Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bakeries of Chicago

The city of Chicago won me over with its amazing shopping, museums galore, and distinct cleanliness but if I had to pick an absolute favorite part of the trip (aside from the obvious answer--seeing family) it would be the bakeries, not only the bakeries but the event we made of each and every one.

Baking is about as 'in' right now as photography, and if you've only ever spent ten minutes on social media you know exactly what I mean. Every other girl is dreaming of starting her own little bakery in a special place tucked away from the mindless chugging of mass produced products, in a pathetically romantic setting marked with Victorian houses, a sun that always shines, organic restaurants, and flowers, lots and lots of flowers.

Meanwhile, I'm over here like, ‘Can I just come and eat it all and then write about it?’

While I do favor baking over cooking, I'm learning that I favor eating over baking any day. Writing about it only further commits the experience to memory, making me want to go for a second visit…and I’m totally fine with that.

Though I may sound a little sarcastic towards bakeries, I promise, I'm not. I love them so, so much, and might be a teensy bit jealous that I'm not independently wealthy enough to quit my job and spend my mornings in such an environment, latte in hand, nibbling* away at a pastry as I write.

A girl can dream, can't she?

*I used that word for your benefit. Realistically speaking the word would be chomping, or inhaling, at the very least.

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It was desperate circumstances which led us to our first bakery, Bravo Bakery in Mt. Prospect, IL. Bravo is an authentic Mexican bakery, visit their site: www.bravobakery.biz for a list of all their pastries.

The precedent for how we would behave towards bakeries was set with this visit.

The coolest thing about Bravo is that you get to help yourself. Grab a shopping basket lined with wax paper, drool over the rows and rows and baked goodies, then load your basket with no less than five items.

At least that’s what we did.

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When the cashier told me that our five monster sized pastries would be $6.00 (total!) my valley girl came out and I said, "Shut up!" She blinked at me, smiled, and nodded that the price was correct.

We brought our treasures back to the hotel room and then cut each pastry into four pieces so that we could all taste everything. This seemed the only natural thing to do and we proceeded to continue eating this way at every bakery in our trip. If you've never shared baked goods in such a way, I highly recommend it. We didn't have to go through the "eyes bigger than your stomach?" experience because we were able to go wild ordering four to six items, sometimes maybe more, which we then shared (making it as though we all had only eaten one...or two...pastries each.

It is not only my most delicious memory of this trip, but my fondest. Food has a natural way of bonding people together and bringing about natural joy. Some of my best memories started around the dinner table or over a decadent dessert made to share with loved ones.

I'm going to attempt to pick a favorite pastry from each bakery, but just know that there wasn't one thing I ate that I disliked.

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At Bravo, the sugar donut was it. While in Mexico--goodness, over 12 years ago--for my senior class mission’s trip, we had fresh baked donuts available to us every morning. They were the best donuts of my life. Hubby and I are always on the lookout to find something similar in America. The closest we've come are these glazed donuts in Atlantic City.

Do you ever get a pastry filled with cheese, fruit, or creme and when the filling runs out you aren't interested in the rest because it is often too dry or lacking flavor? With the pastries from Bravo not one had an 'I don't want any more of this' quality.

We discovered Le Pain Quotidien out of, yet again, a desperate need for coffee and sweets. While shopping on Armitage Avenue we ran smack dab into three completely different coffee/bakery choices: Starbucks, a cute little macaroon shop, and Le Pain Quotidien. Starbucks was an obvious no. As much as I love my local Starbucks, when I have the opportunity to get something that isn’t ten minutes away from my house, I take it. The macaroon shop seemed too specific so we charged into Le Pain Quotidien.

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Here’s what we got:

cheese almond Danish
French cream donut
chocolate croissant (pain au chocolat),
lemon tart
chocolate chip cookie

And cappuccinos, of course.

Everyone agreed, our very favorite was the French cream donut, but the lemon tart was a close second. We added the tart at the recommendation of the gentleman serving us. The crust of the tart was light and crumbly; the lemon was tart, but not overpowering, with a rich creaminess that made it divine.

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Now, the donut. I’ll explain how amazing the donut was with this: after splitting it four ways (and having eaten all the other amazing pastries listed) Hubby and Joel both went up and bought another donut—each.

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I’ve recently discovered that Le Pain Quotidien has locations in LA and NYC. I’m not sure how we ever missed it in our many travels to NYC, but I’ll be looking for it next time, for sure!

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Now, please don’t judge me. But about an hour after we had wolfed down the amazing aforementioned pastries we ran into this building:

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I knew it was of utmost importance that we try a donut from this glorious place regardless of how full we all were, the gentlemen especially.

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I went simple and ordered a Vanilla Bean Glazed donut which was pretty darn close to the mission’s trip donut mentioned earlier. As we were all sharing bites, Mallory asked the girl behind the counter which one was her favorite. She pointed to a massive chocolate donut which I had immediately wanted, but my full tummy said no way! Go here: https://www.goglazed.com/product/4 to see this monster. When I realized that underneath all the chocolatey frills was a chocolate glazed donut (my favorite!) I contemplated buying one.

But I was strong and decided it was better that I didn’t.

I would have been too tempted to eat it then and there.

Are you keeping score? We’re up to two, technically three, bakeries. That’s not even counting a quick trip we made for coffee to Caffe Bene on day two.

In addition to loving the selection of treats at the bakeries we visited, the customer service was above average. In spite of the ridiculously large number of items we ordered each time, and the speed at which we made our decisions (slower than average, I’m sure), the employees at every bakery were cheerful, if not excited by our excitement over their goodies.

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This was especially the case at Floriole. After we ordered an obnoxious amount of pastries, the girl who took our order brought over a pineapple upside down cake and told us it was her favorite, and that we had to try it.

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Here is what we shared:

Hot cross bun
Poppyseed cookie
Peanut butter cookie
Pain au chocolat
Gateau basque (almond butter cake)
Citrus tart, Coconut
Lime Tart
Pineapple upside down cake

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The winner (which almost brought Joel to the counter to order another) was Gateau Basque. This almond butter cake was moist and subtly sweet throughout—the best possible cake one could have without icing and candles. The pineapple upside down cake was very close in texture and flavor.

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We squeezed our last bakery stop in right before we needed to head to the airport.

We don’t mess around. We live our vacations to the fullest.

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Molly's Cupcakes is a previous winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, which means, duh, they’re awesome. When we ordered, the question wasn’t whether or not the cupcakes would be good, but which of the many flavors lining the cases we should choose. With little room to move around, people in front and immediately behind us in line, and no open table or chairs we had to crane our necks to try and get a peek of the case of cupcakes.

At Molly’s you have the opportunity to make your own cupcake instead of ordering from their premade cupcake selection.

By the time we were ordering a table cleared out and Joel ran over to claim it. As soon as his bottom hit the chair, one of the employees put a sign on the table letting us all know that we had 30 minutes at the table and that there needed to be at least three people in our group.

I’m guessing Molly’s is often packed.

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Here are the cupcakes we ordered:

Cake Batter
Nutella
Cookie Monster
Choco-ccino

The ├ęclair cupcake was interesting (it was essentially an ├ęclair on top of a cupcake), but we decided to order two chocolate covered Oreos instead of a fifth cupcake.

Because, seriously, five cupcakes is just out of control.

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The cupcakes were tough to share because they all had fillings, but we did so regardless.

And I’m so glad we did.

I can’t pick a favorite. I’m sorry. I loved them all, but cannot choose between Cake Batter and Cookie Monster. Cake Batter had raw cake batter inside and Cookie Monster had cookie batter inside. This wasn’t a squirt of basic icing inside of a cupcake. It was specific fillings, perfected to marry beautifully with each unique cupcake flavor.

I knew the bakeries were my favorite part of the trip as we finished off our cupcakes and I felt a tug of sadness over knowing I’d be leaving my brother and SIL soon and not able to so easily share in such experiences for a while.

Other than the definite need for you to immediately take a trip to Chicago to discover the amazing bakeries the city is home to, hopefully this post will excite you to grab your significant other and two of your favorite people and share in a similar bakery experience.