It has risen!

It has risen!

Three new bakeries offer yeasty Easter treats

By Erica Wayne 03/28/2013

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To paraphrase Dickens, now is the best of times and the worst of times for a bi-religion household, a year when Passover and Easter week overlap. Of course, neither my husband’s nor my family is particularly pious, but we do try to be observant of holiday customs, especially the yummiest ones.

­So, by the time this column publishes, you can be sure that we will have made up our Seder plate, dipped our bitter herbs, consumed the haroset, drunk (at the very least) four glasses of Manischewitz Concord Grape (I’m a traditionalist), sipped matzo-ball soup, choked down gefilte fish with red horseradish, feasted on roast chicken with matzo-apple kugel and ended the meal with macaroons, fruit compote and a spirited hunt for the afikomen.
But then Easter Sunday arrives on the sixth day of Passover, demanding an end to the unleavened bread shtick and attention to its own required festivities: Eggs and dye — check! Chocolate bunnies — check! Baskets with grass, jelly eggs, peeps and pastel Hershey Kisses — check, check, check and check. We’re fine for the preliminaries.

Once the eggs are gathered and baskets given, it’s on to Easter brunch with a big sliced ham (my family always prefers Honeybaked to home-baked), scalloped potatoes, slaw and biscuits, with an array of luscious pastries to follow.

And here, dear readers, I leave cooking to the professionals. My baked goods usually turn out to be “baked merely OKs,” so I’m always seeking out new bakeries to enhance holiday meals.

This year, I’ve found three recent area additions with markedly different inventories: Bittersweet Treats, across from Pasadena City College on East Colorado Boulevard; Flour + Tea, located on the southeast corner of Arroyo Parkway and Cordova Street; and La Monarca Bakery & Café, on the southwest corner of Mission Street and Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena. And, to make sure what I served would hit the spot, I naturally had to make a trial run to sample from all three before finalizing my paschal purchases. Luckily, each has a sit-down area and serves gourmet coffees and teas, so I could indulge in a leisurely pursuit of perfection.

La Monarca (the newest sister in a four-store company) is not only a bakery, but a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. As I pondered their breads, pastries and cakes, I nibbled on a delectable smoked ham, cheese and jalapeno mini-trenza (filled bread) and sipped a café de olla (brewed with cinnamon and brown sugar). If I were planning scrambled eggs instead of ham for Easter brunch, a dozen of those trenzas definitely would have gone home with me!

La Monarca’s biscuits and croissants come in either white or whole wheat. Both are flaky and rich — perfect for ham and butter or honey. I fell in love with their guava and cream puff-pastry tacos, one of which literally melted in my mouth. Those and some of La Monarca’s pineapple empanadas will definitely be on my pastry tray this Sunday.

Flour + Tea follows a Taiwanese model, with a huge number of shaken teas and milk teas, iced teas, “frosteas” and plain teas on offer. The sunny interior has ample seating, so I nursed a delicious almond milk tea and downed a fabulous mushroom and cream-filled pie (which, again, if I’d been serving eggs, would definitely have joined the La Monarca trenzas) while perusing the counters and shelves for likely Easter buys.

Chocolate-stuffed puffs, lemon custard-filled puffs and almond-topped flat buns with taro filling made the cut. I gave deep thought to Flour + Tea’s unusual miniature rolls, with a hidden chunk of plain mochi (a chewy rice-flour and sugar confection) and a dollop of an additional flavoring paste or crème (red bean, blueberry, gingerbread, green tea, lemon, chocolate, salt caramel, mango, strawberry and peanut butter and jelly) within. But I finally decided they didn’t quite fit my menu, so I left with only a few for personal delectation.

My final stop was Bittersweet Treats. This bakery specializes in sweets: Cookies, bars, cupcakes, cakes and tarts, candy and homemade ice creams and sorbets. Here I got a latte, bothered the gal behind the counter with multiple requests for tastes of tangerine sorbet and coffee and honey-lavender ice cream (alas, no chocolate gelato which Yelpers had raved about) and interminably pondered the pastries. At last my choices were finalized — free-form oat, apricot, cardamom scones and heart-shaped apple ginger pies whose crust was simply sublime.
La Monarca, Flour + Tea and Bittersweet all make gorgeous cakes. Thank goodness I’m not planning on serving one this Easter, since it would be almost impossible to choose among them for sheer beauty. But, if someone forced me to make a single selection from each bakery, I’d probably go with La Monarca’s dark chocolate Mexican mocha, Flour + Tea’s mango cream and Bittersweet’s chocolate crunch (iced in toasted Meringue). Or maybe, Bittersweets browned butter carrot cake, or, perhaps … Well, you see the problem.

If you can, before you head over to Vons or Ralphs for those mediocre croissants and icky frosted cupcakes, make a quick run to one or all of these intriguing new bakeries and take home a bagful of joy.

And, if you can’t get there before this holiday week is over, don’t worry. It’s obvious from the number of customers that all three will be around for a long, long time.

Think Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year (not to mention birthdays,  anniversaries and graduations), and be grateful. All these wonderful occasions to buy goodies from La Monarca, Flour + Tea and Bittersweet! But one caveat, it’ll probably take those celebrations and more to get to know and try everything they’ve got to offer.


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