Here in the Bay Area, we know a stand-out bakery when we see one. Glass cases and counter tops display the day’s pastries like works of art, and the shelves are lined with just-baked loaves of bread. There might be a corner table beckoning you to stay awhile, order a warm drink and make your brownie last. Or perhaps you’re ducking into a pop-up for a malasada on the run.
Either way, if you weren’t a dessert person before this, you will be after reading this take on the region’s hottest new bakeries — from a Walnut Creek shop crafting Romanian specialties to an Oakland cheesecake house and a Santa Clara bakery where a couple has found their encore career in Portuguese recipes.
East Bay Bakery, Danville
Across the street from Blackhawk Plaza, this stand-out bakery with the simple name has been wowing locals with its sweet and savory offerings since it opened in July. Glass cases display in jewel-like fashion the laminated croffles, curry puffs and pretzels that have become proprietor-baker Gaby Lubaba’s signatures. East Bay Bakery has no seating but the counter offers views of the open kitchen, where the bakery crew prepares Lubaba’s unique spins on danishes, cookies and croissants. (We recently spied both a baklava croissant and a pastrami-cheese version.)
Lubaba, who made our 2022 list of Rising Stars, offers a wide selection of classic treats and fresh baked breads, too, including rye brownies and a craveable olive fougasse. But there is a certain magic in the seasonal items — hello, pistachio chocolate escargot — and treats inspired by her native Indonesia. Be sure to get your hands on the crispy beef curry puffs filled with real curry leaves. They go fast.
The treat: Made from buttery croissant dough, the croffle ($5) is a crowd-favorite that taps into something deeply nostalgic. The crispy, almost caramelized outside leads to a chewy, satisfying interior that’s buttery and not too sweet. Perfection.
Details: Open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. weekends at 6000C Crow Canyon Road in Danville. Also Saturdays at the Orinda Farmers Market and Sundays at the Walnut Creek Farmers Market; https://theeastbaybakery.com
LeLe Cake, Los Gatos
Elena Leskina says she’s pretty fearless when it comes to challenges — whether it’s “new business, new skills, new country.” An electrical engineer by trade, she taught herself how to bake intricate desserts by watching YouTube videos during her young daughter’s two-hour naps back in Moscow. When she and her family immigrated to the U.S. five years ago, she opened a commercial kitchen.
Last June, she launched LeLe Cake, a cute all-day cafe where brunch is as popular as the pastries and custom cakes. It’s worth waiting for a table to try one of the Euro-style dishes that customers rave about — the Syrniki (Russian cheese pancakes) with berries, perhaps, Homemade Salted Salmon Toast or the Gruyere Waffle with goat cheese and onion marmalade.
If you didn’t save room for dessert, stop at the bakery case for a takeout order of, say, Kartoshka (chocolate cake “truffles” topped with fruit), Pavlova or Trifle. The full-size cakes are multi-layer, highly decorated beauties with selections such as the Choco Girl, Poppyseed & Lemonade, flaky Napoleon cake or the Sever, a Norwegian national favorite topped with meringue.
The treat: The star is Leskina’s version of the Medovik, a Russian honey cake layered with fresh raspberries and a light white chocolate and sour cream frosting. It’s available by the slice (three layers) or as a full-size cake (five or six layers).
Details: Open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 14178 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos; https://lelecake.me/
Crumble & Whisk, Oakland
Charles Farrier’s somewhat random entry into the bakery world came when a coworker asked if he could contribute to a potluck dinner. “I was like, ‘Sure.’ I brought a cheesecake. Everyone loved it,” he recalls.
That revelation triggered a slow and deep dive into the art of baking, with Farrier studying cookbooks, experimenting with different styles of cheesecakes, and then distributing them at barbershops and businesses along Oakland’s MacArthur Boulevard and later at farmers markets. This December, he opened a brick-and-mortar location in the Laurel District, where he prepares not just the confection that put him on the map but scrumptious pastries, artfully decorated cookies and so much more.
“This is about building up community, so people can get to know me as a neighborhood staple,” Farrier says. For his breakfast peeps, he has coffee cake, overnight oats and huge cinnamon buns with a jiggly, custard-like frosting. (Try to get them hot.) Folks celebrating a special occasion – or who just want to treat themselves – can order his super-creamy cheesecakes in full and puck-sized versions, with vegan options to boot. And for dinner, you can pick up a flaky-crusted pot pie and a banana pudding that’d fool your Southern grandma, with vanilla wafers and the obligatory toupee of whipped topping.
The treat: The much-lauded cheesecakes are not dense but rather melting, creamy delights with seasonal surprises. Cold weather might see a maple-pecan crumble or apple-cider cake version with chunks of fruit. In the summer folks, rave about the blackberry and corn cheesecake, made with a puree of off-the-cob kernels, thyme and brown butter.
Details: Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at 4104 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland; www.crumbleandwhisk.com.
Little Sky Bakery, Menlo Park
For years, Tian Mayimin was focused on the law. Since 2017, it’s been all about leavening.
In the beginning, the self-taught baker delivered her naturally leavened breads, baked in her Menlo Park home kitchen, to neighbors. Then she became the darling of the Peninsula and South Bay farmers market circuit with her creative lineup of loaves. Next came pop-ups. And soon she set her sights on a dedicated brick-and-mortar.
Last March, she and her team opened a storefront location on Santa Cruz Avenue near the Caltrain station. Late in the year, she expanded the hours of their indoor pop-up at the State Street Market in Los Altos, all while maintaining a strong farmers market presence. They staff 16 markets every week, with four seasonal ones starting up again this spring.
With the expansions came more innovation. Pistachio Bundt Cakes and Caramel Nut Tarts for the holiday season. Roman-style flatbreads. Baozi, yeast-leavened, filled buns. Open-face lox sandwiches on European rye. Jalapeno Cheddar Rings. A signature Challah made with orange juice and honey and brushed with olive oil. And Volkornbrot, the hefty German loaf nicknamed the king of seeded breads. Some creations are available weekly; some rotate into the lineup.
The treat: The popular Raisin-Walnut loaves go fast. And keep your eye out for batches of the Provencal herbal flatbread called fougasse.
Details: Open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at 506 Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park, with a permanent indoor pop-up at State Street Market in Los Altos; https://littleskybakery.com/
European Delights, Walnut Creek
Since opening in July on Walnut Creek’s east side, this bakery has become a haven for European expats and others craving Italian coffee and classic pastries without gobs of frosting or other sugar bombs. From the open kitchen, Romanian co-owner and head baker Rica Zaharia, a native of Transylvania, greets customers with a smile and talks them through the day’s fresh bakes while the Lavazza brews on the counter.
The glass case holds a medley of goodies, like almond and honey shortbread, apple morning buns and giant, 7-inch cookies packed with caramel and chocolate chips. Some items, like the covri dog, a frankfurter wrapped in golden pastry dough, are a nod to Zaharia’s Romanian roots. Others are collaborations between Zaharia and staff baker, Vida. One such creation, the tiramisu cookie, features pastry cream sandwiched between soft, round ladyfinger-like cookies.
The treat: We’re big fans of the börek. Thin, flaky, phyllo-like pastry dough is filled with ham, vegetables, cheeses and other savory ingredients. Our favorite is the mushroom ($5), which has flecks of herbs and a distinct truffle flavor. Keep an eye out for heart-shaped treats in February.
Details: Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and until 2 p.m. Sunday, at 2236A Oak Grove Road in Walnut Creek; https://european-delights.com.
Max’s Cakes, Hayward
This classic, family-owned bakery opened five weeks ago and has already added much-needed pizzazz to downtown Hayward. Horchata cheesecake and café de olla and buñelo cupcakes, nods to baker Max Soto‘s Mexican-American heritage, line the pastry case alongside cookies and brick-sized slices of his Instagram-famous layer cakes. Those cakes come in five flavors, including coconut cream, burnt almond and confetti, and are already proving to be top sellers.
After ordering your dessert, take a seat — or a selfie inside the giant picture frame against the white subway-tiled wall. Or spend some time admiring the historic black and white photos of downtown Hayward lining the walls. Soto appeared on Buddy Valastro’s “Big Time Bake” in 2020 and became the youngest contestant ever to win a “Food Network” competition. There are some pretty cute photos of him eating cake as a baby, too.
The treat: You have to get a slice of cake ($8). Two, actually. The 24-Karrot cake is super moist, topped with cream cheese frosting and brimming with shredded carrots and toasted walnuts. If you’re a lemon fiend, Lemon Supreme, a lemon cake layered with lemon curd and vanilla buttercream, is your jam.
Details: Opens at 11 a.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday-Sunday at 1007 B St., Hayward; https://maxscakesofficial.wixsite.com
Portuguese Tasty Desserts, Santa Clara
What’s new in Santa Clara is delightfully old school: a bakery specializing in nostalgic Portuguese recipes that made their way from the Azores to the Bay Area many decades ago.
When Teresa and Nelio Defreitas retired from school district careers (she as a kitchen supervisor, he as a campus maintenance manager), they decided to resurrect her parents’ Portuguese Bakery, which had been in business locally for more than 40 years. They found a spot and opened a year ago.
“This is what we love to do, especially the interaction with the customers,” she said. “We have such an amazing mix in this community.”
Customers come from as far away as Sacramento for the pillowy Portuguese sweet bread, pastel de natas (custard tarts), rice pudding, a rich, smooth flan and other goodies. The malasadas — the Portuguese doughnuts so popular in Hawaii — are available in 12 flavors (including guava and custard) on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Know you won’t have time to cook for that upcoming potluck? They will bake to your specifications. “Bring me your Pyrex dish and I’ll fill it up with rice pudding,” Teresa said.
The old-school touches extend beyond the recipes. Walk in and you’ll be welcomed, as all customers are, with a complementary cup of coffee, sweet bread samples and conversation. You won’t walk out empty-handed.
The treat: Biscoitos, the not-too-sweet cookie rings, come in almond, lemon, cinnamon, anise, chocolate and other flavors and are perfect for dunking in coffee or snacking.
Details: Open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday at 1085 El Camino Real, Santa Clara; www.facebook.com/PortugueseTastyDesserts/.
If you took a bagel, crusted it in sesame seeds and stretched it out like one of those old-timey hoops kids pushed with a stick, you’d get simit. Every Turkish city has shops hawking simit – and around here, there’s no better place to try them than Hatice Yildiz’s cafe that opened on San Pablo Avenue in late 2022.
A daughter of Istanbul restaurateurs who took an interesting journey to baking – she got a PhD in religious studies in Berkeley – Yildiz makes simit that’s crackling outside, soft and stretchy inside and kissed with the smoke of the oven. Order it with lox and cream cheese or, more traditionally, with tahini and grape molasses. There’s charred-top rice pudding, too, and baklava with housemade phyllo and imported “emerald” pistachios, famous for their startling green hue and nutty-fresh taste. Try the chocolate version, whose honey and bitter cocoa notes somehow improves on the original.
A heartier bite can be found in boreks, quichelike pies with fillings of goat cheese, mushrooms and kale, and stuffed eggplants that were sun-dried in Turkey. Yildiz plans to diversify her savory side this year with lahmacun, as well, a thin flatbread topped with minced beef, peppers and herbs and baked to perfection. (Just don’t call it “Turkish pizza.”)
The treat: The Russian/Ukrainian honey cake is a masterfully constructed slab of housemade graham crackers, condensed milk and brown butter. The sweet-sensory overload is like sticking your head in a honeybee hive, without the bees.
Details: Open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at 4125 San Pablo Ave. in Emeryville; www.simurghbakery.com.
Forest & Flour, Fremont
Many Bay Area residents with dietary issues have found sweet salvation at Sway Soturi’s farmers market booths over the past few years. Now the San Jose wellness entrepreneur can offer a larger menu of organic and gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, soy-free and corn-free savories and sweets to a broader audience at her new cafe in Fremont’s Mission San Jose district.
“We try to make things that people would miss,” said Soturi, who started baking allergen-friendly fare for herself. Take, for example, monkey bread and soup. Her Monkey Party muffins are as ooey-gooey as expected, thanks to a coconut-sugar caramel. The creamy, satisfying Clam Chowder is made with chicken broth, coconut milk and cashews, which naturally add an interesting nutty tone.
You’ll also find gluten-free muffins (carrot, matcha and seasonal), baguettes, brioche, chocolate chip cookies and more. For lunch, she and her team offer congee and French toast too.
By the way, this greenery-filled cafe is located near Mission Peak, which is good to keep in mind if you need fuel for a trip up or replenishment after coming down.
The treat: The big hit is the aromatic Lavender-Lemon Bread. It’s available by the loaf or as a small toast order, with a side of locally made Rose Petal Jam. Soturi also showcases other like-minded Bay Area purveyors.
Details: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Friday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at 43587 Mission Blvd., Fremont; https://forestandflour.com/.
Bake Sum, Oakland
As a kid, Joyce Tang loved to eat at bakeries in Oakland’s Chinatown. “When I got older, I didn’t really feel like I saw anyone iterating those types of flavors at the patisseries I’d visit around the Bay Area,” she says.
Her solution: Quit a Facebook job, land an internship at a three-star Michelin restaurant in Spain, then come back and start her own bakery specializing in memories from her childhood. The philosophy at Bake Sum is pastries should not just be beautiful (though they are, wonderfully so), but also meaningful to a staff of predominantly Asian and female bakers.
“We always try to find nostalgic flavors that speak to us and our upbringings,” Tang says.
Walk into the charmingly decorated shop in Grand Lake and you might see lilikoi “mochi bites” and loco-moco danish with a meat patty, gravy and runny egg. There’s a croissant and Spam musubi crossover called a “crusubi” and an okonomiyaki danish with garlic oil-roasted mushrooms, Kewpie mayo and furikake. It all sounds hearty, but with the skill of the bakers in making delicate, flaky doughs, you’ll be ready for seconds in no time.
The treat: The green-onion croissant is a popular offering that blends two styles of scallion pancakes from Northern and Southern China. It has a pleasantly bready, oily and crunchy exterior, with a soft interior of scallions, toasted sesame oil and sea salt.
Details: Open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday-Sunday and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday and Monday at 3249 Grand Ave. in Oakland; www.bakesum.com.
Moves, expansions and other new-ish bakeries to check out:
Lolita Bakery Cafe: Silvia Leiva Browne has supplemented her Hillsdale Shopping Center location, which opened in 2018, with a larger retail shop where fans of Argentinean baked goods can find her alfajores, empanadas and more. 3790 S. El Camino Real, San Mateo; www.lolitaalfajores.com
Republic of Cake: This longtime Orinda bakery known for cupcakes moved to Danville in 2022, expanding its offerings to include more pastries, quiches, sandwiches and ice cream. 730 Camino Ramon, Suite 196, Danville; www.republicofcake.com
Wingen Bakery: Peek into a new bread room and enjoy extra seating with a bistro-style menu of breakfast and lunch items at this recently-expanded Livermore bakery known for bread and pastries. 50 S. Livermore Ave., Livermore; www.wingenbakery.com
Ono Bakehouse: The East Bay’s only dedicated Hawaiian bakery has been open since Dec. 2020 and continues to wow with malasadas, savory ham-and-pineapple buns and tropical Queen Emma cake. Best to pre-order. 1922 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley; https://ono-bakehouse.square.site
Sunday Bakeshop: StarChefs 2022 Rising Star Award winner Elaine Lau marries classic French training with the Asian flavors of her childhood for magically nostalgic treats that have mass appeal: White Rabbit cookies, a char siu croissant, Thai tea milk buns and halo halo cake are all stunners. 5931 College Ave., Oakland; www.thesundaybakeshop.com