Walking in a Pastry Wonderland
It may be the toughest test of a traveler's willpower-- to walk past a bakery without being drawn in by the aroma of freshly baked bread. Bakeries in the Heartland-- especially ethnic ones-- have become destinations, particularly at holiday time. Their fame has spread and many ship their goodies nationwide.
Ca fe Mozart and Mozart's Bakery - Columbus, OH
Doris Saha trained as a pastry chef in her native Austria and now leads a team of European bakers offering one of the Midwest's widest selections of European-style pastries.
Visitors enjoy live classical piano music on weekends (highlighted by the January birthday celebration of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Patrons also enjoy tortes, including Vienna's famed Sacher version. Other varieties include chocolate cream, chocolate mousse, and chocolate with raspberry filling covered with rolled fondant and decorated with marzipan roses.
Favorites include Christmas stollen, fondants and hazelnut petit fours. The most popular holiday items are the European butter cookies dipped in light and dark chocolate. The piece de resistance, though, is the marzipan peach, created to resemble the fruit and filled with raspberry buttercream.
Cafe Mozart and Mozart's Bakery: (614) 268-3687 Web: www.mozartscafe.com
Heyerly's Bakery - Ossian, IN
"We're out in the middle of nowhere, in a town with just two stoplights," said owner Ron Heyerly. In fact, Ossian is only about 10 miles south of Fort Wayne, Indiana's second-largest city. People drive out of their way to find the bakery and think nothing of traveling an hour or more to pick up fresh bakery goods.
Heyerly's has been around for 72 years and is the only "from scratch" bakery in a five-county area. It carries a large selection of pastries-- every day three showcases filled with more than 30 varieties. Fried cinnamon rolls and yeast donuts are big sellers.
Holiday fare includes butter cookies, decorated with Santas, Christmas trees, bells and the like, plus pumpkin pie (available Labor Day through Christmas). Also popular at holiday time are cream pies, including butterscotch, banana and chocolate.
Heyerly's Bakery: (260) 622-4196
Jaarsma's Bakery - Pella, IA
Scrubbed-clean Pella is as Dutch as the wooden shoes made here. It has a windmill shipped from Holland, a klokkenspel animated clock that performs five times daily, and the Molengracht (mill canal) lined with walkways and shops.
It also is home to a bakery founded in 1889 by Herman Jaarsma, who used recipes he brought over as an immigrant from The Netherlands. Locals arrive at 6 a.m. to pick up breakfast goods, but most visitors want to sample Dutch "letters," flaky pastries filled with almond paste. They're shaped like an "S" because traditionally they were left out at Christmas for Sinterklaas.
Other favorites include spice cookies (Speculaas), which were made in large doll-like forms and given to children on Dec. 5, apple-nut bread, gingerbread, almond butter cake (a rich torte) and fruitcake (available October through December).
Jaarsma Bakery: (641) 628-2940
Missouri Baking Company - St. Louis, MO
"The Hill" is a neighborhood lined with Neapolitan restaurants, groceries, meat markets and bakeries, where more than 75 percent of residents are of Italian descent. It has three bocce clubs, and the fire hydrants are painted the red, white and green of the Italian flag.
It was on these narrow streets that baseball legends Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola first flexed their muscles and tossed a cowhide ball-- and it is to this bakery that they still come. Opened in 1926 by Stephen Gambaro, the family-run bakery continues to use recipes from that era.
Cookies are a favorite of customers who come as from far afield as Chicago and Kansas City. Popular varieties include apricot-topped cookies, amaretto macaroons, and chocolate and apricot biscotti. Holiday treats feature Christmas stollen and panettone, a classic Italian sweet yeast bread flavored with citron.
Missouri Baking Company: (314) 773-6566
New Glarus Bakery - New Glarus, WI
In a town as Swiss as a cuckoo clock, you'd expect to find excellent stollen. You won't be disappointed if you visit (or contact online) this bakery, which dates to 1912. It makes stollen year-round, based on a recipe brought over from Switzerland, and ships the sweet bread nationwide.
New Glarus is fun to visit; folks enjoy its chalet-style Alpine architecture, festivals celebrating the stories of Heidi and Wilhelm Tell, cheese shops, and dense stollen made with almonds, marzipan, spices, raisins and rum. Holiday cookies are a specialty and include honey sticks (made with imported Swiss spices) and lebkuchen, which has a flavor similar to gingerbread.
These are cut out by hand, and at Christmastime bakers add Hansel, Gretel and Santa images. It's a tradition to hang them from the holiday tree or mantle. Donuts, puff pastry, cakes and fresh hearth breads are made daily from scratch.
New Glarus Bakery: (608) 527-2916
O & H Danish Bakery - Racine, WI
Real Danish pastry is found at this four-generation family bakery. One such item is the popular kringle, an oval-shaped coffee cake ring filled with fruit, nuts and custard, and topped with creamy icing or glazed sugar.
Danish immigrant Christian Olesen opened the bakery in 1949. It displays the traditional Danish baker's sign, a golden pretzel with a crown atop. Pecan is the number-one kringle filling, followed by raspberry, cherry and a dozen other flavors.
The bakery uses high quality fruit and dairy products and creates delicate, flaky pastry by folding 32 layers of dough over butter. It ships kringles and other Danish goodies, such as Seven Sisters Coffee cake, bread pudding and tarts, nationwide and offers stollen and fruitcake seasonally. One kringle yields about 12 slices. As baker Eric Olesen said with a grin, "A kringle serves anywhere from 12 to one person."
O & H Danish Bakery: (800) 227-6665
Swedish Bakery - Chicago, IL
How popular is this Andersonville neighborhood bakery at Christmastime? People take a number, go for breakfast at a nearby Swedish restaurant-- or even head downtown on a holiday shopping spree-- and return several hours later to claim their turn.
Topping the holiday shopping list is julekaka (Swedish Christmas bread), a cardamom coffee cake with candied fruits, citron and raisins. Other popular items include marzipan logs, mincemeat pies and combination cranberry/apple/pecan pies.
This bakery produces 20 different kinds of coffee cakes, including apple-walnut and raisin streusel, as well as custard eclairs, tortes and strawberry logs. A variety of cookies include gingerbread and chocolate chip cookies with pecans.
More like a teashop than a bakery, it features fresh flowers, counter help in neat blue-and-white aprons, rosemaling in the window and a plate collection on display. Behind the counter, neat rows of baskets contain loaves of limpa, cinnamon and potato bread.
Swedish Bakery: (888) 561-8919
Zingerman's - Ann Arbor, MI
The mail-order deli of choice for University of Michigan alumni and other nosh-fanciers nationwide is no mean baker. According to Zingerman's, its bakehouse uses methods you'd find if whisked back to a small shtetl in Eastern Poland circa 1897 or to turn-of-the-last-century Paris-- albeit bolstered by modern technology.
Legions of loyal fans rave about traditional Jewish baked goods-- challah bread and mandelbread, a sort of Jewish biscotti loaded with almonds and fresh orange and lemon zest (you can smell the citrus when you break one open).
Rugelach, royalty of Jewish baked goods (rugel means "royal" in Yiddish), is flaky cream cheese pastry rolled around toasted walnuts, currants and lots of cinnamon sugar. For an assortment, check out the "(better than) bubbe's baked goods gift box," which is available by mail order only.
Widely acclaimed for goyim holiday celebrations are Zingerman's rich, rum-laced stollen and cranberry pecan bread. Check its Web site for item availability (some goodies are made only during the holidays) and for additional food offerings.
Zingerman's: (888) 636-8162