After many years teaching French and ESLA, a lifelong love of cooking and baking steered Tracy Dempsey towards a career change to the culinary arts. After completing a one-year culinary program at Scottsdale Community College, she worked with some of the Valley's best chefs. In 2004, when the executive chef at Cowboy Ciao burnt out on creating pastries, Tracy stepped in, creating new items, including adding a twist to the restaurant's signature bread pudding: bacon pecan brittle. Tracy is quick to say the savory tweak was her husband's idea, but even all of these years later, it's still one of the most popular items she produces for her company, Tracy Dempsey Originals.
Aside from producing her own line of sweet and savory confections, Tracy also provides desserts for several restaurants in the Valley, including Citizen Public House, Crudo, and Noca, where she says the desserts are the most unique, special, and fun. Tracy's top two picks there are the Neapolitan Budino (a three layer creation with dark chocolate, vanilla malt panna cotta, and strawberry crema) and the Noca Ho Ho (a twist on the snack cake, with chocolate sponge cake and housemade Nutella mousse that's dipped in chocolate and finished with hazelnut dust).
Despite stocking seven restaurants with desserts, and never being far from something sweet, Tracy admits she does indulge in treats from other restaurants and bake shops on a fairly regular basis. Scroll down to find out all of her top picks in the Phoenix area.
Traditional Dark Toffee from GoodyTwos (Scottsdale, AZ): You can't beat the traditional with dark chocolate toffee from GoodyTwos Toffee Company. The toffee is perfectly crisp and buttery with a nice layer of dark chocolate. It's also available at Smeeks, a darling candy store that carries many childhood treats as well as some confections from local producers.
Pink Grapefruit French Macaron at Essence Bakery (Tempe, AZ): I have sampled a good many French macarons that are often more beautiful than they tasted. Fortunately, thanks to Chef Eugenia Theodosopoulos I don't have to go far to find beautiful AND delicious macarons. The pink grapefruit macaron is without a doubt my favorite. The crisp on the outside, beautifully chewy on the inside macaron is filled with a pink grapefruit curd made with the juice of pink grapefruits from a local farmer.
Custard Crêpe at Crêpe Bar (Tempe, AZ): Jeff Kraus and his wife, Erin Ware, parked their Truckin' Good Food truck in favor of a brick and mortar location making it that much easier to indulge in Jeff's amazing sweet and savory crêpe options. Not to be missed is the Vanilla Bean Custard Crêpe which is comprised of strawberries, a light crema-like vanilla bean custard, and salted caramel. The delicate layer of crunchy brûléed sugar crust on the crêpe makes it all the more special. I could eat this for breakfast or dessert.
Apple Fritters at Karl's Quality Bakery (Phoenix-Sunnyslope, AZ): Swiss-trained chef Karl turns out some amazing Old World treats with a contemporary twist. His apple fritters are pure bliss! Try the fritter and don't pass on the ham & cheese danish. It's a perfect accompaniment.
Avocado Ice Cream at Tottie's Asian Fusion (Scottsdale, AZ): My favorite dairy-free ice creams are made by Tottie. Her homemade coconut-based ice creams are just amazing. The sampler is a great way to taste her many offerings including jackfruit, mango, coconut, peanut butter, and rocky road but if I had to pick one flavor, it would be the avocado. It is creamy and rich but not at all heavy—perfect after Tottie's pad thai!
Pepino Paleta at Paletas Betty (Tempe, AZ): These handmade paletas are the perfect treat any time but especially when we are in triple digit heat in the Valley. The menu changes daily and flavors may include spiced chocolate, elote-raisin and blackberry-lavender. They're all hits, but my personal favorite is the Pepino with bits of cucumber and mint. It isn't overly sweet making it highly refreshing.
Coconut Macaroons at Gelato Spot (several Valley locations): My pick for gelato and sorbetto would have to be our local Gelato Spots. Each batch is made from scratch using premium ingredients and you can really taste that. Any flavor is a winner, but what one has to have alongside a scoop is a little bag of their housemade coconut macaroons. They are chewy and super moist.
Chocolate or Vanilla Cake Donuts at Rainbow Donuts Cafe (several Valley locations): You can't go wrong with a box of assorted donuts from Rainbow Donuts, but the chocolate and vanilla cake doughnuts are stand-outs.
Key Lime Tart at Arcadia Farms Marketplace (Scottsdale, AZ): Arcadia Farms is known for their many beautifully executed cakes and baked goods. In addition to a great selection of babycakes, they offer a key lime tart. It is an individual tart with a coconut and graham cracker crust, filled with a wonderfully tart key lime filling and finished with fresh berries. There are a lot of key lime tarts out there, but this one is hard to beat. I appreciate that the crust doesn't become soggy, so you can pick it up and eat it if you are in the right company.
Coffee Jelly at Arai Pastry (Tempe, AZ): A small family owned Japanese bakery. The pastry case at this small, family-owned Japanese bakery is always filled with eye-catching cakes, custards and creams. I love the green tea mousse cake that begs to be accompanied by a glass of bubbly, but the coffee jelly is my favorite. It's not too sweet (no bitterness from the coffee), just simple and meltingly light.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax