Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Binge At The Neighborhood Bakery

I was on a mission to find a handful of great bakeries within walking distance of one another in Chicago last weekend. I needed a sugar fix.

Have you noticed lately that there are bakeries in just about every block in the city? Not just run of the mill bakeries but exceptionally good ones. The kind you would frequent every Saturday if you lived within walking or driving distance to any one of them.

I felt a sugar buzz coming on and these spots were on my splurge list before a pre-Christmas purification.

Magnolia Bakery at 108 North State

Tony Patisserie and Cafe at 65 E Washington

Sugar Bliss at 115 N Wabash

Crumbs at 346 N Clark

Sarah’s Pastries and Candies at Macy’s 111 N State Street

Each of them holds their own territory, cranking out very different specialties and have a following of regulars who are passionate about what they create.

Bon Appetit!

Magnolia Bakery

From that quiet corner in the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village, this bakery came on the scene in Chicago a few months back in Block 37 near Macy’s.

The Key Lime Cheesecake caught my eye and from that point on I did nothing but praise the pastry chef…and jump in. It was every bit as good as some of the best Key Lime I’ve had.

I loved the atmosphere and in particular the banana pudding that they have become so famous for.

I’ve never been a big fan of banana pudding or pie so imagine my surprise when I took on the entire carton because I could not stop eating it. What was the secret ingredient? See the recipe below. Sweetened condensed milk made this ordinary pudding really special.

I passed it to the girls at the table next door who did not order Banana Pudding but were dying to try it. The consensus was unanimous – It was every bit the frontrunner that it was cracked up to be.

Not too often does the hype live up to the reality but in this case it did.

Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding

1 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup vanilla pudding mix
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
3 cups heavy cream
1 (12 ounce) box vanilla wafers
4 bananas, sliced

Blend the water, pudding mix and sweetened condensed milk until well mixed.

Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.

Fold the pudding mixture into the whipped cream until well incorporated.

In a trifle bowl layer wafers, sliced bananas then pudding mixture. Continue until all of the mixture is used up ending with the pudding mixture.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Note: I made this with both with Vanilla pudding and Banana Cream pudding and both were good but I give banana the edge.

Tony Patisserie and Café

Talk about a great location, this jewel is located right near Millennium Park and close to Macys.

A petite little European café, the brioche berry toast and Café Mocha were divine and proved to be a winning combination.

It was a difficult decision on what to try because everything looked like it had my name on it – in other words super rich and filled with calories.

Believe me – forget about the calories when you walk in this place. This is a cheat day because there is nothing light about any of the goodies in this place. And, don’t feel guilty. You’re doing it once a week – right?

The Brioche immediately made me think of Bread Pudding and what an  exquisite addition berries would be to the mix.

Another Bread Pudding recipe? I promise I’ll get you to love it yet!

Berry-Brioche Bread Pudding

Unsalted butter, for greasing the dish
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups blueberries and raspberries, plus more for serving
One 1-pound loaf of brioche, cut into 1/2-inch dice
Whipped cream, plus more for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 8-by-11-inch baking dish and coat the dish with the turbinado sugar.

In a large saucepan, bring the cream, milk, 2/3 cup of the granulated sugar and the salt to a simmer over moderately high heat, then remove from the heat.

In a bowl, whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually whisk in the hot cream until blended. Strain the custard through a fine strainer into a large bowl.

In a small bowl, toss the blueberries and raspberries with 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar. Using a fork, coarsely mash the berries. Let stand until juicy, about 5 minutes.

Mix the brioche into the custard. Fold in the mashed berries. Transfer the pudding to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, until set in the center. Remove the foil and bake in the top third of the oven for 20 minutes longer, until lightly golden.

Serve with blueberries, raspberries and whipped cream.

Some foot notes on three shops that I thought were better than the average cake bakery:

Sugar Bliss

Their cupcakes are decorated with their signature Sugar Bliss bloom, a rich and creamy frosting topped with a signature dot.

These cupcakes were super moist and I pulled off just one of them. If you happen to try all 20+ specialty brands, check in with me for survival tips. I did this once and still have not recovered.


This stop on my binge was one of the best. 90% of these cupcakes – which also happen to be super moist and delicious – are filled.

My tiny chocolate cupcake was pumped with a white butter icing inside and was such a delight, I decided that I need to try making these in my own kitchen….a true authentication to a great cupcake.

Sarah’s Pastries and Candies

I believe in saving the best for last. My sweet tooth was on overload at this point so I ordered a Prosciutto & Fontina Cheese Brioche.

A tiny bite was sheer torture because the flavors were so exceptional. In fact, it was one of the most delicious Brioches I’ve ever had.

I’m planning on something sweeter next time With my toe in the water, I am ready to take the leap so this will be the first stop next time.