While I was recently selling artwork at the world famous Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, I was lucky enough to have a booth located very close to Alliance Bakery. True, I had heard mixed reviews about this place--but after one of my awesome boothmates got (and highly praised) their vaguely Napoleon-looking treat called the "Ellen" (made up of pistachio-cinnamon mousseline with pistachio praline and white chocolate mousse--like, whoa), I knew I had to make a stop. Walking up to the entrance, I wasn't sure quite what to expect: the exterior has old-school neon sign and flamboyantly decorated cakes on display in the front window.
But once you step inside, it's immediately evident that this is a very special place. They have huge, wraparound bakery cases full of all manner of cakes, pastries and cookies, which made the visit fun right away for me, because half the fun is ogling everything and choosing, right?
Ultimately I settled on an intriguing bar cookie: the cranberry walnut bar. I know the combination sounds unusual, but here's the deal. The bar cookie, which is made up of a sweet walnut-y, caramel-y mixture set atop a cookie crust, is very sweet. While bars like this are often delicious, sometimes the sweetness can be so overwhelming that the flavor lacks depth. Here's where the cranberries come in. The little bursts of sweet, acidic tartness cut through the extreme sweetness, rounding out the flavor and adding excitement to every bite (yes! excitement!). It worked beautifully, and made what could have been a run-of-the mill bar cookie very memorable.
Not only was I pleased with the bar cookie, but I am so intrigued by the sweet-and-tart combination that I think I might just add a topping of cranberries the next time I make pecan pie.
Alliance Bakery, 1736 W Division Street (between Hermitage Ave & Wood St), Chicago, IL, (773) 278-0366; online at alliance-bakery.com.