I don’t always have time to bake, especially as the holidays approach. Even if I did, I am afraid that my baking repertoire is woefully limited to chocolate chip cookies and apple bread. I do love a good desert, though. Luckily, independent bakeries abound in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, each with their own character. Some, established in historically cultural neighborhoods, specialize in old-country traditions. Newcomers, like Dozen and Vanilla Pastry, bring contemporary sensibilities to bear with their creations. If you are looking to finish off a holiday celebration with a just-right cake or a traditional pastry, head off to one of these neighborhood establishments.
Dozen Bake Shop
Hours: Mon – Thurs, 8am – 6pm; Fri: 8am – 9pm; Sat, 10am – 8 pm; Sun brunch, 9 am – 2pm
Hours: Mon – Thurs 8am – 6pm; Fri 8am – 8pm; Sat 10am-8pm
Dozen is relatively new to the pantheon of neighborhood bakeries. The first shop opened in 2006, in a small storefront in Squirrel Hill, making from-scratch desserts in small batches for the people in the neighborhood. Dozen now has its main location in Lawrenceville, expanding and filling a larger storefront. Recognized as one of Pittsburgh’s best bakeries, with national recognition in Forbes, Dozen specializes in cupcakes. Along with their regular cupcake menu, the talented bakers at Dozen will happily create special-order cakes, or assemble cupcake and pastry platters, for your holiday get together. Special for the holiday season is the Eggnog and Chocolate/Peppermint cupcakes. Their pumpkin pie is really tasty, and you can always place an order for one, ready to pick up to top off a holiday dinner party. Just for the season, Dozen is packing up chocolate gift boxes, with a sampler of chocolate-themed pastries, including their Death-by-Chocolate Cupcake.
Hours: Tue- Fri 7am – 5pm, Sat, 7am – 2pm
Yule Logs are a traditional Christmas cake popular in France, filled and iced with buttercream, decorated with meringue mushrooms and marzipan holly, and finished with a light coating of chocolate. What better place to get one for a very special gathering than at Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, a tiny shop located in Millvale? What the shop lacks in size is more than made up for in the quality and diversity of his pastries. Individually-sized tarts are available with a dozen different fillings. Another traditional French pastry, Eclairs, is also available from the bakery. Not exactly French, but definitely a tradition in Pittsburgh, are cream-filled Ladylocks. Jean-Marc is a third-generation baker from Couffé, a small town in Brittany. He worked as the pastry chef for Pittsburgh’s renowned La Normande restaurant before opening his bakery in Millvale in 1992. Jean-Marc’s melds his French training along with his American culinary experience to produce pastries and cakes that delight sophisticated as well as sensible palates.
Hours: Mon – Sat, 6:30 am – 8pm
You can’t help but be impressed when you walk through the doors of Lincoln Bakery. The store is lined with glass-fronted displays, with shelf after shelf of pastries and cookies. Ranked behind the cases are yet another set of shelves and bins with donuts and breads, with special orders closeted away, waiting for pick up. Just to the right as you enter the store is a display case dedicated to the variety of cookies that the bakery produces on a daily basis. Traditional cookies, like peanut butter and chocolate chip, as well as seasonally decorated items, sit in trays along fruit filled and other novelty cookies. You can pick your own for a cookie tray, easily reaching two dozen with no duplicates. The bakery also makes a scrumptious nut roll, and their cakes are really wonderful.
Hours: Tue – Sat, 9am- 7:30pm; Sun 9am -5pm
With a decades-old tradition, Moio’s has been a favorite for Pittsburgh families. The family-owned bakery was founded in 1935, and has survived a fire and transitions to new locations. The bakery is now located in Monroeville, where the grandson of the original owner still makes pastries using recipes handed down through two generations of bakers. Moio’s makes delicious traditional Italian pastries like Cannoli and Pasticciotti. Sfogliatelle, another Italian pastry, is a crispy shell stuffed with a baked ricotta cream, blended with pieces of candied fruit. Other specialties include Ricotta Tarts and Ladylocks.
Hours: Mon – Fri, 8:30am to 5pm; Sat, 7:30am – 5pm; Sun, 10am – 3:30pm
After ten years in the confectionery industry, Amy Rosenfield made the decision to cater to a growing segment of the confectionery market: specialty and artisanal chocolates. Most interesting is the savory chocolates that Ms. Rosenfield has gathered in her Strip District shop. A new line of chocolates, Les Amis Savories, includes chocolate flavored with Sage, Cayenne Pepper, Rosemary, Tarragon, and Curry. Grown up pleasures are sprinkled throughout the confectionary counters, alongside the traditional fare. The confections, dominated by chocolate, are beautifully displayed, from foil-wrapped bon-bons to boxes of imported licorice.
Hours: Mon – Fri, 7am – 5pm, Sat, 8am – 3pm
Hours: Tue – Sat, 7:30am – 6pm, Sun, 9am – 4pm
If you’re planning a special holiday breakfast, Prantl’s is the place for fruit Danishes and coffecakes. Prantl’s is a bakery in the German tradition, with old-fashioned fruit Danish and nut-filled coffeecakes. Its “Burnt Almond Torte” and 100+ sinful sweets have been a tradition for the last 40 years. In fact, there’s been a bakery in continuous operation at the flagship Shadyside store for over 100 years.
Hours: Mon – Sat, 6am – 5:30pm
The Priory opened in Deutschtown near the end of October 2004 and quickly became a place where neighbors dropped by for a good cup of coffee and pastry. Jim Lazeration joined Priory Fine Pastries as head baker in August, 2010, bringing his own specialty, carrot cake cupcakes. The Priory prepares a special New Year’s Pretzel, or Neujahrspretzel, which is traditional in Germany. Neujahrspretzel is a soft, sweet bread twisted into the classic pretzel’s three-hole shape and supposedly represent the Christian trinity. The pretzels were thought to bring luck, prosperity, and spiritual wholeness.
Hours: Tue – Fri, 9am – 6pm; Sat, 9am – 4pm; Sun, 10am – 2pm
I like pretty pastries, don’t you? I especially like pretty pastries that taste as good as they look, and Vanilla Pastry Studio in East Liberty fills both criteria very nicely. Owner and Sugar Fairy, April Simpson-Gruver, has baked her way around the country and has taught Pastry Arts at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. Now, she brings her prodigious skills and admirable talents to her own bakery. The shop is stocked with creative cakes, cookies, brownies and scones. Her signature confections are soft-centered “Lollys” – desserts on a stick – offering such enticing flavors as salted caramel custard, white chocolate raspberry, and key lime pie. Her beautifully crafted cakes would be a great finish to a holiday event, but her other delicious cookies and treats are also a tasty accompaniment.
Susan Constanse is a painter, living and working in Pittsburgh. Examples of her work can be viewed on her site, at http://www.susanconstanse.com