When I was a child, the highlight of any road trip was the obligatory stop at a small-town bakery for a quick fix of sugary goodness. These calorific wonderlands were heaven for a wide-eyed child, packed as they were with classic Kiwi treats - lamingtons, custard squares, cream doughnuts...
While I still enjoy an old-fashioned sweet treat, these days there are more exotic, interesting and innovative baked options available. Many cute, quirky and even healthy bakeries have been popping up around Auckland. From a bakery that sells only uncooked food (it sounds like an oxymoron, but it's true) to one that specialises in German and French sourdough breads, Aucklanders have a wealth of interesting options when it comes to getting their fix of baked (or unbaked) treats.
Here's a rundown of some of the best and most unusual bakeries around town.
Little Bird Unbakery
With parents who were early movers and shakers in the organics movement, it's not surprising that Megan May is passionate about good health. The owner and co-founder, with husband Jeremy of raw food company Little Bird, May has brought what was a strange-sounding celebrity health fad to Auckland food lovers, and found fans even among the most conservative diners.
The Little Bird Unbakery in Kingsland specialises in raw, organic, vegan, sugar and gluten-free food.
If you think that sounds boring and flavourless,
I assure you, it's not. The (un)bakery produces myriad taste delights, none of which you would expect to find in a "health food" store. From berry chocolate brownies to berry coconut slice, hazelnut truffles to cheesecakes, there are treats to tempt every diner.
All the cakes and slices are made from organic ingredients with known health benefits.
These include raw cacao, nuts of all varieties, berries, dates, sultanas, sprouted buckwheat and carob ... so you can indulge a little (or a lot) without guilt.
It's not often you get to eat a delicious chocolate brownie for breakfast and know it is doing you some good.
The success of the unbakery has been astonishing. It has garnered awards from the New Zealand Herald and made Metro's Best Cafe top 50 list. This means it can be hard to get a seat at Little Bird during the week; but don't be put off, it's worth the effort.
Oh yes, they also do a range of uncooked meals, which you can eat on the premises or take home with you. Their pad Thai is to die for.
Little Bird Unbakery, 385 New North Rd, Kingsland, ph 09 550 7377. littlebirdorganics.co.nz
The resurrection of high tea as a social occasion to be savoured has seen a revival in the popularity of the humble cupcake. Forget dry, starchy and staid, these days the best cupcakes are moist, delectable and utterly addictive.
One of the bakeries leading the pack for the "best cupcake" award has to be Petal. Created by Good Morning chef Laurel Watson, Petal prides itself on creating innovative and exotic cupcakes. With flavours including tropical mango, red doris plum, salted caramel and ginger kiss, you can tell there's a fair bit of imagination and love going into the creative process.
Decorated with petal-esque frosting, Petal cupcakes are as pretty as they are tasty. Their rose-like appearance makes them popular for celebrations such as weddings and 21sts.
Petal Cupcakes, 8 Teed St, Newmarket, phone 551 1635. Petal Cafe, Witchery Building, cnr Rose and Pollen St, Ponsonby, ph 09 551 5731.
This cute, 50s-influenced bakery run by cute, 50s-influenced Missy Fleming has brought a bit of retro cool to Te Atatu Peninsula. Starting life as an online store, Miss Melicious specialises in cupcakes, cakes, cookies and whoopie pies, all made with love and decorated in Fleming's idiosyncratic style.
Miss Melicious started life online when Fleming was pregnant with her youngest daughter, who is now 3½. The bakery opened in December 2011.
Fleming has been baking since she was young.
"Being an only child to a single mother, we baked a lot," she says. "Everything else I know about cupcakes is self-taught."
Fleming had a background in fashion and sales but had always loved baking, so it made sense to combine her three loves and create a fashion-conscious store selling baked treats.
When it comes to flavours, Fleming loves to be adventurous - you can try pina colada, French toast or watermelon.
Her cupcakes, cakes and whoopie pies are baked daily - the smell is enough to draw in any passing punters - and the bakery is decked out in a Fleming's favourite retro style.
"I love the 50s; the style is so feminine and flirty, yet wholesome and sweet. The clothes are so flattering and the music is swingin'."
Miss Melicious Cupcake Shop, 80 Gunner Drive, Te Atatu Peninsula. ph 834 0444 for opening hours.
Bread & Butter Bakery
Isabel Pasch loves bread. It's been a lifelong affair of the heart (and stomach) with origins in a childhood where baking was as natural as breathing.
"We used to have family gatherings and the table would be laden with cakes and bread," she says.
Pasch's New Zealand journey started in 1999 when she moved here from Berlin to do a masters degree in microbiology. She met her husband and they moved back to Germany but returned to this country when they had children.
"I needed to work out what I could do here," says Pasch, who had been working in science PR. "There isn't much demand for science PR people in this country!"
Enter bread making. "I loved New Zealand but I couldn't bear not having the bread I was used to. So I decided I had to start making it myself."
Bread & Butter Bakery specialises in 100 per cent organic German and French bread. It provides Aucklanders with a different type of bakery experience... rye vollkorn, batard, bergsteiger... the breads made here are a bit different to your average loaf. Specialising in traditional French and German sourdough, they also create naturally leavened yeast, dairy and gluten-free breads. The breads are cooked on stone tiles, and all are handmade.
"None of our bread contains any preservatives or additives," says Pasch.
Bread & Butter's main bakery and store is in Grey Lynn, and it also has a presence in the new Ponsonby Central, with Little Bread & Butter Bakery. A collaboration with the good people at Cafe Melba, the bakery offers a range of bread, delicious traditional pastries, and great coffee. Bread is available by the slice and can be toasted at large toasters at the shared table space in the bakery. There is a range of homemade preserves - plus avocado, tomatoes and more are available for customers wanting something savoury.
Bread & Butter creates about 16 styles of bread, 12-13 of which are baked every day.
Bread & Butter Bakery, 34 Westmoreland St, Grey Lynn, ph 09 378 9111, and Little Bread & Butter Bakery, Ponsonby Central, cnr Ponsonby Rd and Richmond Rd, ph 09 376 4007.
"It's said that whoopie pies were first made by Amish women in 1920s Maine for their husbands' lunch boxes. Apparently the men would shout 'Whoopie' when they opened the boxes and saw them in there," explains Lucy Stuart, co-owner and cook at the Grey Lynn eatery Whoopie.
You can understand this excitement; whoopie pies are delicious. Soft mounds of cakey goodness held together with tasty creamy fillings, they can quickly become addictive.
Owners and founders of Whoopie, Lucy and partner Nick Maddren, weren't always in the food business. Lucy used to be a dancer for Australian children's dance troupe The Wiggles. Nick was a sound engineer, and the pair met when Lucy was on tour with The Wiggles in Auckland.
Dance and food had always been Lucy's two loves; she took time out from her life as an entertainer to study as a pastry chef at TAFE in Sydney. When the couple moved to New Zealand three years ago, they decided the time had come to settle down and do something that wouldn't involve touring.
"We saw that there was a hole in the market for whoopie pies, and that they weren't really known here," says Lucy. "We thought it was a good concept."
Whoopie started off selling wholesale to boutique foodstores and the French markets in Parnell. Quickly gaining popularity, the couple found a retail outlet in Hakanoa St, Grey Lynn.
"It has a great atmosphere," says Nick.
They've developed a loyal client base, with many locals and those from further afield flocking to sample their whoopie pies. The most popular flavours include the perennial favourite red velvet, as well as their wicked white velvet. They also offer gluten-free and vegan whoopies, which are popular with many of the diet-conscious locals. "Many parents come in with their kids who have egg or gluten intolerances. It's great for them to be able to give their children a treat," says Lucy.
Whoopie, 2a Hakanoa St, Grey Lynn, ph 0508 WHOOPIE (946 6743).
Ciabatta Bakery, Rotorua
Based in unprepossessing White St (think semi-industrial), Ciabatta Bakery creates a range of breads which have foodies throughout the area clamouring for more. As well as traditional ciabatta, the baker also sells florentines, ficelle and other tasty treats, all made the traditional way.
38 White St, ph 07 348 3332.
Flaveur Breads, Mt Maunganui
Makers of chemical-free, "slow rise" bread made in a traditional way, this online bakery in Mt Maunganui also sells its tasty bread at the Tauranga markets at Tauranga Primary School on Saturday and at Mt Maunganui Market on Sundays.
Blomquists Bakery, Tauranga
Creators of a wide range of artisan breads, as well as sweet treats such as muffins, slices and cakes, Blomquists Bakery uses only natural ingredients and has a dairy and gluten-free range. Plus they give all their remaining bread to charity each day. Good on them!
1287 Cameron Rd, Greerton, ph 07 571 5133.