Chocolate Chip Scone from Hoosier Mama ($2.50)
Paula Haney is no one trick pony. While it’s hard to pass on her namesake pies, the square-shaped scones are crafted with the same care. Fresh out of the oven every morning around 9 A.M., the crusty scones’ exterior topped with sugar crystals cracks to reveal a fluffy, almost muffin-like interior studded with gooey 54% cocoa chips. Grab a Metropolis coffee to go, or savor breakfast in the sunny bay window of the shop on Chicago Avenue.
Aged Cheddar and Herb Pull-Aparts from Owen & Engine ($3)
Pastry chef Crystal Chiang is largely responsible for the success of Owen & Engine’s English brunch, making nearly everything in-house—from the clotted cream to the these addictive pull-apart buns. These savory, cheesy mounds literally pull apart into four warm puffs of flavorful herbs and butter, perfect for counteracting a sweet overload of French toast or jam. We’d say that this makes them the perfect brunch dish for sharing, but it’s more likely that you’ll hoard the whole quartet to yourself.
Blueberry Muffin from Bake ($2.50)
Blueberry muffins are perhaps the quintessential American breakfast pastry, so why is it so difficult to find one that isn’t sticky-sweet and dense? Bake gets its right: a springy, not-so-sweet interior packed with tart, bursting blueberries, capped with a crumbly oat top. For $2.50, it’s a formidable breakfast, served on a plate so sweet you’ll never buy a convenience store muffin again.
Raspberry Kouign Amann from Alliance Bakery ($3.25)
Now that you know it’s pronounced kween a-mon, there’s no excuse not to order this powdered sugar-topped Breton pastry from Alliance. If you like a bit of fruit jam in the morning, swap your standard danish for this crusty cake with a sweet, moist base. Though it’s hidden inside the envelope folds of the pastry, raspberry or apricot filling adds a freshness to the sugary treat. Alongside a strong cup of coffee to balance the sweetness, make sure to pick up extra napkins to defend your chin and shirt from errant confectioners’ sugar.
Cherry Corn Flower Biscotti from Matto Fornaio ($10/per pound)
A solid test of a biscotti’s quality is how good it tastes on its own, before you soften its texture and mask its flavor by dunking it in a steaming cup of coffee. At Matto Fornaio, a newly-opened Italian bakery in Lakeview, the biscotti beg to be eaten solo. Alongside other sweet and savory flavors like pecorino hazelnut and almond fig, the cherry corn flower biscotti stands out for the interplay of tart cherries and sweet, grainy texture reminiscent of cornbread. Of course, it stands up to dipping, if you must.
Matto Fornaio, 613 W Briar Pl, Chicago, IL 60657 (map); 773-883-4411
Croissant from La Patisserie P ($1.95)
On a stretch of Argyle Street better known for its phở offerings, international baking champion Peter Yuen creates what he boasts are “croissants as good as you’d find in Paris.” We’re inclined to agree. The proof, he says, is in the clinging army of bread flakes left after you’ve devoured the multi-layered, light-as-air pastry. While the shop sells Yuen’s more complex dessert pastries as well, the simplicity of the plain croissant is nearly unrivaled—in Chicago or elsewhere.
Raspberry Tea Cake from Floriole ($3.50)
Similar to a coffee cake, but with the addition of bright berries, Floriole’s tea cake toes the line between sophisticated and rustic. Standing regally in its parchment wrapping, it seems like a pastry that could indeed be served at a proper English tea (or washed down with one of Floriole’s Rare Tea Cellars offerings). But unwrap the paper, half it with a fork, and the soft cake becomes a crumbly delight reminiscent of a muffin. Don’t worry, it’s equally delicious when washed down with coffee.
Cheese Danish from Delightful Pastries ($2.50)
Danishes are hard to do right and so easy to do wrong. Think for a moment of all those glossy, bland, stick-to-your-fingers danishes that you’ve had from hotel buffets or, God forbid, gas station convenience stores. Dobra Bielinski redeems this maligned breakfast staple with a flaky, light danish filled with cheese that actually tastes tangy and flavorful. If you’re looking for a sugar bomb, this isn’t it; rather, it’s the perfect bite of sweetness to grab first thing in the morning. Commuters needn’t trek out to Jefferson Park to get one thanks to Delightful Pastries’ outpost in the Chicago French Market.