The perfect bakery makes you feel like a kid again.
Strictly speaking, the world does not need dessert. Nutritionists tsk and tell us that cookies, cakes and pies are empty calories.
But bakers know better. Empty calories sometimes fill a need. And in small towns, bakeries can fill big roles. They’re the birthday-cake sources, the cookie-treat stops, the places where you can fill your heart just watching that kid in front of the glass case.
A great bakery has cookies, layer cakes and pie, not just cupcakes. But if it has cupcakes, the cake is as good as the frosting.
Here are four we found on a recent trip around the Piedmont.
The Albemarle Sweet Shop
128 King Ave., Albemarle. 704-982-1235. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
If you held a pastry gun to our heads and forced us pick the sweetest spot in the Piedmont, this would be it. We’re told there’s been a Sweet Shop in Albemarle for close to 100 years, and the current location, on a side street downtown, dates to the 1950s.
Don’t let the drab brick exterior fool you. This is the place where sugar dreams come true. The offerings are right out the 1950s, from the too-cute “Pupcakes” (double cupcakes iced to look like poodles) to rainbow-colored clown cookies as big as an adult’s hand.
Two picks we wouldn’t miss: The flaky-fresh cream horns have a filling that isn’t too sweet. And the fruit bars are a local staple, with two cake-like layers and a cream filling.
7609 Matthews-Mint Hill Road, Mint Hill. 704-573-5100. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Yes, there is a Daphne. Daphne Mullis, 24, is the lead baker. But the bakery is a family endeavor, owned by her aunt. “My name is just the most Southern,” she says.
The baking is family-inspired, too. Mullis always baked with her grandparents to make Christmas gifts. The shop has cupcakes, including the signature Uglee Betty (dark chocolate cake with a caramel fudge topping), cakes, tea cakes and cookies, including addictive almond-toffee sandies.
Mullis loves baking so much, she visits other bakeries on her days off, looking for places that make her feel at home.
“Honestly, this is comfort food. Everything is like your grandmother would make.”
Just Baked Cupcake & Coffee House
19901 S. Main St., Cornelius, 704-892-3350. Closed Sundays.
When Just Baked opens at 6 a.m, baker Rebecca Sporney has already been at work for 90 minutes.
“If you don’t love it, there’s no way you’d make it, because of the hours.”
Sporney fell in love with baking at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and followed her parents from Buffalo to Cornelius a few months ago. Owner Maggie Salemme had just bought the bakery, in an old house on the edge of downtown Cornelius, from the original owners.
They’ve added scones and breads, although the ever-popular cupcakes are big sellers.
“I like the small bakery feel,” Sporney says. “This is something I’d like to own, because you get to play.”
1204 Mount Gallant Road, Rock Hill. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
In the back of Carswell Bakery, a small crew of white-haired women tackle decorating cakes and cookies like a Granny A-Team armed with buttercream.
Owner Phyllis Carswell, who opened it in 1991, says she’s old enough to retire herself, but she doesn’t want to. She’s made wedding cakes, birthday cakes and high school graduation cakes for whole families. It’s hard to walk away from a job like that.
What really brings people to Carswell, though, are the cheese rings. Despite the name, they’re not a danish, they’re a crisp cookie, like a round version of a cheese straw. Carswell makes them in medium, hot and extra-hot, and people buy them by the dozens.
They’re what deliveryman Ronnie Morris calls “musty – if you eat one, you must eat another.”
Does seeing baked goods make you want to bake? Our bakeries have their own secrets. But we found some good bakery-like recipes from recent books by special bakeries in other towns.