After a stressful week at school, I took a page out of Mary Poppins' book and took my daughters to Alaska Cake Studio on Fourth Avenue for the proverbial spoonful of sugar. It's a cozy, welcoming spot with window-side tables for people watching and a sweet smell in the air, and they began to feel much better right away. There are a few retail items on display -- aprons, tea sets and cookware -- but the main attractions are the beautiful sweets, pastries and cakes laid out like so many jewels behind a glass case.
We ordered two decadent desserts to share and a box of assorted treats to bring to a dinner party later in the evening. One daughter chose the Madagascar Vanilla Mousse Dome ($7) -- a shimmering shell of chocolate hiding a sweet, creamy center with a subtle hint of vanilla. The other chose the Peanut Butter Blast ($5.75) -- a dense, bundt-cake-shaped indulgence that was unctuous and fudgy, like a peanut butter cup on steroids. I was slightly disappointed that these little works of art were served on plastic plates. And the plastic flatware was unequal to the job of spooning up a dense, sticky mousse. However, when I mentioned it to my daughters, I was the recipient of two very emphatic eye rolls. I guess it was a very mom thing to notice.
Later that night, four adults shared the Pumpkin-Ginger Mousse ($6.50), the Key Lime Pyramid ($6.50), the Maple Cheesecake with Bacon ($6.50) and the Bananas Foster ($7). The pumpkin mousse was a hit. A gingerbread cookie layer gave bite to the subtly spicy mousse, perfect for a brisk autumn evening. The key lime tart offered a bright, palate-cleansing note of citrus that cut through the rich sweetness of the other desserts. The Maple Cheesecake with Bacon was a bit polarizing but I was definitely Team Bacon. With an assertive flavor of maple and just a hint of salt, it was like being served breakfast by Willy Wonka.
The one letdown of the day was the Bananas Foster, which had a gritty, overly sticky consistency. It lacked the bitterness that the caramelization of a true Bananas Foster has, and one diner thought it tasted like artificially flavored banana pudding.
The Pumpkin-Spice Cupcakes ($3), which we brought for the kids at the party, were another hit -- and not just with the kids. They were moist, gently nutmeggy, and had a perfectly creamy frosting and a candy corn on top.
I made a lunchtime visit next, because I wanted to try the savory croissants they offer before 4 p.m. I was on my way to meet some friends, so I ordered two: one with cheddar and bacon and the other with sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes ($3.25). I also got a blueberry scone ($2.50), a tiramisu ($6.50) and an apple tart "a la mode" ($5.75). The croissants were buttery and flaky, with a perfect amount of filling -- a nice-sized lunch if you plan to leave room for dessert. We were less impressed with the scone, which was a bit dry and crumbly (though I appreciated that it wasn't overly sweet, a problem I have with most store-bought scones). My friend -- MacGyver-style -- dipped her scone into the "a la mode" cream from the apple tart and, voila, the problem was solved.
We enjoyed the tender crust on the apple tart and the decadent pastry cream that comes with it. However, the apple filling was too sweet -- we agreed that it lacked a certain tartness (no pun intended) that would have helped balance the dish. The tiramisu was enjoyable, but all of the creamy, mousse-y dishes were starting to blend together. Decadent desserts should be an occasional treat, and I was turning them into a lifestyle.
After two visits and 11 tastes -- eight of them sweet -- the creamier desserts all began to blend in my memory. Visually, the studio's desserts show artistry and sophistication. The flavors however, are pure comfort. These aren't challenging desserts saturated in liqueurs, or heavy on almond paste, zests, or rose water. For all the visual whimsy and creativity, Alaska Cake Studio specializes in simple, pleasing flavors. And sometimes you just want to feed you inner child.
By Mara Severin
Daily News correspondent