Le Napoleon Bakery in West Phoenix: Handmade Chocolates, European Pastries

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There are plenty of places in the Valley crafting delicate French macarons, and the popularity of these sweet little sandwich-like confections has been on the rise for years. But few places other than Le Napoleon bakery in West Phoenix offer 18 different flavors every day along with all manner of European pastries and confections.

We can thank Swiss-born pastry chef Gerald Cretton for this sweet hidden gem on the west side. Cretton, who's been in the Valley for 11 years and opened La Napoleon in August 2010, stocks his humble display cases with hard-to-find European pastries, handmade chocolates, and beautiful cakes. On any given day, you'll find eclairs, fruit tarts, cream puffs, and, of course, the spot's namesake pastry, the Mille-feuille, or Napoleon.

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You can find the bakery in a strip mall on the west side of 35th Avenue, about two blocks north of Greenway Road at Tierra Buena Lane. It can be easy to miss, but your perseverance will pay off, because though Le Napoleon doesn't look like much from the outside, Cretton's pastries speak for themselves.

The bright front room has a several pastry cases on display, one filled with handmade Swiss chocolates, and two others showcase an impressive selection of pastries. There also is a table outside if you don't want to risk transporting your delicate dessert all the way home.

If the chef is behind the counter, he'll happily explain each of the confections.

The classically trained pastry chef brings more than four decades of experience to Le Napoleon, having worked in resorts in all over the world including in Hawai'i, Singapore, and the Middle East. Prior to opening his own bakery, his pastries and chocolates were recognized by the American Culinary Federation and have been enjoyed by dignitaries and celebrities, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former U.S. President George W. Bush, former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and the Emir of Kuweit, Dubai.

The selection of pastries and confections at La Napoleon varies from day to day but includes everything from rum balls, tiramisu, cheesecake, tarts, and frosted cookies to more exotic offerings such as dobosh, a Hungarian sponge cake with layers of chocolate buttercream and caramel, and diplomat, a soft roll filled with a custard cream and fruit and topped with whipped cream. If it's available, the Napoleon is quite a treat, with light-as-air cream between two layers of flaky pastry dough.

We recommend getting there early -- or ordering ahead -- to get the best selection because the cases are mostly empty by the end of the day.

Cretton also offers a variety of cakes (with a binder of designs to choose from), savory finger foods for parties, and chocolate champagne bottles you can have customized with your name and photo. Call or check out the Le Napoleon website for more information.

Le Napoleon 15820 North 35th Avenue 602-978-2479 www.azpastries.com

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

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