Don't Try This at Home

The most extravagant cookies in the Twin Cities revealed, devoured

 

JERABEK'S NEW BOHEMIAN

For 99 years Jerabek's New Bohemian has been selling baked treats to the residents of the Cherokee/Riverview area of west St. Paul; that's south of downtown, across the Smith Avenue High Bridge, in one of those affordable, family-friendly, tree-filled and tricycle-rich St. Paul neighborhoods that keep the Midwest from being a cold New York. The place functions simultaneously as a stay-for-awhile coffee shop, a vintage clothing and housewares store, and a bakery, and these days owner Mellissa Deyo, great-granddaughter of founder Ed Jerabek, always keeps a couple of captivatingly cute sugar cookies on hand for the adorable-minded.

When I visited, there were sunny yellow, orange, and pink iced daisy-type flower cookies, each with a white circle of icing in the middle, topped with a chocolate smiley face. They were so cheerful and homespun that every time I looked at them I expected them to grab a ukulele and burst into song. At only 75 cents, Jerabek's frosted cutouts (the industry term) cost a lot less than they do elsewhere. Deyo told me that they also do them as wedding favors, which should interest everyone who's ever priced those $4 iced cookies that wedding-cake bakers often offer to add to your bill.

In fact, the price tag of Jerabek's ginger stars is probably my biggest problem with the things. See, I adore these feisty little nutmeg-rich ginger cookies, which pack a nice old-world punch of winter spice beneath a glittering, gold-dust-touched icing lid. Yet, on the other hand, they only cost a quarter! How can anyone really work up into a frenzy of mad, decadent indulgence at that price? The best thing I can recommend is to take a box of these home, and tell your friends they cost $7 each and you had them air-freighted from Vienna. They will believe you. (JERABEK'S NEW BOHEMIAN COFFEE HOUSE & BAKERY, 63 W. Winifred St., St. Paul; 651.228.1245)

 

FINNISH BISTRO

At this point, I'm going to note that three out of the Twin Cities' four top fancy-cookie spots are in St. Paul. Do parents in St. Paul love their children more? Children of Minneapolis, rise up! You have nothing to lose but your after-school snacks of raisins and carrot sticks! Furthermore, if you really want to have a fit of jealousy, mash your little noses against the clean glass cases at Como Park's Finnish Bistro, the place formerly known as Taste of Scandinavia. That's where you'll find big white-frosted scalloped ginger hearts, lemon sugar cookies in the shapes of flowers topped with cool and melty lemon icing, raspberry sandwich cookies as pink and lovely as porcelain dolls, frosted butterfly cookies that look like they just fluttered off a Christmas tree, and, be still my grownup heart, iced hearts done in glossy four-color marbling that look like nothing so much as the finest Venetian endpapers in the most valuable Renaissance books.

What's the Renaissance, you ask? Well, a long time ago people were stupid, and we called those times the Dark Ages. Then, some people learned some things, and people got to be much happier. Like how you will be if you manage to convince your dad that if he stops at the Finnish Bistro he could get a takeout salad made of a mixture of baby and adult lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, onions, and olives for $7.95 that will easily feed two adults and two kids as a side dish at dinner, thus reducing kitchen prep time. Then you can add that if he is really strapped for time he could make a whole budget-friendly dinner out of Finnish Bistro soups and bread to go. Now, my Minneapolis children, if you can't wheedle a cookie out of him once Dad's gotten a healthy family dinner on the table for less than 20 bucks, consider networking with some kids in St. Paul, because those kids know a few things. (Finnish Bistro; 2264 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651.645.9181; www.finnishbistro.com)

 

BLACKEY'S BAKERY

Sometimes I meet people in the Twin Cities who haven't heard of Blackey's, the Danish and Polish specialty bakery tucked near the railroad tracks between Central and University in Northeast. And when I meet those people, I feel that I have failed. Because Blackey's--I have believed Blackey's to be one of the best bakeries in the Twin Cities for eight years, and sometimes I am just so busy believing it to be good that I forget to write that it is good. But boy, is it good. Their twin strengths are hearty European breads, like their black-as-night, heavy-as-magma rugbröd. It's the Mount Everest of all pumpernickels, in terms of both magnificence and the likelihood of your needing a sherpa to help you finish the darn thing; it weighs as much as an unabridged dictionary, and would feed a single man for a month.

Their other strength, well, besides the best hamburger and hot dog buns (they supply some of the most famous burger restaurants in town), and the excellent doughnuts, their other, other strength is their Danish pastries, made with special imported Danish almond paste and other ingredients. Now, before I ever tried Blackey's, I always thought: almond paste, dry, floury...no thanks! But the things that are made with almond paste that come out of Blackey's are a horse of another color: sweet, light, rich, intense, and as potently focused and unified as, say, a ripe fruit or a wine. They taste wonderful, they taste drive-across-town wonderful, not dry and cakey. That said, I somehow didn't discover their marvelous almond-paste cookies until quite recently.

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