Sweet Tooth Mavens’ Dynamite Desserts

By Rachel Werner

As holiday festivities crop up on the calendar, a good place to start shopping for treats for a holiday meal or an informal office party is To Di For Baking. Founder Diana Matthews peddles her scrumptious goods mainly via her website and visually appetizing social media posts on Facebook and Instagram.

“My main focus is gourmet cupcakes. I offer full-size as well as minis. I also do small tiered cakes for events,” Matthews explains. “My mind is always concocting new items, finding inspiration from cocktails, ice cream, candy bars, seasonal farmers markets and gourmet desserts. I also have some wonderful gluten-free and vegan cupcake recipes.” Matthews is a whiz at cranking out staples like chocolate and vanilla, but Peppermint Mocha and Gingerbread are her yuletide showstoppers, in addition to Hopeless Romantic—vanilla cake with raspberries and Nutella, Champagne icing, gold sugar and a tiny dark chocolate heart.

If you’re looking to wow a crowd in one fell swoop then local Southern belle and baking enthusiast Monica O’Connell is the lady to ring. Since daily celebration is the Curtis & Cake owner’s calling card online and at pop-up venues around town, she specializes in small-batch cakes and confections for weddings, corporate and “everyday occasions.”

“They are handmade and human-scale. Some of the best selling include dark chocolate stout, rum, and Southern icons like Red Velvet and Hummingbird,” she says. “We also make macarons and other specialty cookies, deluxe marshmallows in unexpected flavors, plus Big Dippers—our upscale version of the classic moon pie.” But O’Connell is frank about creating her treats flavor-forward. “Curtis & Cake is a whole egg, full fat, butter, sugar, flour-loving shop. I focus on high quality though, not plate-sized sugar bombs. So you can enjoy without guilt!” she boasts.

Opting to satisfy loved ones’ chocolate cravings is also a creative gifting route. And Madison Chocolate Company is the sweets depot for allergen-free indulgences. Creator Megan Hile’s first brick and mortar store on lower Monroe Street is a jackpot for gluten-free salted and bourbon-spiked caramels, supersized, handcrafted Twix bars, brownies, coconut bark and pumpkin chocolate chip bread. Hile says, “The art of eating chocolate is not about stuffing it in your face, but providing a moment for yourself and others to slow down, savor and chill.”

Located a brisk winter stroll up the road, Infusions Chocolates is a chocolate aficionado’s bulk order and gift basket go-to. Previously located at Hilldale Mall, the chocolatiers’ expanded digs allowed co-owner Ann Culligan and creative director Alyssa Haskins to bring in complementary items like drinking chocolate mugs and Quince and Apple preserves. They also have revved up Little Addictions, a snack line just as meticulously crafted as their 30 infamous truffles—showcasing why they’re vets in the local chocolate scene by crafting onsite chocolate hazelnut spread, chocolate covered pralines, espresso beans and powdered almonds. “Our flavors run the gamut from traditional to exotic,” Haskins says. “And our new space is a better fit for our brand today in that it reflects the elegance of our products now.” A fine reason to devote more time to perusing—perhaps extending this sort of feast well into the New Year.;;;

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