You guys are the reason I spent several days on the road in late October, loading my car with cookies, the elusive iced brownies, nutty fingers and cream horns. (Um, thanks.)
In January, Bill Addison wrote a piece on Southern bakeries for Southern Living magazine. To my surprise, there were no local bakeries on the list. So I wrote a blog post and threw it open to you, the readers: Where would you send Southern Living to taste bakeries around here?
I figured I might get a baker's dozen replies or so. To my surprise, I got 53, a long list of bakeries from Harrisburg to Pineville. There was a roundup of Charlotte favorites, of course -- Amelie's and Nona's, Tizzerts and Suarez. All fine bakeries.
But what really caught my attention were the small-town places. I can't believe in all these years, no one told me about the wonders of the Albemarle Sweet Shop's clown cookies (above) or the cheese rings at Carswell in Rock Hill. Or the pecan pie cupcake "under glass" (right) at Just Baked, in a comfortable old house in Cornelius.
My editors and I agreed that a bakery tour of the countryside was in order. The result was today's story.
Now, I knew the whole time that there would be more bakeries than I could possibly include. And everybody has their own standard for how to pick a bakery. Before I hit the road, I wrote out my own Sweet-Stuff Manifesto, what I was looking for in a good small-town bakery:
It should smell warm and sugary and buttery. It shouldn’t be all glass and plastic.
It should have people behind the counter who look like they sometimes get floured handprints on their backsides and don’t even notice.
It should have cookies and layer cakes and a good slice of pie, not just cupcakes. But if it has cupcakes, they're as much about the cake as the frosting.
It should have a short list of great stuff, not a long list of good stuff.
It shouldn’t have so few things in the case that you’re forced to eat something you don’t want.
It should be a place where people come to sit and be comfortable and eat something they know they shouldn’t but know they can.
It should have cakes with names instead of just flowers.
When you ask what the most popular thing is, the people behind the counter should know and not just say "oh, everything is good."
It should make you feel a little bit like a kid again.
So, what about you? What places did I miss? Is there another Albemarle Sweet Shop hiding out there? Post a comment and let me know. I'm always looking for an excuse to hit the road.