I spend an embarrassing amount of time scrolling through menus and Instagram food posts every day. Lately, my obsession has been pastries; the most interesting noshes I’ve seen have been behind the glass displays at dessert shops and patisseries.
Doughnuts, for instance, the go-to dunking vessel for a cup of joe, now get reimagined as a savory treat — from a doughnut belly-filled with chive cream cheese and topped liked an everything-seasoning bagel (at The Flour Box in Hillman City) to a ham-and-smoked-paprika brioche doughnut (at Temple Pastries in the Central District).
Unlike most dinner takeout options, pastries hold up well; they taste as good dining in as they do when you’re snacking on the run. Maybe that’s why even during a pandemic, many bakeries have opened and stayed busy, led by young talents such as the self-taught baker Pamela Vuong of The Flour Box and the Paris-trained cook M. Fairoz Rashed of SUSU Dessert Bar in the Chinatown International District.
In the past two months, I’ve been checking out new bakeries around town, focusing mostly on those that have opened in the past 12 months. So which offers the most interesting pastry? The best doughnut? The best savory baked good? See below.
SUSU Dessert Bar
665 S. King St., Seattle; 833-953-5665; facebook.com/sususeattle
SUSU is arguably the best bakery to debut in Seattle in 2020, but it doesn’t need to toot its own horn. Their fans provide plenty of pomp and sound effects before doors open, pressing their noses against the window and snapping Instagram shots while swooning with “oohs and aahs” every time a cake makes it down the runway of the cashier counter.
Chef Rashed, who has worked at several Michelin-rated restaurants in France, now runs his own shop, a walk-up window next to an alley in the Chinatown International District. Their cheap real estate is why their pastries cost a buck cheaper than most of the top bakeries around town. When SUSU debuted last spring, owners Rashed and Katie Pohl chalked the long line to the usual buzz that comes with every grand opening. But eight months into their run, the queue has grown absurdly longer, with fans lining up in the rain before doors open. Their hours are posted as 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, but all their greatest hits sell out by noon. Come at 2 p.m. and your consolidation prize is likely a cookie.
Their giant Kouign-amann ($4.75), a croissant-like pastry enveloped in a caramelized crust, is much sought-after. But you can grab a good Kouign-amann at many bakeries without having to wait. Their less-sexy lineup is a better catch: apple-cinnamon pound cake with a dollop of brandy cream, the puck-sized apricot Stilton financier and the pâté à choux with Earl Grey cream for starters.
SUSU’s most underrated baked good, and what it does better than everyone, are savory scones ($3.85) that manage to be moist and slightly crumbly, with funky, bold flavors like a crab-and-curry combo and another version with blue cheese and kimchi. They’re not to be missed.
The Flour Box
5520 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; theflourboxseattle.com
Baker Vuong makes the best doughnuts in the city right now. Her puffy brioche doughnuts have beautiful honeycomb structures with such a distinctively wet mouthfeel that they make many other yeast doughnuts taste dry in comparison. She also does cakes and other baked goods, but her doughnuts are the attraction, with fillings ranging from durian to a banana-coconut milk. A fan favorite is when she soups up the classic vanilla custard filling with a torched crème brûlée ($4) on top of the doughnut, a smoky, sugary sheen to go with a creamy filling with flecks of vanilla beans. Hers rivals the stellar Cointreau Crème Brûlée doughnut at Blue Star in Portland. For now, you can only order her doughnuts online starting at 10 a.m. But you gotta be quick on the draw since her sweets sell out within five minutes.
2524 S. Jackson St., Seattle; templepastries.com
Out of the 100 pastries I’ve sampled around town, the most memorable was in this Central District bakeshop, a savory baked good that is essentially a Japanese sesame soba noodle bowl reimagined as a croissant. Behind the display case, the square-shaped croissant appears to be dressed like an everything-seasoning bagel with the surface covered in sea salt and furikake seasoning (the latter a medley of black sesame seeds, bonito flakes and seaweed). To finish, this croissant is topped with a squiggly shaving of sweet potato and a shower of sesame oil on the surface.
There’s a lot going on here, but baker Christina Wood pulls it off. This pastry still has the flaky, buttery DNA of a croissant albeit tweaked with a nutty, earthy flavor from the buckwheat flour. What binds these components together is the secret ingredient, the Japanese seasoning furikake, which gives this croissant a burst of umami; the sweet potato cuts into the salty seasoning, just a wonderful cornucopia of flavors and textures. Now for the bad news. The furikake croissant is not on this week’s menu, but Wood vows to bring it back. In the meantime, Temple Pastries’ cronuts and cruffins are also popular on weekends.