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[Magnolia Bakery's inviting interior. | Courtesy Magnolia Bakery]

Three glucose level-raising items in one:

The famous Magnolia Bakery opens at 10 a.m. Saturday in Block 37 on State Street. The New York bakery (now a chain) is oddly late to the party in Chicago, considering it, for better or worse, was the one who turned the cupcake into the tender, unstoppable beast it is. Crumbs, another New Yorker, was up and running in January and is expanding faster than Matt Damon a la 'The Informant' -- five Chicago stores by the end of the year; Sprinkles, from Los Angeles, opened here last summer. And then there's all those cupcake trucks. Just so you know: Magnolia sells more than just cupcakes. Remember muffins? And brownies? Ever heard of banana pudding? It will sell those, too.

Table Fifty-Two, Art Smith's civilized Southern eatery at 52 W. Elm, will be operating a walk-up sweet stand. Saturday mornings in October. Pastry chef CeCe Campise will offer just two sweets from 8 to 11 a.m. on the restaurant's front porch: jam-filled doughnuts ($3) and hummingbird cupcakes ($4). Coffee will be a buck. (Oh, by the way, Magnolia also does a hummingbird cupcake.) Let's hear it for the walk-up -- not to be confused with the pop-up.

Digressing from cupcakes, the Sweet Spot Macarons truck, which got our attention a few weeks back, is holding its launch party from 8 to 10 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Burlington Bar, 3425 W. Fullerton. A nice, quirky touch: $1 PBRs with the purchase of a macaron ($1.50 a piece, or 3-pack for $4.50). "What doesn't go well with $1 PBR?" said owner Galit Greenfield, rather rhetorically, in an e-mail. Due to Yom Kippur that weekend, Greenfield says she will officially hit the streets on Oct. 10.

DirtyBettyPressPhoto.jpg [photo courtesy Cookie Bar]

The Cookie Bar in Lincoln Park is getting into the doughnut game.

On Wednesday, its one-year anniversary, the bakery at 2475 N. Lincoln will begin selling doughnuts -- 10 varieties daily, baked not fried -- in a pop-up format under the name Dirty Betty's.

Unlike the River North sensation Doughnut Vault, with its unpredictable hours and tweets like "3 glazed left, 350 people in line," Dirty Betty's will keep regular hours.

So, from 7 to 10 a.m. weekdays, the Cookie Bar (as Dirty Bety's) will sell only doughnuts, then close up shop until 1 p.m., when it re-opens selling its cookies and any doughnuts left over from the morning, says co-owner Joe Bova. The bakery is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., offering all its carb-laden goodness.

Bova and co-owner Jeff Steinberg are fully aware and enamored of the doughnut-as-trend. (Even Scott Harris of the Francesca's empire has a doughnut shop in the works for Bucktown.) "We fell for it years ago in Portland and Seattle," Bova says.

The Cookie Bar's spin: slightly healthier doughnuts. Or, at least, doughnuts minus the hydrogenated oils and other unnatural stuff. Flavors will include Nutella-glazed banana, blueberry with lemon glaze and ginger-Key lime. They'll sell for between $2 and $2.25 a piece.

Who's Betty? She was a character Bova developed in his former life, as an animator in Los Angeles, for a project that never got off the ground.

"Our slogan is 'Dirty Betty's, Good Clean Fun,' " he says.

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[Gonnella Bakery, circa 1905, on Sangamon. Owner Alessandro Gonnella is on the far left, seated in a delivery carriage. | photo courtesy Gonnella]

Chicago's Gonnella Bakery turns 125 this year.

To celebrate, it's collecting and posting stories from customers on its website, gonnella.com. (There may or may not be some free bread and bread products at stake for those who send in stories.)

Tom Marcucci, Gonnella's vice president of sales and marketing, whose grandfather was founder Alessandro Gonnella's brother-in-law, says it is the oldest bakery in Chicago, and likely in Illinois.

Think about that -- 125 consecutive years in business. The bakery is older than the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack, Lenox china and Salisbury steak.

The story goes much like you'd expect:

Whoopie Pies 3.jpg (Whoopie pies coming your way. | Courtesy Sweet Ride)


New year, new food trucks. Among them: two on the sweet side, both with feel-good missions; one with a tamale-and-lucha-libre-spaceship-riding focus; and one serving strictly mac and cheese (though not vegan mac and cheese).

The Southern Mac truck, from the Southern chef Cary Taylor (below), is being outfitted this week with all the technical stuff (running water, generator, etc). Taylor hopes to have it on the road by end of January or early February.

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Taylor has toyed with the idea of a mac and cheese venture for "a few years now." He considered a stand-alone shop in Block 37. The idea stalled over time until he got to know one of his regular customers, Matt Maroni -- the driving force, literally, behind the Gaztro-Wagon naan-wich truck; and behind the proposed food truck legislation; and who, in a small-world twist, happens to be childhood friends with one of Taylor's college buddies.

Taylor told Maroni of his idea. Maroni's reaction: What's stopping you?

Taylor has tested and re-tested recipes, accounting for the fact that customers won't be eating it seconds after he dishes it out, and even sending testers home with orders to try it hours later, reheated.

At launch, Taylor will carry four to five types of mac and cheese on the truck in the $8 to $12 range (a hefty 12 ounces of pasta and 8 ounces of sauce, he says), including smoked Gouda and a crawfish and andouille number -- but not the lobster mac and cheese that's already been hyped.

"It's just not a good value," says Taylor, who will be driving the truck during the day (the restaurant doesn't do lunch). "Lobster's such a scam, anyway."

On the sweet side, there's the Sweet Miss Givings truck, which is quietly wrapping up its first official week on the streets; and the Sweet Ride truck, whose owner, Lupita Kuri, dreamed up the name in her sleep.

"I woke up, Googled it, saw there was a truck in San Francisco and called them," Kuri, 26, says. "It was right place, right time. They just found out they needed to sell the business."

In early November, Kuri flew to San Fran; she shipped the truck (below) back to Chicago a week later.

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Kuri isn't a trained baker or pastry chef, but a full-time marketing assistant who loves to bake (with dreams of trading that 9-to-5 job for this truck gig). In buying the business, she also acquired the recipes, which she says she's tweaked to satisfy Chicagoans' "robust" appetites.

She'll run the truck Fridays through Sundays, offering whoopie pies ($3), mini-cupcakes (three for $5), puddings and mousse ($4) for humans and bone-shaped cakes for dogs. Unsold goodies will go to the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, and proceeds from her pupcake sales to an animal shelter in Grayslake.

Kuri has all the proper licensing and plans to be driving next week -- or as long as it takes her to recover from the emergency tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy she underwent yesterday.

As for Sweet Miss Givings, "We just got a Twitter feed for the truck. We just have 10 followers at this point," laughs COO Dana Lieberman. (Make that 16, Dana!)

A project of Chicago House, which serves the disabled and formerly homeless, the bakery also operates a stand at the Chicago French Market. And yes, the truck is selling cupcakes - as well as muffins, scones, brownies and cookies. Lieberman highly suggests the turtle brownie ($2.50).

lpp_7026_grande.jpg (Not the turtle brownie -- the German chocolate brownie -- but you get the picture. | Courtesy Sweet Miss Givings)

Post and photos by guest blogger Lisa Shames:

So how do you follow up the completion of a 2010 New Year's resolution to make 100 different flavors of macarons? Well, if you're Fritz Pastry's Nathaniel Meads, it's by vowing to make a different classic pastry each week in 2011 (first up: panettone).

We first caught up with Meads back in September when he was three-quarters of the way through his French sandwich cookie project, which began as a tweet announcement from his wife and business partner, Elaine Heaney, in early January of last year and just took off from there.

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"Once we put it out there, we'd have looked like jerks if we didn't do it," says Meads.

To celebrate his achievement, Meads fittingly made a champagne-flavored macaron with a buttercream filling that made its debut on Dec. 31. Like the previous 99 flavors, it cost just 75 cents.

"I didn't want to make something that everyone couldn't afford to eat," says Meads, who had a lot of fun making them -- "It was great seeing people get so excited about them," he says -- but admits he was ready to move on to something else.

While the project may be over, that doesn't mean he's done turning out macarons. On any given day, you'll still find four to six different flavors at the Lakeview bakery as well as at Intelligentsia shops.

And if you're jonesing for one of the more unusual ones featured over the last year -- say, Guinness chocolate, port wine or PB+J+J+J, Meads top choice named after his favorite local band -- Meads says he's open to special requests.

In addition to the classic pastries he plans on making (if you've got a favorite, send him a message on their Facebook page or through Twitter), Meads has a few more items on his 2011 to-do list, including making more cakes and a special order bread program.

And croissant lovers take note: Meads hopes to have frozen thaw-and-bake croissants available soon.

Fritz Pastry, 1408 W. Diversey Pkwy, (773) 857-2989, fritzpastry.com.

Here we go a gift basketing

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I remember the gift baskets my dad would bring home from his office from well-meaning souls.

They -- the baskets -- were usually wrapped in red cellophane and container one or more of the following:
Shelf-stable cheese (I think the technical term is "cheese food")
Red Delicious apples (softball-size)
Hard Anjou pears (rock hard)
Unshelled walnuts
Walkers shortbread

Foil-wrapped milk chocolate Santas (or other festively shaped chocolates).

The chocolate and shortbread were always the first to go. The rest ... eh.

That was what I thought of gift baskets then, but what did I know? It has since dawned on me that Chicago is one of the top cities for gift-basketing. The breadth of talented food and drink artisans in our fair city means there is potential for some pretty kickass gift baskets.

All of this is a long-winded way of pointing you toward a DIY gift basket day at Blue Sky Bakery and Cafe, 3720 N. Lincoln. From noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, the bakery -- which employs at-risk and homeless youth -- will provide the baskets, wrapping and shipping materials and let you have your pick of goodies from Rare Bird Preserves, Pasta Puttana, Jo Snow Syrups, Rich Chocolates, Tomato Mountain, the Coffee & Tea Exchange and Blue Sky's own baked lineup.

The event is free; prices for basket range from $15 to $100, depending on what you choose. Proceeds fund a good cause.

And there'll be nary a shelf-stable cheese stick in sight.

Because carb and sugar overload is inescapable right now, and because cupcake shops have been indestructible for years, and so that you can kiss goodbye to your New Year's resolution right now... Crumbs Bake Shop will open for business Jan. 7 at 303 W. Madison, a spokeswoman says. (There'll be a soft opening between Christmas and New Year's.)

And because giving away cupcakes is a given, the shop will give away 1,000 cupcakes on opening day.

And because cupcakes are indestructible, there are surely more cupcake shops to come.

Who doesn't love a deal? Correction: who doesn't love free or close to free stuff?

Because it's Wednesday - just because - here are three dining deals worth noting:

1. Free whiskey shots at Longman & Eagle, 2657 N. Kedzie, this Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. That's right - 11 a.m. If you need a reason to imbibe at 11 a.m. on a Friday, it's the tavern/inn's way of announcing they're now open for lunch.

2. The $3 happy hour (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) menu at Elate, 111 W. Huron. Yes, there is a "with-purchase-of-a-drink" clause. But we're not talking quaint bar bites - we're talking full-size menu items, including the burger, which is normally $12.

3. Free cupcakes, every Monday in June, at more, 1 E. Delaware (below). Free. Cupcakes. No purchase necessary.

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The sweetening of Chicago continues.

We love the idea of the one-day pastry market highlighting some of the city's talented, little-guy bakers that Logan Square Kitchen has hosted twice now this year.

Now, from Chicago food bloggers comes a blogger bake sale from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Smash Cake, 2961 N. Lincoln.

Proffering their scones, cookies, cupcakes and more will be bloggers Maris Callahan of In Good Taste and Jaclyn Kolber of Foodie Reflections, as well as folks from Foiled Cupcakes and Kudos Kookies.

All of this is part of the annual Share our Strength Great American Bake Sale. Proceeds go to Share our Strength's No Kid Hungry program, aimed at eradicating childhood hunger.

Terrible way to start to the week.

Early-morning fires swept through the buildings that house the award-winning Cakegirls bakery (2207 W. Belmont) and foodie favorite Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown Square (2172 S. Archer). In the Cakegirls case, the building was completely gutted (details on the damage at Lao Sze Chuan are sketchier.)

"We built this from nothing," Brenda Maher told the Tribune. She and sister Mary Maher are the faces behind the Cakegirls, considered one of the city's finest wedding cake specialists.

The Mahers have won four Food Network challenges with their fondant-covered, gravity-defying cakes, and star in WeTV's "Amazing Wedding Cakes." They just finished filming the third season in the fall.

Their wedding cakes start around $900 and can cost as much as $2,500.

"I think we come from that school of 'Never say no.' We work long hours because of it," Brendha Maher told me earlier this year for our cover story on custom wedding cakes, explaining their philosophy when a bride comes to them with a specific vision for her cake.

Lao Sze Chuan, which chef and owner Tony Hu opened in 1998, has spawned a mini-empire of eateries, including an outpost in Connecticut.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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