CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Gayle Wheatley, a pastry aficionado, writer, and artist based in Los Angeles, who grew up near Solvang, California. You can find her writing at www.culturevixen.com, and her art at www.gaylewheatley.com
You’re not in Denmark anymore…although you’d never know it.
For sweet aficionados this side of the pond, European confectionery delight can be sampled just a hop, skip, and a jaunt from Los Angeles. Without having to fly to Denmark to embark on this culinary journey, one can get their pastry fix in Solvang, California, a Danish village located in Santa Barbara county. Downtown Solvang is no ordinary California city. It’s home to Scandinavian shops, wine bars, and eateries that all architecturally appear to have been plucked out of a picturesque village outside Copenhagen. Yes, Danish flags flap in the wind. Yes, store clerks strutt traditional costumes. And yes, Smorgasbord feasts and aebleskivers (Danish pancakes) beckon from restaurant windows. Solvang even boasts not one—but three—historic windmills!
But the best part of a trip to Solvang are the bakeries. Traditional to the core, Solvang boasts four savory bakeries that serve a delicious array of Danish desserts made with quality ingredients, prepared fresh daily. Perhaps my unsatiated pastry cravings are the result of early years spent working in a Solvang bakery, when once upon a time I had access to unlimited quantities of delicious delicacies, and the full-bodied perfume of Danish sweets used to follow me around. Nowadays I’m on the other side of the pastry counter, but the sweets are just as tempting as ever.
Demystifying the Pastry Counter
When you enter a Solvang bakery, the first rule of thumb is to find your way up to the glowing front counter to have a look at all the fancy sweets you can choose from. What you’ll see can be broken down into the following tasty categories:
Danishes & Puff Pastry: These are the very pastries that coined the term “Danish,” and they are a completely different animal than the zombie variety you’ll find at the local coffee shop. These are filled with a burst of fruit such as blueberry, apricot, cream cheese, raspberry, or apple. You’ll also find bear claws and boats, which are fruit-filled Danishes dusted with powdered sugar. Then there my personal favorites: cinnamon crisps, Danish waffles, and florentines. I can never resist a large swirly cinnamon crisp or a Danish Waffle filled with whipped cream and a squirt of raspberry. Chocolate-dipped florentines are another favorite: a crunchy treat made from crushed almonds sandwiching a mocha buttercream center.
Petit-fours & Mini Sweets Petit-fours: Or miniature dessert cakes, are typically filled with buttercream and a squeeze of fruit puree, then topped with fondant and fancy embellishments sculpted from icing. You’ll also find all kinds of tiny treats from almond-topped pistachio bars to macaroons, to rum balls and chocolate-topped Napoleon hats. But the big stars of the show are the rich and tempting chocolate-crowned eclairs, generously stuffed cream puffs, and delicate multi-layered Napoleons.
Danish Specialties: These are pastries meant to be shared, as you’ll notice by their size, which can easily feed a dozen. These show stoppers include:
- Kringles: pretzel-shaped coffee cake filled with marzipan, custard, and raisins, and sprinkled with sugar and sliced almonds.
- Butter Rings: Round cakes made with butter, marzipan and custard, topped with frosting in the shape of rings.
- Strudels: A well-known family classic filled with apricot, raspberry, custard, or perhaps cream cheese, sprinkled with sugar and almonds.
- Butter cookies: You’ll find buckets upon buckets of these assorted cookies that include favorites such as chocolate chip, lemon, coconut, cinnamon, almond, chocolate marble, and sugar-frosted.
Bread: The staple of any bakery, bread completes the pastry counter, offering the only item that won’t satisfy a sweet tooth. But the bread in Solvang’s Danish bakeries is traditional and hearty. The most common loaves you’ll find in Solvang are pumpernickel, onion-cheese, cardamom, and cinnamon-raisin.
Once you’ve selected your Scandinavian specialties of choice, you can either dine in and enjoy your sweets with coffee or tea, or head out for an impromptu picnic in one of Solvang’s parks or courtyards. Either way, you’re sure to treat your taste buds to an old world experience you won’t soon forget.
Places to Sample Danish Delights in Solvang, CA:
Danish Mill Bakery, 1682 Copenhagen, Solvang, CA 93464 (805) 688-5805; online at danishmillbakery.com
Mortensens Danish Bakery, 1588 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463 (805) 688-8373; online at mortensensbakery.com
Olsens Danish Village Bakery, 1529 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463 (805) 688-6314 olsensdanishvillagebakery.com
The Solvang Bakery, 460 Alisal Road, Solvang California 93463 (805) 688-4939; online at solvangbakery.com