There are plenty of breakfast foods and pastries that are standard all across the US. Step into any diner or bakery and you'll see a bran muffin, a croissant, a jelly doughnut. Travel enough, and you'll start to notice that there's sometimes an outlier—an unfamiliar word or a pastry shape that's eluded you your whole life. Or the converse may occur when you leave your familiar stomping grounds only to find that your sugary staple is nowhere to be found. Some baked goods are particular to a place or even an annual ritual, and that makes their discovery and enjoyment even more of a delight.
Here are nine that you might encounter as you breakfast your way across America.
Moravian Love Feast Bun: North Carolina
A "Lovefeast" may sound like a hippie-dippy '60s throwback, but it's really a song-filled religious service that's an essential part of the Moravian Church's worship. There are about 900,000 practicing Moravians worldwide and in the US, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is an epicenter. In addition to prayer and music, a key part of the ritual is sharing coffee, tea, or lemonade, which are prepared ahead of time and passed along with a Moravian love feast bun. This slightly sweet roll is made with mashed potatoes and flavored with citrus zest, and on Christmas Eve it will be accompanied by a beeswax candle so that worshippers may spread the light along. And no, you don't have to set foot in a church just to get one of these buns; local bakeries sell them, too, and they're excellent heated and buttered.
"The kringle became the official state pastry of Wisconsin in 2013, but its Wisconsin history goes back nearly 200 years. The pastry first appeared in Racine, a town on the shore of Lake Michigan sandwiched between Milwaukee and Chicago, brought over by Danish immigrants in the late 19th century. Racine was a hub for Danes, and many of these enterprising new citizens earned their living in bakeries, where they honed the craft of making traditional Danish kringle." —"Why Kringle Matters to Wisconsin"
Krumkake: Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin
Nope, it's not pronounced "crumb cake," nor does it resemble that streusel-topped sweet. Rather, this conical cookie is made by first pouring a thin layer of batter into a krumkake (KROOM-kah-kah) iron—presumably you have one on hand if you live in a heavily Norwegian community—which imprints the rapidly-crisped wafer with a lovely swirling pattern. While that's still pliable, it's rolled around a tapered pin so as to better hold gobs of sweetened whipped cream and fruit, or the handle of a wooden spoon for a more slender, unfilled krumkake. During the Christmas season, feel free to enjoy them at all hours of the day.
Morning Bun: Bay Area
"Chad Robertson, co-owner of Tartine Bakery, is surprised when I tell him that morning buns are a Bay Area thing. 'I figured the morning bun was kind of everywhere, but you’re right, I don’t really see them,' he says. His surprise is understandable, because the morning bun might be the Bay Area’s favorite pastry. You can find them in coffee shops and bakeries in every neighborhood, and they’re even available in many grocery stores. If you live and work here, you can start to think they’re as common as croissants or avocado toast. But when I moved to San Francisco from New York five years ago, I’d never seen one.
To clarify, the morning buns we’re talking about here aren’t the generic cinnamon or nut-filled rolls baked up in casserole dishes. What we call morning buns out here are made from croissant dough that is spread with cinnamon and brown sugar, rolled up, baked in muffin tins, and then dunked in cinnamon sugar. The result is a croissant, a cinnamon roll, and a muffin all in one." —"The Best Morning Bun in San Francisco"
Smith Island Cake: Maryland
The official state dessert of Maryland comes from a Chesapeake Bay island with a population of fewer than 300 people. Smith Island's signature confection has been passed down through generations of locals bakers, and is easily identifiable by its 8 to 15 evenly-thick layers (10 is the acknowledged sweet spot) with frosting—usually a cooked chocolate fudge—between each and covering the outside. It may be made from a box mix or scratch but should contain evaporated milk in the frosting or cake. Yellow is the traditional base, but variances are allowed for plenty of other flavors. Smithislandcake.com will gladly ship you a freshly-baked beauty, but if you're crafting one at home, here's a useful tip: Freezing the layers separately makes for infinitely easier icing. (And OK, fine, it's not usually eaten in the morning, but it's a staple of the island's B&Bs and inns, so let's just go with that.)
Kuchen: The Dakotas
Both North Dakota and South Dakota lay claim to the kuchen (pronounced KOO-ken), but only the latter can say it's the official state dessert. The word itself is German for cake, and depending on where you are, a kuchen may take one of several forms. The most prevalent features a thick yeast or pastry crust filled with a custard and fruit (often in-season, though canned peaches show up plenty) and possibly topped with streusel, but the filling may also take the form of an apple-pie-like mixture topped with icing or streusel, or possibly a sweetened cottage cheese. You'd be a kook to pass up any of them.
"When it comes to doughnuts—Hawaiian style—Leonard's is king. Portuguese in its origin, the popular malasada is Hawaii's obsession, and rightfully so. Perfectly fried balls of yeasted dough coated in granulated sugar are best consumed fresh and hot. You can actually cram an entire pillowy malasada in your mouth if you're feeling brave. Leonard's stuffed malasada puffs showcase decadent fillings like custard, coconut haupia cream, and tart fruit jelly. Messy but worth the finger licking." —"51 Regional American Breakfast Foods You Should Know"
Pączki: Upper Midwest
"Only in the Upper Midwest, where long winters force residents to layer on calories to keep warm, can a festival that revolves around a rich, fat and sugar-laden pastry exist. Traditionally consumed in Poland on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, paczki (pronounced pooonch-key in the plural) or paczek (PON-check in the singular) are pure indulgence in the form of an oversized jelly doughnut (though don’t call it a doughnut around loyalists). Loaded with lard, sugar, and eggs, and injected with a heavy, fruity jelly filling, paczki flavors range from traditional rose hip or stewed plum to strawberry, apple, lemon, chocolate, Bavarian cream, custard, and peanut butter. While the ritual continues in the Eastern European country, it’s not quite the spectacle that it’s become in US cities with historically large Polish immigrant populations like metro Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland." —"Paczki Are Fat Tuesday Polish Doughnuts Filled with Regional Pride"
Bizcochito: New Mexico
Cinnamon, anise, and shortbread come together to make a cookie that's uniquely New Mexican. The area's first wave of Spanish settlers in the 16th century introduced this particular mix of flavors, and the bizcochito (or biscocho in some parts of the state) is now an essential part of celebrations like weddings and baptisms, as well as all throughout the Christmas season. In an effort to promote traditional home baking, the state government declared the bizcochito the official cookie of New Mexico in 1989. Though there's never a bad time of day to eat a bizcochito, they pair especially well with morning coffee.