Seattle brims with baked bounty from all over the world
Nancy Leson rounds up long-established and long-beloved multicultural bakeries in Seattle, including Madison Park Bakery, Nielsen's Pastries and Le Panier.
Seattle Times food writer
Video | Tour of Nielsen's PastiresDarcy Person bought Nielsen's Pastries a decade ago from her employer, the long-established Danish baker John Nielsen. Today, Darcy and her husband Dave continue to craft traditional pastries such as the kringle in their small shop on Lower Queen Anne.
Christmas cookies getting stale? Don't fret. Seattle's got bakeries galore.
You've heard all about those wondrous young whippersnappers: places like Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle, Columbia City Bakery and Macrina's latest outpost in Sodo. And then there's the consistent crowing about the likes of green-tea tiramisu at Hiroki in Wallingford; mini coconut-cream pies downtown at the Dahlia Bakery; the buttery seasonal-fruit-filled pastries at Ballard's Café Besalu; and the gluten-free glories of Fremont's Flying Apron.
Rightfully so. But for decades, sweets-seeking Seattleites have made the pilgrimage to a multicultural mélange of long-loved bakeshops, and today I salute a handful of those enduring entities. Did I miss your favorites — either here or beyond the city limits? Give a shout on my blog: www.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat.
2707 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle
Hours: 6 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
Of course you can buy a cheap sheet-cake at Costco. "Sacrilege!" say legions of Seattleites, who'd sneer at the thought of going anywhere but to Borracchini's — a Rainier Valley institution where industrious cake-bakers decorate while you wait, and where (if the Italian baked goods sampled on a recent visit were any indication) shortening is never in short supply. But who's complaining when 12 bucks buys a box stocked with cream-filled cannoli, biscotti, crunchy sugar- and cinnamon-sprinkled rosettes and cherry-filled gondolas (the Venetian's answer to a danish).
Sip Lavazza at the coffee bar and practice your Italian, and don't leave without checking out the specialty food imports and the deli-counter.
Big hit: Foccacia-like slabs of vegetarian pizza served by the pound ($1.99/per), lavished with olives, artichokes, spinach, red onion and sweet peppers. Big miss: The cannoli. (What, no ricotta?)
Madison Park Bakery
4214 E. Madison St., Seattle
Hours: 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 6 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays (closed Mondays).
"Get me a chocolate-cake doughnut," said my husband, who's long sworn by the brown rounds served here.
"Get me a maple bar," said our kid, later judging it the best he'd ever eaten.
"Get me a cardiac bypass," I thought, zeroing in on mini cinnamon-pecan rolls and a tiny key-lime tart (whose central ingredient tasted like a Caribbean vacation, something I sorely needed on a snowy morning when this upper- crustery's sidewalk tables sat cold and vacant). But Technicolor temptation awaited those of us snug indoors sipping Caffé Vita: sugar-sprinkled "mitten cookies," magical marzipan fruits, raspberry thumbprints and decorated cakes — among other colorful confections.
Big hit: Those frosted Northwest favorites we call "maple bars." Big miss: The plain-Jane cinnamon bread. Though the loaf is said to win Mad Park's "Miss Popularity" contest, I've had more exciting stuff off the (grocer's) rack.
520 Second Ave. W., Seattle
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays (closed Sundays).
John Nielsen's original bakeshop supplied a symphony of Danish delicacies to delighted downtowners for decades — before development of Benaroya Hall forced a move to Lower Queen Anne in 1997. Soon after, he sold the shop to his pastry-making protégé Darcy Person, who refined his authentic recipes and continues the tradition of manufacturing magic with marzipan and chocolate, housemade jams and custard — selling his famous pretzel-shaped kringle (the standard-bearer for a Danish baker) among other signatures.
Today, with help from her family, Person has created a cozy cafe where you might flip through a cookbook or run into Nielsen himself while lingering over a Zoka coffee and a cinnamon-stoked snitter, chocolate mousse-centered Sarah Bernhardt or flaky fruit-filled danish.
Big hit: The luscious lumpy cocoa- and marzipan-covered "potatoes" rich with custard filling. Big miss: The fact that you might miss this place altogether, given the lesser-tread locale a half-block south of West Mercer.
Mon Hei Chinese Bakery
669 S. King St., Seattle
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. (closed Tuesdays). Note: cash only.
The Chinatown International District houses many bright modern constructs where fanciful Western-style pastries and prettily decorated dainties share case space with spongecakes, moon cakes and hom bao. Mon Hei is not that place. This homely hole-in-the-wall, touted as Seattle's first Chinese bakery, speaks to the old hunger of immigrants and their American-born progeny, to the seduction of savory over sweet and the luxury of tray after tray of fluffy bao stuffed with char-siu pork, split-top butter creamy buns, puff-pastry half-moons tucked around curried ground-beef, red-stamped lotus cakes and almond cookies large and small.
Show up at the wrong time, and the pickin's may be slim(mer). "Come back at 11!" I was told — when Mon Hei's signature cocktail buns emerged from the confines of the subterranean kitchen.
Big hit: Those cocktail buns — dense sweet bread built as a thick, coconut-stuffed baton ... and just a buck! (As are most of the bargain-priced goodies). Big miss: Weak coffee, spiked with Coffee-mate nondairy powder.
1902 Pike Place, Seattle
Hours: 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays.
Pike Place Market is a mother lode of baked goods gone global (consider Piroshky, Piroshky's Russian savories and sweets, Mee Sum's warm curry bao, Turkish Delight's bountiful borek), but few provide as vast an array or as warm, spacious a setting as this self-proclaimed "Very French Bakery." Some say the best seats in the house are counter stools facing Market foot traffic, where two might coo over pain au chocolate and Caffe Umbria. Others would claim it's the tall cafe tables with a view of the bakery's raison d'être: a visual barrage of bountiful breadbaskets embracing classic shapes, and pretty pastries that range from the simple (a palmier that shatters on your tongue) to the sublime (a tiny one-bite citron tarte or the multisensory majesty of a full-sized Belle- Helene).
Those in-the-know know to stow a brie-and-baguette sandwich from the casse croute-case, for later. Regulars recognize the faraway look of triomphe brought to bear by a tender pistachio macaroon.
Big hit: The fabulously flaky Napoleon. Big miss: The tourist-trap of a line wending its way out the door.
Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or email@example.com. To read her blog, go to www.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-8838 | Blog
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.