Photo of Elizabeth Harris by Dhanraj Emanuel
Elizabethan Desserts155 Quail Gardens DriveEncinitas760-230-6780
Living half an hour away from my current favorite dessert is probably just far enough to keep it from being too dangerous. But when the call beckons, I can't help but comply. The other day, after brunch with a friend in Del Mar, I figured that since I was halfway there, I'd just keep heading up the coast toward Elizabethan Desserts, an Encinitas bakery that makes retro, American-as-apple-pie comfort treats—confections that are nostalgic for many but new to me.
Owner Elizabeth Harris, a San Diego native, started her baking business as a side project while working at a North County restaurant. She'd always loved making sweets, especially the homey, old-fashioned desserts of her childhood, and found available space in Sunshine Gardens nursery, which she converted into an open kitchen and retail shop. She chose the name “Elizabethan” because, aside from the obvious, she was once an aspiring actor and still has a flair for the dramatic, hamming it up while she's frosting a cupcake or posing for the camera.
I'm absolutely mad for Elizabethan's pies, which come fruit- or cream-filled, some with a crumble or lattice crust topping. I especially love the personal, palm-sized, lattice-topped fruit pies, which have the ideal crust-to-fruit ratio, with equal amounts of buttery pie shell and fresh fruit filling in each bite. Similar to short-crust dough and made with all butter, the pastry is crisp yet tender, with a delicious sweet-cream flavor. Best is the strawberry-rhubarb; the tart juices of the fruit caramelize as they bubble up through the pockets in the lattice top. The “Cherry, Cherry Baby,” made with sour cherries from Michigan, is also great, as are other seasonal fruit pies, including peach and apple. Much of the fruit is organic and local, when possible, and everything is made from scratch, down to hand-squeezed lemons for the lemon pie bars.
Also tasty is Elizabethan's spin on a s'more: layers of homemade peanut butter and caramel atop a crunchy graham-cracker crust. It's topped with a cloud of homemade marshmallow, with a powdered sugared surface that's burnished to order with a blowtorch. The combination is surprisingly not too sugary, though it's really dense and rich—just one bar provided three post-meal sweet fixes. Elizabethan does other homemade twists on well-known treats, like the Diggity Dang, a jumbo, homemade version of a Hostess Ding Dong with moist chocolate cake filled with vanilla butter cream and covered in a chocolate ganache. The Boston cream pie gets re-imagined in cupcake form: a butter cake with a center of almond custard and a stove-top-cooked fudge frosting.
Elizabethan also likes to resurrect little-seen, regional American recipes like the St. Louis gooey butter cake, a cake base with a creamy, pudding-like top layer that originated in the '40s, and the Hummingbird cupcake, a Southern favorite moistened with banana and crushed pineapple. Even the traditional cupcakes come in lots of nontraditional flavors, like the peanut butter-banana Elvis and the mint-chocolate Grasshopper. Though beautifully decorated, they're a little too heavy on the butter-cream frosting and short on cake for my taste. A better balance is found in the four-layer cakes, which come in similar flavors.
Harris, who oversees a crew of female bakers, has a second shop in works, planned for the Escondido area. Since she lives in Mission Hills, she hopes to someday expand her sweets empire to include a place closer to home, possibly a dessert shop devoted to her homemade pies, which are her favorites to make and my absolute favorites to eat.
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