Food Fight

By Allan I. Ross

Hitting the sweet spots

Ah, December in Michigan: the nights are long, the temps are low, and it’s socially acceptable to eat dessert three meals a day. No matter what kind of healthy diets we try to maintain the rest of the year, this is the month when all bets are off for sugar intake. Which is good news if you own a health club (hello New Year’s resolutions!) and great news if you specialize in sweets, like the seven Lansing-area dessert slingers featured in this month’s Food Fight.

For your edification, dear reader, the staff of City Pulse tackled a smorgasbord of locally made pies, cupcakes, brownies, cannolis and macarons to determine who had the best dessert in town. The rules were simple: each establishment was asked to submit an item from its menu that could go crust-to-crust with the other confections. Each item was then ranked from 1 to 10 on six categories: cost per portion, sweetness, flavor, texture, richness and an unspecified X-factor, which could either raise or lower a score based on that particular reviewer’s overall assessment of the dish.

And so, with caloric intakes and the looming threat of diabetic comas pushed to the back of our minds, into the storm we surged.

Sugar Shack: Chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting ($3.50) — 6.2 out of 10

With cupcakes, it’s usually all about the frosting — and our judges took Sugar Shack to task for the “underwhelming” topping. “Not enough peanut butter flavor” bemoaned one of our judges, while another thought that it “overpowered the cupcake.” Two judges pointed out that “you (could) really taste the butter,” but the “lack of depth” made for a nearly unanimous chorus of “eh.” As for the cupcake itself, the worst that could be said about it was that it was “kinda dry.”

Sugar Shack, 215 N. Clippert St., Lansing Township, (517) 316-2009

Aggie Mae’s Bakery: Raspberry crumb cake ($2.50) — 7 out of 10

“It could have been sweeter,” noted one of our judges. “I would’ve liked more raspberries,” said another. Most appreciated the “tasty crumble top,” but in a battle of sweet stuff, this crumb cake just didn’t stack up. That said, one of us found it “a welcome break from sugar overload.” The cake received its highest marks in texture and value, with someone commenting: “It screams for a glass of milk.” Well, that’s one way to inspire you to get your daily recommended serving of dairy.

Aggie Mae’s, 325 City Market Drive, Lansing, (517) 483-7460

Grand Traverse Pie Co.: Mountain berry pie ($3.50) — 7.9 out of 10

Obviously, there’s no such thing as a “mountain berry,” so what, you may ask, goes into a mountain berry pie? This is one of Grand Traverse Pie Co.’s house specialties, made from raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and Michigan blueberries with an oatmeal crumb top. Although one of the judges thought that it “should be tarter,” most agreed that the “sweetness was right on point.” “The sweetness was great because it came from the fruit,” said one, while others noted the pie’s “good crunch” and “great berry flavor.” One of the judges found the seeds “off-putting,” while another said, “It’s kinda mushy, but that’s not bad.” Raved one of the reviewers: “This is how all fruit pies should be — good job!”

Grand Traverse Pie Co., 200 S. Washington Square, Lansing, (517) 316-0900

Bake N’ Cakes: Cherry cheesecake cupcake ($2.65) — 8.1 out of 10

Back to cupcake land for a clever spin on a classic. A “quick hit in the mouth of sweet,” said one of the judges. Others found it “smooth” with a “great filling” and “a nice surprise — I was expecting to go into sugar shock.” “Nice mix of cheesecake and cupcake,” with someone being most happy about “the cherry on top.” The flavor and texture really raked in the points, but someone summed up their experience succinctly by calling it “the best of both worlds.”

Bake N’ Cakes, 3003 E. Kalamazoo St., Lansing Township, (517) 337-2253

Le Bon Macaron/A Piece O’ Cake: Macarons, various flavors ($2 each) — 8.3 out of 10

Some background first: A macaron is a small French dessert that looks like a bite-sized hamburger — imagine a buttercream “patty” nestled between two crispy meringue “buns.” We were given cinnamon, lemon, raspberry, salty caramel, chocolate and vanilla. Our reviewers did find the $2 price for each one “a little too much for what is essentially one bite,” giving it the lowest cost-per-portion rating in the group. But after that, it was a raving success. “The perfect amount of sweetness” gave “a wake-up call to my taste buds,” and the “unreal” texture had a couple of us asking: “How come I’ve never heard of these before?”

Le Bon Macaron/A Piece O’ Cake, 4966 Northwind Drive, East Lansing, (517) 333-6881

Roma Bakery & Deli: Chocolate chip cannoli ($2.35) — 8.7 out of 10

Of course, if you go into an Italian bakery, a cannoli will always be the pièce de résistance — and Roma’s entry was as mind-blowing as we were hoping it would be. “It tastes as awesome as it looks” and “amazing combo of crunchy outside and smooth inside” were two of the more glowing reviews that came in. Surprisingly, this earned the top marks in texture for all the desserts, but it was the little things (literally) that got a couple of us gushing: “Something about those chocolate chips made it all come together perfectly.” Our dentists are going to hate us.

Roma Bakery & Deli, 428 N. Cedar St., Lansing, (517) 485-9466

Sweeti-Licous Bakery Café: Pretty peppermint buttercream brownie ($3.69) — 9.1 out of 10

The dessert winner was so good, it left our judges speaking in exclamation points. “Tastes like Christmas!” “Perfect holiday dessert!” “Dynamic candy cane bits!” “Xmas in a bite!” The brownie was actually more like a pie, with a thick dark-chocolate coating that, even after thawing for a bit, some of us found “too hard to stick a fork into.” But that only served to keep us from inhaling it. “This is dangerous” and “one of the best desserts I’ve ever tried.” But one of Sweetie-Licious’ new fans is none too happy about the store’s distance from City Pulse’s office: “Why is DeWitt so far away?” that judge lamented.

Sweetie-Licious Bakery Café, 108 N. Bridge St., DeWitt, (517) 669-9300

With most of the desserts being different types, one may be tempted to argue that this was an apples-and-oranges comparison (if only we had Food Fights that were that healthy). But these were iron-willed reviewers who boldly broke down each item to its component parts and judged accordingly, building an overall ranking of each sweet treat.

And after that carb load, we happily retreated to our respective caves to start the hibernation process. See you on the other side of the solstice.