After completing his undergrad in molecular biology at UC Berkeley, Chih-Chung Fang decided to take his talents to a different laboratory: the kitchen. For years, he experimented with recipes as a pastry chef in some of the Bay Area's most revered kitchens, including Rivoli, Chez Panisse, and Arizmendi Bakery, before opening his own spot, Republic of Cake.
It would appear Fang has no regrets about changing careers. He says he often wakes up in the middle of the night, scrambling to jot down a new cupcake recipe he's (literally) dreamed up.
Here's a look at some of his more unusual flavors, and some of Republic of Cake's other distinguishing traits.
Sweet, Savory, and Slightly Sophisticated Cupcakes
Gourmet cupcakes may have become ubiquitous in recent years, but Fang's desserts still manage to surprise. Sure, there are classic vanilla and chocolate flavors. But customers will likely be drawn to combinations such as crimini and shiitake mushrooms with blue cheese or tangy red-curry frosting with sweet squash.
Local, Seasonal Ingredients
To create these unique concoctions, Fang shops for more than just eggs, cream, butter, and milk. The brown-butter-pear cupcake, for example, uses fresh bartletts, and the red-curry-pumpkin cupcake features roasted kabocha squash.
Cupcakes for a Cause
Fang's generosity is sprinkled all over Republic of Cake's website: every Monday, 10% of sales are given to local schools, and he's donated to Little League teams and community centers, among other local organizations. Then there's Sam's Very Messy chocolate cupcake, named for the general manager's son, who has special needs. Each month, the shop donates a portion of the cupcake's sales to a different children's charity chosen personally by Sam.
Quality over Quantity
As much as he might like to, Fang isn't going to bake a pumpkin-cheesecake cupcake for every gourd lover in town. This why the business hours have an asterisk beside them?he'd rather close early because he ran out of cupcakes than sell less-than-fresh leftovers the next day.
After a decade of researching and perfecting cookie recipes, Larry and Shelly Pearson opened Pacific Cookie Company in 1980. Their cookie operation has expanded since those early days, when they focused on just five flavors. They now whip together 13 flavors of cookies, each consisting of simple, quality ingredients, such as Guittard chocolate, pure vanilla extract, cane sugar, and unbleached flour. Cookies are dished out alongside scoops of locally-sourced favorite, Marianne's Ice Cream. If you can't make it to Pacific Cookie Company's Berkeley or Santa Cruz shops, don't fret. The company ships its cookies?along with gift baskets, cookie tins, and gift boxes?to customers around the solar system.
A massive selection of frosting, toppings, and gourmet cinnamon rolls await treat-seeking shoppers at Cinnaholic, where everything is 100% vegan and made with soy, beet sugar, and nonhydrogenated oils. The menu features specialty rolls?including fudge-brownie chunk, mocha almond, and rocky road? or customers can design their own. Starting with a freshly baked cinnamon roll, they can adorn it with frosting available in flavors such as lemon, orange, raspberry, or hazelnut. Then they can pick out toppings such as gingersnaps, jam, apples, or pecans before sampling their creations.
The owners of Honeyberry derive a sense of pride from their local-mindedness; it's why they plaster their café's walls with illustrations of Berkeley life, and infuse each of their creations with locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. They also supply the community with tried-and-true local favorites, from frozen yogurt topped with chopped fruits and candies to crispy golden waffles. Despite all of the boosterism, the café's menu also has its international corners; gelato, bubble tea, and freshly baked roti buns all draw upon culinary traditions from far-flung cultures. These elements combine to create an experience that's both familiar and novel, like returning to your childhood home to find that it's been converted into a paintball arena.
Organic flour. Organic olive oil from Tunisia and Spain. Organic walnuts, raisins, and pumpkin seeds. Acme Bread incorporates as many organic ingredients as possible into the more than 100 products on its menu, a sizable expansion for a bakery that once made only four types of bread.
In 1997, friends Dena Tripp and Debra Shwetz set out to create a luscious, melt-in-your-mouth bundt cake. What began as an endeavor in their own home kitchens soon blossomed into a bustling business with bakeries in 14 states. Rich cocoa browns and soft pastels lend a nostalgic feel to each bakery, where every day lava-powered ovens warm up batter made from fresh eggs, real butter, and cream cheese. Flavors such as chocolate chocolate chip, pecan praline, and white-chocolate raspberry remain constants on the menu, and a new flavor makes a guest appearance each month. Cakes come in several sizes, from the standard 8- or 10-inch bundt to the single-serving bundtlet and the bite-size bundtini, all frosted with a signature blend of cream cheese and butter.
Each Nothing Bundt Cakes location also houses its own stock of gifts. Patrons may come across the brightly hued handle of a confetti cake knife or opt to take home an old-fashioned tin, perfect for stowing coffee and imprisoning gingerbread men who have tried to run away. Contact the location of your choice for gift pricing and availability.