Treehouse Bakery

Pineapple upside-down cake, churro cupcakes, cheesecake? And it's all vegan, you say? The Sizemore sisters must be magicians — filling a bakery with delicious treats made of organic and natural ingredients, free of egg, dairy, and (of course) meat products. No bacon treats here, and that's fine with us — we're sick of that trend. We much prefer eating healthy, as long as our sweet tooth stays satisfied. Eat your butter-clogged hearts out, Keebler elves. We're heading for a different treehouse.

Jewel's Bakery & Cafe
Judy Nichols

Once, we made the mistake of biting into a gluten-free cookie that we swear was made of cardboard and maybe a little chocolate. So we know that sweet treats without gluten can be bad. Like, really bad. But that's why we were shocked to learn that the cupcakes made by Julie Moreno of Jewel's cupcakes are gluten-free. The sheer number of flavors — including options like caramel macchiato, apple pie, red velvet, and salted caramel — will make anyone used to strict dining restrictions smile. And when it comes to flavor, texture, taste, and look, these little treats totally deliver. In fact, the only thing they seem to be missing is gluten. Since 2011, Moreno has been making and selling her cupcakes, brownies, and pies through her online store, but this fall, she will move the operation to a brick-and-mortar storefront. Moreno says she tests all her creations on her husband, who can consume gluten, so at least we're not the only ones she's got fooled.

There are two top contenders for bean-to-bar chocolate producers based in Arizona: Stone Grindz, a Scottsdale maker that offers unique flavors like Moroccan Mint and Cashew, and Nutwhats, whose signature confections are clusters of sticky, crunchy goodness in flavors like jalapeño beer brittle, cinna walnut oat, and bacon pecan scribble. But as of late 2012, Nutwhats' most impressive offering is the 92 percent Cacao Bar. Yes, 92 percent — and it's meant to be savored all on its own, not sweetened by being baked into a cake. The beans used to make this incredible bar are sourced from Ocumare, Venezuela, and they lend a subtle note of ripe plums to the über-bold dark chocolate. Given the high cacao content, the bar's not as smooth or fast-melting as most chocolate, yet it's not chalky. The biggest and best surprise of all is the lack of bitterness. The 92 percent is still for serious chocoholics only, but Nutwhats also makes six 75 percent chocolate bars, each featuring the distinctive flavor profile of a different locale's cacao beans. You can find chocolate bars including Peru (banana-cherry tasting notes), the Dominican Republic (coffee with soft raspberry), and Bali (berry and papaya) at Dos Cabezas WineWorks, Smeeks, Downtown Phoenix Public Market, and Bodega Market at FnB.

Tracy Dempsey Originals
Jim Louvau

Dipped in chocolate, rolled in sprinkles, or just plain, the best marshmallows in town are getting bagged up by longtime Valley pastry chef Tracy Dempsey. The handmade marshmallow is a labor of love, and lucky for us, the dry Phoenix climate is just right for preparing these sweet treats, which we like to stick in hot chocolate or eat straight from the bag. S'mores, anyone?

Polish Goodies

Good things really do come in small packages, especially if they happen to be Danuta Zablocki's scratch-made pierogi, small yet hearty meals packed into circular folded cushions of smooth, paper-thin dough. Danuta and husband Richard serve homestyle Polish eats like flavorful Polish sausage and stellar sauerkraut to hungry diners at their tiny, hidden-away eatery in Sunnyslope as well as at several farmers markets throughout the Valley.

With a name like Awesome Cookie Company, you'd expect nothing short of, well, awesome from a cookie. Luckily, the cookies deliver on the name, even though there are only two flavors available. The most popular option, the cranberry oatmeal, kind of tastes like a really fancy enlarged Cookie Crisp, which is baffling because it isn't a chocolate chip. Somehow, ACC has harnessed that sweet, crunchy goodness into an all-natural option. It's easy to become obsessed with the packaging, too, as the cookies are sold solely in cutesy mason jars with twine bows that run about $10 for the smaller option and $15 for the larger. Though the price is a little steep, the oatmeal cranberry cookies are well worth it as a sweet gift or an indulgence for yourself. You can buy a jar or two at Scottsdale's Bodega market, Phoenix's GreaterThan Coffee, and a few local farmers markets.

Urban Cookies and Bakeshop
Judy Nichols

Just when you think you couldn't eat one more stinkin' cupcake — that cupcakes are, like, so totally over — Urban Cookies has to go and make one of the best darn cupcakes to ever grace this fine planet. The Orange Blossom is the ideal combination of super-moist orange and olive oil cake and fluffy, light rosewater buttercream. The luxuriously floral frosting has an almost whipped-cream-like consistency. It would be great on pretty much anything, and we'd even eat it straight up, but it enhances the delicately sweet orange cake straight to flavor heaven. Did we mention it's also a Cupcake Wars-winning flavor? All this greatness is available to you for just $3.09, including tax, making it even cheaper than any one of that big chain's inferior, oversweetened confections. Support local cupcakes: Buy a dozen or two Orange Blossom cupcakes from Urban Cookies.

Churn
David B. Moore

If we were to put money on the next big trend in baked goods, we'd have to go the way of the dessert bar, with lemon front and center. Though Churn makes many different types of bars, including zinger bars, sweet 'n' salty bars, brown butter toffee bars, and the intensely decadent s'mores bar, nothing is quite as perfectly simple and craveable as Churn's lemon bar. The lemon curd, incomparably silky and smooth, sits atop a crumbly, shortbread-like crust pairing tangy, creamy, and sweet flavors in the most satisfying and addicting way. Honestly, we never paid much attention to simple little lemon bars until we tried Churn's take on the classic dessert — and now we're hooked. Stop by the CenPho bakery and creamery on Central Avenue for a dozen or so of these bad boys for your next shindig and you'll be the life of the party.

Crepe Bar

Like a beautiful woman, Jeff Kraus' crepes are striking enough to stop your inner monologue. Harmonizing with seductive ingredients like herbed chèvre, blood oranges, and Moroccan honey, the luscious thin pancakes are folded, twisted, and arranged on plates that act more like canvases than serving vessels. A small menu of ever-changing creations is almost temptingly cruel in the way it makes us choose. But once we've selected, the experience is nothing short of ambrosia.

Karl's Kronuts

Cronut, schmonut. We know the doughnut/croissant mash-up created by a fancy New York pastry chef was the cupcake of summer 2013, with folks lining up for hours to get one and imitations popping up everwhere. Even Karl's Quality Bakery in Sunnyslope got in on the action, with a "FreDo" — and we have to admit it was pretty good. But we'd walk all the way to New York City just to get one of Karl's apple fritters. The (almost) Frisbee-sized, apple-packed treat is the best we've had, and it made it to the top of the list of best doughnuts this year in a crowded field. Luckily, you won't have to cross the country to get one. Just hop in your car and drive to north Phoenix. But get there early. Karl sells out fast.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of