One of my fondest memories of traveling to Paris was buying a baguette that was nearly as tall as I was. My mother and I gathered slices of prosciutto, pont-l'Évêque cheese, apples, strawberries and grapes from a farmers' market to make a picnic lunch behind the Eiffel Tower -- all we needed was some bread. As soon as we walked inside the bakery, we were hit with the smell of freshly baked bread. The baguette was warm and soft on the inside yet crispy and crunchy on the outside. It was absolutely perfect. And it was nearly five feet long.
When made properly, French pastries, breads, sweets and cookies can make everything seem right. For that brief moment when you bite into a buttery, flaky croissant or pain au chocolat, you are in heaven.
In an ideal world, I would travel to Paris any time I wanted a macaron, éclair or warm hunk of baguette spread with butter, but alas, that is impossible. Thankfully, Houston is home to some outstanding French bakeries. So, without further ado, here are the top five French bakeries in our fair city.
Bite Macarons opened just a few months ago, but is already making quite an impression on Houstonians looking for a beautiful, sweet and delicate macaron. The store features a wide variety of flavors, including the classic pistachio, rose and lemon, as well as more exotic ones such as blood orange, Earl Grey and salted caramel. Executive Pastry Chef Sandia Horng creates perfect macarons -- the crust on each meringue is crispy on the outside, soft and sticky on the inside; each filling, no matter which flavor, is creamy, smooth and decadent. Horng is also introducing other types of pastries, including classic French tarts. The simple, fresh fruit tart has a sweet and delicate crust with a vanilla bean custard filling and is topped with fresh seasonal berries. The honeycomb pecan tart is the ideal fix for your sweet-tooth craving; it's filled with crunchy pecan pieces. While Bite Macarons currently offers only two classic patisseries, it nails each of them. We can't wait to taste the new additions to the menu.
This adorable French bakery off of Westheimer stands out to those driving through River Oaks. The light-orange building with bright-blue window coverings is home to some of the best croissants, palmiers and quiches in the city. Upon entering the bakery, you will instantly smell fresh pastry dough baking in the back and salivate over the marvelous display of croissants, cookies, éclairs and tarts. Stay for lunch and enjoy a sandwich made with one of the bakery's croissants, baguettes or country French bread, or grab a pastry and cup of coffee to go for your morning commute. The bakery also makes French and American cakes suitable for any birthday or holiday celebration.
French classics such as cream puffs and éclairs stand out at this tiny Uptown bakery. Sit outside with a café au lait, espresso or cappuccino, accompanied by an almond croissant, for a breakfast or an afternoon treat ; each croissant (no matter which flavor) is flaky on the outside, buttery and soft on the inside (and if you close your eyes while you take a bite, you might even feel as though you are in Paris). It's a little piece of France in Houston.
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Croissant Brioche is your one-stop shop if you want to sit and relax with a cappuccino and Danish for breakfast, fill up with a quiche Lorraine for lunch, or indulge your sweet tooth with an éclair, almond pear tart or slice of tiramisu. But, before you sink your teeth into one of the delightful pastries and breads, order an almond croissant -- you won't regret it. There's a reason this French bakery earned the title of Best Croissants in Houston this year. While the plain croissant is perfectly executed, the almond croissant is simply out of this world. Along with the buttery and flaky layers, this sweet rendition is filled with a delectable almond paste, which surprises your taste buds ... in a good way. One bite of this pastry, and its sweet, smooth and creamy almond paste and salty, gooey butter, and you'll sink back in your chair and sigh. It's that good.
Tucked in the back of The Woodlands near FM 2978 is where you'll find The Woodlands Gourmet Bakery & Café. It's a small, quaint, family-owned business (there are only eight tables) serving a variety of classic Parisian baked goods -- everything from palmiers and baguettes to fruit tarts and éclairs. Ask the owner and chef, Ifel Costa, what to order, and he will suggest the pear tart -- fresh slices of pear baked in a firm, buttery crust with sliced almonds and a gorgeous gelatin glaze. The lemon tart is a good option, as well. Costa balances the sweetness with the tartness from the lemons in this smooth lemon curd filling; it's refreshing, sweet and even better the next day. Pair any dessert with a latte or Americano for a classic French snack.