We’ve come a long way from the era when carbohydrates were second only to SigAlerts as the things most feared by Angelenos. Our city has become a toasty, palm tree-lined breadbasket overflowing with butter-laced croissants, dense hearth loaves, sticky cinnamon buns, gooey fruit tarts, and quivering chocolate lava cakes. Most of today’s Los Angeles pastry chefs are eschewing the saccharine cupcake frenzy of a few years ago, filling their industrial ovens instead with more rustic treats such as slow-rise breads, ethnic delights, and artisanal everyday staples.
Our Daily Bread
Israeli-born Ran Zimon bakes the old-world loaves at Bread Lounge with natural, wild yeast—not commercial—which gives them extra tang and a slightly longer shelf life. His baguettes have made him the darling of the chef world—wholesale clients include République’s Walter Manzke and Wolvesmouth’s Craig Thornton—but his croissants, almond danish, and savory Mediterranean specialties nourish the residents of downtown’s Arts District. Na Young Ma’s Proof Bakery has become renowned for its brioche, made from a butter-based (more like butter-loaded) dough that produces a soft, velvety crumb ideal for slicing thick and slathering with jam. In the morning groggy Eastsiders line up for orange-currant scones and mini pomegranate tarts. » Bread Lounge: 700 S. Santa Fe Ave., downtown, 213-327-0782. Proof Bakery: 3156 Glendale Blvd.,
Atwater Village, 323-664-8633.
The Left Bank
Tucked beside the staircase leading to Thomas Keller’s high-end French bistro, Bouchon Bakery lures would-be diners with a rainbow of chewy macarons, glowing lemon tarts, enormous homemade Nutter Butters, and a flood of other cookies. The can’t-pass-up kouign-amann, Breton’s beloved “butter cake,” features more than 90 thin layers of dough baked into a dense, sugary blossom. Croissants reign supreme at Maison Giraud, the Pacific Palisades restaurant from French chef and pastry master Alain Giraud (Citrus, Anisette). Whether au beurre or au chocolat, we haven’t tasted such flaky perfection since that layover at Charles de Gaulle. » Bouchon Bakery: 235 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-271-9910. Maison Giraud: 1032 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades, 310-459-7562.
You know the routine: Grab a round metal tray and a set of tongs, and load up on as much pan dulce as you can carry to the register. The Mexican bakery chain La Monarca has expanded beyond its original Huntington Park location and opened shops in Santa Monica and, as of December, South Pasadena. The vibe is spiffier than at your corner panaderia, but the seashell-like vanilla conchas, guava-and-cream cheese croissants, and torta-ready bolillos taste of owners Ricardo Cervantes and Alfredo Livas’s native Monterrey, Mexico. We pray for reasons to indulge in the giant tres leches cake (c’mon, whose birthday is it?); the slippery-sweet caramel flan doesn’t require an occasion. » 1001 Mission St., South Pasadena, 626-403-6860.
You won’t be nibbling on any ordinary muffin when Karen Hatfield is wearing the oven mitts. No, at the fine-dining chef’s La Brea outpost, the Sycamore Kitchen, your muffin will be emboldened with hearty quinoa and bran or moistened with olive oil, carrots, and whole-wheat flour. Throughout the day Hatfield can be found behind the counter restocking plates of berries-and-cream cookies and swirling rolls of salted caramel-pecan babka. It’s easy to detect the chops of pastry chef Zoe Nathan (Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry) in the goodies at her latest restaurant, Milo & Olive. There, alongside wood-fired pizzas, you’ll find loaves of cinnamon-sugar brioche, whole-wheat ham-and-cheese croissants, and such gluten-free pastries as lemon-poppy-seed tea cakes. At the Farmers Market’s Short Cake, La Brea Bakery alum Hourie Sahakian takes inspiration from boss and L.A. bread queen Nancy Silverton when sprinkling pine nuts over thyme-flecked brunettes or folding over the sides of a mini apple galette. » The Sycamore Kitchen: 143 S. La Brea Ave., Beverly Grove, 323-939-0151. Milo & Olive: 2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-453-6776. Short Cake: 6333 W. 3rd St., Beverly Grove, 323-761-7976.
Ruffles and Feathers
There is a time and place for a vanilla malt cupcake with peanut butter mousse filling and a layer of old-fashioned chocolate frosting on top. The time is whenever you darn well please, and the place is Bittersweet Treats, the new Pasadena bakery from Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant Danielle Keene. The shiny storefront specializes in decidedly more frilly desserts: iced cookies fashioned like ladybugs or pirates for the kiddos, fruit-filled hand pies shaped like hearts, and stunning tiered cakes dripping with candy flowers. Keene has a soft spot for retro confections, too, prepping batches of red velvet whoopie pies, seasonal upside-down cakes, and supersize riffs on the timeless Oreo. Order cupcakes by the dozen, a whole pie to go, or scoop up a variety of treats for a candy-coated showstopper of a dessert table at your next fete. » 1731 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 626-796-8655.