When it comes to creativity, Chinese bakeries are tough to match. Sure, you can get some inventive chicken tikka masala-stuffed pastries at Hot Breads in Little India, or homemade Hostess Cupcakes at El Bolillo, but Chinese bakeries excel at in incorporating a wide array of ethnic influences and cuisines into something truly special—a lot like Houston does.
The Desir Bakery inside 99 Ranch Market is an excellent example of this rollicking creativity. Though 99 Ranch Market and its associated bakery are both based in California, with over 30 stores nationwide, you could swear Desir was baking desserts just for the multinational Houston palate. On a recent trip for a bite to eat at Yori Yori in the food court, I grabbed six fat pastries from Desir to take back to the office.
As I opened the box back at the Houstonia house, I noted each pastry to my coworkers: Japanese red bean; American cheese, ham, and green onion; Scottish shortbread; Mexican chocolate; another Japanese "sweet cream" pastry; and a shiny puff filled with strawberry jam and dark chocolate. We tore into them, debating the merits of each one. There wasn't a group favorite; everyone found one of their own.
The Japanese sweet cream bun tasted like lightly sugared puff pastry dough, which had been carved into a wild shock of wavy tentacles and snowed with powdered sugar. The red bean bun boasted a typical earthy, subtle sweetness, while the Mexican chocolate pastry bore an intriguing saltiness and bitterness that tasted like cacao. My favorite, however, ended up being the Scottish shortbread. Desir had somehow transplanted the buttery crumble of good shortbread into fluffy dough, making it taste like a combination between Walkers shortbread and a fresh popover.
While at Desir, you may find that you can't choose just a handful of pastries from among the overflowing baskets and brightly lit cases. That's okay; you can go a little nuts here. Not only are the pastries inexpensive—ranging from $1 to $2 each—they're half-off on weekend nights after 7 p.m.