The past few years have been a renaissance for French pastry in New York. Not only are more shops serving better croissants, but ambitious upstarts like Dominique Ansel Bakery, Bien Cuit, and Lafayette have injected some much needed excitement into a pastry category that at times feels staid and dull.
This is great news for all kinds of pastry fans—all this competition has boosted both quality and creativity. But it's gotten near impossible to keep track of who makes the flakiest croissant, the softest brioche, and the crunchiest canele. And what if you're craving something esoteric, like the perfect kouign aman or the most whimsical religieuse? That's where this guide comes in.
Below you'll find our recommendations for the finest French-style pastry shops in the city, with notes on what they do best. Not all of these bakeries are French specialists, but they do offer at least three destination-worthy French items.
Best for: Croissants, macarons, mille-feuille, and fine desserts.
Almondine's pastry chef and owner Hervé Poussot worked at Le Bernardin and Payard, and is partly responsible for bringing French pastry to New York back in 2004. Ten years later he's kept the quality just as high, despite Hurricane Sandy totaling the DUMBO shop.
Almost everything is good here, from the viennoiserie to more elaborate pastries like macarons. The almond croissants are excellent and have an almost cult-like following. They're very well baked with distinctive deep dark brown color and an exterior crumb that crunches like puff pastry. They also contain a generous amount of frangipane filling. The mille-feuille is also special. The rectangular sheets of puff pastry look like they were cut with lasers and the custardy pastry cream is not too sweet and always flavorful.
Though not typically in the canon of French pastry, we'd be remiss not to mention Almondine's excellent chocolate chip cookies. These beauties have a crispy exterior, a slightly soft interior, and huge dark chocolate discs along with a hint of salt.
85 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Best for: Croissants, brioche, seasonal tarts, and puff pastry.
Balthazar's croissants are something of a New York institution. They're large but very light with just the right amount of air between their buttery layers. And with a large wholesale bakery in New Jersey, Balthazar churns out what may be the most consistent line of high-end viennoiserie in the city—almost exactly the same whether you buy them from the Spring Street storefront or one of the many coffee bars and restaurants that stock their items.
The seasonal tarts, such as fig or apple, are beautiful to look at (a great gift for any dinner host), feature perfectly ripe fruit, and are encased within buttery crust or base of puff pastry. And don't miss their Linzer tart—its concentrated berry flavor is unmatched.
On the sweeter side, try the profiteroles when they're available: tiny, perfectly baked choux pastry filled with vanilla pastry cream and dipped in caramel or chocolate. Chocolate lovers can't go wrong with the (expensive) classic flourless chocolate cake. It's just slightly denser than a soufflé but delivers the same dark chocolate flavor, and can easily be split between 2 or 3 people.
In the "less fussy" category, Balthazar's plain brioche, pain au raisin and palmiers are consistently fresh and perfect for a quick treat.
80 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012
Best for: Croissants, tarts, and fine desserts.
This bakery is known for its spectacular bread, but if you haven't tried their croissants and dessert pastry you're missing out.
One look at Bien Cuit's croissants and you can tell these guys know what they're doing. The croissants have a unique dark brown crust that shows all of the wound layers of laminated dough. If it's available, I strongly recommend the crunchy multi-layered twice-baked chocolate-almond croissant. A croissant is split and filled with frangipane and dark chocolate, then baked and brushed with a mix of brandy and simple syrup. Smaller sweet items like the diamond-shaped chocolate chip shortbread cookies are also great for when you need a quick sugar fix.
For dessert for yourself or a gift to wow your dinner hosts, Bien Cuit's tarts (I recommend the dark chocolate) have a beautiful mirror-like finish and delicate buttery shells. They're expensive, and worth every penny. Finally, if you're in the mood for something decadent and showy, or need a flashy gift, try their St. Honore cake. Available in small and large sizes, these cakes feature multiple, pastry creme filled choux pastry on top of a pedestal of puff pastry.
120 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Best for: Croissants, caneles, Paris-Brests, macarons, and fancy single-serving desserts.
Best for: Croissants, caneles, and tarts.
Though not technically a French bakery, Breads sells at least three categories of finely executed French pastry in addition to their superb baguettes. Plus, everything is baked throughout the day in ovens that are about 50 feet from the counter. Their popular canele is sweet, aromatic, and always fresh. Copious use of real vanilla beans make this tiny treat a special experience.
Though many visit Breads for their chocolate babka, the viennoisorie selections—though pricey—are also worth a look. Their almond croissant is well baked and offers myriad layers of extra-crunchy laminated dough. Their rich, buttery, chocolate croissant separates itself from the pack with the use of a nice high quality dark chocolate. Like the canele, there are multiple bakings of croissants throughout the day.
Their range of seasonal fruit tarts are always oven-fresh and crusts are buttery, supple, and maybe a bit too easy to enjoy. Order one made with a fruit currently in season as Breads gets their produce straight from the nearby Union Square Farmer's Market. Recent favorites include pear, raspberry, and mixed berry tarts.
18 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003
Best for: Caneles, puff pastry, pear tarts, and apple turnovers.
Adventurous pastry lovers travel from near and far to this excellent French bakery in a Queens strip mall, and with good reason. Not only does it offer great desserts, but it does so at half the price of comparable bakeries in Manhattan.
On weekends, no matter what else you order, try at least one of their crunchy, custardy canele for only $2 (they cost $3 or more in Manhattan). Fall-friendly desserts like apple turnovers and pear tarts are other can't miss items. The turnover's puff pastry comes with beautiful thin layers and a shiny egg wash finish.
All of Cannelle's viennoiserie items are worth a look, and the buttery, flaky croissants and pain au chocolate go for just $1.70 and $1.90 respectively. Richer items like a chocolate praline (chocolate lover's dream filled with dark chocolate ganache and crunchy puffed rice) and an airy St. Honoré (two stacked cream puffs coated with a caramelized sugar glaze) dare you to pass them up.
It's certainly the best French bakery in Queens, but there's much to love if you're coming from another borough as well.
75-59 31st Avenue, Jackson Heights, NY 11370
Best for: Croissants and fruit tarts.
Ceci-Cela is best known for their excellent croissants (which are sold throughout the city at Joe the Art of Coffee, among others). But their almond croissants may be their top offering. They have a well-baked exterior layer with flat slivers of toasted almonds, and a slightly moist interior with just the right amount of aromatic frangipane filling.
You should also try their beautiful and delicious mixed fruit tarts. Don't be turned off by the shiny glaze on top, the fruit is always perfectly ripe and the custard below has just the right amount of sweetness. Chocolate lovers should try the dark chocolate mousse cake—it's rich, but immensely satisfying and perfect to share.
55 Spring St, New York, NY 10012
Dominique Ansel Bakery
Best for: Kouign amanns, caneles, apple tartes tatin, fine desserts and novelty desserts.
Although most famous for creating the Cronut (and other whimsical treats like the cookie shot), Dominique Ansel offers a wide selection of excellent classic French pastries. One of his best items—and what you should order instead of a Cronut or anything else—is the Breton kouign amman--or "DKA", a dense, flaky pastry resplendent with butter and coated in a crackly sugar crust. (Ask nicely and they'll fill it with ice cream for you.)
Speaking of caramelized pastry, the bakery's canele, also one of the city's best, are superb. And like the kouign amann, the canele are baked multiple times throughout the day for guaranteed freshness. The apple tarte tatin—a single-serving round of crust topped with an inch-thick ring of deeply caramelized apple—keeps the theme going.
Despite his newfound success, Ansel doesn't rest on his laurels; the bakery rolls out five to ten new pastries every two months or so, and a few join the permanent menu. None seem more French than the seasonal religieuse, usually creatively decorated to reflect a theme or holiday. These showy treats feature choux pastry puffs filled with two different types of pastry cream. Finally, peanut butter lovers won't want to miss the Paris-New York, a take on the classic Paris-Brest pastry but with peanut butter, chocolate, and caramel between rings of choux pastry.
Dominique Ansel Bakery
189 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012
Best for: Croissants, eclairs, canele, and fancy desserts.
Almost no one has a wider selection of French bakery classics than Epicerie Boulud. And nearly everything here is excellent, from their crunchy palmiers to their large buttery pain au chocolat. But there are some true standouts, like a beautifully caramelized canele and a light and buttery croissant.
For something more substantial, head over to the refrigerated pastry case. Start with the precision-executed mini-tarts, especially those made with seasonal fruit. Also: eclairs! The classic fillings are all here, but the coffee version is exceptional.
If you happen to visit in January, seek out their rich, layered, frangipane-filled king cake (also known as galette de roi)—it's one of the best versions I've had. (And in December, splurge on a bouche de Noel.)
1900 North Broadway, New York, NY 10023
Best for: Macarons, fine desserts, and caneles.
When Ladurée, the global purveyor of fine macarons, opened their Soho location, they also began offering a new line of excellent French pastries that are made in-house right here in New York. But recommendations for Laduree have to start with their macarons, generally recognized as the best in New York despite being flown in from Monaco every day. The shells are always light and their fillings are more flavorful than the competition. Fans of softer-shelled (Pierre Herme-style) macarons are the only people who may not swoon over these.
For something really showy (and French), try Laduree's excellent religieuse pastry. The choux is crisp and eggy and the pastry cream inside is not overly sweet. They also bake a very good canele with a crisp exterior and custardy interior.
398 West Broadway, New York, NY 10012
Lady M Cake Boutique
Best for: Mille crêpe cake and eclairs.
Lady M Confections isn't exactly a French bakery or patisserie—it's really more of a French cake shop that also sells a few individual pastries—but what it does sell is definitely destination-worthy. They're most famous for their sublime mille crêpe cake that's made with over 20 layers of thin, soft crêpes. The cake, which has earned a huge following inspiring imitators across the city's restaurants and bakeries, is available in a multitude of flavors including chocolate, lemon, and green tea. These cakes, though pricy, never disappoint and are available by the slice and as an entire cake.
Their éclairs (I like the green tea) feature an exacting attention to detail, and the filling—though still a classic pastry cream—is only lightly sweetened. Additionally, their petit chocolate individual cakes, when available, are a chocolate lover's fantasy. They're rich with a very dark chocolate flavor that reminds me of a good dark chocolate souffle.
Lady M Confections
Best for: Croissants, eclairs, canele, tarts, and cookies.
Lafayette is the most visually striking bakeries on this list, with tall vaulted ceilings and rustic wooden racks of baguettes. It also has three can't miss categories of sweets.
The first is Lafayette's entire selection of viennoiserie items. Look for the "Croissant Du Jour" like the superb crunchy banana chocolate coconut croissant. If that day's special croissant doesn't sound like your thing, grab a fresh pain au chocolate. After biting through the slightly crispy, buttery layers, you'll be rewarded with a ribbon of decidedly high-end dark chocolate.
The tarts and eclairs are both quite special and are baked throughout the day by pastry chef Jennifer Yee. Yee's creative eclairs have developed a following among New York pastry enthusiasts for their meticulous execution with a touch of creative whimsy. Every flavor—housed in a perfectly uniform tube of choux pastry—is good, but seek out the butterscotch coffee and the key lime pie with a torched meringue top.
In the tart category we like the alternating mousse layers and cocoa nib crunch inside the accrue de caramel tart. Lafayette's cookies, mini-canele and macarons are also excellent and are baked throughout the day for consistent freshness.
380 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012
Best for: Croissants, puff pastry, macarons, and mille-feuille.
It's easy to miss the original location of this small, low-ceilinged bakery in the West Village (they now also have a location on the Upper West Side). But it's worth seeking out, because Mille-Feuille bakes some of the best croissants and puff pastry around. If it's available, order one of their excellent raspberry almond croissants, which feature house-made raspberry jam and rich frangipane filling. Their macarons, which were ranked just outside the top three in our citywide tasting, are also worth exploring, especially the caramel or salted caramel.
Mille-Feuille is also, unsurprisingly, known for their namesake pastry. In fact, it's one of pastry chef Olivier Dessyn's specialties, with beautiful crunchy sable layers and flavored buttercream and pastry cream. I like the chocolate, but others may prefer custardy vanilla bean or pistachio.
Best for: Apple turnovers, croissants, and tarts.
Kathy YL Chan, Serious Eats' dedicated dessert correspondent of five years, was a huge fan of Petrossian, so if my word isn't good enough for you, take hers too.
Their croissants, one of our favorites in the city, are characterized by a particularly flaky dough. Eat their perfect plain croissant with some berry preserves for best results. If you're in the mood for something more involved, try the excellent almond or crunchy pistachio croissant. The latter is filled with chopped pistachios, almond paste, and apricot preserves.
On first glance, Petrossian's fruit-filled tarts don't look like much, but they're buttery and have a soft crumb (the mixed berry is the best). I also highly recommend the apple turnovers. They don't have the light flaky crust of, say, Cannelle Patisserie's, but their buttery, flaky crust and perfectly cooked apples make them a keeper.
911 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10019
Runner and Stone
Best for: Apple turnovers, croissants, and caneles.
Runner and Stone in Gowanus is known for baking superb bread, but they've slowly been adding to their repertoire of classic pastry. Though their menu in this area is smaller than most on this list, the three items below are all in the mix for the best of New York.
Their canele (available on weekends only) with its distinctive matte finish is a must-eat, by far the city's crunchiest. Their chocolate almond croissant is also an unusually crunchy frangipane-filled treat that's worth a special trip. Finally, Runner and Stone's apple turnover is as tasty on the inside as it is beautiful on the outside. The strikingly pretty pastry, with its shiny egg-washed finish, features light, flaky layers of puff pastry and a perfectly cooked apple filling that's not too sweet. The only better apple turnover I've had is at Cannelle Patisserie in Jackson Heights.
Runner and Stone
285 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215