CakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Janelle, a freelance lifestyle and food writer living in Phoenix, Arizona. She also is the face behind the newly born blog The Deutsch Girl.
Here in the Valley of the Sun, we have all the things any fifth largest city should have: sports teams, fabulous restaurants, golf courses galore, and great weather for most of the year please both locals and tourists alike. But one thing that is rarely talked about is our sweet shops. Sure, we don’t have a Magnolia Bakery, Tartine, or even a Milk Bar putting Phoenix on the map. But just because we don’t have any (yet) famous spots doesn’t mean we are lacking in promise.
I set out to find a few hidden gems in the Central Phoenix area and was not disappointed. Focusing on the always comforting bakery item, the cookie, I toured four locations and ate way too many cookies in my quest for the best.
Stop 1: Barb's Bakery
The first of my four stops was the one closest to my house. In a small unassuming building between a Mexican food restaurant and an old check-cashing store sits Barb’s Bakery. When I walked in at 11 a.m., I noticed the large display case was lacking in the cookie department. Cakes and petit-fours still remained, but there were very few trays of cookies left. At first I was mad at myself for not arriving earlier, but I was glad their cookies were popular and I’d selected the right place. Greeted by a rotund and very jolly man behind the counter, I was relieved to see that both their frosted cookies and butter cookies were still available. I chose one frosted and three butter cookies rolled in sprinkles. My total came to $2. Nice to know my first purchase wasn’t going to break the bank!
The frosted cookie was the perfect combination of cookie and frosting. The thick cookie was firm enough to hold up to an equally thick layer of icing, but still had a soft center. Unlike some other frosted cookies, these will not break anyone’s two front teeth. The icing was the perfect amount of sweet -- I easily could have made it through the entire cookie without feeling like I was on a sugar roller coaster. The butter cookies were the primo mix of crunch minus crumbs. The butter flavor was prominent without the fake taste that comes with some commercial bakeries. The sheer sight of the sprinkles excited my stomach so much that one poor cookie soul didn’t quite make it home. Overall Score: 4 out of 5 cookies
Barb’s Bakery, 2929 N. 24th St., Phoenix 602.957.4422; online at barbsbakery.com.
Stop 2: Tammie Coe Cakes
My next stop was in an upper section of newly revitalized downtown Phoenix. Located in a new complex with shops on the bottom and living space above sits Tammie Coe Cakes. You may have heard this name before, as she’s quite famous for her fondant draped wedding cakes. However, this small café, which is an outlet for their much larger permanent bakery, focuses on tasty bite-sized treats instead of larger cakes. While there is no seating inside, there are quite a few tables just outside the door with large umbrellas to shade customers from the bright Phoenix sun. After staring at the small but stuffed and beautifully decorated display cases, I chose a double chocolate and a snickerdoodle. At $2.50 each, they were on the pricey side, but each cookie could have been a small meal. On the way out, I took notice of the Half Price Happy Hour sign. Half price bakery goods after 4 p.m. every day: how can one go wrong?
When I got home, I was eager to try both of the cookies. I consider Tammie Coe to be the most famous baker in town, so I had high hopes as I dug the monstrous cookies out of their precious logo-stamped brown bags. Alas, I was a bit disappointed. Something wasn’t quite right with the double chocolate. The edges were too hard, almost as if an inattentive baker left them in a minute too long. The flavor was good, not too sweet for a double chocolate cookie, which is often the case. Once I got to the inside, it was much softer. For those who like a crispy edge, and a soft center, this might be the place for you. Next, the snickerdoodle. I chose it because it was the oddest snickerdoodle I’d ever seen. Instead of being rolled in cinnamon and sugar, as I think all snickerdoodles should be, it had only a light dusting of refined sugar. The cookie appeared to have bits of crumble topping baked into the cookie. While flavorful, it did not have that traditional cinnamon sugar flavor. Do I think that Tammie Coe should be passing it off as a snickerdoodle? Definitely not. Would I buy it again? Probably, yes. Overall Score: 3 out of 5 cookies
Tammie Coe Cakes, 610 East Roosevelt #145, Phoenix, 602.253.082; online at tammiecoecakes.com.
Stop 3: Urban Cookies
After my brief stop downtown, I headed north to Urban Cookies, housed in a very small freestanding building. This makes sense because they used to be a mail order company, owned by a husband and wife team. The great thing about Urban Cookies is that they still have a huge mail-order clientele, so anyone who’s not in the Phoenix area can enjoy these sweet treats too! As soon as I stepped foot in the door, my nose became overwhelmed with the smell of brown sugar and chocolate. In addition to the four kinds of cookies, Urban Cookies has a special cookie of the month, as well as Ollie Cakes, cupcakes that can only be enjoyed in-store. Personal experience has shown me cupcakes are not an easily mailed item, so really, I don’t blame them for using them to entice people to their store. The biggest thing that sets Urban Cookies apart is that they use lots of organic ingredients. They say that on average, 85 percent of each cookie’s ingredients are organic, and they use only local eggs.
The one and only time I was here prior, I tried the Simple Urban cookie. I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks, so I had to try it again. This particular cookie is 76 percent organic, made with milk chocolate chunks instead of the usual semi-sweet. I can honestly say this cookie was just as good the second time as it was the first. I gave some to my dad, who’s a chocolate chip cookie connoisseur, and he said it might have been the best he’d ever had. It doesn’t look like anything special on paper, nothing unusual sticks out when you read the ingredient list, but somehow they turn those ingredients into a masterpiece. The second cookie I bought was the Urban Tropic. I had wanted to try this one last time, but decided for my first trip, the cookie they were best known for was the better choice. This cookie is 94 percent organic and includes sun-dried pineapple and toasted unsweetened coconut, both organic, of course. For a non-chocolate cookie, this one really hit the spot. It was sweet, but not overly sweet, and reminded me of being on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Another great thing about both cookies, besides being perfectly chewy and baked just right, is the price. Normally $1.99 each, they were on sale for $1.79 a piece. It’s a relief to find a large organic cookie that’s not outrageously expensive. Overall Score: 5 out of 5 cookies
Urban Cookies, 4711 N. 7th St., Phoenix 602. 451.4335; online at urbancookies.com.
Stop 4: Karsh's Bakery
The last stop on my tour de bakeries was Karsh’s Bakery. I was excited to try this place, because it’s known in the Phoenix area as the premiere Jewish bakery. Unlike the other three bakeries, this one doesn’t have any curb appeal. In fact, it sits in the corner of a retail shopping center with a simple, unassuming corner sign. This must not be a deterrent, because Karsh’s has been around since the 1960’s and most certainly knows its stuff. In addition to being certified Kosher by the Phoenix Vaad HaKashruth Kא, Karsh’s offers a huge selection of both pareve (non-dairy) and dairy goods. My eyes, and stomach, were immediately drawn to an entire case dedicated to cookies. Because they offer both non-dairy and dairy items, I couldn’t truly rate anything unless I tried at least one of each.
It took me at least five minutes to make a decision, but I never felt rushed by the pleasant gentlemen behind the counter. I decided to go with a small black and white cookie, as well as a Chinese almond cookie that was labeled pareve. The black and white was an obvious choice, especially at $1.50, but the thought of a Chinese cookie in a Jewish bakery made me grin so I went with it. The black and white was hands down one of the best I’ve ever had. The cookie was the classic cake-like texture, and the frosting was superb. The only thing that I didn’t like was my own poor decision to get the smaller version! The Chinese almond cookie was a simple almond with all the right flavors, including a nice half-dollar size drop of chocolate on top. It measured at least 5 inches across, which made the price of $2.95 more than acceptable, and I kept breaking off small pieces until it was gone. I didn’t even notice the lack of dairy, so kudos to them for winning over a gallon-a-week milk drinker. I’ll be going back soon to try the breads, and to grab the larger black and white. Overall Score: 4 out of 5 cookies
Karsh’s Bakery, 5555 North 7th St., #116 Cinema Park Plaza, Phoenix 602.264.4874; online at karshsbakery.com.
The Final Word? In the end I really enjoyed all of the different shops. There is nothing cookie cutter (pun intended) about any of them. Perhaps next time I’ll go for cakes, or even the ever-popular cupcakes. In the meantime, I’m delighted to see for myself that while our bakeries might not be world-renowned, they more than satisfy and deserve some local, and even national, recognition.