Artisan bakeries bring a taste of the old country to Utah
French pastries might be the most common foreign food we dough-lovers eat, but it’s time to add some spice to our éclair habit.
Utah is home to thriving immigrant and refugee communities—1 in 12 of us is an immigrant and about 60,000 are refugees. And while our newer arrivals hail from all over the world, some things are universal: A yearning for a taste of home and a desire to share it with strangers.
Let’s face it, food is an easy entrée to learning about other cultures. Each of these bakery owners has a delicious story to tell—so be sure to ask. Then, open your senses to the sweet or savory flavors, textures and aromas of the old country.
Twenty-nine years ago, Petra Vigil, owner of Petra’s Backstubchen, brought her baking books from her hometown in Klinding, Germany, to Layton, Utah. For years, she made strudels, cakes and cookies following the old country recipes for friends and family. Once her children were raised, she and her husband, Joseph, decided to rent a commercial kitchen and begin selling her German pastries at farmers markets from Logan to South Jordan. Today, Utahns seek out Petra’s Bachstubchen apple strudel, cherry streuselkuchen, honey cookies, rhubarb cake, butter stollen, cheesecake, pretzels and a dozen more items–all emblazoned with the cheery illustration of Petra on the labels. And aside from her hard-to-come-by rhubarb cake, it’s Petra’s traditional Bienenstich (Bee Sting) that patrons clamor for regularly. The Bee Sting starts with a sweet yeast dough that’s drenched with homemade German vanilla pudding and topped with caramelized sliced almonds that’s sold by the slice ($5) or sheet cake ($50). You can find Petra’s German-baked goods year-round at all five locations of Lee’s and at The Store in Holladay. (Heather L. King)
Rita Magalde isn’t Greek, but she bakes like she is. She grew up in North Carolina where she worked for a Greek family for many years. Completing odd jobs led to learning how to create some of their family recipes, including the art of making authentic baklava using 45 layers of dough. In 2008, Rita tweaked some recipes and launched Sheer Ambrosia Bakery out of her home, after a divorce and with a desire to earn an income from home while raising her two kids as a single parent. After much success, Magalde took the next leap and rented a commercial kitchen in 2013. For the next three years, she provided baklava to local businesses such as Harmons Grocery and several Crown Burgers and Olympus Burgers throughout the valley. Facing increased overhead costs, Magalde moved operations back into her home kitchen in 2016. Sales are still booming. A gift box of 12 pieces is $36 online. “Baklava,” says Magalde, “is more than a treat to me, it is art.” (Aimee L. Cook; photo above by Eleni Saltas)
Sheer Ambrosia Bakery
Steak & Cheese Pie
What began as a way to earn extra income for Loi and Tualagi Sagato has turned into a brick-and-mortar business where the couple and their five children can share their love of Polynesian foods.
The family opened their bakery in 2018, after selling their creations at local Asian food stores and through their catering company for more than 20 years.
Sweet and savory treats line the cases, from lamingtons ($3.50)—a vanilla cake dipped in chocolate, sprinkled with flaky coconut and filled with cream—to a tender steak and cheese pie with a light, flaky puff pastry top ($5.25). A visit to their storefront is a delicious experience in Pacific American fusion. They import L&D soda from New Zealand and Watties tomato sauce (a variation on ketchup), which trigger nostalgia for certain customers.
“When you look at our desserts, nothing is ever [completely] uniform and we are OK with that,” daughter Verona Sagato says. “Everything is made from love, created by what we grew up on. We sell homemade food in a business setting.” (Aimee L. Cook)
Sagato Bakery & Café
44 W. 7200 South, Midvale
La Espiga Dorada Bakery specializes in beautiful cakes for any occasion. Their colors, designs and intricacy makes them charming to look at and delightful to eat. While the bakery’s more traditional cakes are prime examples of artfully crafted pillars and bright flowers, the cakes that immediately grab you are the playful unicorn cakes. In a variety of styles, these cakes sport colorful horns and rainbow manes, as well as glamorous eyelashes.
“Sometimes they are my ideas, and sometimes people have their own ideas. We work with the customers,” says manager and chef Alejandra Guzman. “They come in a variety of different flavors, but the tiramisu is my favorite.” Guzman’s designs are done beautifully and quickly. The prices start at $28 for a 10-slice cake, and range from there. Call ahead for pricing and availability. (Caitlin Hawker)
La Espiga Dorada Bakery
2292 W. 5400 South, Taylorsville
CrÈme Brûlée Crepe
It’s fitting that Doki Doki, a dessert-only café, means “heart beat” in Japanese. The desserts, says Irie Cao, are made with love. Her shop offers Japanese-style crepes, crepe cakes and hand-rolled ice cream and frozen yogurts.
It all started when Cao went to visit a friend in California. She tried the crepes and fell instantly in love. “My friend asked if there was a shop like this in Utah,” she says. “Why not open a shop and bring these crepes to Utah?”
The crepes ($6.99) feature enticing fillings such as strawberry, cheesecake, Nutella, kiwi, mango, cream cheese and caramel. All come with ice cream, too.
The crème brûlée crepe—covered with sugar and caramelized for a spectacular and original finish— may be the best.
The crepe cakes ($29 for a 7-inch cake) are another showstopper. They’re made with 20 layers of the paper-thin crepes and layered with a variety of flavors, including matcha, peach, key lime and coconut.
“Everything is very unique, and very original,” Cao says, noting that she uses organic, high quality ingredients. “I don’t like the cakes to sit in the fridge for too long. I want everything to be fresh.” (Caitlin Hawker)
Doki Doki Dessert Cafe
249 E. 400 South, SLC
Kyung’s Bakery is a hybrid, serving Korean breads and French pastries. But no matter the ethnic traditions behind them, all of the goodies here are made to be healthier than at other bakeries. Located in the heart of downtown Murray, Kyung’s Bakery prides itself on baking low-sugar, low-sodium goods.
Made from scratch and in-house, the cheesecake is almost too pretty to eat—almost. The cake is rich without being overpowering, and the topping, while thick, tastes surprisingly light. It is a nice alternative to the sugary taste of most traditionally made cheesecakes.
“I’ve been in Utah for 20 years—in Salt Lake and Park City—and I noticed that there weren’t many low-sugar bakeries. I wanted to bring one to Utah,” says Miky Ung Myers, the owner and head baker. “Here, a lot of other bakeries are very sweet. I use low-sugar and low-sodium to make everything from scratch. Healthy and happy, that’s our motto.” (Caitlin Hawker)
153 E. 4370 South, Murray
Gilberto and Norma Rodriguez run this charming traditional Mexican bakery on the west side of Salt Lake City. The small shop’s colorful exterior draws you in, and once inside, you are greeted with an array of pastries displayed in a glass case. Hailing from the city of Cordoba in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Gilberto says he was “always making bread from a very young age.” Having grown up with this skill, it prompted him to open this shop. The pineapple cake, which comes in a thick slice for just 80 cents, is one of the most popular items. This fluffy, light pastry features a thin layer of pineapple filling between perfectly baked vanilla angel-food cake slices. The shop’s other pastries are also a safe bet. Try the conchas, a Mexican sweet bread named for their round shape and broken shell-like topping. (Anna Kaser)
775 S. 900 West, SLC
Bacon, Egg and Cheese Kolache
Siblings Cory, Devin and Ross Hruska were concerned when they moved from Houston, Texas, to Provo to attend Brigham Young University: No kolaches.
The pillowy pastries from the Czech Republic in the shape of a wheel with fruits, nuts or meat sitting in the center, were a big part of their childhood.
“There is a large Czech population in Houston,” says Cory, “and we found ourselves really missing the kolaches.”
They found their great-grandmother’s recipe and started baking for themselves. Ross wanted to open a bakery, and now they have two locations: in Provo and Sugar House. It’s been so successful they are planning a third (in American Fork).
For a savory snack, the best option is the bacon, egg and cheese kolache ($3)—classic American breakfast ingredients, but with a Czech flair. There’s also pulled pork (in Provo, only), ranchero-style and sausage and gravy.
If you like sweet, try the raspberry cream, made with a traditional cream cheese, cottage cheese, sugar and egg mixture ($1.75). Other choices include maple pecan as well as cinnamon. (Anna Kaser)
2030 S. 900 East, SLC, 385-309-4379
434 W. Center Street, Provo, 801-623-3578
Karim Bakery may appear to be a specialty store offering sweet snacks and grocery items from the Middle East. But keep walking to the back of the shop to find a wonderful repository of delectable pastries, both savory and sweet.
Owners Karim and Zahara Alhasnawy fled Iraq in 2006 for a refugee camp in Syria. After two years, they were granted asylum and moved to Utah in 2008. Karim had been a veterinarian in his home country but was unable to practice in the United States due to different licensing requirements.
Instead, his family began baking. They’ve grown their bakery from a simple pita bread factory to one that offers a plethora of fresh pastries.
Zaatar, a pastry spread with olive oil, sesame seeds, sumac, thyme, oregano and more, is a simple concept with very complex flavors ($1.50). While in the shop, try the baklava, sesame cookies and shwarma as well. (Anna Kaser)
2575 S. State, South Salt Lake
Gordon and Shannon Jung opened the first Korean bakery in Utah in 2017. Located inside the Chinatown Supermarket, Moon Bakery offers an impressive assortment of fresh Korean baked breads, red bean mochi, cakes, rolls and bingsoo, a dessert made with shaved ice that’s topped with fresh mango and sweet red beans. Gordon Jung acquired his baking and business experience while working for six years in a famous bakery in South Korea. After moving to Utah, he wished to recreate the traditional baked goods of his homeland to share them with those who live here.
The Mochi Bread ($1.99) is one not to miss. Still warm from the oven, the soft, delicate sweet roll is baked around a housemade red bean mochi cake, made of rice flour. It’s gluten-free. (Jen Hill)
3390 S. State, Ste. 20, South Salt Lake
COFFEE-FLAVORED Tres Leche Cake
“I went to several different Indian restaurants but never felt like it would suffice my desire for ‘homestyled’ food,” Vini Joseph says, explaining why she created her catering company, Café India SLC.
When it comes to baked goods, Joseph says she was disappointed with the quality and taste of cakes available from local bakeries. She desired more flavorful cakes with a lighter texture, like the desserts she enjoyed while growing up in India. A self-taught baker, Joseph first introduced her cakes to customers through the Spice Kitchen’s “Spice to Go” desserts program, where they were a hit.
The texture of Café India SLC’s cakes are moist and light, layered with fresh cream, in a variety of flavors, such as pineapple, black forest chocolate, or strawberry. The tres leches cake ($30 for a 9-inch round, two-layer cake) is not only made with three types of milk but is also flavored with coffee. “One could easily eat several slices in a sitting, and still have room for another,” Joseph says. Café India SLC now accepts specialty cake orders for any occasion, including catered events and gatherings. (Jen Hill)
Café India SLC
Bird’s Milk Cake
Centuries ago, Slavic legend claims that young maidens asked potential suitors to fetch them some “bird’s milk,” as a test of devotion. This mystical ingredient became the name of a very sought-after traditional Russian cake now being made at the family-owned Kievan Rus Bakery in Saratoga Springs.
Lead baker Tatyana Khorishko describes Bird’s Milk Cake, or ptichye moloko, as a “Russian fairy tale cake.” It consists of whipped mousse in a moist, sponge cake, topped with dark chocolate ganache. The bakery also serves other Russian and Ukrainian treats, including the medovik cake, a multi-layer honey cake, and the slastyona, a sponge cake made with cream, walnuts and almonds with glazed apples on top. Cakes are baked to order and can be made in different sizes or as pastries. They are $32 per 35 ounces. (Jen Hill)
Kievan Rus Bakery