Petite women in a small shop on a quaint stretch of Marshall Avenue are producing miniature delicacies: macarons the size of 50-cent pieces, and cupcakes, some small enough to fit in the bowl of a spoon. Each is a work of art, touched with pale color, crowned with a curl of frosting, garnished with a tiny candy or half a nut.
The women are Krista Steinbach, a Culinary Institute of America–trained pastry chef, and Ly Lo, a former furniture designer who has turned her decorative attention to cake. Their St. Paul shop is Sweets Bakeshop.
You don’t have a sweet tooth, you say? I don’t, either. I drink red wine so dry it makes my tongue curl, eat popcorn sprinkled with cayenne pepper, and prefer vegetables to fruit. I can count on one hand the sweets in town that tempt me: pumpkin éclairs that Butter used to make, carrot cake from Cafe Latté, and now, the spicy chocolate cupcakes from Sweets.
Steinbach and Lo are adventurous (to wit, a breakfast cupcake filled with salty bacon and topped with a maple buttercream frosting) and their experiments occasionally produce a miss. But they shine with the spicy chocolate cupcake, a rich, moist, deeply chocolate cake topped with habanero-infused chocolate frosting. Steinbach uses a level hand with the pepper: just enough to burn.
Another winner is the Dreamsicle, a lovely orange cake topped with orange buttercream and filled with vanilla bean buttercream.
Sweets also offers macarons similar to the ones at Paris’s legendary Ladurée. The salted caramel macaron is the perfect savory-sweet mixture for the non-sweet-eater’s palate.
But what makes Sweets superior is Lo’s extraordinary art. For one book club, she created a Huckleberry Finn arrangement: pastry sculpted into river and raft. Lo’s deft hands shape cupcakes in the form of frogs, and entire storybook tableaus—a family of bears eating a picnic, complete with paper plates and napkins—out of rolled fondant.
2042 Marshall Ave, St. Paul