A perfectly made cake is one of a baker’s greatest achievements, both irresistibly delicious and pleasing to the eye. Anyone taking classes at culinary arts institutes can appreciate the vision, skill and labor that goes into some of the finest desserts. And anyone who is interested in the baking and pastry arts can take inspiration from bakeries where the ovens consistently turn out truly exceptional confections.
Quality cakes come in endless varieties, from sponge to cheesecake and chocolate to carrot. Though they may have different specialties, great bakers are all skilled at combining bold, sweet flavors with moist texture. Meanwhile, they ensure that every dessert they prepare is beautifully presented, often collaborating with designers or decorators.
“Great bakers combine bold, sweet flavors with moist texture.”
Such attention to detail is certainly evident at Lulu’s Cake Boutique in Scarsdale, New York. The bakery’s chefs pride themselves upon an attention to craftsmanship and employing high-quality ingredients, including specialty chocolates and locally sourced fruits. For instance, there is the Rhapsody in Raspberry, a vanilla cake with lemon custard and raspberry buttercream. Those who can’t get enough chocolate can enjoy a confection that features both Valrhona pudding and fudge frosting. And if you’re after something more unusual, you can opt for a choice like the Subourbon; this vanilla cake is made with spiced caramel, English toffee and bourbon cream cheese frosting.
The desserts at Miami’s Ice Box Cafe achieved international fame through a series of television appearances. However, the selection of cakes proves the hype was justified. Those with especially decadent tastes can look no further than the Chocolate Delight, consisting of two layers of chocolate cake with mousse filling, plus a layer of cheesecake brownie and chocolate ganache. If you prefer coconut, you might select a light chiffon layer cake, soaked in sweetened coconut milk and featuring coconut pastry cream, pink buttercream and coconut shavings.
Michelle Gayer is the James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef behind Salty Tart Bakery in Minneapolis. Bon Appetit called her white chocolate lemon blueberry cake one of the best in the country. This vanilla bean cake features fruit filling and white chocolate frosting, and it’s topped with berries and slices of lemon. If you prefer, you can customize your own cake, choosing from fillings like dulce de leche, lemon curd and a seasonal fruit compote, as well as frostings such as buttercream caramel, chocolate mousse or ganache.
Tradition and innovation
Where some pastry chefs focus on finding new ways to combine and contrast sweet flavors, others are committed to exploring the culinary background and time-tested techniques of baking. Numerous bakeries across the U.S. specialize in desserts and pastries inspired by French traditions, including a huge variety of cakes. Of course, just because these bakers appreciate the history of cake doesn’t mean they don’t put exciting spins on their creations.
“Many bakeries specialize in desserts inspired by French traditions.”
Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City is most famous for inventing the now-ubiquitous breakfast hybrid, the cronut. However, the namesake chef – a winner of the James Beard Award – crafts many other classic items and desserts that bring an innovative flair to Continental baking. Among these is the Mini-Me cake, a sponge cake with mousse and ganache, topped off with miniature meringues.
Lady M Cake Boutique is also located in New York and is similarly known for putting a unique spin on a French patisserie favorite with its mille crepes. As the name implies, this is a unique combination of the traditional cream-layered pastry, mille-feuille, and handmade crepes. It is available in citron, coconut, chocolate and strawberry varieties. Still, the bakery also offers more conventional cake selections, like the Couronne du Chocolat. This item features layers of chocolate sponge cake and mousse with a crown of white chocolate shavings.
If you prefer a dessert that you can easily pick up and devour, you’ll be happy to know there are a number of excellent bakeries that specialize in cupcakes. At Sugar Bakeshop in Charleston, South Carolina, you can enjoy varieties such as vanilla blueberry, almond chocolate coconut and peanut butter. The bakery’s miniaturized take on a Lady Baltimore cake comes with figs, raisins and meringue icing. Molly’s Cupcakes, with locations in Chicago, New York City and Iowa City, built its reputation on using fillings like creme brulee, cake batter, peanut butter, Nutella, and peach cobbler.
Those who don’t eat animal products will be pleased to visit an establishment like New York’s Vegan Divas. As Food & Wine explained, the dairy and egg-free chocolate cake contains a chocolate mousse made with tofu, and it’s topped with a French chocolate glaze. Meanwhile, the cupcake flavors include choices like vanilla, strawberry and green tea.
If you are a budding chef or a student in culinary academy, cake is full of possibilities. By learning from some of the greatest examples out there today, you can create your own remarkable confections.