Lansing's sweet spots: New and old bakeries in the Capital area

Life is short. Eat dessert first - Jacques Torres

It began as a love story, as all good stories do… When young Mena, born and raised in the southern Italian city of Calabria, married Sostino Castriciano, a handsome Italian baker from Mili San Pietro, they chose to settle in Lansing, near her emigrated family. Here they bought a small Italian grocery store, and within months had installed ovens and were supplying fresh-baked bread to their community. And so the Roma Bakery was born.

It's been almost 50 years, and Sostino still gets up with the birds every morning to bake bread. But bread isn't the only thing pulled steaming from the ovens at the Roma Bakery. Over the years, the couple have expanded their offerings to include a wide range of delicious Italian treats. Wander along the counter at the Roma Bakery, and you'll see fresh baked cannoli, chantilly horns, fruit tarts and eclairs. All made according to recipes Mena and Sostino brought with them from Italy.

"All his recipes are still hand written in Italian." Mena laughs. "I have no idea what we'd do if something happened to him - no one else can read them!" But it's a point of pride for Sostino. What he offers are authentic Italian cakes and pastries, baked the way they have been for generations - from scratch, using fresh ingredients, and then shared among families and loved ones. Because family and community are just as important to the Castricianos as good food.

Eat cake. It's somebody's birthday somewhere. - Unknown

In fact, the importance of community is something the Castricianos are known for. Just ask Jeff Johnson, the owner of Bake 'N Cakes. He opened his doors in 1983, and since then has developed long-standing relationships with other bakers in the area. "We help each other out." he explains. "Which is important, because we're all in this together." So it came as no surprise, when Bake 'N Cakes suffered some flooding in their basement earlier this year, that the Castricianos stepped in and offered to help out with storage space, until the renovations were complete.

It's a mindset that amazes many people who expect more rivalries between bakers and bakeries in the area. But as Johnson puts it, "That would be pointless. No one bakery can meet the whole city's needs. We all bring something different to the table." And that couldn't be more true of Bake 'N Cakes, whose counters are stocked with old favorites that keep customers coming back again and again, and an ever-changing line-up of new and delectable treats.

One of their more recent developments is the Dream Cake, which Johnson says is hugely popular. "It's a hybrid of several cakes, including cheesecake, mousse, regular cake, and frosting all layered on top of each other, and made in different flavors." Delicious? Absolutely! And why should that be any different? After all, Johnson prides himself on offering quality products. "Our carrot cake is made using a recipe I got from a friend of my grandma's. And I can tell you exactly what's in my banana bread - all things you can pronounce!"

When you look at a cupcake, you've just got to smile! - Anne Byrn

That kind of pride - about what goes into a cake, or in this case a cupcake - is also a sticking point for Darek Machoul, owner and operator of the Sugar Shack. Having travelled all over the world, from France, Italy and Amsterdam, to China and Mexico, Machoul returned to the Lansing area and discovered that there was a gap in the sweet treat market. No one was crafting gourmet cupcakes with truely unique flavor profiles. And no one was delivering them late at night. The solution? The Sugar Shack.

He titled it "the bakery that delivers", and he means it. "We deliver cupcakes. But we also deliver on flavor and freshness!" Machoul explains. And it's something he's adamant about. Cookies come out of the oven every 15 to 20 minutes, so that what's on offer is always incredibly fresh. And the cupcake flavor combos are something Machoul devises himself, changing out the entire menu every year so that there's always something new and creative on offer.

"We've done all kinds of combinations. I've offered white chocolate wasabi. And then there was chai grapefruit, and lemon lavender. I even did green tea and red bean one year. People love them because, while the flavor might be something you've never tried before, a cupcake is a small portion and only a few dollars invested. That way you can try something new every time." And since the cupcake menu changes every year in June, with the new line-up kept top secret until reveal day, there's not long to wait before 16 exciting new flavor options hit the shelves.

'Stressed' spelled backwards is 'desserts'. Coincidence? I think not! - Loretta Laroche

Need a custom-made wedding cake of epic proportions? Whipped can prepare something extravagant to celebrate your special day. Want a fresh muffin or a scone with your morning latte? Mitten Raised Bakery has a tasty collection baked fresh every day. In the mood for a little something special on your special day? Glazed and Confused does custom made birthday donuts that'll knock your socks off. In truth, there are loads of unique and interesting bakeries all over the greater Lansing area. Chappelure at Heights Eastwood does a fantastic chocolate croissant, along with all of their other tasty dessert offerings, and Cops and Donuts offers hot coffee to pair with your… you guessed it - donuts.

As Julia Child once said, "A party without cake is just a meeting." And if there's anyone who would know about the importance of a good dessert, it's the indomitable Mrs. Child. So next time your sweet tooth kicks into gear, take a moment to consider how lucky you are that you live in the Lansing area. Because whatever you happen to be craving, and whatever the occasion, the Capital area's bakers have your back.

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Sarah Hillman is the news editor for Capital Gains.
 

Photos © Dave Trumpie

 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.

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