Saturday, October 1, 2011

Laura’s Lists: My Top Five Texas Bakery Bites

I adore finding great bakeries. The best ones have bakers who work long, hard hours to produce delights that melt in your mouth, have a marvelous crustiness, or satisfy your sweet tooth. The aromas of baking bread remind many of home. The only time my mom baked bread was when a tropical storm approached and all the Mrs. Baird’s disappeared from Houston grocery store shelves. To this day, the smells of baking remind me of hurricane prep….and I still love that first warm, chewy bite.

These are my five (OK, well, six) favorite Texas bakery bites (in no particular order). It’s certainly not an exhaustive list (Rebecca Rather’s cakes in Fredericksburg spring to mind, but I haven’t tried them yet). Where are your favorite bakeries?

1) Petits Fours from Moeller’s Bakery in Houston

This 80-year-old storefront produces amazing sweet and savory items. (I first wrote about them in my “Glutton’s Tour of Houston” entry.) Easter at my Frannie’s house was not complete without a plateful of vanilla and chocolate petits fours. The icing melts as soon as it hits your tongue, revealing a fluffy, light cake underneath. And they’re pretty, too. I always bring home a box when I visit Houston.

Also try: Cheese straws. Buy four or five trays. Really. Who cares about tummy aches?

2a) Tie: Sausage Kolaches from The Czech Stop in West, along IH-35

Somehow, I didn’t discover this place until a few years ago (despite the fact that I regularly drive from San Antonio to DFW). It’s easy to whizz right by it, since it’s inside a non-descript Shell gas station. But hit the brakes, find a place to park (sometimes tough), and pop inside. (I wrote about them in my “Finishing Off the Hill Country Wine Trail” entry.) The airy dough surrounds a well-seasoned sausage bite bathed in cheese. They also churn out a wide variety of sweet kolaches. No matter what time of day you visit, the bakers are hauling out tray after tray from the ovens.

Also try: Jalapeno Cheese Summer Sausage. Buy several; they freeze well.

2b) Tie: Sausage Kolaches from Naegelin’s Bakery in New Braunfels

I can’t decide which I like better. They’re both kolaches, but in this version, the Pillsbury-croissant-like dough (but way better) hugs the filling. Look for ones where the cheese has melted out the end to get a bonus cheese crunchie, which offsets the pleasantly chewy dough. During summer family vacations growing up, Dad woke at 5:30 am and brought us back a boxful right out of the ovens. Food hugs.

Also try: Gingerbread men. They remind me of the ones my Grandmama bought me at the (old) Rice supermarket on Post Oak in Houston.

3)Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcake from SaWeet Cupcakes @saweetcupcakes in San Antonio

The pink SaWeet van entered the San Antonio food truck market early, in 2009. Right now, they mostly hang out at the Boardwalk on Bulverde, but I’ve also found them at the Pearl Brewery, the Legacy Outdoor Market, and other locations. Find out where they are by following them on Twitter. (Logistical note: they bake in a commercial kitchen, then load up for their destination.) They create a wide variety of flavors, but I’ll buy the Salted Caramel Chocolate cupcake every time I see it on their menu. They lightly salt the fluffy buttercream on top, and the moist, tender chocolate cupcake bursts with a gooey caramel center.

Also try: Well, just about any of their cupcakes. Coconut is a crowd-pleaser and disappears quickly from the menu.

4) Chocolate Cream Pie from Koffee Kup in Hico

One of life’s dilemmas: on a drive to DFW, cross over to IH-35 (from 281) at Evant to visit Czech Stop, or continue on 281 to pick up a pie at Koffee Kup Restaurant in Hico (HIGH-co, not HEE-co). This family-owned restaurant opened in 1970, and in addition to a full-service restaurant, prepares hundreds of pies a day for take-out. Their meringue pies sport toppers that remind me of Anne Richards’ bouffant hairdo (but taste way better). They carefully pack the pies so they arrive undamaged to your final destination. Bright fruit, creamy fillings, and even an egg custard pie!

Also try: Sitting down for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

5) Mango Cake from the CIA Bakery and Café @ciabakerycafe

When the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) announced the opening of a third campus in San Antonio a few years ago, the foodie world here just about collectively fainted. Really? The CIA? Here? Then we fainted again when they opened their CIA Bakery Café this past spring. It may be a tired phrase, but the desserts are (almost) too pretty to eat. Their mango cake is light and fluffy, with delicate tropical flavors and not overpoweringly sweet. The San Antonio Express-News dining critics chose them as the best San Antonio bakery in the recent Reader’s Choice poll. Well deserved.

Also try: Enrolling in one of the CIA’s new “cooking enthusiast” classes.

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