Creme de la Creme
Our 20 favorite bakery destinations for decadent, shameless indulgence.
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Dormont & Mt. Lebanon
Some baked goods look cute and delicious when they’re very, very small—think petit fours or miniature cupcakes. But when it comes to cinnamon buns? The bigger and swirlier, the better! Fortunately, this bakery, a fixture on Potomac Avenue since 1927, agrees. And its huge cinnamon buns are to die for. More great morning treats include the bear claws, danishes, maple strips and fruit kuchen. The delicious brownies (plain or with nuts) are also hugely popular and have been a specialty since the bakery’s early days. A huge array of cakes—everything from jelly rolls and rum cakes to angel food or “cupcake” cakes—round out the tempting offerings.
1419 Potomac Ave., Dormont, 412/531-5066; 689 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, 412/531-5067, potomacbakery.weebly.com
Brookline & Pleasant Hills
The oh-so-good cannoli at this bakery hits all the right sweet, creamy notes. We could talk for quite a while about the Napolean, with its stacked layers of pastry filled with vanilla custard and drizzled in chocolate. The bakery has been family-owned and operated for 60 years, and it’s perhaps best-known for its cakes: The menu of choices will make your head spin, with long lists of specialty items like almond batter mini petit fours or angel food baby cakes. Yet if a classic yellow birthday cake with chocolate frosting is what you crave, that’s available, too. When it comes to a sweet reward, this bakery knows how to dole it out.
546 Brookline Blvd., Brookline, 412/531-1944; 28 Old Clairton Road, Pleasant Hills, 412/653-1717, kribelsbakeryofpittsburgh.com
Shadyside & Market Square
Lots of bakeries make a terrific burnt-almond torte, but nobody can argue that this bakery churns out one of the very best: layers of thin, moist yellow cake filled with custard and generously frosted with vanilla then crowned with crunchy, sugary, crystallized almond slices. The Shadyside bakery provides a charming old-fashioned counterpoint to Walnut Street’s slick chain shops and displays lots of colorful specialty cookies that taste as good as they look. When you need satisfaction, try the chocolate-peanut butter bar—why reinvent the wheel when it tastes this good? Long a fixture in the East End, the bakery expanded in 2008 with a second site, located in Market Square.
5525 Walnut St., Shadyside, 412/621-2092; 438 Market St., Market Square, 412/471-6861, prantlsbakery.com
Adored for fluffy cakes and delicious fillings that range from cherry and raspberry to chocolate pudding and white-chocolate mousse—not to mention
essentially perfect buttercream frostings—this 65-year-old bakery has enough sweet choices to make any cake lover swoon. You can’t miss the lemon torte: three layers of dreamy white cake and lemon filling, frosted with buttercream that is just sweet enough to balance out the bright citrus flavor. Want to try something different? Order the miniature mango mousse, which looks like a small package but delivers big tropical flavor.
543 Lincoln Ave.; 412/766-0954
La Gourmandine Bakery and Pastry Shop
A perfect miniature lemon tart with crispy sable dough; divinely flaky croissants; sweet and tender madeleine cookies; the city’s best sweet baguette. These are just a few of the joys of this authentic French bakery owned by pastry chef Fabien Moreau (see profile, below). Among the bakery’s many taste-as-good-as-they-look desserts: Stunning opera cake layered with chocolate cocoa mousse, coffee pastry cream, and three layers of almond sponge cake, and religieuses, essentially a double-stack of gloriously light cream puffs filled with vanilla or chocolate custard and topped with white fondant. Yet for all its glorious French-ness, there is nothing fancy or pretentious here—just a neighborhood bakery anyone would be lucky to live close to.
4605 Butler St.; 412/682-2210, lagourmandinebakery.com
FABIEN MOREAU » la gourmandine
In 2010, French native Fabien Moreau opened a bakery and patisserie in Lawrenceville that rivals any you’d find on the Left Bank. He trained in Paris at LeNotre, one of the world’s most prestigious pastry schools. But if you think that makes him fancy or affected, think again.
Pittsburgh has gained a true gem in this down-to-earth baker whose main goal seems to be recreating his favorite childhood treats.
“I don’t try to do a big showcase or something crazy — I prefer to focus on the classic flavors,” he says. By this, he means plain, almond and chocolate croissants (and, yes, these are the flaky, buttery, delicious and totally authentic versions you’ve been searching for) and brioche, as well as traditional desserts like lemon tarts and easy-pleasers like chouquette, which are little bowls of choux pastry sprinkled with sugar.
“The chouquette cost 30 cents apiece, and I just love to see the kids come in and buy four for a snack. It reminds me of being young,” he says.
Yet while he offers plenty of everyday treats — from baguette to pain aux raisins, those delicious custard-y raisin rolls so hard to find outside of France — the pastry cases at La Gourmandine are also stocked with gloriously grown-up desserts. The beautiful Opera Cake layers almond sponge cake with cocoa-chocolate mousse and coffee buttercream inside dark-chocolate glaze, and the Tarte aux Fruits shows off perfect berries atop handmade vanilla pastry cream in a buttery shortbread crust.
As impressive and delicious as his creations might seem to us, Moreau sees everything as a work in progress.
“Even if you follow the steps perfectly, you can’t be sure you’ll have a perfect result,” he says, explaining how a too-hot kitchen makes it especially important to fold in the butter very quickly so the pastry stays light and flaky. Moreau adds that it’s essential to make a fresh batch of croissant dough each morning to prevent the yeast from getting “lazy.” When you talk to Moreau, it seems that knowing exactly what can go wrong is his great motivator. Luckily for us, this means everything from La Gourmandine tastes just right.
Sweet Tip: Chances are that even if something here seems unfamiliar, it’s a tried-and-true classic in France—so don’t neglect pastries with unfamiliar names, like the Paris-Brest (choux dough filled with delicious hazelnut cream) or the Religieuse (two-tiered pastry filled with vanilla or chocolate pastry cream and covered in white fondant).
Delicious lemon pound cake with the perfect citrus kick; tiny French macaron in flavors that are sweet, crispy and chewy all at once; fluffy chocolate ginger cake you won’t find anywhere else. Is it any wonder that this small café, which opened last year, instantly earned the love of local pastry fanatics? Since everything is made fresh in small batches every morning, the selection changes daily—and you may not find the same item twice. That hardly matters when the cookies, cupcakes, tarts and breakfast pastries taste so good; the tempting breakfast and lunch options, as well as La Prima Espresso coffee drinks, will have you stopping in for more than a takeout box.
1517 Potomac Ave.; 412/341-1090, sugarcafepittsburgh.com
Mantsch’s Blue Bonnett Bakery
The Danish pastries are a good reason to travel a little further down Eighth Avenue in Homestead to this bakery that's been in operation since 1954. Loaded with fruit, nuts and icing, they are delicious treats for any time of day. One devoted fan orders a large version in lieu of a birthday cake each year. Savory ethnic specialties, such as bolbaki, are also available: These small, firm bread balls are typically steamed and mixed with sauerkraut for Eastern-European Christmas. Another popular offering is paska bread, made for Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays.
338 Eighth St.; 412/462-4957
Don’t miss this pastry shop’s specialty desserts, including the gorgeous “Georgia peach” cookies, which are homemade sugar-rolled vanilla sandwich cookies with peaches-and-cream filling. The many labor-intensive pastries here often take two full days to prepare from scratch, and the results truly show in every bite. Try any one of the specialty tortes, such as the heavenly chocolate—or, since a variety of torte sizes are prepared daily, sample more than one flavor. After opening in 2004, the shop has continued to build on its great reputation and offers 30-plus cookie varieties, breakfast pastries and all kinds of delicious cakes. We’re especially partial to the simple but sublime fresh-cut apple pie.
81 Clairton Blvd.; 412/653-2236, pastriesalacarte.com