Scratch Pastries
Courtesy of Scratch

Ooh-la-la, we can't tell you how delighted we were when we discovered this honest-to-goodness French patisserie. Open since January, Scratch Pastries is a labor of love run by two Parisian transplants, Duc and Noelle Liao, who left behind glamorous careers (fashion photographer and model, respectively) in the City of Light to raise their family here. And we're so glad they did. Now we can hang out in their stylish, low-key cafe, sip Mariages Frères tea, and nibble on buttery, freshly made croissants, chewy macarons, and exquisite creations like the cream-filled strawberry-rose gateau or the matcha­-flecked green tea fleur. They're all almost too pretty to eat. That's right, we said almost.

Leave it to Oprah Winfrey's pal Gayle to spill the beans on what we thought was a well-kept secret: the dreamy cupcakes at Wicked Bakery. The delicate crumb is moist but not too heavy, and the frosting is ultra-creamy, so fluffy we could eat it with a spoon. Wicked's flavors are wickedly delicious, too. The offerings vary from day to day (unless, of course, you place an order ahead of time), so it's always exciting to see what's in store. Will they be sold out of the "hot" chocolate, habanero-infused chocolate cupcakes topped with vanilla buttercream and a dash of spice? Will we get there in time to grab a few of the vanilla crème brûlée cupcakes, or some of those heavenly red velvet numbers, capped with a cloud of silky cream cheese frosting? It's kind of like playing the lottery — except that we come out a winner every time.

Barb's Bakery
Diana Martinez

It would be easy enough to celebrate about Barb's Bakery just for the beautiful wedding cakes, done up in the same kind of elegant designs that Martha Stewart would approve of, in flavors from devil's food to pink champagne. After all, hearing your guests rave about how good the thing looks and tastes is a definite victory for even the most raging Bridezilla. But Barb's does more than just the Big Day. Barb's does holidays, with cute themed cupcakes for Christmas, Easter, and more. Birthdays, naturally, are a breeze for Barb's Bakery, whether your birthday boy or girl craves carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, or classic yellow cake slathered with chocolate buttercream. And thanks to signature frosted cookies in whimsical shapes and colors, even ordinary days become a special occasion.

Karsh's Bakery

These days, you can find bagels and challah and maybe even a decent rye bread at plenty of neighborhood grocery stores, but Karsh's Bakery still makes the best, using all kosher ingredients, the way they've been doing since the '60s. This bakery's almost like a time capsule, an old school, no-bells-and-whistles storefront where the display cases are packed with mouthwatering breads, rolls, and pastries, including rugalach and black-and-white cookies that bring customers from miles around. Looking for a special occasion cake? Karsh's does those too, from traditional wedding and birthday cakes to specialty designs shaped like animals, toys, and even Louis Vuitton handbags.

Simply Bread

It would be easy enough to say that Simply Bread is the best in town because it's featured at some of Phoenix's finest eateries. After all, top local chefs are proud to feature it on their menus, and if it's good enough for them, well, it's good enough for us. The endorsements are nice, to be sure, but have you tasted this bread? It's so mouthwatering, it sells itself. From his soft, scrumptious focaccias to his crisp, golden baguettes, award-winning head baker Jeffrey Yankellow makes top-notch artisan bread using the same techniques that have made French bakeries the envy of the world. The crumb is fragrant and moist, and the crust is always the perfect texture. And lucky us, we don't have to cross the pond to eat as much of it as we want.

Tammie Coe Cakes

Tammie Coe's the frontwoman with the famous zebra-striped wonderland cakes, but her hubby Michael, of MJ Bread, is the guy in the back, making bread. And his bread is fantastic — we've long loved his crispy loaves. Recently, we discovered MJ's pretzel — a pretzel made the way God (or, at least, the Germans) intended it to be: over-sized and doughy, with a crisp exterior and a salty finish. We fully intend to return for pretzels and cake and, to appease our guilt, Coe's newly expanded salad/sandwich options at lunch at the Roosevelt location.

A really good bagel is no mere alternative to toast — it's a meal unto itself. We're especially fond of NY Bagels 'N Bialys' hefty bad boys, whose thick crust and moist, dense crumb are just as satisfying (and filling!) as what you'd find in the best Big Apple bagel joints. That's because they make the dough from scratch, daily, and adhere to the old-fashioned boil-and-bake method that gives them their unique, crave­able texture. From Asiago to everything, there are more than two dozen flavors to choose from here, and if you're lucky, you'll stop by when a fresh batch comes out of the oven. The aroma alone is enough to make you drool, and the taste is one of life's simplest pleasures. Give us ours toasted, with a schmear, and we'll forget we ever missed Manhattan.

Bread Basket Bakery

Spelt doesn't sound tasty. Not at all. Doesn't even sound like food, let alone an ancient substance that lost out to wheat and barley in history's great grain race. Say you've got a kid who's allergic to wheat (there are worse things). Make your PB&J on two slices of good old-fashioned spelt, and he'll never know the difference. For the record, it's high in fiber, low in fat, and surprisingly tasty. Bread Basket Bakery is not a fancy joint. What you see — right in front of you — is what you get. Many of the baked goods are cooling on racks in the open kitchen. Point, pay, and eat. And if the very idea of spelt turns you off, the chocolate-covered macaroons are sure to bring you back.

Chatham's Fine Chocolates

Proprietors Chatham and Jennie Kitz truly have taken chocolate connoisseurship to the next level with their cacao-centric boutique, which celebrates world-class chocolatiers like Chocolat Moderne, Ghyslain, and Lillie Belle Farms. Beside a wall full of chocolate bars from around the world, there are hundreds of exotic truffles available here, each one with its own tiny display shelf. Intrigued by the strawberry-balsamic truffles, the milk chocolate hazelnut pralines, or the lavender-infused caramel with fleur de sel? Try them all — it's easy to assemble your own custom box. Each truffle also comes with its own ID card, complete with color photo and description, so you know what you're about to bite into. That's never been a concern for us, though. After spending so much time drooling over the offerings at Chatham's, we usually eat our purchases right on the spot.

Essence Bakery Cafe
Courtesy of Essence Bakery

One Friday morning, after a few hellacious days of office drama, a dear co-worker showed up bearing tiny cardboard boxes adorned with Essence Bakery stickers. Passing one to us, she said, "I thought we all needed to end the work week on a sweet note."

We peeked inside and could barely contain our glee at the sight of five freshly baked miniature treats — and we promise you, it wasn't just because we'd just been staring at the computer and listening to the steady rumble of our empty stomach. But still, those desserts were quite a sight, and we couldn't resist nibbling on them immediately.

What was inside?

A Mexican wedding cookie, coated with confectioner's sugar; a chocolate cookie; a chewy white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie; a creamy little square of chocolate cake; and a Lilliputian pound cake sprinkled with sugar. Before we knew it, we'd gobbled them all up — and we couldn't think of any better way to usher in the weekend.

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