February is short but sweet. This month, we share our picks for the city’s best bonbons and a lot of other unique sweets that are baked, dipped and drizzled to perfection.
By Dawnya Bartsch, Martin Cizmar, Liz Cook, Taylor Drummond, Isabella Ferrentino, Lauren Fox, Molly Higgins, Nicole Kinning, Patrick Moore and Tyler Shane
Sourdough Doughnuts at Slow Rise
Jessica Dunkel’s Slow Rise (instagram.com/slowrisekc) sourdough doughnuts sell out at every pop-up and farmers market she attends. The pop-up project’s name refers to the fermentation method, where slow is the keyword. The process of her small-batch doughnuts—making the dough, fermenting, hand rolling, proofing, frying and filling—takes three full days.
Dunkel is self-taught but inspired by her birthplace of Indonesia, where sweet-filled breads are common. Flavors of the fluffy pastries vary from sweet Pandan coconut to a savory sesame seed-coated Everything doughnut. Each batch is fried just hours before serving. “I always believe that doughnuts are not meant to be kept, no matter how good they are, because they’re always best fresh,” Dunkel says. —Tyler Shane
Mangonada at Palacana
For a sweet and spicy flavor combination, head to Palacana (830 Southwest Boulevard, KCMO) for their traditional Mexican mangonada. This colorful treat combines fresh mango pieces and sweet mango sorbet with tamarind sauce and spicy chamoy—a Mexican sauce made from pickled fruit. The dessert, which almost resembles a lava lamp with its orange and red swirl, comes complete with a tamarind straw. Although I had this treat on a cold day in November, it’s destined for the heat of summer. While at Palacana, be sure to also try their paletas: Mexican popsicles that come in unique and popular flavors like cinnamon, pecan, and strawberries and cream. —Lauren Fox
Coconut Cake at Jasper’s
When I worked at Jasper’s (1201 W. 103rd St., KCMO) in the summer of 2016, I thought I knew my favorite dessert: their delicious tartufo. Then I had the deep-rooted Italian restaurant’s coconut cake. This triple-layered white cake is soaked with coconut liqueur and filled with chantilly custard. The outside of the cake is coated in a thick layer of buttercream icing and dusted generously with coconut flakes. It’s the restaurant’s most popular dessert, and you can either order an individual slice (they don’t skimp on the size) or a full cake. —Lauren Fox
Apple Fritter at M&M Bakery & Delicatessen
It took three tries to land the legendary apple fritter at M&M Bakery and Deli off Highway 71 (1721 E. 31st St., KCMO). There were no regrets. The fritters are truly glorious, weighing in at close to a pound but offering enough variation in crunchy parts, soft parts, extra apple-y parts and pools of glaze to make it interesting all the way through. Come before the case is empty and the large lunch crowd arrives for the best pork-free hoagies in town. —Martin Cizmar
Scola’s Italian Cookies
Dianna Scola started off making Italian cookies in her Northland kitchen for friends and family looking to properly stock cookie tables at weddings and holidays. Using generations-old family recipes, she would mix, roll, shape and ice on her kitchen table, enlisting the help of family when large orders started to mount. As word spread, her side gig grew too large and she opened Scola’s Italian Cookies (8002 N. Oak Trafficway, Suite 105, KCMO) in early December 2020, just in time for the Christmas rush. Since then, Scola’s has expanded into a full-fledged Italian bakery, but it’s those ubiquitous cookies found at Italian-American weddings that she’s known for across the Northland and south Kansas City, where Scola grew up, and that keep bringing folks in. Variety is key to an Italian cookie table—here’s a rundown of Scola’s lineup. —Dawnya Bartsch
Biscotti ball cookie
Italian vanilla cake cookie topped with vanilla icing.
A rich chocolate cookie with chocolate chips smothered in chocolate icing.
A biscotti-style cookie wrapped around a fig-based filling and topped with vanilla icing and sprinkles.
Neapolitan cookie ball
An almond-flavored, rainbow-colored cookie glazed with almond-flavored icing.
A butter cookie rolled in sesame seeds and cooked to a nice crisp—delicious with coffee.
A butter cookie filled with pecans and rolled in powdered sugar.
Scola’s signature spice cookie. A decadent mixture of cinnamon, cloves and chopped pecans that’s glazed with almond icing.
A butter cookie rolled in pecans and filled with strawberry preserves.
Lemon biscotti ball
A biscotti ball dripping in lemon icing.
A deliciously green butter cookie filled with pistachios and finished off with vanilla icing.
Chocolate rainbow cookie
Thin layers of almond confection cake layered with raspberry jam and coated in chocolate.
A traditional Italian anise cookie.
Butterscotch Brioche Cinnamon Rolls at Heirloom
There’s a lot to admire behind the glass at Heirloom Bakery on 63rd Street (401 E. 63rd St., KCMO), but if you want the bakery’s best item, you’ll have to brave the weekend crowds. That item is the butterscotch brioche cinnamon roll, arguably the best cinnamon roll in a town lousy with good ones.
The rich rolls aren’t especially hard to make, says Scott Meinke, who co-owns Heirloom with his wife, Kate. But they don’t want to waste any butter-laden brioche on slow days: “There’s a lot of butter in the brioche, so if we don’t sell them out they are a higher-dollar item to make,” Scott says.
You’ll taste that buttery goodness along with cinnamon and spiced sugar in the dough, but it’s the cream cheese frosting with a butterscotch drizzle that takes this treat to elite. —Martin Cizmar
Our five favorite bonbons in KC
It’s Valentine’s Day month, but fancy chocolate deserves to be enjoyed year-round. We visited chocolatiers around the city to find the best bonbons to sink your teeth into. [READ MORE HERE.]
Napoleon at Algerian Delights
Algeria is a North African nation with a long history of cultural cross-pollination, which you’ll see reflected in the offerings at Lenexa’s Algerian Delights (12108 W. 87th St. Parkway, Lenexa). Along with savory handheld meat pies and fruit tortes, they make a number of mildly sweet Arabic pastries, including the shortbread biscuits known as ghribia and semolina-based makroudh.
The most popular item comes from the nation’s French influence, though: mille-feuille, otherwise known as Napoleon. The diminutive emperor’s namesake pastry is a stack of puff pastry and pastry cream below an elegant swirl of chocolate and white icing. —Martin Cizmar
Gram & Dun Bar
There aren’t many spots where I’ll sidle up to the bar just to enjoy a cocktail and something off the dessert menu, but Gram & Dun (600 Ward Parkway, KCMO) is one of them. The Plaza restaurant’s flagship confection, the Gram & Dun Bar, is heaven for anyone who loves a little salt with their sweet. The bottommost layer of the bar is a crunchy and savory caramel-pretzel crust, which is topped by a thick layer of peanut nougat and finished with a covering of fluffy chocolate mousse. And the dessert comes à la mode. -Nicole Kinning
Pistachio Pudding Cake at Governor Stumpy’s
Twenty-odd years ago, a server at Governor Stumpy’s in Waldo (321 E. Gregory Blvd., KCMO) encountered a pistachio pudding cake at a party, or so goes the story told by the barkeep. The cake was so delicious she insisted that owner Kevin Ryan consider putting it on the menu. It’s stayed put since.
The only dessert Stumpy’s bakes in-house, this double-layer cake is made moist with pistachio pudding and frosted in a soothing pastel green. If you’re a Notre Dame fan, it goes well with watching the game at this most Cheers-y of pubs every Saturday in the fall. For anti-Domers, order one when they lose—which these days is almost every Saturday in the fall. —Martin Cizmar
Bootleg Bourbon Balls
Bardstown, Kentucky, is the esteemed “Bourbon Capital of the World.” It’s got nothing on a woman-owned, small business here in Kansas City: Bootleg Bourbon Balls (bootlegbourbonballs.com). The company has perfected the creation of spirit-filled confections made with Kansas City’s craft spirits and mixed with Belgian chocolate.
Head Bootlegger Lisa Fitch describes her Kentucky thoroughbred balls as “notoriously naughty chocolates, but so nice.” Bootleg sells sample boxes through its website and delivers to four locations around town at no extra cost. The lineup of bourbon balls includes not only traditional balls filled with Tom’s Town Pendergast Royal Gold Bourbon and Union Horse Reserve Bourbon but also chocolate balls infused with local rum and whiskey.
The sampler’s standout is a sparkly chocolate masterpiece called Dame’s Dish, a dark chocolate and whiskey pecan blend with the Lifted Spirits Wheat Whiskey. The first bite of this immaculate confection, through the whiskey-soaked chocolate, reveals a delectable maraschino cherry to savor. It’ll leave you wanting to share with the whole family—if they’re over 21, that is.
“They aren’t your Grandma’s bourbon balls—and this ain’t your Grandpa’s bourbon,” Fitch says. —Taylor Drummond
Bloc at Maps Coffee & Chocolate
Vincent Rodriguez describes himself as “forever curious,” which helps explain how he turned his bike shop into Maps Coffee and Chocolate (13440 Santa Fe Trail Drive, Lenexa). The custom bike builder began roasting coffee and then, recognizing the absence of craft chocolate in KC, took it upon himself in 2017 to start roasting cacao and making bean-to-bar chocolate.
Behind Maps’ quaint cafe area in downtown Lenexa, patrons can watch as fresh, velvety chocolate is poured into molds while listening to the hum of single-origin coffee beans tumbling in the roaster. Rodriguez’s innovation shines in his unique edible coffee product, Bloc. Made similarly to chocolate, the bittersweet invention holds limitless potential. Try eating it whole as an energy bite, infusing it in your baking recipes, melting it down as an ice cream sauce or using it as a cocktail garnish. —Tyler Shane
Chocolate Pie at Ashleigh’s Bake Shop
Dodge the crowds shopping for Le Creuset dutch ovens and ornate cutting boards at Pryde’s specialty kitchen supply store and make your way to the basement, where Ashleigh’s Bake Shop (115 Westport Rd., KCMO) sits inconspicuously. You may then find yourself behind a man who is picking up seven bags worth of pies and wondering if the dessert will be worth it.
Things sell out fast here, and I was left to pick between by-the-slice pumpkin and chocolate pies. The crust was the star element of both. The pumpkin was solid and tasted like the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever had on Thanksgiving. The chocolate was the standout for me, though. The rich chocolate mousse filling was heartier and more realistically chocolate-y than anything you’d find in the grocery store, and it was completely covered in light-as-air whipped cream and chocolate chips, just the way my inner child likes it. —Molly Higgins
Chocolate Shake at Winstead’s
I grew up going to Winstead’s on half-days in grade school and the last day of the school year. The parents would always order “Skyscrapers” for us to share—that’s just a milkshake in a gigantic vase. What’s better than that? I wish I could drink more beverages out of vases.
Most Winstead’s locations have closed over the years, and a lot of people think it has lost its luster and gone downhill. I disagree. Winstead’s still holds a special place in my heart, especially because the Country Club Plaza location has a drive-thru that’s open twenty-four hours. That’s huge in Kansas City, where most things shut down by nine. Look for me in the line of cars, ordering a chocolate shake. —Patrick Moore
Pineapple Whip at Hawaiian Bros
Even if you haven’t tried pineapple Dole whip, you’ve likely seen it on a Disney adult’s Instagram feed, perfectly positioned in front of Cinderella’s castle. Pineapple Dole whip is up there on the list of ubiquitous Disney park snacks, alongside giant turkey legs and Mickey-shaped churros. The tropical soft serve is fruity, creamy and refreshing all at the same time.
Good news: You don’t have to travel to Disneyland—or the Dole Plantation in Hawaii, for that matter—for some whip. In fact, you can likely get pineapple Dole whip around the corner from where you live thanks to the twelve Hawaiian Bros locations in the city. Go classic with the flagship pineapple, or get it swirled with strawberry whip, which has a just-as-invigorating flavor. —Nicole Kinning
Danish at 1900 Barker
Sometimes, you just need something sweet to start your day. Let Lawrence’s 1900 Barker (1900 Barker Ave., Lawrence) answer that call. When I went to the neighborhood bakery in early December, I had one of their seasonal specials: a blueberry cream cheese danish. The large danish had a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth pastry edge lightly covered with powdered sugar. At the center of the danish was a vanilla crème-pâtissière and homemade blueberry jam, which had just the right amount of sweetness. 1900 Barker was named a top hundred bakery in the nation by Food and Wine Magazine in 2020, and co-owner Taylor Petrehn has been named an “outstanding baker” semifinalist from the James Beard Foundation four times. —Lauren Fox
Sweet Cream Doughnut at Tous Les Jours
Everything at Tous Les Jours (10348 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park) is exquisite, whether you opt for the French-Asian bakery’s ambrosial almond croissant or a sugar-grit sweet rice doughnut. The sweet cream doughnut deserves a special shoutout. Have you ever had a doughnut so moist that its dough literally stretches as you pull it apart? That’s what you’ll find with this pillowy braided pastry that leans more yeasty and buttery than sweet.
Meet The Queen of Pop
Tres Leches at Delicias Bakery
Supply chain issues continue to plague bakeries making specialized pastries, which for the last several months has meant a severe shortage in tres leches. We spent some time asking around about by-the-slice tres leches in KCK before finally finding them at Delicias Bakery on Central Avenue (1704 Central Ave., KCK). It was worth the effort. Delicias makes a mean pan tres leches from sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and good old-fashioned whole milk. If you want to be guaranteed a cake, better to call and order a whole one. —Martin Cizmar
Mochi Doughnuts at Blackhole Bakery
In the cosmos, a black hole has a gravitational pull so powerful no object can resist being pulled into it. This is precisely how I think about the mochi doughnuts at Blackhole Bakery on Troost (5531 Troost Ave., KCMO). These orbs of rice flour are scooped into the deep frier, where they develop a vaguely gelatinous outer layer that’s an ideal receptacle for a thin layer of icing with an interesting flavor (i.e., rosemary clementine, eggnog, root beer float). Try them and then try driving by the bakery without feeling your car tugged toward the event horizon. —Martin Cizmar
Tiger’s Blood at Miami Ice
Everything about Miami Ice (1624 W. 39th St., KCMO) brings back nostalgic summer memories, from the neon lights to the cool, fruity-smelling air that wafts toward you as you open the door to the 39th Street shop. Miami shaves their ice as fine as fresh-fallen snow, and the list of syrup flavors is as long as the line out the door on a hot summer day. You can’t go wrong with any flavor, but I highly recommend the Tiger’s Blood syrup, which is a sweet and nutty blend of strawberry, watermelon and coconut. —Nicole Kinning
Our favorite gluten-free desserts in KC
The Littlest Bake Shop
Known as the city’s first all gluten-free and vegan bakery, The Littlest Bake Shop (645 E. 59th St., KCMO) is a bakery and cafe with a little window where you can order a mix of baked goods, savory meals and caffeinated beverages. They offer to carry your order to your car after ordering, which solves any excuse of going outside on an unbearable day. The owner and main baker, Iris Green, is gluten-free and vegan herself. “Because we’re dedicated gluten-free and vegan, we are able to cater to people that have dairy, egg and gluten allergies, and a lot of those sensitivities coexist,” Green says. The safe kitchen environment guarantees any risk of cross-contamination, and their menu changes weekly because they cook seasonally.
If you want to feel like you’re eating gluten again, check out Morgana’s Bakery (9711 E. 63rd St., Raytown). You’re immediately confronted with the issue of what to try at this gluten-free bakery. Morgana’s offers cookies, bread, cupcakes, pies, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, croissants and much more. The bakery achieves the flakiness of pastry that gluten-free people all know and miss. Many of the baked goods are dairy-free as well. “The amount of unexpected joy I get from making food for people has brought me more joy and love from my customers than pretty much anything, other than my family, has ever brought to me,” says owner and baker Morgana Burke.
Donutology (1009 Westport Road, KCMO) guarantees that you and your family can have a sugar rush all day. Open from morning to evening, Donutology is intended to cure your craving for doughnuts past the “appropriate” time. Doughnut enthusiast and Donutology founder Andrew Cameron has been known as the doughnut guy since college. “We’re super grateful for the gluten-free community and we try our best to serve them, and we would love for those that haven’t tried our products to come to give us a shot,” Cameron says. Donutology outsources its gluten-free products and keeps them in a sealed box, so they’re certified gluten-free even though Donutology as a whole is not. They offer seasonal flavors and gluten-free doughnuts, pop tarts and cinnamon rolls.
Billie’s Grocery (3216 Gillham Plaza, Suite 100, KCMO) surrounds you in a chic and homey environment as you pick out what you want from the gluten-free bakery. The entire glass display case has about thirty gluten-free baked goods and cakes to choose from. Billie’s Grocery can be a sit-down restaurant or a quick-to-go bite. Their fully dedicated gluten-free oven ensures no cross-contamination. There are so many options to choose from, and they offer gluten-free, dairy-free desserts made from raw ingredients as well. They offer cooking classes that can be accommodated for dietary needs, too. “I think the options that we have are bright, clean and happy. We also have something for everybody,” says CEO Robin Krause. “I didn’t want to narrow my market to just gluten-free, vegans, vegetarians or meat eaters. I kind of gave it to everybody.”
Tierney Larson doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth. When the KC baker started selling mail-order cookies last March, she skipped the snickerdoodles and butterscotch blondies. Instead, she packed her cookie boxes with the kinds of offbeat, semi-savory flavor combinations she craved herself: pomegranate and bitter melon, root beer and rye. She gave her business an iconoclastic name to match: Outliers Baked Goods (outliersbakedgoods.com).
“I’m definitely not a dessert person,” Larson says. “It’s hard for me to want to eat dessert. So I think it’s fun for me to make them and adjust [the recipe] until I actually want to eat it.”
Larson’s cookies rotate each month, freeing her to experiment with some truly polarizing flavors (Fernet Pianta in shortbread). But a few cookies are available year-round, including our favorite: the miso chocolate peanut butter marshmallow sandwich cookie. If you can follow that dense stack of disparate ingredients, you’ll be rewarded with a cookie every bit as complicated as its name. Two earthy, ink-dark chocolate cookies are sandwiched around a pillowy marshmallow filling that’s spiked with vanilla and powdered peanut butter. It’s a soft, slightly chewy cookie, with plenty for die-hard desserters to love. The white miso adds a mild, savory bass line without detracting from the cookie’s sweetness.
And that’s the crux of Outliers’ mission: It’s not about making desserts less sugary, less indulgent, less fun. It’s about making them more complicated, lacing a little surprise and curiosity into a predictable endorphin rush.
Larson isn’t trying to thumb her nose at classic desserts. “I just like them to be balanced,” she says. Us, too. —Liz Cook
Smoked Cheesecake at Chef J
At Chef J in the West Bottoms (1401 W. 13th Street, Suite G, KCMO), owner-pitmaster Justin Easterwood wants everything he serves to have a kiss of fire from his wood-burning pit. That extends to the desserts, notably the cheesecake. The cheesecake is made with heavy cream, vanilla bean and sugar, all of which is whipped and put into three-inch cake pans with graham cracker crust. The toppings rotate constantly, with a recent show-stopping sour orange version employing candied orange slices that were smoked in his smoker. —Martin Cizmar
French Silk Pie from Tippin’s
Longtime locals will remember Tippin’s Pies as the signature offering at a homestyle restaurant called J.J. Tippin’s Restaurant and Pie Pantry, which opened in Lenexa back in 1980. Tippins started selling pies at Hen House grocery stores back in 1998 and sold to the grocer’s owners, the Ball family, in 2004. Today, Tippin’s pies are available in twenty-plus states but remain most prized at Hen House, where their SKUs account for the number one and number two items sold in the stores around the holidays. Robin Venn is the president of Tippin’s and has been charged with growing the brand by introducing new products, such as smaller versions of the pies for people watching their weight or budget. French Silk is the top-seller for the entire year. Venn says the popularity starts with the crust, which is very flakey thanks to ingredients like real butter and careful attention to an automated process that includes everything from how many strokes of the mixer each batch gets to the temperature of each ingredient added. “It’s a premium pie which means premium ingredients,” Venn says. “It’s real cream that goes on top, real butter that goes into the silk. You can skimp and put in margarin, but it’s not the same, which you can taste with some of our competitors. It’s why Tippin’s pies have a following across the country.” —Martin Cizmar