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6 Fast-Food Chains That Serve the Best Pastries

If you're looking for freshly-baked, you'll find it here.

You only need to watch a few episodes of "The Great British Baking Show" to know that pastries are notoriously finicky and difficult to make. They require precision in ingredients, cold working conditions, and in some cases, a significant time commitment to folding in layer after layer of butter and sugar.

The result, however, is well worth it. With a single bite, the right flavors transport you back to childhood trips to the bakery or your favorite grandmother's house. For many people, these baked goods are the very definition of "comfort food."

But you don't have to go to a proper patisserie to find a baked treat that will hit the spot—there are several fast-food chains that serve great pastries for you to enjoy at your immediate convenience. The trick is knowing what's on the menu ahead of time, and looking for the places that excel in an area of baking where others fail.

Read on to find out which fast-food chains boast the most outstanding pastry menus, and which particular pastries are worth the money and calories.

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Starbucks

starbucks croissants
Courtesy of Starbucks. Design: Jordan Summers-Marcouillier

With over 15,000 locations across the nation, it's no surprise that Starbucks is considered a morning staple for so many Americans. While the company is best known for its elaborate coffee menu, it also offers a generous selection of pastries to pair with your drink.

Among the most popular are their croissants, in both sweet and savory flavors: Choosing between ham and cheese, butter, and chocolate croissants, there's no wrong answer. The menu also includes muffins, iced scones, and a line of loaf cakes that are sweet, but not too sweet for a mid-morning treat.

Panera

Panera Bread

Panera blurs the lines between fast-food and casual dining thanks to their commitment to "clean" ingredients. Everything on the menu is made without artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, or colors, the company says.

The high quality of those ingredients shines throughout their menu, which is often praised for its hearty sandwiches, bread bowls, salads, soups, and more. However, it's the bakery menu that really takes the cake—the chocolate croissants, bear claws, pecan braids, and vanilla cinnamon rolls are baked on-site and incredibly fresh in most cases.

Au Bon Pain

Au Bon Pain croissants
Au Bon Pain / Facebook

Another fast-casual restaurant that excels when it comes to pastries is Au Bon Pain. This should come as no surprise, given that the chain's French name translates to "on good bread," reflecting their core belief that "good bread is the foundation of a good meal." Highlights of their bursting-at-the-seams pastry menu include flaky danishes, cinnamon swirl rolls, and a wide range of flavored croissants. Where else will you find a Cherry Danish or a hot Spinach and Cheese Croissant?

Pret A Manger

kouign amann
Pret a Manger

Another chain that pays homage to the delicate art of French pastry is Pret A Manger. Here, you'll find perfectly-done croissants filled with chocolate or almond paste, and raisin rolls. However, if you're looking for a treat that's next-level indulgent, you'll want to try the Cinnamon Kouign Amann, a buttery, flaky cross between a cinnamon roll and a croissant, which originated in Brittany, France. Yes, it's known widely as the "fattiest pastry in Europe," but it also bears the reputation as being one of the best.

RELATED: 12 Incredible Recipes You Can Make with Store-Bought Puff Pastry

Popeyes

popeyes apple pie
Popeyes / Facebook

You won't find a particularly extensive pastry menu at Popeyes, but what you will find is one hard-to-beat dessert that's well worth the calories. The fried apple pie is crispy and golden brown on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, and dusted with a light blend of cinnamon and sugar.

While the apple pie is part of the regular menu, the chain often releases specialty pies for a limited time—including the popular Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Fried Pie and the Strawberry Cheesecake Cup. Catch them when you can for a surprisingly inventive take on an otherwise simple dessert.

Cinnabon

cinnabon classic roll
Courtesy of Cinnabon

Cinnabon cinnamon rolls are not just a treat, they're a full-on experience. It begins when their sweet, freshly baked scent wafts toward you as you stand in line and only gets better as you take your first ooey-gooey bite into a roll, cooked to perfection with a just barely baked center.

In fact, they've so perfectly mastered that soft, supple center that they now offer it as a stand-alone menu item, either drizzled in Cinnabon's signature cream cheese glaze or topped with pecans. For a pastry you'll relish eating and continue thinking about the next day, this fast food treat is hard to beat.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more about Lauren