Ten years ago, so-called food "pundits" predicted the demise of bakeries at the hands of the Atkins and South Beach diets. We rolled our eyes then, and we were right, because there's never been a better time to get baked goods in Orange County. From Scandinavian to Vietnamese, from French to Mexican, we are chock-a-block with great places to get bread, cake and pastry. This list was culled from literally a hundred candidates; if your favorite didn't make it, it's not because it's not any good--but let us have it in the comments!
10. Great Dane Baking Company
You have to know what you're looking for at the Great Dane; the display cases showcase the mainstream of what every bakery in the county does. What's special, though, are the actual Scandinavian items. It's the only place in Orange County to bake limpa bread, dream cookies, and cardamom rolls. Not everything is available every day, but a phone call a couple of days in advance is normally all that's needed.
11196 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos; 562-493-6899; greatdanebakery.com.
Additional location at 6855 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach; 714-842-1130.
9. Le Croissant Dore
When you see the line at Le Croissant Dore in Little Saigon, do some mental math. At least two out of every three people in line are there for the fruit tart, widely considered the best example of its kind in all of Southern California. Get one, but also try their chausson aux pommes--apples in a crackly, hot, buttery shell--and their pain au chocolat. If you still have room, take a table and order one of the main dishes they serve.
9122 Bolsa Ave., Westminster; 714-895-3070; lecroissantdore.com.
8. Panadería Las Tres Princesas
The most hidden gem in Santa Ana is this Oaxacan bakery, nestled in a dingy shopping center about a hundred feet south of the Crush. The usual assortment of pan dulce is supplemented by pan dulce de anís, with just a faint tang of licorice flavor, and rolls stuffed with morsels of Juquilita chocolate. The bolillos and teleras are top-notch and baked several times a day to provide maximum fluffiness. In winter, forgo the coffee in favor of the champurrado--a cup of champurrado and a pan dulce is all you need to start your day.
2736 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana; 714-542-2131; no website.
Make no mistake: there is no charming service here. You will be lined up outside the door so they don't violate the occupancy limit set by the fire department, and only allowed in as people leave. Still, the fluffy, light, Asian-style pastries are really second to none, with standard offerings such as berries and cream rolls interspersed with unusual concoctions like tuna pastries and the absolutely addicting green onion rolls.
2700 Alton Pkwy. #123, Irvine; 949-553-8585; 85cafe.us.
6. Bread Gallery
A German bakery in San Clemente? Yes, it's true. Their Hausbrot is a slightly sour bread that seems made expressly for ham and cheese sandwiches, and their cinnamon rolls, heated in the microwave, are guilty pleasures. The best thing, though, is the soft pretzels--and unfortunately they sell out quick, so go early. You can also find Bread Gallery at farmers markets throughout Orange County, including the big Saturday morning market near UCI.
1624 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente; 949-366-5849; breadgallery.org.
5. Forn al-Hara
Walk into Forn al-Hara, also known as Tripoli Pastry, and you'll be confronted by a shining glass case of dozens of kinds of Arabic pastries. Baklava is only the start; there is phyllo dough stuffed with pastry cream, there are rolls tinted pink with rosewater, and huge trays of the shredded semolina pastry called k'nafeh. On the wall is a list of savory flatbreads and rolls that will be made to order for you. There's no way to go wrong when ordering pastry here, and the owner is one of the most gracious hosts in Anaheim.
512 S. Brookhurst St. #5, Anaheim; 714-758-3777; no website.
4. Andree's Pâtisserie
You've got to get to Andree's in the sweet spot between when they open at 7:30 a.m. and when they sell out of the best stuff, which is about 9:00 a.m. Fortunately, it's not a crowded time in Laguna Beach and you may be able to find parking behind the bakery, which is adjacent to the French 75 restaurant. Once you go in, you only need one word of French: croissants. These are the very best croissants in Orange County, hands down; while most of the pastries are wonderful, it's the croissants you want.
1456 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 949-494-1577; no website.
3. Christopher Garren's Let Them Eat Cake
This is THE place to go if you need a wedding cake and have the money to buy one; the bakery has been featured on more than one television show about wedding cakes. If you're not in the mood for lifelong nuptials, though, go anyway; the individual slices of cake and the pastries are outstanding. Any danish will shatter in your mouth, leaving the hint of butter and pastry; the scones are the best in OC, and their biscuits, topped with egg, bacon and cheddar, are addicting.
3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa; 714-445-0189; christophergarrens.com.
2. Blackmarket Bakery
Rachel Klemek started a cake bakery in an industrial park just off the east end of the John Wayne runway, and it's quickly attained cult status. Besides the cakes, she makes her own flour with the leavings from Cabernet winemaking; while the pasta is good, the focaccia is second to none. Also try the marshmallows, the excellent brioches, the savory vegetable pockets (perfect for lunch at the office), and the Basque tart.
17941 Sky Park Cir., Irvine; 949-852-4609; blackmarketbakery.com.
1. Cream Pan
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Besides the Japanese pastries like anpan and the eponymous cream pan, the place is known for their shockingly good strawberry custard croissants, available in large and small sizes and bought by hungry Tustinites by the dozen. What many people may not know, though, is that Cream Pan has absolutely, unequivocally, the best baguette and épi in Orange County. There's no comparing them to anywhere else.
602 El Camino Real, Tustin; 714-665-8239; no website.