Red Flags to Look Out for at a High-End Bakery, From Pro Pastry Chef

Chelsea Jia Feng/BI

  • Michelin-star pastry chef Camari Mick shared red flags she looks for when visiting upscale bakeries.
  • Filled cannolis shouldn’t be in a pastry case for long, and bread shouldn’t be wrapped when warm.
  • If a pastry looks different in every online photo, it’s probably not going to be consistenly good. 

Consumers are spending more of their budgets on food than they have in 30 years, which means it’s as important as ever to seek out good value with every purchase — even the croissant you have with your morning coffee.

Just ask Camari Mick, executive pastry chef at The Musket Room and partner at Raf’s.

Mick knows her way around a bakery. She grew up visiting local shops and then studied the art of pastry in fine-dining restaurants across New York City. At Raf’s, Mick turns out breads, croissants, and more for the restaurant’s daytime bakery while leading the rest of the pastry program.

Dubbed NYC’s dessert doyenne, the chef has developed her own set of red flags to look out for whenever she visits high-end bakeries.

Here’s how you can tell if you’re at a bakery that’s serving high-quality products.

A high-quality bakery should be able to nail the basics

Croissants should never be so uniform that they look machine-made.
Thai Liang Lim/Getty Images

The first thing Mick does when she walks into a high-end bakery is study the classics. If she sees croissants, she’ll look at the plain variety, taking note of the folds that make up the pastry’s lamination.

Some great bakeries will have croissants with layers that look perfectly aligned, others might take on a more rustic feel and seem more obviously hand-rolled. Both are welcome characteristics, Mick said.

But it’s a bad sign if the lamination is “very thick, or small, or not uniformed,” she told Business Insider. And if the croissants look perfectly machine-made, something might not be right in the kitchen.

Mick also looks at the color of the croissants, which can clue you into how they might taste. If it’s too blonde on the outside, it might not have much flavor inside.

Similarly, she said, a pastry probably won’t be super flaky if it looks like it was “sweating on itself” after being covered while hot and you can see its layers are wrinkly.

Overall, Mick said, if there doesn’t look like there’s love put into the pastries, she “probably will only just grab a coffee.”

Beware of bread that’s wrapped

Mick said high-end bakeries should only be selling fresh bread.

Ideally, you should touch bread to see if it’s too hard. If that’s not an option, there are telltale signs a loaf of bread could be subpar.

“If you were looking at any bread and it looks super voluptuous and almost fresh out of the oven, you’re good to go,” she told BI. “But if you see that the bread is already wrapped, whether it be in plastic or paper, it’s probably an indicator that it was wrapped warm and is not gonna be good.”

Mick explained that fresh bread needs room to breathe, and wrapping it even while it’s only slightly warm will cause it to steam itself, potentially making it soggy.

If the pastries don’t look the same in most photos, it’s hard to trust they’ll be consistently good

It can’t hurt to check customer photos of pastries from a bakery.
ciobanu ana maria/Getty Images

Before she even steps into a bakery, Mick might turn to Instagram for visuals.

She’ll start by looking through the location tag for any given bakery, keeping an eye out for whatever item she was hoping to order.

She’s trying to see if the baked good looks the same in all of the photos shared by diners. If it looks different every few pictures, she’s probably not going to order it because it’s likely not going to be very good or the quality might vary depending on the batch.

And when you’re going to an expensive, high-end bakery, you don’t want quality to be left up to chance.

Some pastries should only be made to order

The pastry chef said her understanding of chemistry also makes her hesitant to buy certain pastries that aren’t made to order.

“You know that a crispy something filled with a moist wet filling is going to be soggy after sitting for, like, 10 minutes,” Mick said.

So, for example, a bakery that’s filling cannoli and leaving them in the case until they’re purchased raises some concerns.

Cleanliness in customer-facing spaces says a lot about cleanliness in the kitchen

Look out for flies around the pastry case, Mick warns.

“If you see any type of fly problem or any kind of insect infestation in the case, be sure it’s everywhere,” she told BI.

You might even want to peek into the bakery’s bathroom before placing an order.

“I’m a big believer on if their bathroom is messy, their kitchen is messy,” she added.

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