Cake walk

For me, one of the most memorable scenes in “Bridesmaids” was not the infamously disgusting bridal shop debacle, although that one is pretty hard to forget. It was the scene where Kristen Wiig, portraying a pastry chef, goes into her home kitchen and proceeds to bang out one of the most drop-dead gorgeous single-serving cupcakes I’ve ever seen.

I enjoy cupcakes and prefer them to ice cream if I’m going out for a sweet treat, but they’re not something I seek out on a regular basis. In fact, I have a great basic cupcake recipe that I like playing around with at home as the mood strikes me. However, my recent trip to Parcha Sweets, in conjunction with the past few episodes of Top Chef Just Desserts, has been a stark reminder me that I am indeed a mere amateur when it comes to cranking out culinary creations of the pastry variety.

Parcha Sweets exterior

When I saw Parcha Sweets open last fall in the old Domino’s Pizza building on 62nd Street just east of Broad Ripple, I thought… huh? Now, after finally making a visit nearly a year later, I get it. If you look close, you can figure out what the repainted building used to be without much trouble, but inside, you’d never guess high school hacks used to sling pies here. It’s really warm, cute and cozy. Parcha encourages customers to take a load off and relax by providing organic coffee, magazines, free Wifi, and even a small table and chairs for the kiddos, a smart move if you want to appeal to the mom crowd.

In case you’re wondering about the name, “parcha” means passion fruit in the chef’s Puerto Rican homeland. Here in Indy, she offers cookies, pies, bread pudding, old-fashioned coconut macaroons and other baked goods, but the cupcakes the real rock stars, displayed in a countertop cluster of glass cake stands. And they are gorgeous. There are about a dozen flavors to choose from daily. Some of the stands had already been depleted by the time I stopped by mid-afternoon; thankfully, there were still plenty of mouthwatering choices.

I used my book club meeting as an excuse to visit, looking for a dessert to contribute to the evening’s group. I’d read online somewhere that Parcha Sweets offered mini-cupcakes, which I thought would be a great way for us to sample several flavors each. Alas, the nice young gal who waited on me said they’d stopped making the minis because they were too difficult to package without falling over. Hmph. Well, no matter, I figured we’d just cut the full-size cupcakes into fourths. Additionally, one of the ladies in my book club has a son who’s dealing with a list of food allergies that would make your head spin. As a show of solidarity, she’s following the same restrictive diet he’s on. So with her in mind, I asked about gluten-free, vegan cupcakes (I’d also read in another online review that Parcha did these as well). Found out they’re not regularly available, either. Just for special orders, apparently.

I had trouble making selections when so many of the cupcakes looked so tempting and finally just asked the server to pick eight and box them up for me. Packaging is thoughtfully designed to preserve the integrity of the cupcakes – sturdy cardboard boxes with molded holders inside to keep those little beauties from sliding around if you take a sharp turn. And a little ribbon and sticker on the top. Pretty.

Parcha Sweets cupcakes to go

Let’s get on to the main event… here’s what we sampled and our impressions of each:

the Red Velvet

Red Velvet – the hands-down favorite of the bunch. Rich, luscious claret cake topped with a mountain of creamy cream cheese frosting. Delectable. Everyone who tasted this one loved it.

Lemon – ricotta lemon cake filled with a lemon cream and topped with lemon buttercream. Another crowd pleaser.

Peanut Salty Caramel – tasted sort of like a Snickers bar. Chocolate cake with a caramel filling, peanut butter frosting and a few chopped nuts on top for garnish. I could have eaten the peanut butter frosting with a spoon, but the cake was a little dry, and the caramel filling was a little too liquid.

Carrot – a big hit with the gals who like carrot cake. Moist and delicious with more of that yummy cream cheese frosting on top.

the Chocolate Passion

Chocolate Passion – chocolate cake with a big pile of chocolate ganache topping. Almost overkill on the chocolate, if there is such a thing. The ganache was firm on top, not soft like frosting, which kinda threw us a little bit. However, I’m positive my son would LOVE this.

Wedding Cake – got mixed reviews, but I really liked it. Creamy vanilla cake topped with what tasted like amaretto buttercream frosting. The sweet almond flavor really comes through.

the S’mores

S’mores – chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, marshmallow filling (toasted on top) and graham cracker crumbs. Good, but not great. It looked really intriguing, but we found the marshmallow a bit chewy.

Caribbean Coconut – one gal in the group really liked this one, the rest thought it was ok. The cake was a wee bit dry, but there was tons of good coconut flavor.

Parcha Sweets prices are a little steep – $2.99 for a beautiful cupcake of average size, which is a few cents higher than what you’d pay at Flying Cupcake and Holy Cow. Although you do get a 10 percent discount if you order more than six. Just make sure you don’t eat all six by yourself in one sitting. It could happen…

For more information:

Parcha Sweets on Urbanspoon

Sugar and Spice = everything nice

This week, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a few relaxing days revisiting my old Indiana University stomping grounds. Hard to believe it’s been 20 (gulp) years since I was a student here. While some parts of town are nearly unrecognizable to me now, others comfortingly haven’t changed at all.

After a massively unhealthy Waffle House breakfast of biscuits and gravy with a side of hash browns, I didn’t get hungry again until well after lunch hour. I figured a sweet treat might be in order to tide me over until dinner, and I knew exactly where to go.

Indiana Memorial Union

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in line at Sugar and Spice within the hallowed halls of the Indiana Memorial Union building. This little gem commandeers prime corner real estate right across from the IU bookstore, and the place is like crack for students in need of a sugar rush. Although I noticed some updates — they now promote organic ingredients and make wedding cakes, the bakery still felt very familiar.

Sugar and Spice in the IMU

Since IU classes haven’t started yet, the line was mercifully short. At times, I’ve seen it wind out the door and into the hallway. The display cases are full of huge gorgeous cupcakes, iced cookies and muffins, but for me, only one item would do. I prayed it was still on the menu, visually searching the shelves with my fingers crossed behind my back. Lo and behold – there it was. The Special K chewy. One please, and an iced latte. Thanks.

I grabbed a seat in the commons and gingerly peeled back the waxed paper from my sticky prize. How do I describe this heavenly creation? The Special K chewy is sort of like a Rice Krispie treat (which Sugar and Spice also sells, natch), but flatter, much more gooey and made with Special K. And peanut butter. I don’t think it’s even cooked. Just check out the photo. I’m not sure what kind of sounds I was unconsciously emitting as I ate it, but the guy at the next table over kept looking my way. I think he was torn between wondering whether he should call for a medic or ask for my phone number.

the peanut butter Special K chewy

The Special K chewy was so good, I was inspired to go back for a chocolate chunk cookie. You know. Just to round things out. This was “lunch” after all…

straight-up chocolate chunk cookie

For more info:

Sugar 'n Spice on Urbanspoon

Pastries for lunch

A freelance assignment required me to visit a new pastry shop in Geist this morning. I know, I know, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

After chatting with the chef owner, I purchased some of his tempting wares to taste-test at home. So here’s what my lunch today consisted of:

Bakery at Geist goodies

The croissant was a little on the smallish side, but other than that detail, was pretty close to what you find in Paris. The blueberry lemon scone was fragrant and super-moist, not at all dry and crumbly like the traditional ones I’ve had in Ireland or England. Then there was something called a Paris Brest…

Let me tell you. If you’re looking for a devilishly decadent over-the-top pastry, this is it. In simplest terms, it’s a sandwich of sorts made with puff pastry filled with pastry cream (hazelnut-flavored in this case) and topped with almonds and powdered sugar. I have an unapologetic sweet tooth, and I could only manage a few bites. Mercy me. The cream was so thick and rich, I wondered if I could get away with slathering it on my face as a moisturizer. Yummy.

It’s now nearly dinnertime and I’m just coming down from the sugar buzz. With any luck, a glass or two of wine will kill the headache.

(Incidentally, if you’re interested in enjoying some of these goodies for yourself, they came from The Bakery at Geist, in the Geist Shopping Center strip mall at Fox Rd. and Oaklandon. Tell Chef Ron I sent you.)

Viva la France!

For more info: