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Best Boulangerie in Boston/Cambridge?

rhema64 Apr 29, 2008 08:19 PM

Can anyone recommend a French style Boulangerie around Cambridge or Inner Boston that takes pastries seriously ? (as opposed to light heartedly ?!) I am constrained to public transport and live in Cambridge. Thanks.

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  1. Luther RE: rhema64 Apr 30, 2008 03:50 AM

    Which types of pastries, specifically? Does this place have to be so pretentious that they don't call themselves a "bakery?"

    1. Science Chick RE: rhema64 Apr 30, 2008 05:12 AM

      Technically speaking, if you want a French pastry shop it would be a patisserie. A boulangerie specializes in breads, and usually does not sell pastries. That being said, Clear Flour bakery in Brookline makes several pastries, more in the French country style vein (you can get there easily from the B line on Comm Ave). All are great. Not the creme/frosting style, though...more fruit based. Also, Athan's in Brookline (Beacon Street...C line) makes a wide variety of more traditional pastries. Some are quite good, while others I've found to be a bit on the old side.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Science Chick
        gini RE: Science Chick Apr 30, 2008 09:53 AM

        Clear Flour is actually more of a boulangerie than a pastisserie, selling breads, rustic tartes and cookies.

        1. re: gini
          Science Chick RE: gini Apr 30, 2008 10:15 AM

          Agreed.....but since they sell a few pastries, I thought it was worth a mention.

        2. re: Science Chick
          High Heels and Frijoles RE: Science Chick May 1, 2008 02:00 PM

          Clear Flour really is amazing. I don't think I've had a baguette that perfect outside of Paris. Their pain de mie and seeded seven-grain are also wonderful - hearty, robust, and no additives, preservatives, et al.

          Science Chick, what do you mean by the pastries at Athan's being "on the old side"? I haven't been there yet and wonder if it's worth a try. How does it compare to Clear Flour?

          1. re: High Heels and Frijoles
            Allstonian RE: High Heels and Frijoles May 1, 2008 04:30 PM

            Apples and oranges - as Science Chick so aptly described, Clear Flour is a boulangerie, with some sweets such as croissants, galettes (or, as they call them, rustic tarts), cookies and tea cakes on the side. Athan's is a patisserie.

            I assume that what she means by "on the old side" is just what it sounds like - I stopped going there after several visits in a row yielded consistently stale desserts. Others on this board have had better experiences.

            1. re: Allstonian
              Science Chick RE: Allstonian May 1, 2008 04:34 PM

              Yes, that's what I meant. Everything *looks* so beautiful, but I've had several episodes of stale pastries. They always seem so busy, I'm surprised that they would have a turnover issue...

        3. j
          Jardinia RE: rhema64 Apr 30, 2008 10:30 AM

          If you are looking for pastry, I have to recommend L.A. Burdick in Harvard Square for their croissants and luxembourgers, as well as a variety of other european pastries. If you are looking for breads, and you really want to splash out, Formaggio Kitchen imports Poilane breads overnight, and sells them for a small fortune- Poilane is a parisian legend, so it's worth it for an occasional splurge.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Jardinia
            StriperGuy RE: Jardinia May 1, 2008 11:59 AM

            Much as Poilane IS the holy of holies I have a hard time buying 20-40 hour old Poilane bread when we have fresh Iggy's, Clear Flour, Hi-rise, When Pigs Fly in Boston, all of which are world class bread bakeries.

            1. re: StriperGuy
              yumyum RE: StriperGuy May 1, 2008 02:28 PM

              Second that. Unless you are looking to impress a name snob, buying day old Poilane isn't worth it. I like B+R baguettes as much as any of the rest here.

              1. re: yumyum
                StriperGuy RE: yumyum May 1, 2008 07:37 PM


                1. re: StriperGuy
                  kelly001 RE: StriperGuy May 2, 2008 04:01 AM

                  B&R is the company started by the guy that used to be the main baker at Sel de la Terre. He opened his shop about three years ago in Framingham, MA. You can find his bread at Fromaggio Kitchen. I think his best products are his pain au levain type breads. His baguettes are very good as well.

                  1. re: kelly001
                    cassis RE: kelly001 May 2, 2008 05:30 AM

                    "I think his best products are his pain au levain type breads. His baguettes are very good as well."

                    For anyone who may be unfamiliar with these terms, pain au levain is a "country" style bread, usually round or oval, often with a percentage of whole wheat flour, and using a starter that takes a few days to develop. One of its qualities, for country people, is that it takes a long time to go stale. Poilane popularized this type of loaf in Paris back in the 60''s, long before you could get real French bread here.

                    A baguette OTOH uses white flour and rises quickly, and although delectable when fresh, goes stale quickly, hence you must buy it fresh for every meal--it's really little more than a medium for mopping up sauces. Many boulangeries now buy frozen ready to bake baguettes, then bake them as if they had made them from scratch. Look for signs that say "four a bois" or ask if the bread is made from scratch.

                    Poilane is to be congratulated for making Parisians aware of all the wonderful country style breads, for his ingenious ovens, for his beautiful round loaves decorated with grapes, and perhaps for inspiring so many excellent bakers in this country!

                    http://www.poilane.fr/ Sorry, I got off topic.

                    1. re: cassis
                      The Chowhound Team RE: cassis May 2, 2008 12:16 PM

                      Hi there, sorry to interrupt, but we hope that all of you hounds here would be willing to share your knowledge and passion about bread with everyone, not just Boston hounds. So, if you wish to continue a discussion on bread in general, please start a new thread on the General Topics board. Of course you can lead your fellow Boston hounds there by posting a link to that post here.

          2. o
            okello RE: rhema64 Apr 30, 2008 09:15 PM

            I don't know if it qualifies as French style, but Iggy's is quite good for croissants and such. It would be walkable from Alewife, or a bus that hits that rotary in front of Whole Foods. If you've only had Iggy's at the many cafes that sell it around town, do take a chance and go to the real thing. (In case you don't know if you've seen Iggy's around, they have this pecan roll thing that's huge and covered in pecans and to me looks like it's always upside down--most cafes who carry Iggys seem to have this--if you see something like that, ask and I bet you've found them)

            Anyway, I've found that I enjoy the super-fresh products in the store at Iggy's much more; to my taste they get too dried out due to the extra hours sitting out when they appear outside of the mother ship. I recommend the Chocolate and the Almond croissant. So wish they combined the two.

            4 Replies
            1. re: okello
              itaunas RE: okello May 1, 2008 08:05 AM

              To get to Iggy's from Alewife you walk across the bridge, then at the first opportunity turn right and walk past Circle furniture (on your left). The road goes right at that point to duck back over to Whole Foods/Movie theater, but you want to continue straight cutting across parking lots and what have you. The first street you will come to is Wheeler and the next Fawcett, turn right on Fawcett and keep going until you cross the train tracks and the road turns left. Iggy's will be after Anderson Mcquaid (expensive custom molding place).

              For a Bus route, instead of getting off at the rotary, take either the 74 or 78 directly to Fawcett Street (or Moulton which is about equidistant) and follow the above directions for Fawcett. These two buses pass right in front of HiRise bakery and if you use a charlie ticket you can hop off the 74 and then grab the next 78 (or vice versa) w/o paying extra.

              The place I buy bread most often and sometimes other pastries, is Evergood Market on Mass Ave in Cambridge. Most of their stock is from Iggy's, but they do make an effort to carry other breads. They have decent cheeses, pates, imported sweets, but not a huge stock.

              Formaggio also carries B&R baguettes and other items (I have to admit to being a bit tired of iggys), but I usually can't get there until the end of the day when you will find them sold out of many items so go early its on the 72 bus route. On the other side of town, Savenors is a good bet, although I don't know what they are currently stocking and Pemberton farms is another alternative for some breads/pastries although its a bit further away.

              I also would encourage you to check out any nearby farmer's markets which will start in the coming weeks/month. The vendors can vary from rustic/wholesome, to larger bakeries (Iggy's), but sometimes artisan bakers.

              1. re: itaunas
                Dea RE: itaunas May 2, 2008 12:28 PM

                Where is this Market? I'm on Mass Ave in Cambridge often, but can't recall seeing it. Is it north of Porter?

                1. re: Dea
                  itaunas RE: Dea May 2, 2008 01:09 PM

                  In between Harvard and Porter, before Linnean. Roughly across the street from (the restaurant) Cambridge Common (Wendell St), or a block north of the Starbucks around the corner of Chez Henri.

                  1. re: itaunas
                    Dea RE: itaunas May 6, 2008 12:26 PM

                    Thanks Itaunas! Perfectly distanced from my office for a lunchtime walk on a day like today. I'll check it out soon.

            2. kelly001 RE: rhema64 May 1, 2008 03:59 AM

              In France a boulangerie is a place that sells bread and viennoiserie (croissants, brioche, pain au chocolat, etc.) and a patisserie is a place that makes fine desserts (mille-feuille, ├ęclair, tarts, etc.)

              I assume you are looking for croissants & those types of pastries when you ask about a boulangerie. The two I would recommend would be Clear Flour and Iggy's Breads of the World. Both have excellent breads and croissants, pain au chocolat, etc.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kelly001
                rhema64 RE: kelly001 May 4, 2008 07:48 PM

                Many thanks. Just went to clear flour, the baguette was excellent, the brioche also looked very good, which we will try for breakfast.

              2. l
                leila.morsy RE: rhema64 May 1, 2008 06:58 AM

                Burdick's - hands down. You can get croissants and pain au chocolat in the morning.

                1. c
                  cpingenot RE: rhema64 May 1, 2008 07:59 AM

                  Sel de la Terre, walkable from South station or right next to the Aquarium T has excellent croissants. Not only is the puff pastry more flavorful than Iggy's, the fillings are really a cut above.

                  They have more elaborate "pastisserie" items as well- tarts, bombes, mille-feuille etc. We get things from there for office celebrations and everything I've tried has been fantastic.

                  1. fmcoxe6188 RE: rhema64 May 1, 2008 01:39 PM

                    Cafe Vanille on Charles Street in Beacon Hill has some stereotypical pastries- I havent tried Burdicks which seems to be the crowd favorite- but I really enjoyed what I had at Vanille

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: fmcoxe6188
                      StriperGuy RE: fmcoxe6188 May 1, 2008 02:06 PM

                      Cafe Vanille: pretty pastries, not that tasty.

                    2. rhema64 RE: rhema64 May 1, 2008 08:42 PM

                      Thanks so much for your recommendations. Just tried LA Burdick this morning and was very happy to have found it. The croissant was great, not too doughy, and the coffee was also excellent. I have passed it before but thought they just had chocolates. They also had good looking cakes and will try the linzertorte soon as it is a favourite of mine. Plan to try Sel De La Terre tomorrow.

                      1. bombaybeauty RE: rhema64 May 2, 2008 03:58 AM

                        A general question / comment from someone who is moving to the city in a month or two and trying to understand the food dynamics... To me a boulangerie is place that I would stop in on the way home, so either close to work or close to home. I wouldn't normally think of driving to a third location to buy bread -- it's a local thing. And this really is my quest/ion -- is there a neighborhood where I can truly be local in Boston, not only for bread, but for high quality groceries, and dining more generally? By local I mean walkable within 10-15 minutes. I'm going to be in Central Square for the first 6 months but would also like to get to know other areas. Thanks! BB

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: bombaybeauty
                          kelly001 RE: bombaybeauty May 2, 2008 04:03 AM

                          The North End will have that local /proximity feeling if you can deal with its parking nightmares. You could do all your grocery shopping without leaving the neighborhood.

                          1. re: kelly001
                            Karl S RE: kelly001 May 3, 2008 10:16 AM

                            To live in the North End, it helps to not have a car. A lot. Or lots of money to afford a parking space.

                            Real estate and logistical issues in Boston is such that it is hard for food-oriented establishments to get sufficient volume to cover costs and stabilise profit. We don't have that many skyscraper apartment/condo buildings (there are a lot more than there were a decade ago, to be sure) that can supply residential volume like some other cities. Real estate is often much more valuable for non-retail purposes. The current housing bust has not gone bust enough for that to change enough.

                            Much of Boston's charm comes from things that make this issue difficult.

                          2. re: bombaybeauty
                            Dr.Jimbob RE: bombaybeauty May 2, 2008 05:02 AM

                            The theory of a boulangerie being a place that you stop in at on the way home only works in a place like France, where there is a boulangerie on every other street corner (cf Dunkin Donuts in the Boston area, though that's far from my ideal place to stop by on the way home). Unfortunately, the number of places with bread of that quality in the Boston area aren't that high, so I am one of the many who do some schlepping to get my bread.

                            There are some alternatives -- for one thing, when the farmer's markets get started up in late May, each one typically has one local bakery or another associated with it (Iggy's and Hi-Rise at the Davis Square one on Wednesdays; Hi-Rise at the Charles Hotel ones on Sundays; Clear Flour at the Coolidge Corner one on Thursdays, for instance). That's an opportunity to stop off typically at a commuter hub and pick something up.

                            As far as a neighborhood where you can stay 100% local, that's trickier. Central Square actually isn't a half bad option in that respect, between groceries (two branches of Whole Foods, a branch of Trader Joe's and Harvest Kitchen all under half a mile's walk or an easy bus ride), dining (search Central Square to see the many beloved places that are in that area, with Kendall Square/East Cambridge and Harvard Square just a T stop away), possibly bread (Central Square has a farmer's market on Monday afternoons, and I've at least liked the coffee and pastries at Carberry's, can't speak to the bread there though).

                            Allston near where Brighton Ave splits off from Comm Ave might be another thought, between Clear Flour, the Super 88, two decent Turkish markets and I gather a halfway decent Star Market for bakeries and for shopping; again multiple options for food. If you're Chinese, there's Chinatown, but that presents its own significant problems and shortcomings.

                            1. re: Dr.Jimbob
                              bombaybeauty RE: Dr.Jimbob May 2, 2008 06:57 AM

                              Excellent, thanks again.... still building the mental map and all of this helps... BB

                              1. re: Dr.Jimbob
                                Allstonian RE: Dr.Jimbob May 2, 2008 08:12 AM

                                The Allston neighborhood you describe is mine, and it's pretty fine for shopping locally, though I wish we were a bit closer to a Whole Foods. It does allow me to enjoy that rarity in Boston - Clear Flour is, in cact, my neighborhood boulangerie. And since I commute on the 66 bus, I get to include Coolidge Corner within my neighborhood circle - I can get off there to hit TJ's or the farmer's market in summertime and it's about a 20-minute walk home.

                                It's true that Allston is overrun by students, who make life hard on the rest of us. However, if more non-students moved into the neighborhood, maybe they would help to improve the quality of life!

                                For that matter, Coolidge Corner and the area of Brookline between Comm. Ave and Harvard Ave., while also heavily populated by students, is less dominated by their, ahem, "culture," and shares the access to both Brookline and Allston's excellent dining and shopping options.

                            2. wamcadoo RE: rhema64 May 3, 2008 10:16 AM

                              I would recommend the Danish Pastry House for authentic european pastries. Their locations in Watertown and Medford may be closer. They may not be French but they are always fresh and excellent and made more to european standards than American (i.e., higher butter fat content, etc.)

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: wamcadoo
                                StriperGuy RE: wamcadoo May 4, 2008 08:26 AM

                                I regret to disagree. I live quite near the Watertown local. Some of their pastries are okay, but they actually use margarine and other shortening in quite a few of their pastries and some of them have that waxy taste that is never present in a butter-base pastry.

                                A few of their pastries are good, but few really noteworthy. They tend to do marzipan items really well and their VERY DENSE multi-grain breads are world class.

                                1. re: StriperGuy
                                  BarmyFotheringayPhipps RE: StriperGuy May 4, 2008 10:11 PM

                                  I concur. I think most of the Danish Pastry House pastries are revolting. Some of the breads are fine, but not particularly worth a special trip.

                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                    teezeetoo RE: BarmyFotheringayPhipps May 6, 2008 01:12 PM

                                    I believe there is a Japonnais in Cambridge - you can google it The one I go to in Brookline has excellent croissants and french pastry as well as wonderful japanese/french combos

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