Kickass Cupcakes www.kickasscupcakes.com
Lyndell's Bakery www.lyndells.com
Verna's Doughnuts www.vernaspastry.com
Three Little Figs www.3littlefigs.com
Diesel Cafe www.diesel-cafe.com
Danish Pastry House www.danishpastryhouse.com
Arthur's Bakery 382 Main Street Medford
La Cascia's Bakery www.lacasciasbakery.com
Danish Pastry House www.danishpastryhouse.com
Arthur's Bakery 382 Main Street Medford
La Cascia's Bakery www.lacasciasbakery.com
Kickass Cupcakes: Buckle your seat belts, Boston!
Sara Ross and her cheeky crew at Kickass Cupcakes are nothing short of mad scientists when it comes to cupcakes, and their cheerful store on Highland Ave. qualifies as half bakery, half laboratory. In a way, you know what you're going to get every time: natural ingredients whipped into cute-as-buttons cupcakes.
But on any given day, be prepared for new flavors, new themes, and just plain odd combinations. These are called the Limited Edition cupcakes, and, like Forest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. At the start of the week, there were fig newton cupcakes, a grainy muffin filled with fig jam and topped with a little beret of chocolate. By the end of the week, there were "Couch Potato" cupcakes, lovingly strewn with every conceivable Super Bowl nibble. (Cheetos on chocolate cupcake? Oh, yes!)
This willingness to make outrageously unexpected treats is where Kickass Cupcakes really shines...and occasionally veers into the realm of something non-cupcakey. I realized this as I bit into a "crisp," a twice-baked cupcake that has been dipped in chocolate and pretty sprinkles. "Like a biscotti?" I asked, and the women behind the counter nodded enthusiastically. But as I chomped down on it, I belatedly realized that you must nullify a biscotti with a beverage, otherwise you're looking at a trip to the dentist. Luckily, they have some tasty drinks at Kickass, including fresh milk from the Dairy Bar.
But there is one speciality at Kickass that requires no explanation, and it is the one thing which you really MUST try: the deep-fried cupcake sundae. Mind-blowingly good and completely worth waiting the week for the Friday-Saturday-Sunday trifecta on which it is available. From the outside, it will look like a coffee cup with whipped cream and a cherry on top, but, OH, inside there is a layer of local vanilla ice cream, topped with a vanilla cupcake with cream inside that has been lightly battered and deep-fried right before your eyes. Crisp and hot outside, lovely warm cake inside. And, oh yes, topped with real whipped cream (not the aerated sugar puff from a can, but the real stuff, very nearly as substantial as the ice cream).
Don't be fooled by appearances. This sundae is a heavy weight! And it rings in at only $5, which means that it is comparable to having a modest amount of ice cream from J.P. Licks down the street. So why not walk a few blocks farther and step into the lab?
P.S. If you come after 5 p.m. on the last Monday of every month, you'll be just in time for "Happy Hour"! I went this evening and had truly some of the most outrageous, inventive goodies ever, all based on Dogfish Head Ale. Lemon cake with ale gelee center and rasberry jam? Check! Chocolate cupcake with stout frosting? Check! Maple soaked cupcake with ale syrup and juniper candy? Check! Coming back next month to see what's new at the Kickass? You better believe it!
Lyndell's Bakery: You're Home!
You know a bakery is good if it's been around 100+ years. Vagaries of the economy notwithstanding, if you've been selling cake for a century, you're doing something right. And Lyndell's, open for business since 1887, is definitely doing something right. A ten minute walk from Davis Square on Broadway, Lyndell's let's you know about a block away what you're in for with its old-fashioned red and white sign of a jolly chef dancing. It's a portent of the good-natured ladies behind the counter and possibly of an urge to do a happy dance once you walk in the door.
You will first be met with that intangible quality that can't quite be quantified in any other way than taking a deep breath and being met with the scent of doughnuts, cake, Italian cookies, cream puffs, pastries, pies, and bread all jumbled together. You know, the smell that thrilled you as a kid, when you walked into your local bakery and your mom told you to pick out a treat. Eons could be spent dwelling on that dilemma at Lyndell's, as I don't think it's possible to pick just one treat. Luckily, I didn't have to!
I went first for Lyndell's specialty, their half moon "cookies." I put that in quotes because the disk of light, fluffy cake is nothing like a cookie, and when frosted with thick, dark chocolate and vanilla creme icing, it really has left the realm of cookie far behind. Call it a flying saucer of cupcakey goodness, but don't call it a cookie, please.
When you've satisfied yourself as to the deliciousness of the moon cookies, proceed directly to the danishes, cinnamon buns, and other breakfast pastries. This is where the old world influence shows: yeasty bread laced with layers of cinnamon, twisted around dollops of raspberry jam and laced with sugar glaze. This, with a cup of Lyndell's coffee, is breakfast heaven. And judging from the number of goodies they make each morning (and sell that same day), a goodly portion of Somerville agrees.
After your moon cookie and danishes, veer to the doughnuts that, in and of themselves, justify Lyndell's existence. Cool, creamy custard stuffed into a chewy dough and topped with a dark chocolate glaze: the Boston creme is the apex of what a doughnut can be. It turns out that bliss can be bought folks; and it only costs 95 cents at Lyndell's. You really only want to get one per person though, as this plump baby packs enough goodness to fill you up for the morning.
After you have oggled the cupcakes, considered hauling home several of their pies (including a lemon pie, which the Bakery Babe will have to sample on another round), and generally loaded yourself up with as many boxes of goodies as you can carry, the final touch is the old fashioned machine they use to throw twine over your bakery boxes. No kidding, a machine from the 1950s that ties twine for you.
I really couldn't ask anything further of a bakery, except perhaps some tables to sit at. But carrying your goodies home to eat is a small price for the ultimate comfort pastries.
Verna's Donuts: Bliss in a Bag
When I was a kid, my town was packed with doughnut joints that had sit-down counters and waitresses that wore beige polyester uniforms and poured coffee into brown ceramic mugs...yes, the 1970s, bad years for fashion, but good years for doughnuts. Well, Verna's has that kind of homemade goodness with the thrill of a little kitsch thrown in. Go into the unassuming building on Mass Ave. and you will find an oasis of plump, fresh, unimaginably good doughnuts gleaming off the trays at you.
Now, you may ask, what makes an outstanding doughnut? The first thing you will notice about Verna's is that the doughnuts are about double the size of a regular doughnut, with a little heft to them. Basically, they're the size of NY bagels and twice as heavy. You may look at the dazzling array and the cheap prices and think, "I'll take ten." But be warned, if you try to eat more than one of these bad girls in one sitting, you will soon realize just how filling they are. And that's part of the old-fashioned charm for me, the idea that you can buy a single doughnut and a plain cup of coffee for two dollars and walk away feeling that you're filled up and ready for the morning.
Not that picking just one is easy. They have an army of tempting creations: the boston creme doughnut with custard filling and your-grandma's-fudge-frosting on top, the chocolate twister, the cake doughnuts like blonde inner-tubes covered with everything from snowy powdered sugar to cake crumbs to coconut. And the secret criteria by which I judge all doughnut joints: they offer not only raspberry jelly doughnuts, but the elusive lemon jelly doughnut.
The ladies behind the counter are goold ol' Massachusetts gals, and the few tables inside are filled with regulars. Just be sure you get there before noon...Verna's closes her doors at 4 p.m. on most days (earlier on the weekend), and you can bet those freshly made lemon jelly doughnuts are probably gone by noon.
Three Little Figs: Blueberry Scones and Chai Latte of the Gods!
Three Little Figs is a cafenista's dream for anyone living near Davis Square. Tucked away on Highland Ave., it's the sort of charming little cafe that you want to sit in for five hours while nursing a designer coffee beverage and watching snow waft down outside. However, you will be lucky to get a seat. Especially on the weekends, when people line up to wait for one of the coveted white tables or a spot at the handsome darkwood bar. If you can't hold out for half an hour, then you sit in one of the waiting chairs against the wall and scarf down your goodies straight out of the bag.
Should you score a seat, you will likely wait even longer for your coffee, but when it does arrive, it will be succor from Valhalla...the baristas at Three Little Figs treat their drinks like masterpieces and it shows when you take the first sip.
So why is everyone willing to cram into this little shop and jostle around for a seat? Well, it's not even a French cafe, come down to it, but a cafe started by a woman with Greek roots, who has gems on the menu such as spinach pie and goat cheese scones, along with a ravishing array of pastries. And as the name suggests, fig jam flows like honey here, to slather upon the muffins, scones, biscuits, and cakes in their glassy display case.
And I know you're wondering how their scones stack up. A crunchy exterior dotted with little beads of sugar, a light and flaky interior with a mild taste. The flavors are not going to hit you over the head, unless you order the lavender scone. The blueberry and fig n' pear scones are much more subdued, and go nicely with a bit of jam and butter. I would prefer a hint of lemon or lime zest to give them a little zip, and a bit more fruit for a juicier scone. But perhaps this is the limit of the scone itself; it is fundamentally a conveyance machine for other substances, such as clotted cream, golden syrup, chocolate sauce, custard, etc. It is the defacto bridesmaid of the pastry world...nobody is going to swoon over it the way they might over a cream puff or an eclaire.
Truth be told, the ginger bomb muffins, the eggnog cake, and the bacon corn muffin at Three Little Figs are much flashier on looks and taste, so by no means limit yourself to the scones. And if you're going in for a beverage, a word to the wise: avoid the iced tea. Mine came with a thick cloud of sediment that gave my tea the appearance of having a plankton bloom in full swing. Stick with the hot drinks; that's their bag at Figs.
I always thought that the mysterious "elf bread" referred to in Lord of the Rings, bread so potent and compact that it could keep a man going for weeks on just one bite, must actually be some derivative of the British scone. Wodgy, dense, glutinous to the extreme, packed with 30+ grams of fat: the scone really ought to count as a hefty meal rather than something to tide us over between lunch and dinner. And, oh, let me count the ways I adore this homely, humble creature. So much so, in fact, that I've decided that my first task as the Boston Bakery Babe is to work my way through every scone in Boston.
Not that Boston is well known for scones. It really isn't. But I have a hankering, dang it. Both for scones and for surveying the culinary lay of the land. I should also mention that I'm supposed to be on a gluten-free diet. But this little scone mania in no way represents a breakdown of will power or excessive carbohydrate starvation. No, no. A very little scone surely shall do no harm.
So today, for the flagship scone, I stopped by the Diesel Cafe, on a rainy, wet afternoon, and laid eyes on a maple oatmeal scone the size of a dinner plate. I lost no time in acquiring this, along with a gallon of iced jasmine green tea (well, it wasn't a gallon, but it may arguably be the most generous quantity of ice tea I've ever had).
Looks kind of tasty, eh? Here's how the Diesel scone sorts out:
Texture: Moist and soft, but peppered with chewy oats, with a hard but not impenetrable crust.
Taste: Unremarkable, except for the maple glaze, which was reminiscent of a maple glazed doughnut, extremely sweet.
Appearance: A deflated Ikea meatball smothered in gravy.
Accoutrement: Butter. But I had to ask for it as an extra.
Price: Pretty good. $3 for half a pound brick
This scone, on the whole, was like a bowl of mashed potatoes: filling comfort food without a ton of flavor, yet somehow you can't stop eating.
I will definitely be coming back to Diesel, if not for the ice tea of Zeus and the quasi pool-hall ambience, then to sample their other, flashier scones.
The Danish Pastry House: License to fill (your tummy)
On the occasion of July 4th, I decided to treat myself to a place I'd heard about in almost hushed, glowing whispers. Here, there, and everywhere, whenever I mentioned my hobby, people would pass notes into my purse, send one word emails with no reply address, little scrolls of paper via messenger pigeon...and they all had just these words: Danish Pastry House.
With visions of cuckoo clocks on the wall and hearty, buxom Danish girls in flour-strewn aprons, I decided I could stand the half-hour walk to get to the Danish Pastry House. Given that it was thunderously muggy and hot, my determination flagged before I even passed Teal Square. But I imagined I was walking toward ten-pound blocks of marzipan, and I survived the not-insignificant hills around Tufts that block a pedestrian from dessert. At last when I did arrive, I found a very modest cafe in a small cluster of shops that serve Tufts students. And right across the way? A bus stop. Yep, had I consulted google maps, I've would've seen there was no reason to suffer dehydration and heat stroke. I refrained from cursing in front of the bubble-eyed frosh-girl primly sitting at the bus stop. After all, it wasn't her fault I'd just duped myself into exercising. But cheered by the task ahead, I made haste for the DPH.
There were no buxom Danish women at the counter. No ten-pound blocks of marzipan. No cuckoo clocks. Instead, I found a mix of warm wood and industrial brick, not entirely unlike what you might find at a Starbucks. And rather than herds of baked goods, what I found was a display case selectively filled with not just sweet goodies, but salads, quiche, and sandwiches. In short, this was not the bakery I'd imagined it was. The actual baking facility is elsewhere (they supply quite a lot of goodies around Boston to other businesses, and also have a stall at the Davis Farmer's Market). Once I got over this, I looked around at a happy crew of Tufties and young parents who had come to arguably the only coffee shop within walking distance of campus for coffee and a sandwich or perhaps one of the breakfast pastries or croissants.
And let's not forget the kringle.
These breakfast treats do set DPH apart from your average cafe, although the croissant I had did not transport me to any particular heights. The vanilla cupcake and cream puff were also decent but not mind bending.
I began to wonder why all those people recommended this place. Then I stumbled onto the far end of the counter and found the cakes. Big glorious confections with interesting flavors like passion fruit mousse and red velvet.
For five dollars, you may have a slice the size of Wisconsin carefully deposited on a plate, which I did. The red velvet cake really was extraordinary. The three layers of cherry-red cake were so moist as to almost surpass the texture of cake and veer into breed pudding or cake batter. The frosting was very cream-cheesy and sweet, with a marzipan flower on top. It was, perhaps, a tad too sweet, as I got about 2/3rds through the piece and began to feel that I was about to go into insulin shock and/or stuff my gullet so full that there would be no recovery. In that regard, it was a little like eating at the Cheesecake Factory: there is the inevitable guilt of leaving your plate half-finished because the quantity of food is super-human. Almost as if that piece of cake is laughing at you as your fork drops to the plate and you sit back, stuffed.
In the end, I felt that the Danish Pastry House is a good cafe and a nice place to hang out. It would not be a bad choice for a Birthday cake or for a pit stop if you're on a tour of Tufts. But I can't claim I would travel across Boston just to go again. Sometimes, friends, legends don't always shine as brightly as you thought they would. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try a slice of red velvet cake from this Somerville institution.
Arthur's Bakery: the Real Deal
For many Bostonians, the suggestion that they might stray more than a block or two from the red line induces hysteria. But there's good reason to put on your walking shoes and head into Medford: namely, awesome Italian bakeries. Just a 20 minute walk from Davis Square is Main Street Medford, a small cluster of neighborhood shops that boast Arthur's Bakery among them.
Arthur's is a family-run bakery on it's third or fourth generation, filled with that elusive thing the Bakery Babe has been searching for: lush desserts with real cream at a small price. What sets Arthur's apart from anything I've tried in the North End is that they use a much higher quality of ingredients. There's real cream in the cream puffs. There's real ricotta in the cannolis and the shells are made there in the store. The mousse cake is a slouchy, soft ode to all that is right in the genre. And it's less than $3 a slice. I am not kidding when I say that their cannolis are the nicest I've had in Boston (yes, that includes in the North End).
But what really warms my heart are the cookies. Shelves and shelves of homemade cookies.
The baker at Arthur's is a garrulous, fun character who will tell you all about his great-grandfather's first Boston bakery, and he makes no bones about his thoughts on modern bakeries today. The lady at the counter has a heart of gold, and I left with my tidy little box of goodies feeling that I'd been to a warm, top-notch bakery with a wonderland of dainties. Please do get in your car or put on your walking shoes and come out to support this sweet bakery. You won't regret it!
382 Main Street Medford, MA 02155
When strung between a cannoli and a cupcake, the Babe picks...both, of course! Cascia's has a nice, light crumb to their cake, and old-fashioned decorations that prompted the big bear of a counter man to say, "You got strong feelings on which color rose you get?" As it happens, I would've been happy with any of them!
I'll go so far as to say that you can't go wrong here. The staff is friendly, the savory food is good & cheap, and the bakery goods have a lot of old-school heart. It's worth making the trek out to Medford just to say you had a $2 slice of old-school pizza.