Seattle’s best French pastry shops

Fall has arrived with a vengeance. Wait, not fall. More like premature winter. Brrrrr… I have been drinking Fauchon tea almost daily, and this only happens when I am cold. 
 
It looks like I will start wearing my new charming French doudoune, Mademoiselle Plume, a lot sooner than expected. Yes, it has arrived, and it looks even better in person. So cute. So warm. So light. Je t’aime, Mademoiselle Plume. Oh, and for all the readers who expressed concerns about puffer coats (what a horrible name!) I am happy to report Mademoiselle Plume is not puffy at all. I believe I am lucky enough to own the only, stylish, streamlined Doudoune in the universe. 

Ce n’est pas moi, mais c’est bien Mademoiselle Plume!
(This isn’t me, but it is, indeed, Mademoiselle Plume)
Photo: paulinefashionblog.com


Long story short, it is cold, and wet, and about to get worse… for a long, long, long, time. What’s a French Girl to do? Indulge her cravings, that’s what.

A few days ago, I headed for Seattle (not a fast trip from our corner of the boonies,) determined to check out a few local pâtisseries friends have raved about. Even though I have reviewed some of the Emerald city’s French-flavored restaurants and bakeries in the past, I wanted to add a few notches to my list.

I had three names, and found another one along the way (it seems Seattleites have great taste and a penchant for French-themed eateries.) 

The first two pâtisseries were located in a favorite neighborhood, Ballard. Let me say right now that I would have never hit my targets without the help of a favorite sidekick, Tonks(**), my cute little car. I love it when she talks to me in that firm, no-nonsense voice of hers and points me in the right direction every single time. I do not trust easily, but I have learned to trust Tonks.

Tonks: Always ready for new adventures!


Then there is the other sidekick, of course, le fabulous and highly capable Panasonic Lumix LX 5. He and I have been on most excellent adventures together! I have learned to trust Le Lumix the way I trust Tonks. Thanks to my skilled friend, I have also learned to believe in my skills as a budding photographer when taking over manual controls on the camera. 

I love the old-fashioned styling and that bright, ultra-wide angle Leica lens!


So, on a chilly but dry fall morning, Tonks, le Lumix and this French Girl headed to the Ballard neighborhood in search of a couple of phenomenal (according to the critics) pastry shops. 

We hit Café Besalu first. If you look at the sign hanging outside, you immediately know what their specialty is.

 


 



I had been warned about the long lines that often meander around the block on weekends. It took me under ten minutes to reach the counter, as I peeked at the patrons’ selections. Two gentlemen were kind enough to let me take a picture of their table, an impressive display of American efficiency: At 10:00am, they had managed to combine breakfast and lunch, and were enjoying a large café latte, quiche, and an appetizing plum danish (I prefer the French name, “tartelette aux prunes.”) When they found out I was French, one of them, a francophile, broke into an enthusiastic – if booming – rendition of “La Marseillaise.” I congratulated him (he even knew the meaning of the words!) 

Bon appétit, Messieurs!


An arduous selection process began, and I decided to focus on French pâtisseries, including the famed Café Besalu croissantà emporter (to go,) of course, so Les Boys could help me sample all the goodies in the evening. 

 

Seattle, land of the fancy coffee drinks…

 

The kitchen where small miracles happen daily…


The day was still young when I headed to the second stop on my gourmande map: Honoré Artisan Bakery. This was also a small place, with a few tables and some window seats. I liked the comfy Adirondack chairs outside even if the weather was too chilly to sit down for long. Honoré is more of a traditional pâtisserie than Café Besalu (that seems to specialize in what we, French, call viennoiseries, or flaky dough type of pastries.) The selection is colorful, appetizing… and pricey. They are famous for their macarons (le trendy, chi-chi French cookie,) and other specialties such as le Cannelé (imagine a soft custard center in a caramelized crust…) 

Macarons et Cannelés

I left with a couple of boxes, and about $30 lighter, all in the name of thorough investigating.


 

The best surprise awaited me outside. I noticed I was in an older and quieter corner of lively Ballard. There was no rush: Le Lumix and I decided to take a walk. This French Girl can never resist an urban vibe…

Along the way, I was reminded that Seattle is a city full of granola-eating, free-thinking, fleece-wearing tree-huggers…

Curbs are so much more attractive with an improvised city garden…

 

(…)
Seattle: Friendly and civilized all the way to the roundabouts…

 



The houses were a sight to behold: Most reflected pride of ownership… and artistic freedom (no restrictive covenants in this neighborhood, no sir-ree!)

La maison violette

 

La maison verte

 

La maison bleue…


It was obvious Halloween was around the corner… The Great Pumpkin will not fail to make a stop there. The Great Pumpkin is no fool and will always choose an éclair au chocolat over that vile dessert Americans name “pumpkin pie”…

Le chat noir

 

Oh, la, la!

 

Do not drink and drive, kids!


But there was more work to be done, and this investigator had to press on. Mighty Tonks drove me to another favorite Seattle neighborhood, on historical Queen Anne hill. 

I bumped into Café de Lion by chance; a cozy, elegant lunch place and coffee shop, with a French flavor (including Parisian background music,) a limited selection of savory dishes and an even more limited collection of beautifully executed pâtisseries, crafted liked art pieces… The owner explained that his wife had taken private lessons with a Ritz Hotel Chef while in Paris a few years ago… Lunch was delicious (a croque-monsieur with a tree hugger twist.) I had to wait to enjoy dessert and dutifully ordered a couple of pastries to go. 

Will power, folks; it’s all about will power.

One of ze French touches…

 

The nicest packaging of all the pastry shops I visited that day…

 

Croque Portobello: Entirely vegetarian. Entirely organic.

It was almost time to head back across the lake so I could be home when Junior returned from school. I made one last stop at charming Le Rêve; a tea room, coffee shop and boulangerie-pâtisserie all in one. This was a special place. It made you feel like lingering on, in the dining room or on the patio. Once again, I made a few selections… to go. 




That evening, it felt a little bit like Christmas chez nousLes Boys could not believe their eyes: What a grand finale to a busy week that was. Each item was sliced in several pieces so we could sample our loot over the next two days. 

Dedication, folks; it’s all about dedication…

Viennoiserie selection from Le Rêve.
Pain au chocolat, croissant, croissant aux amandes, and Kouin Aman (a specialty from Brittany)

 

Viennoiseries from Café Besalu:
Pain au chocolat,  croissant, plum danish, Sacristain

 

Pâtisserie selection:
Tarte aux poires, macarons, canelés, éclairs au chocolat (Honoré Artisan Bakery)
Kouin Aman (Café Besalu)
Mont Blanc, macarons (Café de Lion)


The winner? All of the above. There were a few differences, of course, but all in all, Le Husband and I agreed that these were superior products, redefining the expression “sweet little nothings.” And that, my friends, is great news for all of us Seattleites, natives or imports, because as long as one can indulge in one of these incredible pâtisseries once in a while, then surely, life is good, even in the cold, even in the rain…

A bientôt.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by French Girl in Seattle

Please do not use, repost or Pin without permission.


(*) Gourmand (goor-mahnd🙂 noun. 1. a person who is fond of good eating, often indiscriminately and to excess. 2. a gourmet; epicure. 3. a person with a sweet tooth. 

(source: dictionary.com and French Girl in Seattle)

 
(**) If you need to ask about the name Tonks, I know you have never read Harry Potter!
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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

71 Comments

  • Your timing is perfect! I’ll be making two trips to Seattle in the next 6 weeks and I’m excited about checking out these shops! Merci mille fois!

  • Ma chère comment ça !… Je n’étais pas invitée à te suivre dans ce merveilleux périple ?… Pourtant accompagnées de ta “totomobile”, de nos deux appareils lumix nous aurions passé une excellente journée !
    Il est tôt chez moi, je ne dors plus et je suis en train de prendre une tasse de thé. Toutes ces douceurs que tu nous montres seraient les bienvenues !
    Je sais comment je vais occuper ma matinée! Je vais cuisiner ! pas de souci, j’adore ça !
    Merci pour cette charmante publication sucrée.
    Je te fais de gros bisous et la prochaine fois, fais-moi une petite place !

  • Ooooo! That sounds like my kind of exploring and experimenting. No need for test tubes and graphs. 🙂 I spotted black kitty right away. And yes, it feels as though winter has arrived ‘down south’ here too! Cold and windy and lots of showers today and off and on all weekend. And yep.. wearing my fleece. 😀 We Portlanders like it too.

    All the pastries look absolutely divine. Buttery, sweet deliciousness. And believe it or not, though it’s not sweet, the croque portobello would be my favorite.. if i HAD to choose for a multiple choice test or something. LOL. Splendid post Veronique. And stay dry and warm up there!

    • Bonjour Mary. Of course you would love the black cat! Sorry to hear Portland has been hit by the bad weather too. I was thinking about “driving south” to find some sun… Rats. Oh well, thank goodness we have these wonderful pastry shops to cheer us up. And that reminds me: I found a wonderful one in the city of Portland last time I was in your neck of the woods. I believe it was called “St Honore Bakery,” north of the Pearl district. Do you know it?

  • Being also a French girl in Seattle I approve your selection and more specifically the croissants from Café Besalu (my favorites in Seattle) and the double baked croissants from Le Rêve. Next time you are craving good pastries you should try Crumble and Flakes in Capitol Hill and their amazing choux à la crème 🙂

    • Bonjour Benedicte et Bienvenue! Capitol Hill is on my list on neighborhoods to visit this fall, so I will definitely check out that bakery. My favorite croissants are actually made by Nora at Ines Pâtisserie in Madison Valley. A very special place…

  • Hello Veronique

    I love your images and the journey through Seattle to find the perfect French bakery.
    Your family must be encouraging you to take another trip. What a wonderful selection of sweets.

    Helen.x

  • another really sweet and delightful post-my mouth is watering-love the photo of TONKS- we are a vw family too-hope all is well with you and your family -glad the coat is even better than you hoped for-enjoy the rest of your week!

    • you know i devour each and every post even if i remain hidden-ALWAYS POPPING IN to read comments-has been an extremely hectic time here and not in a good way- classes are okay-i may be losing my zest for aquisition of the language-but i have been sick so maybe just overwhelmed by it right now-A MILLION THANKS for asking-your pictures are so wonderfully detailed capturing the best elements those classes were worth it -how are your students this term wishing a sun filled rest of the week-

    • Sorry to hear you have been under the weather lately. It is ok to take a break from learning French, you know, if you have a lot going on. You can always swing by here in the meantime and get your “French fix” 🙂 My students are well – and surviving so far – but I only teach three days a week this quarter. I wanted to have time for field trips like the one described above… 🙂 A bientot, g. Hugs to you. Courage.

  • Sounds great fun checking out the French bakeries. Next time I am headed your way, I am going to check with you for French restaurant suggestions in the Seattle area.

  • La ruse suprême: faire un reportage sur les pâtisseries locales, et rapporter le butin à la maison , genre pour tester.. Je vais y penser! :o)Pas trop de macarons, mais de belles et bonnes choses , variées, et assez représentatives de toute la France , je trouve.La déco n’est pas toujours frenchy, mais qu’importe le flacon! J’adore aussi les maisons que tu montres, et la déco. La sorcière me fait mourir de rire!je trouve que ça fait chaud au coeur, un Américain qui chante la Marseillaise!Ici, on nous rabache qu’ils nous détestent tous..
    Encore un bien joli post!
    Sinon, oui, je connais Cath Kidston. et j’adore! Pas eu le temps d’aller voir sa boutique londonienne qui était pourtant sur ma liste(faut vraiment que je retourne à Londres!), mais elle a un excellent service de vente en ligne :o)
    Ici, hier, 26°..tout le monde soufflait, trooooop chaud.
    Allez, bisou!

    • Mais je suis très rusée, tu sais… Je pensais bien que tout le décor Halloween te plairait. La sorcière, incroyable. J’étais en voiture quand je l’ai vue, et j’ai pilé pour pouvoir descendre et aller la photographier… Alors comme ça il fait chaud à Nice cette semaine? Quelle surprise! Dire que je pourrais être là, à déguster une glace sur la place Rossetti près de mon appartement. Snif. Ici, on gèle et il pleut comme vache qui pisse. On dirait que nous sommes passés directement de l’été (très long cette année,) à un hiver précoce. Brrrr… Bisous–

  • How I would have enjoyed this ballade gourmande! Just my kind of treat with all those pastries …..and of course macarons! Those colourful houses are amazing (the purple one especially) and all the Halloween touches. So much to admire on the way to the coffee shops. Seattle definitely looks well worth a visit (and not just for the sweet treats and coffee)
    http://missbbobochic.blogspot.co.uk/

    • Seattle is well worth a visit, miss b, but try to time it so you don’t arrive here during Monsoon season– Be warned; Monsoon season can last… – I am glad you enjoyed my leisurely – but efficient! – stroll in Ballard and Queen Anne.

  • How fun. And great photo skills. I love the saying of the first picture. And your neighborhood is adorable…I especially love the drunk witch. I’m a bit jealous because the nearest french bakery from me is in Durango, CO…a 45 min. drive. Tant pis for me. Have a great week my friend!xx

  • Veronique, I’m drooling on my keyboard. Love Cafe Besalu, but haven’t tried the other two. During monsoon season I don’t like to go to far from home, but fortunately, we have Ines Patisserie in our neighborhood. Yum! Stay dry out there! XO

    • Bonjour Jeanne. Ah, so glad you mentioned my friend Nora’s Ines Pâtisserie. I still think her croissants are the best around! (sorry, Café Besalu…) and Nora is such a hoot! Maybe I will meet you there one day… Wouldn’t it be fun?

  • Oh my goodness, my stomach is growling right now after viewing all of this deliciousness!! 🙂 Good thing it’s lunch time. I won’t have to suffer too long, haha.

    And those colorful houses are so pretty! I love the purple one. I think non-traditional colors work for homes, if done tastefully, like these.

  • Dearest Véronique,

    Ah, you made me feel quite at home! Nothing smells better than the fresh baker on a Saturday morning where people get their fresh breads and pâtisseries for the weekend. In Italy we could even buy fresh breads and pâtisseries coming out of Church on Sunday mornings. I still can smell the city square. Most Americans don’t know what that sensation of smell and taste means. It also means great family time over a cup of freshly brewed coffee around table. We have huge coffee tables in our country, for that cozy purpose…
    Hugs to you,
    Mariette

    • Well, I wish I could get some of these on a regular basis, but they are too far away from my house. Back in Paris, we would walk to the bakery on Sunday mornings to get fresh bread and croissants… I still miss that after all these years… Old Europe offers charms that won’t be easily forgotten…

  • J’aime Le Rêve! Thanks for recommending Café Besalu, will check it out soon. I had always imagined that Tonks would be a Citroën or a Peugeot.

  • Bonjour!

    This was really fun, Veronique! In any town I make a beeline for what is French–so now I know where to go if ever in Seattle. Love the witch on the telephone poll!

    Here on the Monterey Coast we have several authentically French spots…three I prefer are owned by Bretons! I love Macarons et Cannelés but just one of either a week.

    BTW in San Francisco, my fave place (after living there 20-years) is: http://laboulangebakery.com/ The owner lived in the apartment above his original location, kept expanding, never losing the quality. He recently sold to Starbucks for $100 MILLION!! And will stay on for overall management and quality control.

    SF and Paris are Sister Cities there are a lot of French success stories in SF. Which today has become the #1 most expensive city in the US–surpassing even NYC.

    Merci for the smiles and info!

  • this is a delightful post and i cannot believe i have not tried any of these… i must get over to ballard and try the wonderful croissant…. i am sure i will LOVE them… hoping to meet you soon!

  • OMG, everything looks delicious enough to eat, especially that gorgeous black cat nonchalantly going about his ablutions while you snapped his picture. Can’t you just tell he knew he was HOT?

    En bien, Véronique, you’ve convinced me the Doudoune is to die for. I’m a convert.

  • Mademoiselle plume, elle a un petit côté Audrey Hepburn, c’est frappant ! Sinon que dire de tout le reste, à part : MIAM !!!

    Tes promenades gourmandes sont passionnantes à suivre !!!

  • Bonjour Veronique, I am in love with your blog already with all of those delicious French viennoiseries. My favourites are the macarons, croissant and croissant aux amandes. I am your new follower. Merci beacoup for following my blog too and for your comment. I love to study the French language. I will use your french language references here to help me improve. Keep in touch. Bonne weekend!

  • I am sure les boys had a scrumptious surprise what a lovely day you had all in the name of research of course! Good girl Veronique for giving Le Lumix manual a workout and good luck Carla x

    • Eh bien, merci beaucoup. Coming from you, Carla, this means a lot 🙂 Le Lumix and I can’t wait to go on another excellent adventure. Still fiddling with manual settings, with often surprising results, but will keep doing so… 🙂

  • Ah! Research…everything in the name of a great post, a world of sacrifices just to made the best research ever…ok! I’m totally jealous here, and salivating, by the way…amazing pictures!
    A big hug!
    Inés
    SimplyClassyMe.blogspot.com

  • Oh ma chère Véronique,
    How dedicated you have been to explore Seattle French bakeries and to taste all these “pâtisserie” for us. Tonks, le Lumix and you did a great job! I am worried about you though: how do you feel after all these macarons, tarts, viennoiseries and croque-monsieur(s) you had to eat just to please your readers (and to make them jealous too)??? It would be safer next time you go for such a ride to ask for help. Let me know in advance and I’ll be there.
    Bonne digestion, chère gourmande!
    xoxo,
    Anne – qui a pris 5 kilos rien qu’en voyant tes photos….

  • I know that this comment isn’t like the “raspberry vinegar in salad dressing” , but I just wanted to say that I am still an avid reader of your lovely blog, even though I may not always stop to comment. I hope to do so more regularly again once my “life is on a more even keel”. Bisous

  • It looks like Seattle knows how to do French! How nice to have all those reminders from home just a field trip away. The macarons look especially authentic. I hope they tasted just as good. Great photos – worth the pain with the manual settings!

  • My favorite is Bakery Nouveau…but I live near Besalu and Honore so I tend to hit those two more often. Funny you post about this…I am prepping my French bakeries in Seattle post too 🙂 Just an excuse to visit and take pictures 🙂

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