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Hey, last minute shoppers, hit up a Tacoma bakery for a gift

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Dec. 23, 2011 at 12:21 pm | No Comments »
December 23, 2011 12:21 pm
One good reason to visit El Zocalo Bakery and Torta Shop: Marranitos. The pig-shaped cookies are a molasses cookie.

Deck the halls, trim the trees, blah blah blah. Oh, and hopefully you’ll find an extra five hours to bake that cake today.

Ugh.

We’re all right there with you. Blasting the oven for a baking marathon isn’t exactly at the top of a list that includes 627 holiday dance recitals, 4,897 gifts to wrap and 11,878 parties to attend in the next 48 hours, right? Oh, and don’t forget that your mother-in-law is on her way to visit for the holidays!

Lucky us, we have our pick of international bakeries to backfill our busy lives. The bakeries featured in this story are unusual finds and quite possibly places you’ve never even considered for party cakes, pastries or cookies, even last-minute gift baskets. Diners here can tour the globe in international baked goods without ever leaving the South Sound. From Mexico to Russia to Germany and Korea, far-flung cultures are well represented in pastry form. Read on.

German Pastry Shop
Where: 6108 Mount Tacoma Drive, Lakewood
Information: 253-588-5777

The bakery: Toasty warm and welcoming like the kitchen of a German grandma on a serious baking bender. The dining room is expansive and cute, a place where ladies lunch and kids press their noses up against the bakery case.

What to try: Apple-filled pastries tasted lightly sweet, with a flaky crust and sticky icing. Fluffy rolls came with a heavy tweak of cinnamon. Strudel – in apple, cherry or blueberry -tasted a little dry, but came with a delicious crumb topping. Turnovers are filled with sweetened cherries. Blueberry-filled puff pastry offered the perfect ratio of thick filling to flaky pastry. Layered European-style cakes are sold by the slice ($2.90) or as whole cakes ($27.50-$36.50). Pastries are priced around $1.50-$1.60.

Stay for lunch: German sandwiches and soups can be ordered at the counter and eaten in the dining room. Or eat your pastries with coffee.

Butter cookies are a Christmas special at the German Pastry Shop in Lakewood.

For a quick gift: Tall bags of cookies ($3.70-$4.50) are sold during the holidays. Look for the display to the right of the front door. The must-buys are the chewy-sweet hazelnut macaroons and crunchy butter cookies.

Also for the holidays: Stollen, a sweet Christmas bread, is in the display case now.

While you’re there: Across the hall is a separate business called Hess Deli, where you can find German groceries, deli meats and one of the best selections of European beers in town. If you’re looking to assemble a gift basket full of German cheer, this is where you can find it all. Don’t leave without trying the bread or pretzels at Hess – they’re made right there.

Boulangerie Bakery Café
Where: 9701 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood
Information: 253-682-3488

The bakery: This clean, cute and smart-looking bakery is just inside the entrance of the Paldo World grocery store in the middle of Lakewood’s Korean restaurant district. The bakery walls are lined with cases filled with individually wrapped pastries and cakes. A scattering of tables offers seating for espresso and pastries.

Their specialty: This bakery is a hodgepodge of Korean pastries and traditional French pastries and cakes. You’ll find red bean-filled doughnuts alongside delicate French cream puffs.

What to try: If you go for one thing, make it the airy cream puffs. They come in plastic cartons of a baker’s dozen. The sugary crust of red bean-filled doughnuts crackled, yielding to a creamy, sweet bean center. Pastries came filled with blueberry and cream cheese, milky colored chocolate pudding, and various other cream fillings. Croquettes come in sweet or savory. Chestnut pastries were sweet, yeasty buns. Most pastries are priced $1.49-$1.99.

Cream puffs are a bargain at Boulangerie.

For a gift: Pick up a 5-pack of mini tarts in a long, narrow gift box for $9.99. You can select from cherry, orange, chocolate and nut-flavored tarts. The mini tarts are filled with a cakey walnut-flavored filling.

For the holidays: The bakery offers stollen cake and other special cakes a few weeks before Christmas.

Oddity alert: If you’re looking for the Korean equivalent of pigs in a blanket, you’ll find a crunchy oblong donut stuffed with a hot dog. Also, look for a pastry called “ugly corn.”

Stay for lunch: A restaurant serving Korean food is just down the corridor past the tofu business that also sells walnut-shaped donuts that are addicting.

El Zocalo Bakery and Torta Shop
Where: 701 S. 38th St., Tacoma
Information: 253-474-9000

The bakery: The bakery offers very little aesthetic beyond rows of display cases and bakery racks, but is attached to a small torta shop with a dining room. The bakery is mostly self service – look below the cases for the trays and tongs. Pay at the counter in the adjacent torta shop.

What they bake: This is a traditional Mexican bakery with sweet buns, a large selection of cookies, and a dozen different turnovers, filled pastries and doughnuts.

Sugar dusted sweet buns and pastries at El Zocalo.

What to try: Marranitos are my favorite here. They’re a molasses cookie shaped like a pig. Apricot-filled turnovers and sweet buns shaped like sea shells also are must tries. Criss-crossed puff pastry buns filled with a sweetened cream cheese would make for an attractive display on a brunch platter. Cookies come in varying flavors, but they were stale and tasted off on two separate visits. Pastries are 50 cents-$1, cookies are 5 for $1.

Stay for lunch: The attached torta shop makes some of the best Mexican sandwiches in Tacoma.

For the holidays: Rosca de Reyes cakes are available through pre-orders for pickup on Jan. 6. If you’re not familiar with them, Rosca de Reyes is a round cake with a baby Jesus baked inside, intended to be eaten for the Epiphany, marking the end of the Christmas season.

Friendly Foods
Where: 3612 Center St., Tacoma
Information: 253-752-5649

The bakery: This is a bare-bones Eastern European grocery store with a no-frills dessert bakery in back. The store also has a deli with house-made piroskhy and deli meats and cheeses. It’s not fancy, but it’s highly serviceable and one of few Eastern European grocery stores in the region.

Pastries from Friendly Foods.

What they bake: You can find a daily selection of 8-10 layer cakes in a number of flavors: Cherry, plum, chocolate, nut and medovik, a Russian honey cake, are my favorites. The cakes here are dryer and considerably less sweet than American-style cakes, and the frosting is lightly sweetened whipped cream. The bakery case also has a handful of pastries, including chocolate sprinkle-covered balls that taste something like a Russian-style cake ball. Pastry cones filled with flavored creams and mini tarts also are sold. Pastries are 99 cents to $1.99 each; cakes are $5.99 a pound.

Grab and go: There is no seating in this bakery-grocery store. Take-out only.

For a gift: Sweet, braided yeast bread is available on a rack adjacent to the bakery case. You also can buy whole cakes in the nearby refrigerator case.

YOUR TURN: Your favorite local ethnic bakery? Comment here.

Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune. Reach her at 253-597-8270 or sue.kidd@thenewstribune.com.

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