Kouign-amann at Cafe Francais (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Cafe Francais: Local French Bakery on Tucson’s East Side

August 30, 2023
By Matt Sterner

When one door closes, another door eventually opens. Now, whether it be something you push or pull, that door may very well be something that you’ve somewhat kneaded in life.

That’s exactly how the scenario unfolded for husband-and-wife duo Noelle and Daniel Martinez of the locally-owned, from-scratch French bakery Cafe Francais.

a store front of a brick building
Cafe Francais (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

“In 2019, my husband and I both got fired from the same job and we were kind of unsure of what to do next,” said Noelle. “We were tired of working for other people and we happened to see that Cafe Francais was for sale. We ended up buying it and it wasn’t at all what it is today.”

What They’re Baking

With a combined experience of more than 30 years, their culinary education and devotion to French methods are coming into play nicely over on Wrightstown Road.

From intricately layered honeycombed croissants to the delightful salty-sweet Kouign-amann, Cafe Francais stands as a heartfelt homage and an appreciative tribute to the storied history and esteemed legacy of French culinary influence and pioneering innovation.

a store filled with lots of food
Noelle Martinez of Cafe Francais (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

All of their croissant dough is made in-house and each batch takes three days to laminate, shape, and eventually bake.

Have you ever had a Kouign-amann? Also known as a “butter cake,” it’s a yeast-leavened and laminated cake invented in Brittany, France around 1860. The dough is very similar to a croissant and Noelle and Daniel pack them with “as much butter as humanly possible,” but when sugar is added it creates a nifty balance between a sweet, soft, and layered center. A crispy, salty caramel exterior makes for the appearance of a Kouign-amann.

a box filled with different types of food on a table
Cafe Francais (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

They’re also regularly baking other types of pastries, biscuits (cookies), and bread. There’s a lot going on at Cafe Francais — rising to the occasion, so to speak.

“Daniel has spent the last 20 years in the industry,” said Noelle. “He has always had a passion for French pastries —French cooking in general. Most of everything that we do in the kitchen is derived from French techniques.”

Cafe Francais Menu

  • Classic Croissant
  • Everything Croissant – classic croissant topped with housemade “everything but the bagel” seasoning
  • Pain au Chocolat – croissant dough delicately wrapped around European chocolate bars
  • Twice Baked Almond Croissant – filled and topped with frangipane (almond cream), toasted almonds, and powdered sugar
  • Blueberry Cream Cheese Croissant – blue bicolored croissants filled with a generous amount of blueberry cream cheese (only available on Thursdays and Saturdays)
  • Raspberry Cream Cheese Croissant – red bicolored croissants filled with a generous amount of raspberry cream cheese (only available on Fridays and Sundays)
  • Pistachio Cream Filled Croissant – green bicolored croissants filled with a housemade pistachio cream and topped with a dusting of pistachio (only available on Thursdays and Saturdays)
  • The Bumblebee Croissant – black bicolored croissant filled with a housemade lemon curd with a vanilla lavender glaze and dusted with butterfly pea flower (only available on Fridays and Sundays)
  • Classic – just like the original with no filling
  • Almond & Apricot – filled with frangipane (almond cream) and housemade apricot jam, topped with toasted almonds and powdered sugar
  • Jalapeño, Raspberry & Cream Cheese – filled with diced jalapenos, raspberry jam, and sweetened cream cheese, topped with fresh raspberries and sliced jalapeño
  • Strawberry, Thyme & Goat Cheese – their classic Kouign filled with a savory thyme goat cheese and topped with strawberry jam and fresh strawberries
Pastries & Things
  • Classic Eclairs – pate a choux shell filled with a classic pastry cream and topped with chocolate ganache
  • Cardamon Rolls – laminated brioche with the perfect amount of cardamon layered in and topped with a vanilla glaze
  • Croissant Cinnamon Rolls – croissant dough rolled with a generous amount of cinnamon sugar (only available on Saturdays)
  • Lemon Poppy Rolls – laminated brioche packed with poppy seeds & lemon, topped with a classic lemon glaze (only available on Sundays)
  • Lemon Bars – creamy, tart lemon curd on a shortbread base
  • Almond Cake – six-inch cake made with almond flour and wheat flour generously glazed with an orange glaze and topped with toasted almonds and powdered sugar
  • Clafoutis du Jour – seven-inch deep dish French “cobbler” — a mix between a cake and a custard, filled with rotating seasonal fresh fruit and topped with streusel
Biscuits (cookies & scones)
  • Chocolate Chip – classic cookies with semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Peanut Butter – peanut butter-y and satisfyingly balanced
  • Biscuit du Jour – ever-changing (check their social media for updates)
  • Macaron – made from scratch, with ever-changing colors and fillings
  • Palmier – thin and crispy layers of butter, flour, sugar, and salt
  • Scone du Jour – ever-changing (check their social media for updates)
  • Baguette (v) – flour, water, yeast, and salt and then baked and steamed to a perfect crusty baguette
  • Demi Baguette (v) – half-sized baguette
  • Epi (v) – perfect for crunchy bread lovers and for pulling apart to share
  • Bannette (v) – this one is a little larger than the baguette
  • Gros Pain (v) – classic French bread dough shaped and formed into a loaf, baked and steamed for a crunchy outer layer and a soft and fluffy inside
  • Pain au Lait – these small torpedo-shaped breads are literally translated to “milk bread” (only available on Thursdays)
  • Sourdough – (only available on Thursdays)
  • Pico de Gallo Loaf – filled with minced jalapenos, onions, cilantro, and tomato powder (only available on Fridays)
  • Mesquite Sourdough – a balanced flavor of mesquite and sourdough unique to the region using local 100% mesquite flour, a.p flour, and bread flour (only available on Saturdays)
  • Sonoran Pumpernickel – mesquite sourdough with caraway seeds and molasses (only available on Saturdays)
  • Brioche Nanterre – classic brioche loaf (only available on Saturdays)
  • Herbed Sourdough – classic french sourdough marbled with housemade herbs de provence (only available on Sundays)
a store filled with lots of counter space
Cafe Francais (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Noelle and Daniel are also fiddling with something new at the bakery — new to them, at least.

“This is the first time that we’ve actually done a seasonal thing,” Noelle laughed. “Usually, we do menu changes, and it’s like, ‘Oh, this isn’t going too well.’ and we end up changing it up a little bit. We’re really excited to play with Fall flavors now and give people what they want as far as pumpkin and apple — all of those things. In the past, we’ve kind of shied away from seasonal flavors, but I’m excited to give people what they want.”

Cafe Francais (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)
Pay a Visit to the Bakery

At the bakery, there’s plenty of seating inside at a table or at the bar, and the patio is also an option for those seeking an outdoor breeze. They’re open from 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. so stop by, grab a pastry, and sip on some coffee. They’re currently offering beverages like cappuccinos, americanos, lattes, and even a cold brew.

“We’re an authentic French bakery here in Tucson,” said Noelle. “Everything we make is from scratch and handmade. It takes a lot of time, love, and skill to do what we do.”

a close up of food
Cafe Francais (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Cafe Francais is located at 7831 E. Wrightstown Rd. #113 and is open 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Thursday – Sunday. For more information, visit cafefrancaisaz.com and follow Cafe Francais on Instagram and Facebook. Cafe Francais is also a Tucson Foodie Restaurant Partner.

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