If you're one of those people who bakes a pie to cheer up a friend, makes your specialty carrot/red velvet/whatever cake for everyone's birthday, and routinely pulls together all manner of adorable goodies for your children's school programs and bake sales . . . well, bully for you (and the rest of us
hate admire you no end). You obviously like living in the kitchen and don't need the services of the shops provided here.
But for the rest of us poor slobs who can't or won't make the time to DIY the snickerdoodles and would never dream of attempting Danish or anything that actually requires an understanding of dough, here are 10 bakeries that keep our collective sweet tooth satisfied. You won't see every popular or mainstream bakery here, however. This is a collection of slightly quirkier favorites -- many of them ethnic, a few of them hyper-focused or artisanal.
Tammie Coe is justifiably famous for her whimsical, colorful, fondant-wrapped cakes and Ooey Gooey cupcakes, which stick to the roof of your mouth in a good way. But there's so much more this creative pastry chef and her bread-maestro husband MJ turn out that's equally worthy of attention. How about a variety of chewy cookies roughly the size of your face? Or a pretzel croissant that makes an excellent foundation for a great sandwich? Or a Righteous Brownie, flour-less and so delish? A selection of fantastic breads, including ciabatta, focaccia and fruit and nut, the latter changing daily? Or -- and this one may be the mind-blower -- a butterscotch crumb bun that's a crispy, chewy, gooey, sugary swirl of caloric trouble you'll be tempted to devour in one sitting. The cozy, living room-ish new location on Central stays open until 10 most nights. Keep that in mind when you need a sugary nightcap after the movies.
At first blush, tidy Europa looks like any other American bakery, offering up doughnuts, muffins, almond horns, and cute little butterfly-shaped cookies iced in bright colors. But take a closer gander and you'll notice Polish specialties you won't find anywhere else in town: the sugar-glazed, dome-like doughnuts called paczki, a confectioner's sugar-dusted, rolled cake filled with poppy seed called makowiec, twirls of confectioner's sugar-dusted dough called chrusciki, and the more recognizable puffy dough pillows, anchored with a dollop of fruit, called kolaczki. Don't hurt yourself trying to pronounce this stuff. Just point politely. Europa also offers traditional Polish breads and sells its pastry specialties at Old Heidelberg Bakery (where German breads rule) on the weekends.
You get two sugar hits in one at this 19-year-old classic bakery and its tandem bakery/chocolate shop, the first run by Karl Boerner, the second by his daughter Christine. Both of them were trained in Switzerland, and it shows in the exquisite precision of the final product. On Karl's side, you'll find everything from doughnuts, muffins, coffee cake, lemon bars, fancy brownies and pies to Danish, strudel, quiche, eclairs, Napoleons, petit fours and fruit tarts both simple and ornate. Christine's side (girlie and way cuter, furnished with tables and chairs), offers up a few elegant cakes, the prettiest tiramisu imaginable and an array of exotic chocolates she makes herself. This is a favorite haunt of the high school kids at Sunnyslope, so get there well before 10 a.m. if you want one of Karl's signature apple fritters.
It's conventional wisdom that this kosher-style bakery, a 32-year-old institution, bakes the best rye bread in town in every possible permutation, but it's also the go-to for shiny black-and-white cookies, hamentaschen (fruit-filled shortbread-like triangles traditionally eaten during Purim), mondel bread and chocolate, raspberry and cinnamon-nut rugalach. An entire counter is devoted to pareve (non-dairy baked goods), but there's nothing to stop goyims from dropping in for any of the aforementioned specialties as well as a slew of cakes and cookies.
Okay, now this place smells the way a bakery should -- like chocolate and butter and all things yummy just emerging from the oven. Shaun and Brady Breese's seven-year-old operation may be small, but it's mighty, offering up creative, incredibly good cookies (think tropical-tinged pineapple-coconut, made with dried organic pineapple or the thoroughly decadent double chocolate, given a sprinkle of coarse British sea salt), as well as wonderful muffins (love the cinnamon sugar-sprinkled vanilla) and a croissant dough-based, cinnamon and brown sugar-sprinkled morning bun, flavored with orange zest, you shouldn't miss. Don't feel like driving to Seventh Street, just south of Camelback? Many of UC's products are sold at Whole Foods and Luci's Healthy Marketplace.
If you've been paying any attention at all these past six or seven years, you already know that Eugenia Theodosopouolos (with the help of her husband-partner Gilles Combes) turns out what are arguably the city's best croissants and French macarons in a variety of tempting flavors. Don't miss the almond croissant if you've never tried it, but you're on your own among macaron flavors such as French chocolate, caramel cream, raspberry (with a hint of rose petal infusion), grapefruit, lime, espresso and pumpkin spice because everybody has a different favorite. Now, if you can just pry your eyes away from those quintessential offerings, you'll find the daintiest and best pecan sandies you've ever had, offered in a package of five (and quite easy to mow through in minutes) as well as elegant Napoleons, fresh fruit tarts and a different eclair every week, one of them being the ultra-chocolate-y Mudslide, based on the cocktail of that name. Theodosopoulos says that given the eclair's shape, propriety stopped her from describing it in the same way her assistant described the drink: an orgasm in a glass. Well, never mind. Very soon now, she'll be offering fresh strawberry pies and peach pies when peaches come into season. So just point and shoot because this petite woman, who studied in Paris and lived there for years, knows her stuff, and she's obsessed with using the very best ingredients, which means Essence understands the essence of every great dessert.
Tucked deep into the corner of a Tempe strip mall, Arai is the classic hidden gem, offering up traditional Japanese breads such as silky shoku-pan (the best white bread you'll ever eat) and kare-pan (a soft roll filled with Japanese-style curry), as well as refined and never too-sweet pastries and desserts. Owner Kenzo Arai and his sons Taku and Sunao have become famous in Japan, thanks to baseball player Ichiro, who mentioned them in an article about what famous Japanese sports figures like to eat. Now they're visited by sports fans, Japanese tourists and Japanophiles from all over the world. But that's not the reason you'll want to seek out this unprepossessing place. What you really want to know is that Nobuo Fukuda of Nobuo at Teeter House asks Arai to make most of his desserts and they're spectacular -- if spectacular is the right word for desserts that manage to be arresting and low-key at once. So just go. Or just go to Nobuo's. Either way, you win.
Owners Tony and Tess Menendez went to culinary school and spent many years as pastry chefs at various high-end resorts around town, but in 2006, they left their respective corporate kitchens behind to open a tiny bakeshop in a strip mall at 35th Avenue and Thunderbird. Although they offer bakery standards such as eclairs and tiramisu, the real draw -- for Filipinos and those who appreciate Filipino specialties -- are the unique breads and pastries found here, many of them tinted a deep purple from ube, a purple yam indigenous to the Philippines. Insiders come for ultra-soft pan de leche, pan de sal and ensaymada, a Filipino sweet bread so milky and rich it makes a lovely extravagance with morning coffee. There's also a gorgeous coffee cake-like situation swirled with ube -- probably meant for morning, but it tastes good any time. Of course, if you're up for adventure, you won't want to miss the desserts, often made with mango, coconut, or ube. You'll find ube tarts, ube mousse, mamon (think sponge cake), and sapin sapin, an island-y, layered spin on blancmange, sweetened with coconut, ube, and jackfruit. And of course, when the weather gets hot, you won't want to miss the Halo Halo, an icy, fruity concoction that always hits the spot.
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SHOW ME HOW
I've never been a cupcake junkie and Butter & Me is not a cupcake shop, even though owner Kelly Garcia makes her share of cupcakes. But if anyone could convert me to the whole crazy cupcake phenomenon (please, God, is it over yet?), it would be Ms. Garcia. The elegant simplicity of her vanilla cupcake with rose frosting makes your average cupcake look like the loser it probably is. She's a self-taught cook who got into cooking and baking through the back door, namely her husband Joe, whom she helped run a restaurant in Santa Fe before swearing off the restaurant business (which Joe calls "an illness that spreads") and moving to Phoenix. Now she's in the custom bakery biz, operating out of a small and simply adorable shop she aptly designed to replicate Anthropologie. The place closes at 2 p.m. and retail really isn't her first concern, but if you get there early enough you'll find wonderful cookies (chocolate chip with sea salt, chocolate-ginger-molasses, cranberry-oatmeal-pecan and ever-changing shortbreads), bar cookies, a daily scone, buttery house-made pop tarts (again, fantastic, and who would've imagined?) and maybe a crackly crusted quince tart that clearly reflects Garcia's love affair with butter. It's all so good you'll catch yourself making little moaning noises as you polish off every last crumb.
Linda Schneider and her partner Cisco Zazuete say their business -- which started as an ultra-feminine retail cupcake shop -- has evolved tremendously in the nearly two years since they opened in the Scottsdale Seville. The partners began making fancy cupcakes, quickly moved into custom cakes for weddings and other special occasions and now find themselves becoming popular for their Parisian mini macarons and elaborate dessert tables -- super-popular for weddings. Although Schneider's goodies (particularly the macarons) are praiseworthy, the single simple thing that really rings my bell is a fat, crunchy salty pretzel stick gobbed with caramel and toffee. Meanwhile, the place is a girlie-girl haven, just right for a sweet, a coffee and a chat.