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Entries in bakeries (274)

Thursday
Apr082010

Cakewalk: A Tour de Cookie in Phoenix from Cake Gumshoe Janelle

 

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.    

Barb's Bakery on Urbanspoon

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.

Tammie Coe Cakes on Urbanspoon

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.

Urban Cookies on Urbanspoon

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.

Karsh's Bakery on Urbanspoon

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.  

Sunday
Apr042010

Stock Up on Delicious: Economic Crunch Cookies by Sugar Bakery and Cafe, Seattle

The phrase "economic crunch" is pretty common these days, and usually it does not have a positive connotation.

However, at Sugar Bakery + Cafe in Seattle, the economic crunch is delicious.

"Economic Crunch Cookies" as they call them, are of one of the tastiest cookies I've sampled in a while: a crunchy sugar cookie made with almonds, toffee, chocolate, coconut, all of which is coated in coarse, sparkly sugar.

They are crunchy, savory, sweet, lightly salty, and chewy, all at once: this is to say, basically, they hit all the bases of what makes a cookie awesome...simultaneously. 

Or, as owner Stephanie Crocker (no relation to Betty), so aptly puts it: "They are like crack cookies so watch out…".

To taste the crunch for yourself, visit Sugar Bakery + Cafe at 1014 Madison Street, Seattle (be sure to call ahead to ensure availability of the cookies); or check 'em out online at sugarbakerycafe.com.

Tuesday
Mar232010

State of the Tarte: The Tarte Fruits Rouges, Rhubarbe from La Boulangerie Julien, Paris

What's sweet, tart, rich, and exceedingly attractive?

No, we're not talking about some celebutante here, we're talking about something with staying power: the delicious rhubarb tarte from La Boulangerie Julien in Paris.

Now, deciding on this sweet treat was no easy feat--just look at some of the other offerings:

Oh, bébé.

But ultimately it was the tarte that we selected, and were we ever rewarded: it was practically perfect in every way.

Starting with a sweet and sour-tart mix of assorted fruits, heavy on the rhubarb, the filling was perfectly paired with a flaky, thick, and very, very, very buttery crust. Its bright taste made a dull winter day bright--if you find yourself in Paris anytime soon (please, take me with you!), I'd highly suggest making a stop at one of the three Maison Julien locations for a taste of this delight.

La Boulangerie Julien, 3 locations (we visited the one at rue St Martin); for directions and more, visit their site at boulangeriejulien.com.

Sunday
Mar212010

Beautiful Pear-ing: Tarte Poires Chocolat from Thierry Renard, Paris

I'm a firm believer that when something is done extremely well, it can make you a believer.

I'm also a believer that sometimes the most wonderful experiences are the ones that you stumble upon accidentally (if serendipitously).

Case in point: the pear-chocolate tart from Thierry Renard, a tiny boulangerie-patisserie in a Paris neighborhood off the beaten path, in a neighborhood with a hospital and what looks like a lot of medical students milling about.

Though I don't consider myself a big fan of pear desserts -- or chocolate-and-fruit flavor pairings, for that matter! -- after tasting this I had to concede that it was very, very good.

When the bitterness of the dark chocolate meets the mellow sweetness of the pears, which were soft but not in a mushy way, something lovely happens: both flavors make the other better. It's not a pastry made of sharp contrasts but more composed of subtleties, all wrapped up in a deliciously buttery crust. And the glaze and chocolate chips on top don't hurt, either. Oh, let's look at it again:

Who knew what a perfect pear-ing these flavors could be--merci, Thierry Renard!

Tarte Poires Chocolat from Thierry Renard, 131 bis Boulevard de l’Hôpital, 13th Arrondissement, Paris.

Saturday
Mar202010

Mac Daddy: Lovely and Amazing Macarons by Pierre Herme

I'm going to start Macaron Day (March 20, natch) by saying something bold: Macarons are not the new cupcake.

Don't get me wrong--in spite of this statement, I am not a macaron hater. It's just that I firmly believe that a good macaron is harder to come by than a good cupcake. Too sweet, too eggy, too chewy--the pitfalls with macarons are numerous, whereas cupcakes, like pizza, seem to go by the adage that even when they're bad, they're still kind of good.

If, however, all macarons were made like the ones at Pierre Hermé, it might be a different story.

Dubbed the "Picasso of Pastry", Pierre Hermé is basically--dare I say it--the mac daddy, the closest thing to a rock star that the macaron could possibly claim.

This is a lot to live up to for pastry pilgrims like myself, and so when we approached the macaron mecca on Rue Bonaparte, I must confess to a soupcon of hesitancy. 

But you know what? If there is a macaron that will make you a believer, it is probably going to be from Pierre Hermé.

We picked up three from the eclectic menu: the Marron et the Vert Matcha (chestnut and green tea), the Fragola (strawberry-balsamic), and the Magnifique, an unlikely pairing of strawberry and wasabi.

(Warning: I'm about to wax very poetic about these little burger-cookies.)

I said it on Serious Eats, and I'll say it again. Biting into one is like biting into a cloud: the macaron is light as air, and yields perfectly to the generous dab of ganache, which is smooth, rich, and creamy without having a texture that is incongruous with the delicate cookie base.

And that's just the texture--the flavors are just as thoughfully balanced and delicious. Each of the flavors we sampled, while unusual, not only worked, but worked well. This was most notable in the strawberry-wasabi flavor. The wasabi was not so much a smack as a whisper, giving the sweet strawberry a little nudge and certain je ne sais quoi. It wasn't spicy per se though, and you really shouldn't be scared of it.

So what is this all to say? Pierre Hermé makes a mean macaron. If you're in Paris, go there.

Pierre Hermé, various locations in Paris (we visited the one on Rue Bonaparte); online at pierreherme.com.

Friday
Mar192010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Rocket Queen Cupcakes, Albany, OR

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jessica Stanley, owner of Rocket Queen Cupcakes, an Albany, OR-based custom order operation, when she found herself passing through Seattle.

It's always great to meet cool people in the cupcake community--but it's even better when you get to taste their wares.

And Jessica came packing a triple-threat of deliciousness from her menu, including:

The People's Cake, which is described as "Grandma's secret recipe, a dense red velvet cake finished with her rich, cooked buttercream frosting."

The Ms. Devereaux, which is described as "Our take on a key lime pie! A graham cracker crust is baked into a tangy, sweet cake and topped with a cream cheese frosting."

and a delicious combo of Lemon cake, raspberry filling and cream cheese frostin(pictured top).

Currently the Rocket Queen Cupcakes line is available by special order only in the Albany, OR area, but they're not ruling out a retail location in the future. But regardless of whether it's a retail location or just more presence in wholesale accounts, one thing is certain after tasting these cakes: they have a rich and delicious future ahead of them. The cupcakes are extremely dense, with decadent, moist cake (my favorite--no light as air cake for me, please). As for the frostings, my only hesitancy came with the cooked buttercream: while Jessica informs me that this is technically the traditional way to go for red velvet cake, I have sheepishly admit that I prefer the rich tang of cream cheese frosting with the scarlet-hued cake. But this preference aside, the frostings were all quite good, especially (in my opinion) the cream cheese frosting which topped the decadent and tart Ms. Devereaux.

It's sweet love for Rocket Queen Cupcakes, and I can't wait to see their business take orbit.

Rocket Queen Cupcakes, by special order in the Albany, OR area; for more information, visit rocketqueencupcakes.com.

Thursday
Mar042010

Thou Tart in Heaven: A Totally Sweet Tarte au Chocolat from Eric Kayser, Paris

It's true, that at its core, the Tarte au Chocolat is basically a perfect food. There is no part of its construction--usually a shortcrust pastry filled with rich, luxuriant ganache filling--that is not delicious.

But in the elite ranks of the tarte au chocolat, some do rise above others.

Case in point: this version, topped with candied hazelnuts, from Eric Kayser.

Now, I had headed to Kayser intent on trying the Tigrés (Tiger Tea Cakes) as featured in Dorie Greenspan's book Paris Sweets (which, by the way, if you don't own, I have to say "You've got to be kidding me". Buy it now). But when I got to the bakery, I couldn't seem to drag myself away from the vision of these little chocolate tarts, served in sweet little squares topped with a disc of white chocolate and some candied hazelnuts.

They may not be the Tigrés, but they are tiger-approved:

And they're CakeSpy approved, too. These tarts are made of magic, starting with a rich and lightly crumbly crust which is brilliantly held together by the sturdy block of ganache which mind-bendingly deep, dark, and mouth-coatingly rich.

And delightfully, the garnish--a white chocolate disc and candied hazelnuts--are not merely for looks, but they actually add thoughtful bits of flavor. The hazelnuts add a nice light crunch, and an interesting flavor shot that is simultaneously sweet and savory; the white chocolate is, well, sweet, which is actually quite when nice paired with the rich, slightly bittersweet chocolate flavor.

Of course, if there is one warning that I should offer before you seek out this tart, it is that you will want to devote several minutes solely to the eating of this treat: it is one that you will want to pause and savor until each bite of chocolate has melted away.

Eric Kayser sweets can be found in Paris (several locations) as well as in Greece, Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Dubai and more locations; find out where at maison-kayser.com. If you want to create this brand of magic at home, you may also be interested in some of his books, including Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savory Tarts.

Wednesday
Mar032010

Coup de Coeur: Sweet Treats from Pain de Sucre, Paris

I don't know about you, but I think "Quatre Quarts" has a much nicer ring to it than "Pound Cake". After all, "pound" makes me think of jailed puppies, being punched, and chugging beverages in a most unappealing way, where "Quatre quarts" sounds...well, French.

Ramon loves French pound cakeIt's actually the place from which we take our "pound cake" too--the Quatre-Quarts refers to the amount of ingredients involved in making a Frenchie pound cake. 

But let's not linger on that right now: let's talk about the lovely heart-shaped raspberry flavored one I tried in Paris, at the super-cute patisserie Pain de Sucre.

Why is it a winner? Well, for one thing, it's heart shaped and a rather appealing shade of rich, visceral red.

And when you bite into it, you'll find it hard to imagine a more luxuriant, buttery, berry-infused cake. It's so dense, it will leave a slick of sweetness in your mouth. That's how you know it's good: the taste lingers so you have many moments to savor and ponder how delicious it is.

Of course, you'd be remiss not to try some of the other treats at the shop, ranging from homemade marshmallows to confections of all sorts, to a splendid array of viennoiserie:

and even baguette-shaped macarons(!)

We just happened upon this place by walking by, but I would firmly suggest seeking it out if you find yourself in the City of Lights. Or, even better, I suggest that you book a flight and get over there right now.

Pain de Sucre, 14, rue Rambuteau, Paris 03; online at patisseriepaindesucre.com.

Tuesday
Mar022010

Batter Chatter: Interview with Sara Leand of Sara Snacker Cookie Company

I don't know much, but I know I love Sara Snacker Cookie Company. Why? Because their menu contains such delights as Vanilla Milkshake cookies, homemade Tootsie Rolls, and chocolate covered Twinkies. Really, I shouldn't have to tell you more than that.

But perhaps you're curious to hear more about the magic that goes on behind the sweet, sweet menu? Well, lucky for you I was able to catch up with owner Sara Leand and learn more about Sara Snacker's sweet goings-on. Here goes:

CakeSpy: First off, I don't want this to be awkward, but as you probably see I already have my bag packed. Can I please come live in your kitchen?

Sara Leand: Sure! Whenever you would like.

(Pause while CakeSpy does a happy dance)

CS: I've got to ask. TV producer turned confectioner/baker--how did that happen?

SL: I’ve loved to bake ever since I was a little girl. In college I used to bake so much for my friends that they talked me into starting my own company, and that became the original incarnation of Sara Snacker Cookie Company. I did that for the last two years of college but had to put it on hold when it began to grow larger then I expected, plus, my roommate constantly kept eating all the inventory!

CS: Indulge me: if you had to describe Sara Snacker's treats in five words or less:

SL: Fun, unique, nostalgic, crave-busting, and yummy!

CS: In addition to a career change, you also relocated from LA to NYC. How does the attitude toward baked goods and sweets differ on the east and west coast?

SL: When I lived on the west coast I was a Hollywood agent for several years. There are no agents that bake, at least not publicly, in Hollywood. So, my baking past was only known to my closest friends. I always had dinner parties and made treats for everyone, but that was as far as it went for a time. Everyone on the east coast loves to talk about food; it is quite different here. When I would tell anyone on the east coast that I liked to bake, they'd give me an order of what to make them right away!

CS: What role do sweets play in a balanced diet?

SL: Everyone deserves a special treat sometime, so why not indulge in something fantastic! I say treats plays an important part in life since they’re essential for good mental health. Sweets keep you sane, as long as you don’t overdo it. :)

CS: Sara Snacker is a relatively new company, but you're an old hat at baking--you actually ran a renegade baking business out of your college dorm room. I definitely need you to tell me more about that--what did you bake, and who did you sell to?

SL: It was great. I sold all over campus as well as at several local shops. I made pretty divine treats — none of which are part of my product line now, but maybe in the future. My best seller was the "Best of Both Worlds"- a brownie and chocolate chip cookie combo.

CS: What's your personal favorite item on the Sara Snacker menu?

SL: That is a tough one! I have so many personal memories tied to each of my products that it’s hard to say. The Chipn’etzels will always be dear to my heart, but I really love the T.W.ookie (a crisp oatmeal cookie with white chocolate chips and a hint of salt) and the Vanilla Milkshake Cookie if I had to narrow it down to just a few.

CS: Got any new products, services or milestones in the works?  

SL: I am always coming up with new products. We launched several new ones recently (including the Vanilla Milkshake Cookie, Lemonade Cookie, and all-natural Animal Cracker Cookies), so I will have some more come springtime. Keep on the lookout, they will be awesome! If you have a special childhood memory that you think would bake up great in a treat, just let me know and I'll work on something for you.

Where can you get Sara Snacker sweets? Right now there is limited availability infancy food stores in the NYC area; however, they can ship anywhere in the USA! Here's a link to their online store; for more information, visit sarasnacker.com.

Monday
Mar012010

Sweet Liaisons at Maison Berthillon, Paris


So, in Paris there is this famous old ice cream shop called Berthillon on the Rue Saint Louise en L'ile, which, if you've never been there, is pretty much center-city and just about the Frenchiest little street you'll ever walk down. 

This place is hardly a secret--it's mentioned in all manner of guidebook and website--but that's ok, because awesome like this needs to be shared with the world.

Oh, Berthillon. 

On Dorie Greenspan's list of "The Paris Ten: Must-Tastes", she says

I know ice cream isn't the first food that jumps to mind when you think of Paris, but it would be a true pity if you went all the way to Paris and missed a scoop from Berthillon (31 rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile, Paris 4).  No one knows how Berthillon does it (and they're not telling), but they make ice cream with the deepest, truest flavors ever churned.  Getting ice cream from the shop is a pleasure - when the shop is open: for reasons unfathomable, Berthillon closes in August, the peak of ice-cream season.  Luckily, many shops sell Berthillon and they're so proud to do so that they post signs on their doors saying it's their scoop of choice.

And after having visited, it's a delight to say that they're not just coasting on their reputation: they get the job (that being making ice cream) done, and they get it done right. The ice creams are unbelievably creamy, and full of rich, deep flavor that is assertively, but not excessively, sweet. The attention to detail is phenomenal--the salted caramel ice cream is flecked with red sea salt; the pistachio is redolent with a rich nuttiness, and studded with actual pistachios; the coconut is an absolute knockout of rich creaminess. The cones even taste good! 

The ice cream may have been cold, but it certainly warmed this spy team's hearts and appetites.

Berthillon, 31 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Ile, 75004 Paris, France; online at berthillon.fr.

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