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Entries in bakeries (274)

Friday
Jul052013

CakeSpy Undercover: Simona's Bakery, Sea Girt NJ

When you walk into Simona's Bakery in Sea Girt, New Jersey, you could easily mistake it with an old-school Italian bakery that has been there for generations.

As a matter of fact, it's been there only about a year, give or take. But that old-school feel has a strong basis: it's the newest bakery from a family that has 4 generations of baking experience. Locals may recognize the style of the bakery as being similar to Delponte Bakery in Bradley Beach. But it's not a ripoff--it's their daughter!

In spite of the similar appearance, I felt as if there were subtle differences between the two bakeries. Some of the cookies by the pound were different, and the decoration on the cakes had a slightly different style. But like I said--subtle. 

I was pretty excited to see some different brownie varieties--plain, frosted, Cookies n Cream (Oreo, basically), walnut, and German Chocolate. I decided then and there that it was a brownie kind of day. I asked the employee "should I do plain frosted, or German Chocolate?". She looked at me like I clearly must have something wrong in the head. "You should get..." she said slowly, as if I might have trouble understanding, "the German Chocolate." 

Good lord, was she right! The chocolate explosion in my mouth. The sticky-sweet coconut brown sugar topping. The little dollop of chocolate on top. I felt happy chills while eating it, and it wasn't just the air conditioning in my mom's car. This was a good brownie. I wish I could tell you how it compared to the plain, but I don't care about the plain. I love the German Chocolate. 

SpyMom got an orange pecan biscotti, which she deemed "good". She didn't add much beyond that, but I did note that it disappeared in a rather rapid way. 

SpyDad got a walnut brownie, which similarly disappeared quickly but without much comment. 

Overall, I was impressed by my visit to Simona's. I wish I had gotten more photos for you to ogle, but you see I was on a mission to get--and eat--a brownie. So the one at the top will have to suffice. Go there. 

Simona's Bakery, 2201 Highway 35, Sea Girt; online here.

Saturday
Jun012013

Glazed and Infused, Chicago

Glazed and Infused

The best way to become dazed and confused? By sugar and carb-o-loading on all things Glazed & Infused. This is a new-ish boutique doughnut chain in Chicago, and it has a sweet story for me, personally. 

Way back, when I started CakeSpy.com, I started to connect myself to the bakery pulse of the USA. And one of my favorite bakery discoveries was Dozen Bake Shop, an adorable bakery chainlet in Pittsburgh. I even did an interview with then-owner, James Gray.

Well, this adorable fellow made quite an impression on me, and we kept in contact through the years, though we'd never met in person. Then, fast forward several years. James has sold his bakery in Pittsburgh and moved to Chicago, where he is the manager and a partner in a doughnut shop chainlet called Glazed and Infused. I happen to be visiting Chicago for my book tour. Finally, we get to meet!! We are adorable!!

Naturally, we had a chat over some doughnuts. So, since I believe that everything tastes better with a backstory, I'll tell you a bit about the shop's history first.

It's owned by a restaurant company called Francesca's, which owns several restaurants in Chicago and beyond. But this was the company's first foray into morning sweets. This made James a great fit for the company, as he has experience with pastry and sweets retail, which is, as he puts it mildly, "very different" than restaurants.

They've quickly grown to five locations, and on the date of our meeting, James was headed out to scout location #6. Spreading beyond Chicago is a definite possibility, with an idea of bringing high quality doughnuts to the masses in a friendly and accessible way. 

In Chicago, the doughnuts have a healthy and loving following. In chatting with a customer who works nearby, he said that Glazed and Infused is his little "treat for myself" for walking to work, you know, to balance out all that exercise. On Yelp, one customer says, "If you want to feel like you're licking the floor in heaven, go to Glazed and Infused!", giving it a very high star rating. I must admit, I don't know exactly what that means, but I like the sound of it.

Looking at the variety of doughnuts available, your head might start to spin. They're prettily arranged, and the flavors are mostly standard fare but with a little twist--think, a bismarck doughnut stuffed with locally made blueberry jam, or instead of bavarian cream doughnut, a Creme Brulee Doughnut.

I, of course, got hooked up with a whole box of them. YEAH!  

Glazed and Infused

What you've got in this picture is (from top left, going clockwise) an old-fashioned glazed, coffee glazed, creme brulee, "Bar Snack", Bismark featuring blueberries, and chocolate toffee (featuring Terry's Toffee, made in Chicago!). 

Glazed and Infused

Curious about that "bar snack" doughnut? Well, it includes basically all of the little junk foodie snacks you might find in little bowls at a bar--pretzels, peanuts, chips, and then some M&M's (why not?). It makes for a salty-sweet guilty pleasure of a treat. 

To start my doughnut eating quest immediately, though, I went for the Banana Cream Cheese, which is composed of banana cake with cream cheese frosting, salted caramel drizzle & candied walnuts. It sounded a lot like Hummingbird Cake, so I was totally in!

Glazed and Infused

Yum, dudes! The nicely banana-scented cake was soft and gooey owing to that caramelly glaze, definitely easier to eat with a fork. The cream cheese frosting was decadent and smooth and lightly tangy, and those crunchy walnuts added the perfect texture contrast. 

This doughnut made me a very happy spy. See?

Glazed and Infused

Overall, I was very impressed with the doughnuts. What is a fairly large operation already has managed to maintain great quality in their doughnuts, and I love that they've tweaked the classics just enough to make them special, but not so much that they are too weird or inaccessible to please a crowd.

So, there you have it. If you're in Chicago, I highly suggest you give Glazed & Infused a try!

Glazed & Infused, multiple locations; find them, and more info, at goglazed.com.

Wednesday
Apr242013

CakeSpy Undercover: Huckleberry Cafe, Santa Monica

Multigrain bar, Huckleberry, Santa Monica

I love me a good cafe. And in Santa Monica, California, you'll find plenty of nice ones. Airy, sunny, often with outdoor seating. You can smell the ocean in the air if the wind is right. 

My new favorite is a bit in-land, but what they lack in the scent of sea air, they make up for in the smell of sweet carbohydrates. It's called Huckleberry Cafe. It's owned by a couple--half of which earned their baking chops at San Francisco's famed Tartine Bakery.

Huckleberry, Santa Monica

I had read about Huckleberry on websites and in magazines over the past few years, so I was delighted to finally have a chance to visit while spending a few days in Santa Monica. 

The website told me that "Everything served at Huckleberry is made on site using the best quality ingredients, including organic flour, Vahlrona chocolate and farmer’s market produce. The menu changes regularly with the seasons and on the baker’s whims."

Huckleberry, Santa Monica

So, I'll tell you what I had, but I can't guarantee it will be there when you go. 

Huckleberry, Santa Monica

First, the maple bacon biscuit. I am a biscuit lover, and this one was a fine specimen. Sort of like a hybrid between biscuit and scone, texture-wise, with a mellow sweetness from the maple. Yum. But then it was punctuated by salty spots of bacon. This was no "bacon just for attention" type of sweet. It was really effing good. 

Next up was the multigrain oat bar with a cherry filling. This was different, I was told, because it usually has blueberries. Whatever. This cherry thing was freaking good. Tart cherries against a backdrop of oaty buttery cookielike goodness, then topped with brown sugary crumble. Don't be fooled by the word "grain" and the presence of fruit--this is not health food. No way, man. It's tasty-town.

Multigrain bar, Huckleberry, Santa Monica

The bakery case is STOCKED, though. You'll find shortbread cookies, croissants, cakes (cornmeal blueberry? YES!), layer cakes, scones, biscuits, and then in the cold case, trifles and salted caramel bars and other tasty stuff. 

Huckleberry, Santa Monica

Huckleberry is mos' def a new favorite of mine. It's a fantastic place to spend time and eat. I hope you'll visit next time you find yourself in sunny Santa Monica! Also go visit my sister. You might find her around the new Doc Martens store! She does all of the retail planning for them, so feel free to be effusive about their fantastic displays.

Huckleberry Cafe, 1014 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica; online here.

 


Wednesday
Apr172013

Pastry Profiles: Chocolate Tart from Tree House Pastry, Santa Fe

Tree House Pastry

Tree House Pastry Shop and Café is not easy to find. It's in an unlikely spot--inside of a mall, across from an insurance agent. But it's worth seeking out, particularly for their chocolate tart. It's both vegan and gluten free, but don't be scared off when I say that, because there is nothing virtuous at all about the taste of this devilishly decadent tart. Does the secret lie in the crust, made of crushed candied walnuts? Or is it the dense, lusciously luxuriant slab of chocolate topping, which is so thick that it will coat your teeth? Or is it the secret addition of raspberries which add a little tart burst to all taht chocolatiness? Either way, after a few bites, you don't care so much about the ingredients as you do that it keeps on finding its way to your mouth.

Treehouse pastry

I wouldn't go quite so far as to tell you this tart alone is worth a trip to Santa Fe, but...I am saying that if you are in Santa Fe, this tart is worth seeking out. Or maybe it will make you strongly consider Santa Fe for your next vacation. 

Tree House Pastry Shop and Cafe, 163 Paseo de Peralta (inside of the DeVargas Center), Santa Fe, NM 87501; online here.
Wednesday
Mar062013

Sweet Times in Lewes, Delaware

Mural

Recently, I had the sweet good fortune of spending nearly a week in Lewes (pronounced "Lewis"), Delaware. I was there to paint a mural for three very lucky little girls in their home. 

I already shared some process shots with you, but here are a few photos of the finished mural. 

Mural Mural in Delaware Mural in delaware Mural in Delaware Mural in Delaware Mural in Delaware Mural in DelawareMural in Delaware Mural in Delaware Mural in Delaware Me and my world Me and my mural

But guess what, my friends? Muraling wasn't all I did in Lewes. I also ate some totally sweet treats.

Baked Oatmeal, Lewes, DE

First up was a breakfast of baked oatmeal at Café Azafrán. This does, I realize, veer slightly toward health food, but it was sweetened, and it was so freaking good that it needs to be mentioned. Somehow, the geniuses at this cafe have turned oatmeal into a baked brick of lightly sweetened deliciousness. It had the texture of crumb cake, and remained cohesive enough to handle, but had the taste of oatmeal. It was a splendid breakfast, and they will serve it with milk or yogurt (or just plain). Unfortunately the photos don't do it much justice, so you'll just have to trust me: it's well worth a try.

Dutch History Museum, Lewes

Although it is not food related, I should tell you that Lewes has a dutch history museum, and over the entryway...well...that looks a lot like a unicorn to me! Clearly, I was meant to mural here.

Back to the sweet stuff. Lewes also has a bakery. It's called Notting Hill Coffee Company, but it has a big sign above the store that says Lewes Bake Shop.

Now, instead of asking what I tried here, you should ask "what didn't you try?". Because it is the primary bake shop in town, and I was there for DAYS. So I got to try a lot. 

Including...the "Ooey Gooey", a treat all their own which is described as "not a twist, a danish, a biscuit, or a sticky bun...it's all of the above!".

Lewes Bake Shop

Visually, they look like a twisted cruller.Lewes Bake Shop

But taste-wise, they defy one definition. They're definitely ooey gooey. More solid than a doughnut. Not quite as sturdy as a biscuit. COVERED in gooey caramel icing stuff. Oh goodness are they good. It's possible that more than three were consumed during the muraling time.

Lewes Bake Shop

This bakery featured a lot of sweets made with pastry dough rolled into sticks--including the "gorilla stick", which included a chocolatey nut mixture...

Lewes Bake Shop

As well as the "Lewes Creation" which had a cinnamon-sugar-apple mixture smeared in the middle.

In both cases the pastries are surprisingly light and shatter when bitten, but are very pleasant in the mouth, indeed.

Lewes, Delaware

Lewes Bake Shop

For breakfast treats, the croissants could not be beat. Here's the "Swiss Almond" one, made with a mixture of almond paste inside and almonds and chocolate on the outside. Yum.Lewes, Delaware

Similarly delicious, though quite different than the croissant, was a sticky bun. Served in generous slabs and rich with caramelly topping and nuts, these yeasty rolls made mornings happy in this wintry seaside town. Lewes, Delaware

The bakery also does coffee in several flavors (they are beyond happy to let you try all of them) and they do all sorts of flavored hot chocolates. My favorite was the one where they double the chocolate (no, really). It sounds like it might be too much, but trust me, it's not. 

Oh, what a delicious trip! Thank you, Lewes, for the sweet memories.

Places mentioned:

  • Notting Hill Coffee, 124 2nd Street, Lewes, DE; online here.
  • Café Azafrán, 109 Market Street, Lewes, DE; online here.
  • Zwaanendael Museum, 102 Kings Highway, Lewes, DE; more info here.

Interested in your own CakeSpy mural? E-mail jessieoleson@gmail.com.

Wednesday
Mar062013

CakeSpy Undercover: Potito's Italian American Pastries, Philadelphia

Ricotta pie from Potito's Bakery

Where once, on Walnut Street, was the Philly Chocolate Company, now there is Potito's.

The chocolate company has moved, and Potito's has opened a center city outpost of their bakery, which is based in South Philadelphia.

And of course CakeSpy has visited. How could you NOT visit a place that offers a huge cannoli filled with millions of baby-cannoli?

Photo: ThrillistDudes, I know. I know. It's like witnessing the miracle of cannoli birth.

At the bakery, you'll be greeted with a generous display of baked goods, ranging from Italian classics (cookies by the pound, cannoli, lobster tails, etc) to American sweets (cupcakes, pies, etc). Because the bakery prides itself on being Italian-American, I decided to stick with an Italian roster of sweets to sample.

First up, the cannoli. At $3.95 each, I consider them fairly heftily priced, but obviously made with love and care. I've been told that in Chicago, there is a place that sells them for $9.00 per, though, so maybe I shouldn't focus so much on the cost, but rather tell you that the filling was dreamy?

Photo: Potito'sA rainbow cookie was highly satisfactory, a solid version of the Italian bakery staple.

Next up, an Italian ricotta tart. It's that lovely featured at the top of the post.  Clearly they know their ricotta filling, which was a very nice texture and flavor. Lightly sweet and nicely complemented by a cocoa topping and strawberry on top. The crust was lightly sweet, making for a pleasant backdrop for the tart.

Potito's Bakery, two locations (Center City and South Philadelphia); online here.

Sunday
Feb242013

CakeSpy Undercover: Nook Bakery and Cafe, Philadelphia 

Apple custard bar, nook bakery, philadelphia

There it is, hidden in plain sight in the middle of a busy city block: Nook Bakery. 

I say hidden not because it really is, but because somehow I had walked by roughly a zillion times without ever actively noticing that it said "Bakery" on the door. I thought it was just a coffee shop! No offense to coffee shops, of course, but for me, bakeries hold higher interest. 

Nook Bakery, Philadelphia

But you can bet your bottom dollar that on the day I had my glasses prescription updated and finally noticed the word bakery, I went right in to buy something. 

Nook bakery, philadelphia

They have a very nice bakery display, including cupcakes, brownies, cookies, and bars. I hope nobody minds, but I snagged a few photos from their Yelp page to give you a better idea, because I only had my phone camera. Here are some of the things you might see there. 

Nook Bakery, Philadelphia Nook Bakery, Philadelphia

After much debate, I settled on a brownie and an apple custard bar.

Nook Bakery, Philadelphia

Mostly, I am going to talk about the apple custard bar, though, because that was my favorite. Apple custard bar, nook bakery, philadelphia

What seemed a pie like pastry molded into a Napoleon shaped brick, this apple custard bar had a sturdy bottom shortbread-y layer and a sturdy brown sugar crumb topping, but the inside was all gooey yum. The custard was smooth and played oh so nicely with the light spice of the apples, which permeated all parts with a sweetness that was most welcome to this mouth.

I would definitely need another. 

Apple custard bar, nook bakery, philadelphia

I will certainly be visiting Nook again, and I have my sights set on more bar cookies and the delicious looking cupcakes (one of which is pictured above, courtesy the Nook Yelp page).

Nook Bakery and Cafe, 15 South 20th Street, Philadelphia; online here.

Sunday
Feb172013

Sweet Times at Ms Goody Cupcake, Philadelphia

Ms goody Cupcake

We're going to talk about Ms. Goody Cupcake today, I promise. But first. When you walk into a bakery, do you consider every single little thing that had to come into play for this experience to happen? 

In your own life, zillions of little tiny things have happened, of course. But I'm talking now about the bakery itself. It may have started as a dream, but then it went through a strenuous time of buildout, health inspections, and refining recipes that work perfectly in a home kitchen to be suitable for commercial production and consumption. It boggles the mind. 

Ms goody Cupcake

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Gigi, the owner of Ms. Goody Cupcake in Philadelphia, and had the pleasure of learning more of her story. And with that, here are a few things you may not have known about this sweet little spot nestled in the up and coming East Passyunk area: 

What's in a name? The name came to her in an unexpected way: at a big box store! Owner Gigi was debating cupcake shop names--she had already dismissed Gigi's as it was already taken, and had rejected several others that seemed to generic. Then, while in a Wal-Mart parking lot in New Jersey, she overheard a conversation in which one person called the other a "Ms. Goody Two-Shoes." She thought--that's it! Ms. Goody Cupcake was born.

Sweet Trivia: Gigi's husband owns a pizza shop a few blocks away. I found this impossibly romantic, the perfect marriage of the foods I always eat on my birthday! 

Overcoming obstacles: On the day that she opened, Gigi slipped on the store's newly mopped floor and had to close! When she re-opened again, she suffered another injury shortly thereafter and had to close yet again! Luckily, her supportive neighborhood was ready and waiting for her sweet treats. 

Playing favorites: Gigi doesn't like to play favorites, BUT. Her personal favorite cupcake from the menu is the Tiramisu cupcake, offered as a special on occasion, which features coffee and mascarpone. Yum. 

Happy Hour: Ms. Goody cupcake does offer several boozy cupcake options. They're not available all the time, but they're popular when they are around. Beer-pretzel cupcake? Sounds perfect for Father's Day. Talk about a sweet buzz.

Ms goody Cupcake

Now that I've given you some fun tidbits, let's talk about the cupcakes. There is a roster of about five flavors (basics, you know) that are always available, and then every day you'll see several other flavors that are specials. On the day I went, they included a "Banana Split" (banana cake, chocolate drizzle, cherry on top--pictured top), "Lunch Lady" (peanut butter and jelly), and "Holy Cannoli" (cannoli cream-esque frosting, bits of shell on the top - yum).

Ms goody Cupcake

I tried one of their regular cupcakes--the "Pretty In Pink", which is a champagne cupcake available in the prettiest cake color, and the aforementioned "Banana Split". I thoroughly enjoyed my cupcake experience on both counts. I wouldn't call the cupcakes here fancy--but don't think that is an insult in any way. They are homey types of cakes, and that is sometimes very satisfying. Ms goody Cupcake The frostings are assertively dense, and perfectly sweet. The cake itself falls somewhere in the middle--not poundcakey, but definitely not spongey or over-light. The champagne cupcake had a nice bite from the champagne which was rather nice with the sweetness of the frosting. The banana cupcake was satisfyingly moist, but not to be confused with banana bread, ever, with all the sweetness happening on the upper level.

Pretty in Pink cake truffle

I also tried a cake truffle--once again, the "Pretty In Pink". You could still taste that little bite of the champagne, which was especially nice against the white chocolate coating, which can be so-o-o-o sweet sometimes. Nice. 

Ms goody Cupcake

Thought I didn't try them on this visit, they also have cookies, a different type of cake every week (Jewish Apple cake on the day of my visit), and doggie treats. They also offer custom cakes by request. 

Ms goody Cupcake

In the East Passyunk area? Go check them out, yo. It's a fun neighborhood to walk around in, as well.

Ms. Goody Cupcake, 1838 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia PA; online here.

Sunday
Feb102013

Almond Croissant, Elizabeth Street Cafe, Austin TX

Boite, Austin

I have sampled the almond croissant by Elizabeth Street Cafe in Austin, and I found them highly satisfactory. 

My path was indirect, however. Although I have been to the cafe, which specializes in Vietnamese food with a Frenchy twist, I actually sampled the croissant at the (sadly) now closed trailer La Boîte. It was a very cute spot: a trailer on a hill selling macarons, coffee, croissants and sandwiches. Here is a photo by Aimee Wenske and Jeff Kauffman.

I had visited after it was suggested by a reader; me and a buddy stopped by the pre-funk before breakfast at 24. 

Which takes us back to that almond croissant. 

It was supplied by the Elizabeth Street Cafe, I learned, and it was a fine specimen. A crackly exterior that did that nice shatter-crunch thing that a good croissant should do, in your mouth, not in your hand. A rich, almond-y flavor that permeated each bite. Crunchy almonds on top to give it a texture contrast with the smooth, slightly gooey interior. Overall, a very satisfying croissant experience.

That's all. Go get one yourself.

You can't enjoy one at La Boite anymore, but go right on over to Elizabeth Street Cafe, 1501 S. 1st Street, Austin; online here.

Saturday
Feb092013

CakeSpy Undercover: Brown Betty Desserts, Philadelphia

Brown Betty

Let's sit for a spell and chat about the magic that is Brown Betty Dessert Boutique in Philadelphia.

First, because I know you like to get the nasty bits out of the way straightaway, I need to tell you that the only flaw in this delectable beacon of sweetness is their hours. They have two locations: the main, have-a-seat-enjoy-a-treat spot in the Northern Liberties neighborhood. This one doesn't open til noon. The second location, a tiny spot at the Liberty Place mall in Center City, doesn't open til 10am. I know. Don't they know I need cake for breakfast?

But--and it is hard for me to say this, trust me--it's worth waiting til 10 or noon, depending on where you are. Because the desserts are really good.

Brown Betty

The bakery definitely veers toward southern sweets, and has a very cute story (per their website):

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique is named after our mother/grandmother, Elizabeth Ruth Hnton (friends and family call her either Betty or Liz). Every Sunday when we'd go to visit there'd be a few baked goods already baked: hard tacks (a country word for biscuits), apple pies (always two at a time) or those mile high poundcakes. Everyone loved them! Elizabeth's love and talent for baking and the stories she told of her youth while doing so are the inspiration for Brown Betty. While Elizabeth doesn't bake as much as she used to (she is still our most trusted and toughest critic) - we still remember how good it all used to taste.

The menu is heavy (pun intended) on pound cake, which is a specialty and the base for many of their cupcakes and layer cakes. But while cakes dominate the menu, they're not the only item available. There are also some very nice looking cookies available, and they also do rice pudding, peach cobbler (seasonally), and, of course, Apple Brown Betty.

Brown Betty

After doing the jerk thing I do and asking "what is the best thing here?" to the employee working at the time, I was advised to go for the "Only For Eliza"--sweet potato poundcake with spiced Vanilla buttercream. A lovely poundcake with a nicely rounded-out flavor, earthy and soothing, from the sweet potato; sweet as can be and far more enjoyable with frosting. "That's a good cupcake" I say. Only for Eliza...and ME!

I have also sampled their "Sing Little Alice"--Chocolate and Vanilla Cake Swirled and Vanilla or Chocolate Buttercream. And their "Company's Comin'"--Vanilla Poundcake and Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream. I freaking love how they use poundcake as the base of many of their cakes and cupcakes. It makes them so enjoyable, and the cake is rich and nice and buttery, so it isn't a bummer if you ration out the frosting wrong in your eating and end up with a bite or two of just cake. The cookies are good, too. They are nice, big softies. Just the way I like it.

Of course, if you're not in Philadelphia, or even near Philadelphia, they have a cookbook: The Brown Betty Cookbook

They do weddings too, and--I love this--their guiding principle is, "We are obsessed with the concept that our wedding and special occasion cakes taste as good as they look (if not better)."

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, two locations; main location, 722 N. 2nd Street, Northern Liberties neighborhood; petite location, Liberty Place mall in Center City, near the 17th Street entrance; more info on the website.

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