molten cakes (chocolate, peanut butter, hazelnut), a chocolate pudding topped with olive oil and sea salt, or one of their boozy shakes. Broodingly dark chocolate flows freely here and fittingly, for few in Seattle take dessert so seriously.
Along the Pike/Pine corridor awaits a most delightful cafe filled with fruit tarts, French macarons, a slew of specialty cakes, plus a myriad of other baked goods. But don’t be fooled: This isn’t just a bakeshop. R and M Dessert Bar is a full service cafe with a handful of tables. Still, stay and dine on savory fare like a golden-brown zucchini bake—here, a cross between a quiche sans crust and souffle—that’s served with an arugula salad topped with housemade granola, red wine–pickled onion. You don’t have to get dessert afterwards, but most savory items will be on the light side, so saving room dessert should be easy enough. Besides the cafe proper, there will be a walkup window on Pike, where you can pickup preordered desserts or order from a special menu of grab-and-go items available until the wee hours.
Editor's Note: Updated October 31, 2018 at 1:45pm to reflect Choukette's closure.