CakeSpy Undercover: Potito's Italian American Pastries, Philadelphia

Ricotta pie from Potito's Bakery

Where once, on Walnut Street, was the Philly Chocolate Company, now there is Potito's.

The chocolate company has moved, and Potito's has opened a center city outpost of their bakery, which is based in South Philadelphia.

And of course CakeSpy has visited. How could you NOT visit a place that offers a huge cannoli filled with millions of baby-cannoli?

Photo: ThrillistDudes, I know. I know. It's like witnessing the miracle of cannoli birth.

At the bakery, you'll be greeted with a generous display of baked goods, ranging from Italian classics (cookies by the pound, cannoli, lobster tails, etc) to American sweets (cupcakes, pies, etc). Because the bakery prides itself on being Italian-American, I decided to stick with an Italian roster of sweets to sample.

First up, the cannoli. At $3.95 each, I consider them fairly heftily priced, but obviously made with love and care. I've been told that in Chicago, there is a place that sells them for $9.00 per, though, so maybe I shouldn't focus so much on the cost, but rather tell you that the filling was dreamy?

Photo: Potito'sA rainbow cookie was highly satisfactory, a solid version of the Italian bakery staple.

Next up, an Italian ricotta tart. It's that lovely featured at the top of the post.  Clearly they know their ricotta filling, which was a very nice texture and flavor. Lightly sweet and nicely complemented by a cocoa topping and strawberry on top. The crust was lightly sweet, making for a pleasant backdrop for the tart.

Potito's Bakery, two locations (Center City and South Philadelphia); online here.

CakeSpy Undercover: Nook Bakery and Cafe, Philadelphia

Apple custard bar, nook bakery, philadelphia

There it is, hidden in plain sight in the middle of a busy city block: Nook Bakery. 

I say hidden not because it really is, but because somehow I had walked by roughly a zillion times without ever actively noticing that it said "Bakery" on the door. I thought it was just a coffee shop! No offense to coffee shops, of course, but for me, bakeries hold higher interest. 

Nook Bakery, Philadelphia

But you can bet your bottom dollar that on the day I had my glasses prescription updated and finally noticed the word bakery, I went right in to buy something. 

Nook bakery, philadelphia

They have a very nice bakery display, including cupcakes, brownies, cookies, and bars. I hope nobody minds, but I snagged a few photos from their Yelp page to give you a better idea, because I only had my phone camera. Here are some of the things you might see there. 

Nook Bakery, Philadelphia Nook Bakery, Philadelphia

After much debate, I settled on a brownie and an apple custard bar.

Nook Bakery, Philadelphia

Mostly, I am going to talk about the apple custard bar, though, because that was my favorite. Apple custard bar, nook bakery, philadelphia

What seemed a pie like pastry molded into a Napoleon shaped brick, this apple custard bar had a sturdy bottom shortbread-y layer and a sturdy brown sugar crumb topping, but the inside was all gooey yum. The custard was smooth and played oh so nicely with the light spice of the apples, which permeated all parts with a sweetness that was most welcome to this mouth.

I would definitely need another. 

Apple custard bar, nook bakery, philadelphia

I will certainly be visiting Nook again, and I have my sights set on more bar cookies and the delicious looking cupcakes (one of which is pictured above, courtesy the Nook Yelp page).

Nook Bakery and Cafe, 15 South 20th Street, Philadelphia; online here.

Sweet Times at Ms Goody Cupcake, Philadelphia

Ms goody Cupcake

We're going to talk about Ms. Goody Cupcake today, I promise. But first. When you walk into a bakery, do you consider every single little thing that had to come into play for this experience to happen? 

In your own life, zillions of little tiny things have happened, of course. But I'm talking now about the bakery itself. It may have started as a dream, but then it went through a strenuous time of buildout, health inspections, and refining recipes that work perfectly in a home kitchen to be suitable for commercial production and consumption. It boggles the mind. 

Ms goody Cupcake

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Gigi, the owner of Ms. Goody Cupcake in Philadelphia, and had the pleasure of learning more of her story. And with that, here are a few things you may not have known about this sweet little spot nestled in the up and coming East Passyunk area: 

What's in a name? The name came to her in an unexpected way: at a big box store! Owner Gigi was debating cupcake shop names--she had already dismissed Gigi's as it was already taken, and had rejected several others that seemed to generic. Then, while in a Wal-Mart parking lot in New Jersey, she overheard a conversation in which one person called the other a "Ms. Goody Two-Shoes." She thought--that's it! Ms. Goody Cupcake was born.

Sweet Trivia: Gigi's husband owns a pizza shop a few blocks away. I found this impossibly romantic, the perfect marriage of the foods I always eat on my birthday! 

Overcoming obstacles: On the day that she opened, Gigi slipped on the store's newly mopped floor and had to close! When she re-opened again, she suffered another injury shortly thereafter and had to close yet again! Luckily, her supportive neighborhood was ready and waiting for her sweet treats. 

Playing favorites: Gigi doesn't like to play favorites, BUT. Her personal favorite cupcake from the menu is the Tiramisu cupcake, offered as a special on occasion, which features coffee and mascarpone. Yum. 

Happy Hour: Ms. Goody cupcake does offer several boozy cupcake options. They're not available all the time, but they're popular when they are around. Beer-pretzel cupcake? Sounds perfect for Father's Day. Talk about a sweet buzz.

Ms goody Cupcake

Now that I've given you some fun tidbits, let's talk about the cupcakes. There is a roster of about five flavors (basics, you know) that are always available, and then every day you'll see several other flavors that are specials. On the day I went, they included a "Banana Split" (banana cake, chocolate drizzle, cherry on top--pictured top), "Lunch Lady" (peanut butter and jelly), and "Holy Cannoli" (cannoli cream-esque frosting, bits of shell on the top - yum).

Ms goody Cupcake

I tried one of their regular cupcakes--the "Pretty In Pink", which is a champagne cupcake available in the prettiest cake color, and the aforementioned "Banana Split". I thoroughly enjoyed my cupcake experience on both counts. I wouldn't call the cupcakes here fancy--but don't think that is an insult in any way. They are homey types of cakes, and that is sometimes very satisfying. Ms goody Cupcake The frostings are assertively dense, and perfectly sweet. The cake itself falls somewhere in the middle--not poundcakey, but definitely not spongey or over-light. The champagne cupcake had a nice bite from the champagne which was rather nice with the sweetness of the frosting. The banana cupcake was satisfyingly moist, but not to be confused with banana bread, ever, with all the sweetness happening on the upper level.

Pretty in Pink cake truffle

I also tried a cake truffle--once again, the "Pretty In Pink". You could still taste that little bite of the champagne, which was especially nice against the white chocolate coating, which can be so-o-o-o sweet sometimes. Nice. 

Ms goody Cupcake

Thought I didn't try them on this visit, they also have cookies, a different type of cake every week (Jewish Apple cake on the day of my visit), and doggie treats. They also offer custom cakes by request. 

Ms goody Cupcake

In the East Passyunk area? Go check them out, yo. It's a fun neighborhood to walk around in, as well.

Ms. Goody Cupcake, 1838 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia PA; online here.

CakeSpy Undercover: Brown Betty Desserts, Philadelphia

Brown Betty

Let's sit for a spell and chat about the magic that is Brown Betty Dessert Boutique in Philadelphia.

First, because I know you like to get the nasty bits out of the way straightaway, I need to tell you that the only flaw in this delectable beacon of sweetness is their hours. They have two locations: the main, have-a-seat-enjoy-a-treat spot in the Northern Liberties neighborhood. This one doesn't open til noon. The second location, a tiny spot at the Liberty Place mall in Center City, doesn't open til 10am. I know. Don't they know I need cake for breakfast?

But--and it is hard for me to say this, trust me--it's worth waiting til 10 or noon, depending on where you are. Because the desserts are really good.

Brown Betty

The bakery definitely veers toward southern sweets, and has a very cute story (per their website):

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique is named after our mother/grandmother, Elizabeth Ruth Hnton (friends and family call her either Betty or Liz). Every Sunday when we'd go to visit there'd be a few baked goods already baked: hard tacks (a country word for biscuits), apple pies (always two at a time) or those mile high poundcakes. Everyone loved them! Elizabeth's love and talent for baking and the stories she told of her youth while doing so are the inspiration for Brown Betty. While Elizabeth doesn't bake as much as she used to (she is still our most trusted and toughest critic) - we still remember how good it all used to taste.

The menu is heavy (pun intended) on pound cake, which is a specialty and the base for many of their cupcakes and layer cakes. But while cakes dominate the menu, they're not the only item available. There are also some very nice looking cookies available, and they also do rice pudding, peach cobbler (seasonally), and, of course, Apple Brown Betty.

Brown Betty

After doing the jerk thing I do and asking "what is the best thing here?" to the employee working at the time, I was advised to go for the "Only For Eliza"--sweet potato poundcake with spiced Vanilla buttercream. A lovely poundcake with a nicely rounded-out flavor, earthy and soothing, from the sweet potato; sweet as can be and far more enjoyable with frosting. "That's a good cupcake" I say. Only for Eliza...and ME!

I have also sampled their "Sing Little Alice"--Chocolate and Vanilla Cake Swirled and Vanilla or Chocolate Buttercream. And their "Company's Comin'"--Vanilla Poundcake and Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream. I freaking love how they use poundcake as the base of many of their cakes and cupcakes. It makes them so enjoyable, and the cake is rich and nice and buttery, so it isn't a bummer if you ration out the frosting wrong in your eating and end up with a bite or two of just cake. The cookies are good, too. They are nice, big softies. Just the way I like it.

Of course, if you're not in Philadelphia, or even near Philadelphia, they have a cookbook: The Brown Betty Cookbook

They do weddings too, and--I love this--their guiding principle is, "We are obsessed with the concept that our wedding and special occasion cakes taste as good as they look (if not better)."

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, two locations; main location, 722 N. 2nd Street, Northern Liberties neighborhood; petite location, Liberty Place mall in Center City, near the 17th Street entrance; more info on the website.

CakeSpy Undercover: Cake and the Beanstalk, Philadelphia

Cake and the beanstalk - image, Cake and the Beanstalk

CakeSpy Note: Because I seem to have misplaced my photos of Cake and the Beanstalk, many are from their website, and the banana cake is from Penn Appetit. 

You are pretty much bound by honor to love any bakery that has the tagline "Fee fi fo YUM". 

Such a bakery can be found in Cake and the Beanstalk, a place where children can play and adults are invited to along with them. And there are sweets enough for everyone.

Cake and the beanstalk - image, Cake and the Beanstalk

When I say children can play, I mean that literally. They do all sorts of events and story time activities at Cake and the Beanstalk, in their sun-drenched cafe room. 

The bakery area is small, but has a respectable case. Blondies take up notably more space than brownies, which is just fine with me. You might find blondies that are studded with rolo candies or caramel or something else tasty on the day of your visit. The blondies are nice and dense and thick, chewy and depending on what candies or goodies are stuffed in it, possibly gooey too. Blondies definitely have more fun at this shop. 

Image c/o Cake and the beanstalk

Cookies and cakes are well executed here, and nicely enjoyed in the sunny "sitting room" adjoining the bakery. Oh, and they also do custom cakes. Here's one that caught my eye: 

Homer cake

Mmm, cake depicting donut.

When I asked what cake could not be missed in their case, proprietor Dan led me to an interesting choice: the banana cake with chocolate ganache. What gives? As he revealed in an interview

"The banana chocolate walnut cake. It’s studded with chocolate chips and walnuts and is finished with a silky chocolate glaze. It’s my specialty; the recipe has been in my family for years. I tweaked the original recipe, reducing the amount of sugar and adding more bananas to add natural sweetness; I also added the glaze component. It’s a must-try."

As Dan revealed to me in a conversation, the glaze is something he honed while working at fancy restaurants as a pastry chef, so really, this cake is an amalgamation of high end meets down home baking. A delicious combination. 

Cake and the Beanstalk is a sweet little spot to enjoy a bite or ten of something sweet and feel like life is simple and sweet if only for a few minutes.

Cake and the Beanstalk, 1112 Locust Street, Philadelphia; online here. CakeSpy Note: Because I seem to have misplaced my photos of Cake and the Beanstalk, many are from their website, and the banana cake is from Penn Appetit. 

January 28: National Blueberry Pancake Day

Source: via Cake on Pinterest


May your National Blueberry Pancake Day be sweet, sticky, and very buttery!

Yes, you heard me right. Today, January 28, is National Blueberry Pancake Day

If you're in Philadelphia, or if you find yourself near Philadelphia, anytime soon, please celebrate by getting a "short stack" at the Dutch Eating Place in the Reading Terminal Market. Maybe it's better if you're not in Philadelphia today, though, they're only open Tuesday through Saturday (pancake day observed, anyone?). They are an Amish business, which is why they don't open every day, although many of the vendors are only there Wednesday through Saturday, so consider yourself lucky for the Tuesday. Plus, they wear the cutest Amish garb while they serve you. But I digress. These are some of the finest blueberry pancakes I have ever tasted--fat yet fluffy, with blueberries that taste sweet and tart and have a pleasingly plump texture (not dehydrated, not weird). Plus, they serve their (huge) pancakes with a "pat" of butter that is about the size of a deck of cards--can you see it on the left hand side of the photo above?

Dutch Eating Place, 1200 Arch Street (in the Reading Terminal Market); more info here.

Pastry Profiles: Hamantashen, Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, Philadelphia

Hamantashen, famous 4th street

I love Hamantashen. Those jaunty hat-shaped cookies may be most strongly associated with Purim, the Jewish holiday, but really, they taste great pretty much any day of the year. And luckily, they're available pretty much any time of the year at a delightful spot called The Famous 4th Street Delicatessen in Philadelphia. 

Famous 4th Street

The famous 4th Street is fantastic for many reasons, but most visually impressive is the sheer size of their baked goods. Seriously, the picture above doesn't quite give you an idea of scale. Their sweets are supersized: their cakes are baked in huge loaves, about 4 times the size of a regular piece of pound cake. Their coconut macaroons are the size of a softball;


the hamantashen measure about 5 inches across. While a mere look at the pricing might seem appalling ($3 for a hamantashen; $8 for an eclair), when considering the size of the goods, it's really quite appropriate.

Famous 4th street

But back to the hamantashen. Recently I picked up a few because I suspected that I would be able to double up and fill both my face and my soul with joy at once. 

Famous 4th Street

I was right.


I'm not sure what experts would say, but for me, a successful hamantashen has a texture which falls somewhere between butter cookie and scone: very carb-y, lightly crumbly, but not crumble-apart. The Fourth street version managed to heighten my desired texture by attaining a crust that was flaky too. It was brushed with an egg wash for a pretty appearance and a nice light chewiness on top, which ensured that the cookie part crumbled and flaked in my mouth, not my hand. The cherry filling was good without being remarkable; the poppyseed and prune filling was more interesting, with a nice texture from the poppyseeds and the prune added a nice stickiness which contrasted the cookie with its mellow sweetness. It made me want to make like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and sleep in all that poppy-fueled joy.

These cookies were perfect when paired with milk, and a delight as both an after dinner treat and a breakfast item. If you love Hamantashen, or think you might be willing to try to love it, Famous 4th street is a good place to try, says this Spy.

Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, Philadelphia; online here. 

CakeSpy Undercover: Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

Cookie Stack

I'm now going to take a few minutes to tell you about a place called Cookie Confidential in Philadelphia. 

I was first alerted to the magic that is Cookie Confidential by CakeSpy reader--from Canada of all places!--who told me, in so many words, "dudette, they have Philly cheesesteak cookies. For reals! Go eat one!". Of course I was intrigued, and a visit to the website revealed a treasure trove of interesting treats.

Although the name "Cookie Confidential" might suggest a strong emphasis on cookies, it actually seems to be comprised of three main elements: cookies, cupcakes in a jar, and brittles. At the store, they complement it all with Franklin Fountain ice cream. 

But for now, we're going to focus on the cookies. 

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

They have a large variety of flavors, starting with the classics: chocolate chip, sugar, snickerdoodle, peanut butter...but then, very quickly you'll progress into slightly less-expected flavors, such as chocolate chip bacon, "strawberry shortcake" ("A shortbread cookie is the base for this sweet and creamy treat. We add in fresh pureed strawberries & white chocolate chunks for a satisfying bite of summertime in you mouth, no matter what the weather outside!"), and Lemon cashew...

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

...and then the downright strange, including Philly Cheesesteak, which is described as "Dehydrated grass fed beef mingles with dehydrated red onions in our organic, cheesy, cheddar cookie topped off with a sweet tomato cream cheese. Try getting one of these from Mrs. Fields!"; Sriracha Mango, "The Rooster Has Landed. No that's not code, the Sriracha Mango cookie is here! Sweet, savory, spicy, spectacular! A little bit of Thai come to roost at Cookie Confidential."; and of course, who could forget the Peanut Butter Hot Dog, "Made initially as a custom order for some friends (thanks Ethan and Nate!), we loved this killer cookie so much it has been added to the line up. We take our traditional peanut buttercookie, splash in some balsamic vinegar and a touch of Philadelphia Bee Co's honey, then add in some chopped up, dehydrated, nitrate free hot dogs... next level intensity. "

We picked up a nice variety of flavors: chocolate chip, brown sugar peach, raspberry balsamic, lemon honey coriander, chocolate chip bacon, and chocolate coconut almond. Since they didn't have it on the day of the initial visit, I returned later for the Philly Cheesesteak (more on that below).

The cookies are not large, so I would suggest trying 2-3 flavors. They are fairly crisp, with a lighter slightly chewy texture in the center. They're quite buttery. In my opinion, you like the style of Tate's chocolate chip cookies, these will probably be right up your alley. 

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

The chocolate chip was nice, a rich and buttery version of the classic. Brown sugar peach was mellow and comforting, and begged to be paired with lemonade. 

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

Lemon honey coriander was intriguing, with a slightly spicy flavor that, had I not known what the flavor was, would have eluded me and made me continue eating out of curiosity.

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

Raspberry balsamic was probably my favorite flavor from the tasting, lightly abrasive from the balsamic but then smoothed around the edges by the sweetness of the berries. A refreshing and interesting cookie.

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

Chocolate-bacon was salty-sweet; a little bacon goes a long way, and I found myself craving a creamy counterpart--bet this one would have been really nice with ice cream.

Image: Phillymag.comBut I know the one you really want to hear about is the Philly Cheesesteak. I returned for this one because they didn't have it on the day of my first visit. Of course I didn't bring my camera, so to the left you'll see the picture from Philly Magazine.

Actually, I almost feel like this shouldn't be called a cookie--or perhaps it should be re-labeled "savory biscuit". Because when you eat it thinking "cookie", it's strange. It's salty and savory and feels like you want a bowl of tomato soup. But when I thought about it as "savory biscuit", and thought about how it might pair with a bowl of soup, it was actually quite a nice morsel, sort of like a crispy cheese puff with a soupçon of beef. Sort of like a cookie hors d'ouevre. 

So I guess it's all about the way you look at it. Looking at the cookie in that way made it enjoyable to me! 

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

Although I didn't try one of their cupcakes, I would like to give you a primer on what they do. Cupcakes come either single or double cake in reusable glass jelly jars (return your empty one to the shop for a free cookie!); the mini cupcakes are served in push pop form. As they put it, "Grab a spoon, and get ready for your new bad habit!". I like that.

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

Flavors include a rotating roster: Red Velvet, Maple Buttermilk, Maple Bacon Buttermilk, Chocolate Buttermilk, Chocolate Bacon Buttermilk, Vanilla Buttermilk, Strawberry Buttermilk, Neapolitan, Chocolate Covered Strawberry, Chocolate Jalapeno, Vanilla Raspberry, Chocolate Raspberry, Banana Split, Apple Chai, plus seasonals (ie Strawberry Limeade, Brown Sugar Peach, Coconut Key Lime, Ginger Snap, Pumpkin, Vanilla Peppermint, Chocolate Peppermint, etc). All available vegan EXCEPT bacon flavors.

They also have "Beer Cakes" which are made with various types of beer, and jars of brittle for sale. 

Cookie Confidential, Philadelphia

Overall, this is a fun and adventurous little spot to visit, and naturally I loved the undercover/spy vibe. The only warning I give is don't think you're going to have cookies for breakfast: they open at noon!

Cookie Confidential, 517 S. 5th Street, Philadelphia; online here.

Ask CakeSpy: Bakeries in Philadelphia?

CUPCAKE from Philly Cupcake

Dear CakeSpy,

I live in Seattle and have been a blog follower since you started.  My daughter just moved to Philadelphia and I am visiting her in two weeks.  Please you suggest some bakery "musts", cupcakes included, for us to visit.

Coast to Coast Sweets-Chaser

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dear Coast to Coast,

First, let me commend you on your fantastic choice in website reading. CakeSpy rules! And so nice to hear from a reader who lives in the city I lived during many of the CakeSpy Years--Seattle--and is soon to visit the city I currently in which I currently reside, Philadelphia. 

Now, I don't like to give blanket suggestions, and if you were a buddy calling me on the phone, I would probably follow up with "well, where are you staying?" so that I could personalize my suggestions based on places you could reasonably get to. But assuming you're staying in the Center City area, and probably not staying too long, let me say that if you were MY guest, I'd probably take you to these places. 

Even if you were only here for 2 hours, I would make sure to take you to the Reading Terminal Market. Preferably between Wednesday and Saturday, because on those magical days, the Amish vendors are present. The Reading Terminal market is Philadelphia's equivalent to the Pike Place Market, but it's housed in the former terminus of the Reading Terminal Railroad. There are foods aplenty to enjoy there, but since we are talking dessert, I'd focus on showing you:

Bassets Ice Cream, which has been doing it since 1861 and doing it well.

Pretzel cone

Miller's Twist, where they also have ice cream and can serve it to you in a Pretzel cone.

Philadelphia butter cake

Flying Monkey Patisserie, where I would insist you get the butter cake. If you're brave, go for the pumpple.

Beiler's Bakery, an Amish bakery where they wrap baked goods in plastic wrap like supermarket meat for some reason, but golly-me do I enjoy the Snickerdoodle Whoopie Pies. I would whizz right by the classic whoopies and go straight for the snickerdoodle. If you've never tried Shoofly pie, this wouldn't be a bad place to do it.

If you're there in the 4 o'clock hour or so, I'd take you to Famous Fourth Street Cookies, where at the end of the day the cookies are a dollar each. That is a steal, but other times of day they charge by the pound so you can be adding up a hefty bill.

Metropolitan bakery

If we had even more time, I'd take you by Termini Brothers Bakery for a cannoli and to Metropolitan Bakery for just about anything. Oh, and across from Metropolitan Bakery is a chocolate/candy counter where you can try a Wilbur Bud, which some say was the inspiration for the Hershey's Kiss.

Next, I'd once again ask what part of town you're going to be staying in. If you're staying in Old City, I vote that you simply must go to:

Franklin Fountain, an old timey ice cream spot and the next-door candy store, Shane Confectionery.

Tartes, AKA The cutest petite pink bakery ever; a walk-up window only, but very nice cookies and tarts.

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

Tiffany's Bakery, which is a great bakery in an unlikely location--a mall food court.

Wedge + Fig, for a fantastic grilled cheese and a cheese tart for dessert!

Gelato from Capogiro, Philadelphia

If you're further up, number-wise, in the street numbers in Center City (12th Street and up), I say that you simply must visit:

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique: They have a mini-location here, because you're probably not going to find yourself in the neighborhood where their main location is. Try the sweet potato cake!

Cake and the Beanstalk, for a homey and casual bakery spot owned by a dude who knows his baking--he was a pastry chef in a number of fancy restaurants before opening this cute place, which has the catch phrase "Fee fi fo YUM"! Though not a bakery, pop into Garces Trading Co. across the street too.

Chocolate Bouchon, Garces Trading Co

Capogiro Gelato: DO IT! One of my absolute favorites.

DiBruno Brothers, which is a gourmet food store but has a lot of sweet treats from various good bakeries in the city, and a case which is nom-worthy to gaze upon.

Federal Donuts

Federal Donuts, for donuts fried to order, and a tasty new location in the center city area!

Philly Cupcake Company, for very good cupcakes in a nice variety of flavors.

Scoop DeVille, for custom-made soft-serve including the mix-ins of your choice.

Swiss Haus Bakery, for some nice pastries and cakes.

You might not wander southward, but if you do, I also suggest:

isgro cannoli

Isgro Pasticceria, for a pricey but fun Italian bakery experience--try a cannoli!

Morning Glory Diner, for their delicious biscuits (not necessarily sweet but I will suggest it).

Other bakeries that I think are great but might not be geographically convenient: Belle CakeryBredenbeck's, Little Baby's Ice Cream, and Whipped Bake Shop!

There are a ton more bakeries, of course. I do not mean at all for this to be a comprehensive list. But, the ones listed above are very easily visited alongside with the Liberty Bell and all of the popular Philadelphia attractions, so they're the ones I am going to suggest for your first visit! Feel free to check out the Philadelphia tag to see more bakeries I've visited, of course.

Irish Potato Candy

Oh! And a regional specialty you'll see around at this time of year in Philadelphia: Irish Potatoes!





Yippee: Discover the Apee Cookie


Have you ever heard of an Apee, or AP? 

Although I respect the organizations, it has nothing to do with the grocery store A&P, or the Associated Press (AP). 

Nope: the Apee is a cookie I recently discovered. 


Curious, I hit the web, and the books. Here's what I discovered.

First, the The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: 2-Volume Set, which notes: 

"A recipe for apees, a rolled cutout cookie made with caraway seeds, sometimes called "seed cakes," first appeared in Eliza Leslie's Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828). Another version, known as "apeas," was based on German Anis Platchen (anise cookies), and Philadelphia bakers commonly sold them on the streets. Apeas became associated with Ann Page, a popular baker who stamped her initials, A.P., on the cookies. Anise is still a common flavoring used in a variety of cookies, ranging from old recipes for apeas to simple cutout cookies and ethnic specialties like German Springerles..."

Encyclopedia of Food and Drink by John Mariani, describes it like this: "Apee. Also "apea" and, in the plural "eepies." A spiced butter cookie or form of gingerbread. Legend has it that the word derives from the name of Ann Page, a Philadelphia cook who carved her initials into the tops of the confection. This was first noted in print in J.F. Watson's Annals of Philadelphia (1830) to the effect that Ann Page, then still alive, "first made [the cookies] many years ago, under the common name of cakes.'" 

Oddly though, the recipe I found for Apees does not include caraway seeds or spices. Nor did it call for stamping the letters (although I guess it wouldn't if that was one person's signature move). Nor did it include standardized measurements.

"Apees (Ice Cream and Cakes) 1 pound of butter 1 1/2 pounds of flour 1 pound of sugar 1 gill of milk Cream the butter and sugar; sift in the flour, then the milk, and stir it to a dough; turn it out on the moulding-board, and work to a fine dough again. Roll into sheets, as thick as a dollar piece, cut into small cakes, lay them on tins, and bake in a cool oven." --- Mrs. Rorer's Philadelphia Cook Book, 1886

Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try. So I evolved the old recipe into this recipe. Here's another that looks like they probably hit the mark more accurately, though!

Not Necessarily Historically Acurate Apees


  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon milk


Cream the butter and sugar; sift in the flour and mix, bit by bit, until incorporated. Roll into sheets, and cut into small cakes (I just dropped rounded teaspoons-ful onto a baking sheet). Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until crispy on the sides and bottom.

Apees Apees Apees Apees Apees

I made the cookies as drop cookies, but perhaps I should have done them as rolled or bar cookies. Who knows, dude. But either way, even though they weren't quite evenly crispy on the sides and middle, they still tasted good. Basic, but plenty buttery, they actually glistened with butter when taken out from the oven, and there may or may not have been the most tantalizing slight butter-sizzle as they were removed from heat. They became crisp as they cooled; when I garnished a nice bowl (not cup; bowl) of ice cream with a couple of these crispy cookies, I had absolutely no complaints. No complaints whatsoever. 

Either way, I think it's always fun to discover a "lost" recipe!

CakeSpy Undercover: Federal Donuts, Philadelphia

Federal Donuts

Today, I went to a place called Federal Donuts. They specialize in the following things, listed in order of my interest:

1. Donuts

2. Coffee

3. Fried Chicken

Apparently they have awesome fried chicken. Maybe one day I will go back to try it, but I hear the lines are epic. But mostly, I wanted to try the donuts.  Let me tell you about my experience.

Federal Donuts

When I walked into the small space, I had a good feeling about the donuts when I saw this: Federal donuts

I trust donuts!

Dollars to donuts, it was an extremely pleasant visit. When I walked in, I asked the friendly counter girl "what is going on here?" and she explained that they had a variety of "fancy" donuts ($2 ea), and you could also order donuts to be fried to order for $1.25. Whaa? Awesome. So the ordering began, and before you know it here is what was in front of me:

Federal Donuts

Whew! Time to get to work. Here's one of the spiced "Appolonia" donuts. Federal Donuts

Here's the creamsicle "fancy" one. Federal Donuts

and here was the figgity fig fig. I think they called it "double fig" but clearly I have made my decision. Figgity fig fig!

Federal Donuts

But the basis of everything--the place from whence it all begins--is the plain donut. They are fried to order.Federal Donuts

They have an interesting, smooth finish. But once you take a bite, you can see why this place is so freaking popular. It's delicious. It tastes like hot, doughy goodness. It's simple, and in its simplicity, it is great. It's assertively, but not aggressively, greasy, and somehow manages to have a feathery texture. It's a good donut to begin with, but the fact that it was fried to order, just for you, makes the experience so much richer.

 Federal Donuts

Let's have another one of those, shall we?

The fancy donuts are also very good--flavorful, and I appreciated how the donuts themselves seemed a bit denser (I am a dense donut lover) and enjoyed the creative but not over the top flavor combos. But really, I think that the hot fresh donuts are the way to go. Or at least get one of each, so you can see it all for yourself. 

I got there pretty early, and it wasn't too crowded and they still had plenty of donuts. But I hear that they DO sell out, so try to hit them early or during off hours (I am thinking the weekend is probably pretty insane). And let me know if you try the chicken, but it might take me a while to move past these donuts to anything else!

Federal Donuts, 1219 S. 2nd Street, Philadelphia; online here. 

Baked Good of the Day: Chevre Tuffet, Wedge and Fig, Philadelphia

Chevre cheese tart with caramel

How about a mini cheesecake?

...nah, why not fancy it up? How about a chevre cheese tart with caramel sauce?

Chevre cheese tart with caramel

That's more like it. Unexpected, interesting, and definitely delicious, the "Chevre Tuffet" is a mini goat cheese cheesecake which is singular in its flavor--wonderfully tangy yet mellow, and certainly a more lively and complex flavor than your typical cheesecake. But it gets even better with a crumbly crust on the bottom and a delicious smothering of caramel sauce on top. Actually, it gets so much better that you might be tempted to lick the plate (if nobody's watching, of course). 

Chevre cheese tart with caramel

Get yourself some tasty cheese tart action at Wedge + Fig. 160 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia; online here.

Seeking Sweetness: Pretty Sweets at Artisserie, Philadelphia

Artisserie Frozen Hot Chocolate

Near the University of Pennsylvania, there is a bakery called Artisserie Chocolate Cafe. Recently I went there, and while I wouldn't say my socks were knocked off, I thought their pastry work was solid--if you find yourself in the neighborhood, you'll be able to find something tasty.

However, the main reason I'm posting is that I did think it was worthwhile to show you some pictures of their pretty presentation. See the chocolate-lined cold hot chocolate, above; also, these fun Mondrian-inspired chocolate truffles:

Mondrian chocolates

So if you're in the 'hood, check them out--they have a variety of pastries and baked goods, too!

Artisserie Chocolate Cafe, 3421 Walnut St, PhiladelphiaPA 19104. Online here. 

CakeSpy Undercover: Cannoli from Isgo Pasticceria, Philadelphia

isgro cannoli

Recently, I went to a place called Isgro Pasticceria in Philadelphia to try the cannoli.

Now, there's good reason to go to this Italian bakery to sample cannoli. First off, they've been doing this since 1904, and the cannoli is seen as their signature item. Second, theirs are "the best". How can I tell this? Well, they have a big sign on the window that says so, and their website is I like that moxie!

But how are they? I picked up three to see.

Of interest: their cannoli were pre-filled, not filled to order. I will be honest, I did not ask what the reason was. I know that for some bakeries, they go through them so fast that they don't need to fill to order. 

isgro cannoli

First was the classic cannoli. Man, was this thing good. The shell was crispy, the filling filled the whole shell (I despise it when there's a gap in the center!), and the flavor of the filling was fantastic. It was less sweet than some cannolis I have tried, and even almost slightly crumbly--it really was ricotta-esque, not over-sugared, but creamy enough to hold together until it got into your mouth, where it disintegrated into a creamy crumbly oblivion of deliciousness, speckled with chocolate morsels. 

Isgro pastry

Next was the vanilla mousse cannoli. It looked very promising, and the flavor was good--but the texture of the lighter mousse against the shell just didn't work. I think that the key to a good cannoli is the balance of flavor, texture, and a nice heft - so this one, while clearly well made, just did not do it for me. And yes, this is colored by my personal preference for a classic cannoli.


The chocolate mousse-filled cannoli was a bit better, texturewise: while again, the lightness of the mousse threw me off, this one had the ends coated in chocolate, and when a bite was taken of the filling, shell, and chocolate dipped section, it made for a nice combination. Once again, great flavor on all aspects.


Overall, I vote that you make Isgro a destination when you're in Philadelphia--it's quite near the main drag of the famous Italian Market, and if you love cannoli, you will enjoy trying their variety to see how they stack up. In my opinion, I found the classic to be a slightly different, but very excellent, specimen of cannoli. So my advice is to be sure to try the classic first! 

Isgro Pasticceria, 1009 Christian Street, Philadelphia; online here.

Isgro Pastries on Urbanspoon

CakeSpy Undercover: Philly Cupcake Company, Philadelphia

CUPCAKE from Philly Cupcake

Recently, I went to a place called Philly Cupcake Company. They are a bakery specializing in...well, cupcakes. Duh. Well, they do have a few other sweets too--brownies, cookies, chocolate covered marshmallows and nutter butters, and some homemade dog treats too. They're not new--they've been there for about 3 years--but this was my first time visiting.

And I was there for the cupcakes.

When you walk in, after encountering the store's slightly creepy mascot, you encounter a line of hutches which contain the cupcakes. There's a little velvet rope and you point at what you want and the employees fetch it for you. When there is a line, it strikes me that this could be irritating, but on the day I went, there wasn't a line. 

The menu at Philly Cupcake is eclectic. They have two tiers of cupcakes: "classic" and "fancy". The classics include basic flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, etc., and are $3. The fancy ones are a little more tricked-out (vanilla caramel cupcakes with twix bars; banana cupcakes with banana buttercream and a layer of white chocolate ganache, for example). 

I decided to start out with the basics, and went for vanilla and red velvet. Kind of the cupcake litmus test. The employee was very friendly and gave specific instructions (don't refrigerate or the cake will dry out; enjoy fresh, carry the bag in such a way so your cupcakes don't get mashed, etc). They packed the cupcakes in to-go containers, which is a nice touch.

I must say: overall, I was very impressed. The vanilla cupcake was moist and flecked with vanilla bean; the flavor was not showy but just a very good, simple vanilla. 

But the Red Velvet--I've got to say, it was standout as very good. The cocoa flavor was evident; the cake was extremely moist and rich in flavor, and the cream cheese was delightfully tangy. A fellow taster said the cream cheese frosting was a bit heavy, but I personally thought it was just right. I mean, do you really want your cream cheese frosting to be light and airy? Not me, friend.

Philly Cupcake makes a very nice cupcake--simple and unfussy, but with care taken and nice details (sparkles and pretty decorations on the vanilla; a simple but clean design on the Red Velvet). A nice showing, and I can't wait to return. 

Philly Cupcake Company, 1132 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia; online here.


Pastry Profiles: Hazelnut Cake, Swiss Haus Bakery, Philadelphia

Swiss Cake Haus

We are now going to discuss the experience of eating the Swiss Haus's signature sweet, "The Original Hazelnut Cake".

This is a very special cake, for a few reasons.

First, it's the bakery's signature dessert. As they beautifully put it on their website, 

Ok, here is the deal. This cake is what the entire Swiss Haus Bakery fuss is all about. This century old recipe that was brought over from Europe to Philadelphia over 85 years ago. It has three layers of hazelnut sponge cake filled with vanilla butter cream, covered in Swiss Chocolate Shavings.

Swiss Cake House

Upon my first visit, I was assured that this was the thing to get--a recipe that hasn't changed for over 80 years, because it doesn't need to. It's just that good. Well, that fascinated me. Especially because the flavor combination (not to mention that it has sponge cake, which I consider a featherweight of the dessert world) might not have been my first choice had it not been suggested.

Swiss Cake House

The cake is offered in a few sizes: small bites for about $3 (maybe a little more or less--lay off me, I was concerned with the cake), and larger cakes for larger prices. 

So what is this cake like? It's a nostalgic and highly pleasant sweet--especially enjoyable when you've heard the tale of how long the cake has been made (it always tastes better with a backstory, doesn't it?). Airy and sophisticated, the light sponge cake was deliciously coated with a light whipped frosting on all sides. While a little more chocolate couldn't have hurt, it's clear to see why the bakery has been making it for 80 years without pause. If you find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and grab a taste of history.

35 S. 19th Street, Philadelphia; online here.

CakeSpy Undercover: Scoop de Ville, Philadelphia

Scoop de ville

I'd like to take you on a brief virtual journey to Scoop de Ville in Philadelphia. 

Located in the center city area, not far from Rittenhouse Square, it's painted with very bright ice cream cones all over. Maybe just-this-side of garish, but in a pleasant way. Dessert should never be a halfhearted experience, after all.

Here's the interior (photo from the Scoop de Ville facebook page):After you walk in, you'll ogle at bright and sparkly stuff on the walls for a few minutes; then you'll make your way to the menu. It is a large menu.

Scoop de Ville

After looking through the mind-boggling menu of delicious ice cream (they get their ice cream from Bassett's), it's time to settle on the flavors you'd like to go with. For me, the answer was clear: butterscotch vanilla.

After you choose a flavor, if you'd like something mixed in, they will take your ice cream, and your topping...and drill it into submission with this machine.


What happens in the machine (other than the fun aspect of "We're playing with ice cream machinery!") is that it makes your topping and ice cream into a delicious soft-serve slurry.

Having chosen the Butterscotch Vanilla flavor, I hit up the staff for a mix-in suggestion. We decided (by committee) that chocolate covered pretzels would be a fine complement. 


The pretzels were pulverized in the machine, and lent a little chocolate studded saltiness to the dreamy ice cream. I think we made a very good decision indeed. I can't wait to return and try more exotic combinations from their combination menu--for instance, the "Abbey Road" (Vanilla ice cream or yogurt, Oreo, Golden Grahams, Nutella and Marshmallow Fluff on top) or perhaps the "Banana Bread" (Maple walnut ice cream or yogurt blended with oatmeal raisin cookie dough and bananas).

Scoop de Ville, 1734 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia; online here.

Butter Makes it Better: Philadelphia Butter Cake

Philadelphia butter cake

Probably, you already love Philadelphia Butter Cake. I mean, the title includes the words "butter" and "cake", so pretty much no matter where it's from, it's going to be lovable, right? In my opinion, we owe Philadelphia bigtime for giving us (and by "us" I mean, like, everyone in the world) the gift of this cake.

But, you may be wondering, what exactly is it?

Judging by the picture and the name, you might be tempted to think that Philadelphia Butter Cake, a rich, buttery cake with a gooey center, which served in bar form, is similar to Gooey Butter Cake, a St. Louis specialty. But you're not quite right: while they have some similar characteristics, I'd call them more "cousins" than "twins". 

Butter cake!

Likewise, you wouldn't want to confuse it with a simple "Butter Cake", or to expect a buttery yellow cake to be your result--there is really no frosting necessary with the Philadelphia version, and if you baked it expecting a layer cake, you'd be disappointed for sure. 

But let's go back to the Gooey Butter Cake. If you already know what that is, you have an idea of what you'd be up against with the Philadelphia Butter Cake. But the important differences? As I see it,

A. There is yeast in the "crust" part of the cake.

B. There is no cream cheese in the soft and gooey middle section; it is made of butter, more butter, a bit of flour, sugar, eggs, milk, and flavorings. 

C. The top forms a lightly soft crusty texture, which I found more pronounced than with a Gooey Butter Cake. 

The cake is sometimes referred to as "German Butter Cake", which leads me to believe that it is probably an American adaptation of a German cake, adapted in the new world to reflect the ingredients available.

The Philadelphia Butter Cake pictured in this post was obtained at the Flying Monkey Patisserie in the famed Reading Terminal Market, where, when ordering, I said "I'll have the buddah cake. Buddah". You know, to be funny. 

The cake was very, very good. It's so rich that it makes you want to cry, and has a touch of saltiness which complements the sweet, that makes you want to keep eating more and more. Their version had a more shortbread-y crust, so it may not be completely traditional, but it was totally tasty. I want more right now, in fact.

They also carry the cake at Town Crier Bakery and Bredenbeck's (I have tried this version, and it's very good). I also hear there's a fantastic version at Haegle's, which is famous for the stuff.

Here's a great blog post featuring a recipe for Philadelphia Butter Cake, including a step by step tutorial.

CakeSpy Undercover: Metropolitan Bakery, Philadelphia

Photo: Metropolitan Bakery facebook pageI have a big, sweet, carbohydratey crush on Philadelphia's Metropolitan Bakery. Why, you ask?

Well. There are a few reasons.

Metropolitan bakery

First off, they make wonderful bread. This is important. But sometimes, when a bakery excels at baking bread, their sweet treats seem secondary. And I get it--bread is their "thing". But very happily, Metropolitan Bakery doesn't fall into this category.

First, I will address their sticky buns. Like, whoa. Nice and yeasty, but with a pleasing amount of gooey filling, these buns are generously bathed in a caramelly coating and topped with pecans, making for a decadently delicious breakfast treat. I heated mine a little bit, and it sort of tasted like heaven. Really. I think I heard the "Dream Weaver" music playing.

Next, I will address their lemon bars. Now, by appearances only, the lemon bars are fairly average. I don't mean this as an insult. All that I am saying is, how could you know that this unassuming bar holds such a treasure of flavors? Assertively--nearly puckeringly--lemon, these cool and tart bars are anchored by a rich, buttery shortbread crust. Please, let me have another.

Next, I will talk for a moment about their raspberry crumb bars. Once again, not saccharine sweet, and beautifully finished off which a slightly salty, very buttery brown sugar crumb topping. I can see how one could even convince oneself that it's vaguely healthy. 

Metropolitan Bakery

Speaking of vaguely healthy, they also offer something called a Millet Muffin. Now, in general, such a title would not entice me--but wrapped in liner paper that made them look like little flowers, I was intrigued. And I was assured by the counter lady that they were very, very good. "Are they healthy?" I asked. And she said, "Well, not really". That's all I needed--"I'll take it!" I said. And you know what? These muffins are very good. The millet adds a nice, nutty flavor and a wonderfully crunchy flavor which doesn't fall into "crack yo' teeth" territory--but the muffin base is deliciously dense and buttery. I call it a winner. 

And because this stuff contributes to the overall bakery experience, I should say that as an artistic person, their logo, which is inspired by the Paris Metro, pleases me greatly. 

Their menu is pretty extensive, featuring cakes, cookies, Frenchie-stuff like caneles and macarons, and tarts. And everything I have sampled has been quite good. What I am getting at here is: go to this bakery.

Metropolitan Bakery has a few locations in the Philadelphia area; find out more about them on their website.

CakeSpy Undercover: Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

For this assignment, I went undercover--and underground--to visit Tiffany's Bakery.

This is an unexpected spot to find delicious treats--for one thing, it is in the basement level of an urban shopping mall. In the food court. It's flanked by places like McDonalds and Auntie Anne's--not exactly where you'd expect to find a scratch-baked, totally awesome bakery.

My trip was doubly delightful in that it was the spot suggested by my friend Margaret, a brilliant editor at Quirk Books. It's amazing, she promised. I didn't need to be told twice.

I was glad it had been suggested, because purely based on looks, the the bakery might not get you right away: the shelving and lighting are fairly generic and utilitarian.

But the crowd surrounding the sweet-smelling bakery is your first indication that you've reached an unexpected goldmine of deliciousness. And clearly they've got a loyal following: they've been baking up sweets for 33 years now!

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

And because we never do anything halfway, we got not one but about a half-dozen of their sweet treats, including a sticky bun, a cookie, a red velvet cupcake, a mini cherry cheese danish, and a "George Washington Slice", a sort of spicy brownie-gingerbread type bar. 

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

And you know what? Everything was very, very good. Standouts for me were the cherry danish and sticky bun, which were lightly yeasty, not too sweet, but pleasingly decadent on both counts. Also very strong was the cookie, which was spicy and flavorful. I personally did not try the cupcake but was assured it was a good specimen. The chewy "George Washington Bar" was like a chewy spice cake meets brownie--interesting, a little different, and I think it would make a great companion to eggnog around the holidays. 

I learned that Tiffany's is known and highly regarded for their generous slices of Strawberry Short Cake - making that my #1 pick for my next visit.

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

Another nice thing about Tiffany's is that they offer many of their items in two sizes, which I estimated to be "small-medium" and "very large".  The smaller size is perfect for mixing and matching or if you're serving a crew at a brunch or event. Or, you know, if you want to try six pastries in one sitting and convince yourself it's ok because they're "mini".

The final word? Visiting Tiffany's is an adventure, you'll have plenty of good people watching, and the pastries are worth a visit.

Tiffany's Bakery, 9th and Market, Gallery Mall Food Court; online here.