Breton invasion – two extraordinary French bakeries in Jackson Heights and Forest Hills

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Inside La Boulangerie

The fact that the great borough of Queens would be home to two fantastic classic French bakeries is not terribly surprising. But that both chefs should prevail from the same region of France – Brittany – is. La Boulangerie, an artisan bakery and café located at 109-01 72nd Road just off Austin Street in Forest Hills (GMAP), and Cannelle, a pâtisserie and café at 75-59 31st Avenue in Jackson Heights, situated in the Walbaum’s mall (GMAP), are both the creation of Brittany natives. Both strive to bring high-quality, authentic French baked goods to sophisticated New York City palates and, tellingly, both businesses are thriving.

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Gâteau Breton at La Boulangerie

Let’s be clear, although both serve the beloved Gâteau Breton – a delicious buttery almond cake that’s relatively simple to mix but difficult to master – their menu offerings include the full breadth of French baking, in addition to breakfast and light meals.

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Chocolat chaude at La Boulangerie

La Boulangerie in Forest Hills, as the name indicates, is, at its core, a place where bread is baked daily. It’s set up much like a Le Pain Quotidien restaurant, rustic and cozy, with the choice to take your place at a common table, slowly making your way through a chocolat chaude and a jam-smeared baguette. The sanctity of daily baking is everything at La Boulangerie and the back-room kitchen operations are on full view through large windows from the dining area. Chef François Danielo learned to bake in his family kitchen in Brittany and later honed his skills at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center). The results are stellar.

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Bread at La Boulangerie

Locals swear by the basics, which is always a good sign. In terms of bread, the baguettes are crisp on the outside, chewy within, the Pain de Seigle – classic French rye – is balanced. There are hearty round boule (French for ball) loaves on the shelves. For the health-conscious, La Boulangerie has a Pain Complet, made of richer flour, and Pain aux Cereals, made with five whole grains. There are loaves of Pain de Mie, a white bread with no crust that is dense and hearty and can easily substitue for – and outpace – any sandwich bread you may have at home, and loaves of brioche, great for slicing up and making – what else? – French toast. All loaves can be machine-sliced in even portions if desired.

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Many delicious pastries at La Boulangerie

While you’re picking up a loaf for home use, treat yourself to one of La Boulangerie’s expertly made pastries. The croissants are enormous, unfailingly fluffy and have the dark brown searing around the crust. The Pain au Chocolat, Carrés aux Amandes, Pain aux Raisins and palmiers are buttery and flakey. The cream and cheese in the danishes are so obviously baked into the pastries that morning. Brioche is served up five different ways, mostly in bite sizes. None of these treats are too sweet – it’s about the bread, and the subsequent play between the flour and the sugar. And unless you lived in Paris for decades, it’s just about guaranteed you’ll see something you’ve never tried before. Do.

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Cannelle in Jackson Heights is a pastry and cake shop – a pâtisserie - with a small selection of bread. The Breton chef here is Jean-Claude Perennou – who was the pastry chef at the Waldorf Astoria New York hotel – now in partnership with Guanasampanthan Sabaratham. Together they have fashioned a serious but approachable Parisian bakery, surprisingly, in the middle of a strip mall.

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Sweet cakes at Canelle

This is a fancy cake shop – from the Napoleon to the St. Honoré, from the Tarte Tropézienne to the Coco-Fraise.  Many of the cakes are presented in a modern style, fashioned into sleek domes and striking rectangular logs, clearly made with confidence by someone who is used to receiving oohs and aahs out in the formal dining room.

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Pear Bourdaloue at Canelle

But back to taste. The Pear Bourdaloue is phenomenal, it consists of a cake crust filled with almond creme and topped with half a small pear, you can get it in three different sizes, bigger tartes for feeding several or single size for staying.  Paris-Brest is a speciality of the house, a harder choux pastry shell topped with almond slices and filled with a very sweet praline creme.  The Creole cake presents a masterful layering of mousses – chocolate and white chocolate separated by a layer of coffee syrup – a perfect blend of the sugary mousse and the semi-sweet chocolate outer layer. You can order your wedding cake here at Cannelle.

The dining area is usually packed with folks enjoying pastries and coffee. There is a large selection of croissants, danishes, strudels, muffins and even bagels, so the menu fully spans the continuum from exceedingly sweet to not at all.

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Gâteau Breton at Cannelle

And just how do these two remarkable bakeries offer the fabled Gâteau Breton? At La Boulangerie you can get it in little muffin-sized rounds. At Cannelle, they serve it in about 8′ cakes and brownie-style, by the square. All are beautifully glazed with beaten egg then fork-scored across the top in straight lines.

One Comment

  • I love the Pain aux Cereales loaf. The toasted seeds and nuts on the crust are so addicting. The croissants are buttery, flakey, and just pure Franco-bliss. :)