From Instagram startups to brick-and-mortar favorites, Charlotte bakers offer plenty of delicious ways to satisfy your sweet tooth.
by Michelle Boudin • photographs by Justin Driscoll
First there was the cupcake trend, then came the doughnut shops. Now, there’s a collection of cookie-makers and pastry chefs delighting Queen City sweet-lovers with all kinds of creative dessert options. Some are found at old-school, brick-and-mortar bakeries, while others are sold through social media or at pop-up events — but all are worth the calories. There are goodie boxes that sell like hotcakes, pastry chefs combining unexpected flavors, and online cookie boutiques, all making for a delicious quandary … what to order where. While we couldn’t possibly cover every sweet shop across the city, here are a few to try.
Goodie boxes by Confections of a Martian
Jasmine Macon knew she’d have some explaining to do when it came to her professional name. “Confections of Martian is a unique name for a pastry chef, and that’s what makes it perfect for me,” says Macon, a Johnson & Wales University graduate and pastry chef at Leah & Louise, the Camp North End restaurant that Esquire magazine named among the best new restaurants in the country. “The name [reflects] my alien persona, Marla the Martian, and is a parody of a popular Usher song called ‘Confessions.’” The goodie box is a monthly selection of unique pastries created from surplus seasonal ingredients from the restaurant, so nothing goes to waste. Past boxes have included a potato-chip ruby chocolate-chip cookie, roasted plum and lemongrass trifle, and a brown-butter sage doughnut. The boxes are available for pre-order only — they often sell out — and the menu is typically posted on Instagram a week or two before the pick-up date.
Order on Instagram @confectionsofamartian.
Crumbled Nut Bakeshop
Lauren Formoso says the Food Network, cookbooks and a whole lot of passion prompted her to officially start Crumbled Nut Bakeshop last year. Known for her unique flavor profiles and cookies with a distinctive ooey-gooey texture, Formoso sets up shop most Saturdays at South End Market at Atherton Mill. The peanut butter fluffernutter is her bestseller: A soft, chewy peanut-butter cookie is loaded with chocolate chips and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, stuffed with peanut-butter marshmallow creme, then topped with more Reese’s Cups. Hand-rolled cinnamon roll cookies and blueberry muffin-top cookies have a delicious, cake-like texture.
Place custom orders at crumblednut.com; also available most Saturday mornings at the South End Market at Atherton Mill.
Sweet Girl Cookies
It all started with a really good chocolate-chip cookie recipe. This family-run business knows how to keep things simple and sweet. Self-taught bakers Nancy and Alec Felder started the business in 2014 as a second career: Alec was a retired IT consultant, and Nancy had spent 30 years in the food service industry. While Sweet Girl is known for its award-winning original chocolate-chip cookies (which use both milk and semi-sweet chocolate), the couple says their oatmeal-raisin cookies are full of flavor. Everything is made from scratch and by hand daily.
Order at sweetgirlcookies.com, or buy at Rhino Market & Deli, Laurel Market or Whole Foods.
Honeybear Bake Shop
Hannah Neville decided to start Honeybear Bakeshop last summer after she was furloughed from her job as pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte during the pandemic. Neville, who has a degree in pastry and baking from Culinary Institute of America and previously worked at the iconic Inn at Little Washington, was inspired by her mom, who ran her own cookie business. The online cookie boutique specializes in weekly cookie boxes that include flavors like brown sugar Pop Tart and s’mores — even a corn and pimento-cheese cookie. “It’s so, so good,” Neville says. “I make a corn cookie and add locally made pimento cheese, and then roll it in a jalapeno sugar and bake it.” Don’t miss the special-occasion cookie boxes with custom themes — recent selections include a Britney Spears box and another based on The Office TV show.
The name says it all: A former teacher at Johnson & Wales University, Sadruddin Abdullah earned the nickname “Sugarrmann” from one of his own culinary instructors years ago. He first fell in love with baking in his grandmother’s kitchen and went on to win two national bread and pastry championships. He and his wife, Mahmuda, have been selling baked goods for 20 years, but it was their version of the “kronut” that got them noticed in Charlotte. The donut and croissant hybrid has a cult following and is now available in a make-at-home kit. Abdullah also recently partnered with Amelie’s to offer something you won’t find many places: a vegan croissant. He and his wife make every pastry from scratch, including a kronut grilled cheese, which might be the ultimate comfort food.
Order via email email@example.com, or purchase at shops around Charlotte including Amelie’s, Oh My Soul and The Hobbyist.
Sugar Rush Crumb Cakes
Shannon Mauro started out making chocolate-chip cookies, but she decided last year to focus solely on her New York-style crumb cakes after demand for the homemade pastries skyrocketed. Made with a fluffy vanilla base and a ton of buttery crumb topping, Mauro says the crumb-to-cake ratio is what makes her cakes so good. While she’s been baking them since 2008, the pandemic accelerated the launch of Sugar Rush as a business. “2020 threw us all for a loop, and Sugar Rush gave us something to build as a family,” says Mauro, who lives in Waxhaw. While the classic is a bestseller, cinnamon, cookies and cream, and chocolate are other popular flavors. This spring, Mauro plans to offer lemon and strawberry crumb cakes. She hopes to start shipping nationwide later this year.
This retro style pop-up bakery serves up handcrafted nostalgia using all locally sourced ingredients. Owner Hannah Woociker remembers growing up baking lemon bars and buying chocolate babka at a Jewish bakery with her grandmother. She’s since earned degrees in culinary and pastry arts. “I really enjoy taking a familiar dessert and adding a seasonal flair to it,” Woociker says. “An example is my blueberry basil key lime pie. I add what grows around me during the seasons of North Carolina, and I use the inspiration of ingredients to create a new experience.” Woociker says her sourdough cinnamon rolls are always in high demand, but an unexpected hit was a chocolate beet custard pie she created last fall.
Order via Instagram @moonboxbakes.
BRICK & MORTAR BAKERIES
Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe
Amelie’s created a big buzz in the Queen City when it opened in NoDa in 2008 as a French-inspired bakery that was open 24/7. Beloved as much for its salted caramel brownies as the Marie Antoinette-meets-Alice in Wonderland vibe, Amelie’s quickly became a favorite gathering spot for everyone from hipster college students to business leaders and retirees. While the pandemic put a damper on business, Amelie’s has stayed busy with curbside takeout and delivery options for its sweet treats. Handmade French macarons are usually available in 10 to 15 different flavors a day, with six new flavors added every season. (Bonus: You can now have them shipped anywhere in the country.) In addition to desserts, Amelie’s has an array of sandwiches and house-made quiche — order a slice with soup, or get a whole one to take home.
4321 Park Road; 7715 Pineville-Matthews Rd., #34b; 2424 N. Davidson St., #102; hours vary; ameliesfrenchbakery.com
Husband and wife duo Sylvain and Jo-Anne Rivet opened Renaissance Patisserie in 2013 hoping to bring a touch of France to the Queen City. In fact, the bakery and café is so authentic it’s become a local gathering spot for French expatriates and Francophiles. The Rivets focus on traditional French pastries and Viennoiserie (breakfast pastries known for their flakiness). Sylvian learned to bake from his aunt starting at the age of 4 and ended up working in the kitchen of the prime minister of France. Don’t miss their croissants, which have been called the best croissant in Charlotte on more than one occasion. If you’re looking for a fun special occasion cake, try the traditional French wedding dessert Le Croquembouche, a cream-puff tower that is sure to wow guests.
6401 Morrison Blvd #4A, open Wednesday-Sunday, hours vary; renaissancepatisserie.com
Carlos Suárez opened his bakery in Park Road Shopping Center in 1992, making it one of Charlotte’s oldest bakeshops. A self-taught baker, Suárez was a pastry chef at uptown’s Adams Mark hotel when he started his own pastry business on the side before opening the bakery. The menu has morphed over the years, but the family-run operation still makes some of the original cookies (sugar and thumbprint) that were baked in the ovens in the 1950s, when Federal Bake Shop occupied the space. In recent years, Suárez introduced the wildly popular doughnut cake: Three huge “Texas” doughnuts are layered with vanilla cream and topped with a giant doughnut hole. Last year, the owners added a sister location, Suárez Bakery & Barra at Optimist Hall, where they also offer Cuban-inspired dishes like ropa vieja and croquetas and Cuban coffees.
4245 Park Road; open seven days a week; suarezbakery.com.
Wentworth & Fenn
Sam Allen, the former executive pastry chef at The Fig Tree, opened Wentworth & Fenn at Camp North End last March focusing on small seasonal pastries, cakes and artisan bread. The Johnson & Wales graduate says her desserts have a taste of nostalgia, with an upscale appearance and unique flavor profiles. The lemon curd tart with black pepper cremeux is the most popular. “I wanted a light pastry with a little zing,” Allen says. “I also love integrating savory components into my pastries, so black pepper seemed to be the perfect ingredient to pair with the lemon.” The one thing she thinks is underrated? Her green olive and lemon ciabatta. Business is going so well, Allen hints that W&F could be expanding to Charleston.
270 Camp Road, Suite 103; open Thursday-Saturday, hours vary; order online at wentworthandfenn.com
Sunflour Baking Company
On almost any given weekend morning, there’s a line out the door at Sunflour’s East Boulevard shop, with people popping in for a breakfast sandwich or a box of desserts to go. The original Sunflour opened in Elizabeth in 2009, and when the Parrish family bought the business, they added Dilworth and Ballantyne locations. Each bakery and café sells baked goods, sandwiches and beverages. Known for its cheddar biscuits, croissants, cinnamon rolls and muffins, Sunflour also makes and sells cakes frosted with buttercream and has a selection of breakfast and lunch sandwiches and panini. Don’t miss their fleur de sel cookie — a perfect double-chocolate cookie sprinkled with sea salt. You can even send a slice of Sunflour goodness anywhere in the country: Their cake jars and baking mixes can be shipped nationwide.
Locations in Elizabeth, Dilworth, Ballantyne and Harrisburg; open daily, 7a.m. -4 p.m. sunflourbakingcompany.com
NOTE: Cristina Rojas Agurcia opened the Batch House in Wesley Heights in 2019 after attracting a huge online following selling her delicious cakes, cookies, s’mores brownies and more. Flooding in November caused severe damage to the bakery, forcing Agurcia to close. We had planned to include Batch House in our roundup, but at press time Agurcia had paused operations amid her search for a new location. Follow her on Instagram @thebatchmaker for business updates. SP