As we get older, our pleasures become less illicit. And yet, here in Prague it’s entirely possible to find oneself waiting for the man on a street corner or trekking to sketchy neighborhoods in the name of a (pastry) fix. A few items still remain elusive. For the ongoing hype about Vietnamese food here, I’m wondering where the Vietnamese bakeries, serving bahn ran and banana cake, reside? When will the cupcake craze, having long been in circulation in Prague, give way to the one American institution—forget the brownies and cheesecake—that’s conspicuously absent from this city? I refer to the enormous, cakey doughnut, double-chocolate glazed if you please. But much remains to be said for European bakeries (to use an umbrella term for any place that proffers something crusty and sugar-sprinkled) and Prague has many notable ones, not all of them serving your run-of-the-mill koláč.
1. Chocolate croissants from Petit France L’Artisan Boulanger
Petit France L’Artisan Boulanger is a relatively new venture. This two-room bakery in a bright, airy space on a busy section of Vodičková was opened by Czech Francophiles who bake everything fresh daily using imported French flour to imbue their croissants, baguettes, sandwich loaves and baked goods like chocolate cake with a certain je ne sais quoi. You’ll also find homemade marmalade, spreadable savories (imported French butter, sea salt, olive oil, a selection of pates and cheeses that you can sample in the store), and Alsatian wine here. From the rustic baskets of various loaves stationed at the front counter, we liked the still-warm wholewheat (50 CZK) best. But the chocolate croissant (30 CZK), dipped in chocolate with smooth chocolate spilling out of buttery flakes with each bite, outshone everything else.
Vodičkova 16, Praha 1
Open: Monday–Friday 9:00–20:00, Saturday 8:00–18:00, and Sunday 10:00–17:00
2. Coffee cake and Danish pastries from Mansson Danish Bakery & Cafe
If your mom ever cracked open a box of Entenmman’s for company, then you may occasionally crave the homey comfort of coffee cake or its close relative the “Danish”. The latter is comparable to Czech koláč, a pastry which my over-stimulated American taste buds have often found lacking. On a recent, visit to Mansson I realized why: It’s missing the multiple lashings of icing that make it a Danish! Mansson has been around for 12 years. Notable for its extensive menu of breads (dark pumpkin rye, olive, sun-dried tomato, fruit and nut, beer bread, Scottish baps, foccacia) it also serves a lineup of filled sandwiches. For us, the individual slices of coffee cake (45 CZK) and Danish pastries we sampled—apricot (25 CZK) and vanilla creme (25 CZK)—took the prize. Both were dense and moist and the wedge of coffee cake had a rich caramel flavor and delicate glaze.
Bílkova 8, Praha 1
Open: Monday–Friday 7:00–19:00; Saturday–Sunday 8:00–19:00
3. Strudel from Šusta Štrúdl
Prague’s food nerds relish the chance to inform you that the great place you’ve just discovered has been around forever. To those of you who already knew about Šusta Štrúdl, 1) Well done and 2) Why didn’t you tell me? This one’s kind of a cheat since strudel is as Czech as it gets. But we think Šusta Štrúdl qualifies for its departure from the traditional Czech variety and the fact that it’s an international sensation having been deemed the best in Prague by the Travel Channel.
A worn-out panel-building on the backstreets of Žižkov houses this tiny walk-up window where owner Petr Šusta serves piping-hot, foot-long strudel in apple (42 CZ), poppy seed (48 CZ), and, our favorite, cheese (46 CZ).
The Šusta variation leans doughier than the Czech štrúdl and the creamy tvaroh filling resembles lemon-kissed pudding. Dusted with powdered sugar, wrapped in brown paper, and totally worth hunting down.
Jeseniova 29, Praha 3
Open Monday–Friday 9:00–12:00 and 13:00–17:00
4. Macarons at Saint Tropez and Paul
For a while, macarons took over from the cupcake as the “it” confection in the U.S., that is until they were replaced by cake pops as trendy treat, followed by a surge in doughnut worship. But the macaron has, of late, gotten its due here in Prague. We sampled them at Patisserie Saint Tropez, a well-hidden cafe in the Dům U Nováků shopping gallery, and the newly opened Paul at I.P. Pavlova. Saint Tropez sells the diminutive coin-shaped sweet in a variety of buttercream-filled flavors—raspberry, pistachio, blueberry, chocolate, almond, lavender—for 30 CZK/each. They were chewy and creamy in all the right places and, as a macaron should, gave one the sensation of doing something artful with every bite, despite the seedy element going in and out of the herna bar across the way. At Paul, small macarons may only be purchased as part of an assortment in a sampler box, which takes some of the fun out of the whole endeavor. You can, however, get a single slider-sized, jam-filled macaron in a raspberry, chocolate, coconut, or pistachio (60 CZK/each). We opted for the raspberry which proved decadent and delicious to the point of indecency, with the jam lending a whole new dimension to the proceedings.
Dům U Nováků
Vodičková 30, Praha 1
Open Monday–Friday 8:00–19:00; Saturday–Sunday 9:30–19:00
PAUL (several locations)
Jugoslávská 17, Praha 2
Open Monday–Sunday 7:00–22:00
5. Kahlua Chocolate Loaf Cake from Bakeshop Praha
This bakery in the heart of the Old Town serves up down-home baked goods like muffins, brownies, cookies, cheesecake, and pie, made from scratch on the premises. The sourdough bread is outstanding—Bakeshop cultivates its own yeast—and available in walnut, potato-dill and cherry-pecan to name just a few varieties. Probably best known for its wonderful cheesecakes, we recently sampled another Bakeshop delight, the loaf cake. Order a small slice of loaf cake (50 CZK) as we did or take away a mini (245 CZK) or large loaf (460 CZK). From sour cream coffee cake with apple streusel to lemon buttermilk, these luscious loaves will be the centerpiece of any brunch or, in the case of the irresistible Kahlua chocolate, make a fudgy on-the-spot splurge.
Kozí 1, Praha 1
6. Prague Stones by Chef Markus Brier
German chef and “maître pâtissier” Markus Breier is a local caterer who not only provides sweets and savories for all variety of private and corporate events—we first sampled his “flying buffet” at a wine tasting—but has also invented a unique confection inspired by the city of Prague that’s only available for special order. “Prague Stones” are handcrafted liqueur-soaked sponge layers coated in rich chocolate.
Real gold embellishes the surface of each stone, though as for any further ingredients that make this cross between a petit four and a Sachertorte so addictive, the chef’s not telling. I ordered a package of four small, 5×5 cm stones (380 CZK) but larger varieties (10×10 cm) are available; all sizes are beautifully packaged and travel well making them great gifts or souvenirs.
Photo credits: Šusta Štrúdl by Daniel Zahradníček; Jáchym Růžička for Patisserie Saint Tropez; archive.
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