Pies and Cakes

Apple pies
Photo by Ziegler Photography

When it comes to enjoying the finer things in life, artisan bakers across the Greater Madison area have been creating custom crafted pies, cakes, and other scrumptious, satiating treats with top-tier ingredients, a pinch of passion, and an ounce of love.

Clasen’s European Bakery

Anyone who’s lived in Madison for any length of time knows about Clasen’s. The veteran bakery is on the cusp of celebrating its 60th anniversary, though the care and craftsmanship that goes into the shop’s assortment of goodies harkens back to a much earlier time marked by Old World-era European customs.

“We still stick to the European recipes, and everything is made from scratch,” says Michelle Clasen, who currently oversees operations within the shop. “We really respect the European tradition of baking here.” The commitment to age-old traditions and recipes can be found—and tasted—through such ingredients as egg custard and French buttercream.

Clasen’s, which operates in Middleton and serves as a wholesaler to a number of area grocers, features a variety of sweet treats, including such specialty desserts as carrot cakes, cheesecakes, dobosh tortes, frangipane pear tarts, petit fours, and plum cakes. The Madison area institution also has made a name for itself with its selection of cream-cheese coffee cakes, fresh kringle, poppyseed coffee cakes, and strudel.

Photograph by Michelle Clasen

While Clasen’s stays true to tradition, Michelle says the bakers on staff also tinker in the kitchen. One of the shop’s newer offerings is the amaretto apple cider torte, which is layered with apple filling, vanilla buttercream, and amaretto. It’s topped off with cinnamon sugar and toasted almonds. “Our pastry staff came up with the concept for it,” Michelle says.

When asked about Clasen’s most popular dessert offerings, Michelle says the signature chocolate torte, hands down, has been in demand over the years. It is accented with such ingredients as French chocolate buttercream, chocolate ganache, cocoa-dusted truffles, and a hint of coffee. “It’s become one of our best sellers,” Michelle says.

The Looking Glass Bakery

Co-owners Stephanie Kaat and Keegan Waggett say they founded The Looking Glass Bakery based on their love, care, and passion for food—particularly in the sweet spot of desserts. Their four-year-old business offers up a variety of cakes, cheesecakes, cookies and bars, cupcakes, donuts, French macarons, pies, tarts, and other delectable goodies.

“We really have a wide variety,” Stephanie says. “We like to change it up for the seasons, and we do a lot of custom orders for people for any occasion.” The shop’s artisan approach applies not only to particular tastes, but particular needs. Stephanie says The Looking Glass will make custom orders based on a person’s dietary or allergen needs.

One of the most popular baked goods at The Looking Glass is a lemon lavender cheesecake, which is topped off with a lavender buttercream. Also in demand are the bakery’s chocolate offerings, including the deep, dark-chocolate cheesecake, which features a brownie and graham cracker crust and is complemented with hazelnut Nutella buttercream and shaved white chocolate.

Photograph by Stephanie Kaat

“We really try to be different by offering fun flavors,” Stephanie says. Creativity also is high on the shop’s mission statement, she says, pointing out she will frequently make mini varieties of different desserts so people can sample multiple desserts. “I like to see how small I can make it,” she says. “It’s great for people who like to try different things.”

The imagination-filled tale of Through the Looking Glass , and What Alice Found There (the sequel to Alice in Wonderland ) is the inspiration behind the shop’s name, Stephanie says, pointing to a scene where the main character serves Looking-glass cake to others in the story.

The Looking Glass Bakery takes custom orders by phone or online and will be hosting a pop-up shop for Valentine’s Day. The bakery also shares its goodies by way of a food cart, which can be found at multiple rotating locations throughout the Madison area.

The Mixing Bowl Bakery

The word “mixing” is an apt name for this bakery because co-owners Curtis and Vickie Eberle enjoy mixing up the array of goodies at their Sauk City shop from one day to the next. “What we have available really depends on the day,” Vickie says. “Everything we make is done here, in house and from scratch.”

On average, Vickie says The Mixing Bowl features 6 to 10 pies, 20 to 30 varieties of cheesecakes, and at least 1 cake of the day. The establishment, founded in 2014, also features soft-serve ice cream made entirely from scratch.

Over the years, Vickie says The Mixing Bowl’s lemon blueberry and extreme chocolate cakes have been especially popular. She adds customers also clamor for the chocolate chip cookie dough, turtle, and raspberry cheesecakes. “They usually fly right off the shelf,” she says. The soft-serve ice cream, which complements many of the pies and cakes on the menu, has also been an oft-requested item on the dessert menu.

Photograph by Ziegler Photography

Some of the options at The Mixing Bowl change with the seasons. Dutch apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies, for instance, are fall favorites, while rhubarb is a popular offering during the warm-weathered summer months. Vickie says the Dutch apple pie is a particular source of pride in the bakery because of its crumb topping. “People rave about it. It’s not a normal crumb topping,” she says.

Curtis and Vickie, who run the shop with their children, say care and quality is front and center in every creation made within their mixing bowl. In addition to the dessert offerings, the bakery features an array of breakfast goods and multiple varieties of breads. “We use really high-quality ingredients,” Vickie says. “It’s not stuff out of a can. We try to use as many local ingredients as possible.”

These are three disparate bakeries that emphasize skill and craftsmanship over a mass-produced product commonly lacking in flavor. Some of the artisans interviewed in this piece are veterans, while others are still new to the sweet scene. Regardless, each of the bakers emphasize their love of creating satisfying desserts right in their own kitchens.

Dave Fidlin is a freelance writer who has a special affinity for Madison. Dave’s career spans nearly 20 years, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to learn something new each day through his professional pursuits.

Clasen’s European Bakery

7610 Donna Drive
Middleton, WI 53562
(608) 831-2032
clasensbakery.com

The Looking Glass Bakery

2817 E. Washington Avenue
Madison, WI 53704
(available by appointment)
(608) 640-9615
thelookingglassbakery.com

The Mixing Bowl Bakery

525 Water Street
Sauk City, WI 53583
(608) 370-7437
themixingbowl.coffee