It doesn't take much effort to indulge in one of Coquette Patisserie's macarons ($1.25 each) — especially when this French specialty comes in fun flavors such as Bellini, framboise, strawberry, cocoa noir and blue cheese bacon. But the time and thought put into each airy meringue-based confection by pastry chef Britt-Marie Culey will make you stop and savor each morsel. Culey starts by making sure the temperature is right — it must be between 65 and 70 degrees with less than 10 percent humidity — before she folds almond flour and powdered sugar into the meringue. She then laces the batter with food coloring in pastels and earthy hues, the ratio of which must be precise — even down to the gram. "The moisture content can make or break the consistency of the shell," she says. Baked macaron shells partner with ganache or buttercream filling, which is reinforced with European butter for its higher fat content. Fittingly, you'll find these mouthwatering masterpieces at Culey's new patisserie across from the Cleveland Institute of Art. "I love it when, after taking their first bite, the person looks at me wide- eyed," she says. "Or they close their eyes and go, 'mmm.' "
At nearly half a foot tall and three layers deep, a slice of Sweet Melissa's red velvet cake ($5) seems a likely candidate for splitting, but we advise being selfish in this case. "People come in here with the intention to share, plow through it, then order a second one," says pastry chef Megan Godinez. She spent a year recasting earlier versions of the recipe, ultimately scrapping apple cider vinegar and going with a Dutch-processed cocoa powder for a deeper chocolate flavor. Other keys to her recipe, she says, are copious amounts of butter and sugar in both the cake batter and her mom's cream cheese frosting for a melt-in- your-mouth consistency. "Each time, I make four red velvet cakes and 36 cupcakes, and they usually sell out within a day, sometimes hours," Godinez says. She also fills the restaurant's display case with other desserts such as French silk tarts, carrot cake or gluten-free chocolate peanut butter cheesecake. "We have people who come in and don't even need a menu, because they know they want the red velvet cake."
Sometimes all you need is a little help from Mother Nature. At Simply Delicious Pies in Shaker Heights, the summer seasonal strawberry-rhubarb pie ($12 for an 8-inch pie) relies on its mixture of fresh strawberries and rhubarb, a little cornstarch and a mere sprinkling of sugar to bring out a combination of sweet and tart flavors. "Our pies are not extremely sweet — we call them fruit-sweet," says co-owner Beth Kaboth, who opened the shop with her sister, Brittany Reeves, in 2012. "We don't over- season them." The 30-plus varieties in Simply Delicious Pies' rotating repertoire get a cradle of flaky goodness thanks to a crust shaped by a pie press instead of hand rolling. "Overhandling the dough ruins texture," Kaboth explains. "Brittany knows — she can sense it. She'll tell me from across the kitchen, 'Stop the mixer right now!' "
I LOVE PIES 2804 SOM Center Road, Willoughby Hills, 440-943-0508; 29348 Euclid Ave., Wickliffe, 440-943-5880, ilvpies.com
MAMA JO HOMESTYLE PIES 1969 Cooper Foster Park Road, Amherst, 440-960-7437; 871 N. Court St., Medina, 330-722- 7437, mamajopies.com
Don't get us wrong — we love cake just as much as the next person. But nothing tickles our taste buds more than a towering mound of frosting, especially when it sits atop a cupcake. Confectionary Cupboard's co-owner Pat Huebner feels the same way. "Basically, the cake is the vehicle for frosting," she says. At the Mentor shop, that means concocting not-too-sweet buttercreams such as the vanilla-bean version that crowns the chocolate-caramel-pretzel cupcake ($2.60) that gets rolled in pretzel stick pieces and drizzled in house-made chocolate ganache and caramel. "Our buttercreams actually are more butter than anything else," Huebner says of the process that requires 1 1/2 pounds in every 4 quarts and 10 to 15 minutes of mixing to get that fluffy texture. Many of the 160 rotating flavors are takes on candy bars and other treats such as Almond Joy or peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches. "We want [our cupcakes] to be a piece of decadence in a box," Huebner says.
There's nothing quite like the doughnut. Golden-fried and topped with artery-clogging goodies, they're the culinary equivalent of original sin. Add in a sprinkling of sugar-laden breakfast cereal, and your prayers for cholesterol-controlled redemption might go unanswered. Enter the culprit: Jack Frost Donuts' Fruit Loop masterpiece ($9.45 per dozen). The topping, a heaping pile of decadent white cream icing and a peppering of the cereal, is every kid's daydream. And yet the base, an unassuming yeast doughnut, is the true star and the key to its cross-generational appeal. The sweet and savory dough is hand-formed with a small valley to cradle a mountain of icing. "It was originally made as something for kids," says owner Traci Borkey. "But we quickly realized that everyone loved it." Although old-fashioned staples such as glazed remain popular, Jack Frost has experimented with about 130 varieties over the years, including an ill-fated jalapeno doughnut. "We haven't changed much since the original owners started in 1937," says Borkey. "We have generations of customers come in the door, looking for what they had as kids, and they always say it's exactly like they remember it."