Launching a dessert bakery at age 26 might be intimidating for some, but not for Vanessa O'Donnell. "Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, it was the natural next step," she recalls. "I knew that if I followed my passion, I would have a good shot at success.” Passion is an understatement. She engineered her first memorable dessert at just 9 years old––a dewberry cobbler made with fruit picked fresh from the fence. Vanessa has come along way from precocious experiments; she's since attended the Art Institute of Houston’s baking and pastry program, where she learned such techniques as fondant construction, icing mixing, and how to teach an oven to roll over and play fetch. All of these skills and her innate talents have been whipped and sculpted into the sumptuous sweets bastion that is Ooh La La Dessert Boutique. Natural light pours through enormous windows onto glass cases full of truffles, pastries, crumbly cookies, and some of the best cupcakes in Houston, according to the Houston Press. Guests may also request a steaming espresso drink to go or solicit a baker to craft a specialty cake for an upcoming birthday or jailbreak.
The staff at Fruulala Frozen Yogurt Cafe encourages what they call “swirly artistry” by giving customers free reign to build their own desserts. With a cup in hand, visitors can pump any combination of on-tap flavors, which rotate through a list that includes non-fat dark chocolate, birthday cake, sea-salt pretzel, pistachio, and cookies and cream. More than 50 cold and dry toppings––including lychee, fudge brownies, Kit Kat, raisins, and granola––sprinkle over the frosty peaks to finish the design process, and a staff member weighs the final product to determine its price. Some flavors are low-fat, non-fat, gluten-free, or dairy-free, and all of Fruulala’s yogurts are chockfull of live and active probiotic cultures, which boost immune-system function and digestive health, and all yogurts are also guaranteed free of artificial growth hormones and steak.
Every morning, the bakers at Simply Splendid Donuts & Kolaches start their day stirring, pouring, and baking breakfast pastries. Their signature pastry is the donut, which they glaze and frost into a range of traditional styles. They then add dashes of color and flavor by decorating treats with shredded coconut, bright candy sprinkles, and dustings of powdered sugar. But, unlike Willy Wonka's secret stash of snacks, the menu isn't full of sweets alone. For example, the kolachy's flaky, buttery exteriors hide savory fillings, such as the customer-favorite: sausage, jalape?o, and cheese. The bakers supplement these two staples with a range of other breakfast items, which range from croissants and biscuits to breakfast tacos.
Chef Michelle Stalling studied the culinary arts at the University of Houston, but her education began way before college. Hailing from a long line of bakers and chefs, Chef Michelle practically has frosting running through her veins and cake batter dripping like sap out of her family tree. At All About Cakes, she harnesses her experience and inherited passion for pastries to create sweet, decadent, and beautiful customized treats. Her cupcakes come in flavors such as butter pecan with French buttercream, bananas foster with caramel cream, and German chocolate. Sheet cakes and round cakes likewise include many options: tres leches and red velvet flavors, Bavarian cream fillings, and chocolate ganache icing are just a few examples.
Chef Michelle also bakes tiered and sculpted cakes with detail in fondant and customizable designs that make them almost as beautiful to look at as they are fun to faceplant into. Other treats include French macaroons, tuxedo-dipped strawberries, and dessert bars.
Kolache Factory sates handheld cravings with its sweet and savory sachets stuffed with more than 25 flavorful fillings. The pastry purveyor's innovative bakers put a tasty twist on the traditional fruit-and-poppy-seed kolaches that originated in Eastern Europe, packing them with delectable stuffings, such as pepperoni and mushroom ($1.65 each, $17.82/dozen), bacon, egg, and cheese ($2.19 each, $23.65/dozen), and sausage, jalapeño, and cheese ($1.45 each, $15.66/dozen). Greet the slowly receding swirling darkness of morning with nibbles of sausage and gravy kolaches ($1.69 each, $18.25/dozen), or take a bite-size break with one of seven fruit options ($1.09 each, $11.77/dozen).
The dexterous bakers at I Luv Cake Pops rival the cupcake's portability with elegant, hand-held cake bites kept aloft by finger-friendly sticks. Decked out in red, green, and white holiday hues, an assortment of individually wrapped pops woo taste buds with six cake flavors. Red velvet orbs of cake draw seasonal excitement and calm anxious reindeers with a single lick, while vanilla globes cloaked in white become miniature snowballs worth throwing at yourself. Sprinkles top each baked-to-order pop’s chocolate shell, adding another dash of holiday color and gifting mouths a sweet crunch.