Bennison's Bakeries. 1000 Davis Street, Evanston, IL
Linda: This is our first stop of the day. The bakery is located at a busy intersection in Evanston. It's a small store front, and there was a line waiting to order most of the time that we are there. It does a mostly a take-out business not eat-in business. They have an amazing array of pastries. I had to try the bienenstich, a German delicacy, which literally means "bee sting".
The pastry dough has honey (from bees, get it?) and is filled with pastry cream. I love a good pastry cream and this pastry cream was totally delicious and thick. The pastry that holds the bienenstich together is also very good -- you can taste the honey, and the sprinkling of sliced almonds on the top adds a bit of crunch. We also sampled a croissant, which was good. (We gave it a 7 to 8, out of 10). A bit too chewy, not quite flaky enough.
Sharon: We bought their baguette to sample later. I believe it was the best of the day. Great crunchiness without breaking your teeth. And it was just lovely and tender inside. Maybe a 9 out of 10.
The baguettes with the best flavor tend to be those that take the longest time to make, because it takes yeast a while "to do its thing." As Julia Child noted in "The Art of French Cooking, Volume Two": "The villain in the bread basket is speed: the yeast has not been given the time it needs to accomplish its triple function of developing flavor and texture as well as volume." I think Bennison's baguette-maker must follow Julia's principles.
La Farine Bakery. 1461 W. Chicago Ave.
Sharon: This was our fourth stop of the day. When we arrived I was almost to the point of NO MORE, but the raspberry macarons called to me. I must say, by far the best I have had in the Chicago area. Of note is the fact that this bakery on west Chicago avenue is not about glitz but a small, comfy place that is rather eclectic. Worn wooden floors and basic old school case only add to the charm.
Back to the macaron. On first bite the intense but fresh raspberry filling is magical. Follow this with a slightly crunchy but light cookie and you have the perfect macaron. We also sampled the blueberry scone. Also, perfection. Not too heavy, not too dense, but a lovely mouth feel bursting with blueberries. My only complaint (however minor and a personal preference, is the amount of sugar on top -- a bit too much for my taste.)
On to the croissant. Again I believe La Farine wins when it comes to the true French croissant (butter, buttter, butter), but not at all heavy or greasy. Flaky, light, and heavenly. We ate every last bite. That says a lot after a day of carb loading. My score overall for this quaint shop is a 9 out of 10.
Linda: I totally agree. Everything we had here was superb. And I liked the low key, funky vibe of the place. I agree with you about the blueberry scone, and personally I liked the sprinkling of sugar on the top. The croissant was "to die for", which, as you know, is my highest praise. And the sourdough bread that we took home to sample was my favorite of the four "not-baguette" breads that we bought over the course of the day. I gave a quarter loaf to my son to have with his dinner, and he ended up eating it all in one sitting.
And don't forget that "la farine" means flour in French. It's all about the flour, for pastries as well as breads.