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August 4th, 2004 KELLY CLARKE | z-Bite Club
 

SUGAR HIGH

     
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Anja Spence
IMAGE: MIKE WILKES
The Bite Club loves the sweet stuff, but the sweet stuff does not love us. We are mildly hypoglycemic, which means we are mildly sugar-sensitive.

In other words, one creamy-rich bite of a peanut butter-'n'-chocolate Butterfly donut from Annie's Donuts--pastry meth in our book--can turn us into a headachy, acid-mouthed bitch-monster from hell in less than 10 minutes. Some call it an addiction. We like to think of it as the entry fee we, as well as our friends, family and innocent bystanders, must pay in order for Bite Club to continue the journalistic pursuit of sugary excellence. It's an honor, really.

But people like Anja Spence threaten to send Bite Club careening into the crystalline abyss. Ms. Spence, the former pastry chef at Genoa and Castagna, abandoned the restaurant life two years ago to study anthropology at Portland State University. But her research took a gastronomic turn when Spence began devouring old Junior League cookbooks and revisiting her grandmother's old handwritten recipe for chocolate tomato-soup cake. Maybe it was inevitable for this pastry queen: In January, she started a local Cake of the Month Club.

Like a magazine subscription, club members pay dues--$40 plus delivery every month. Then, like a pack of teens salivating over the newest Playboy centerfold, clubbers wait for the next issue of Belgian Chocolate Torte or Coconut Layer Cake to arrive. Spence's Miss July was a patriotic-hued Summer Pudding Bombe, an explosively juicy yet refined treat that packed puckery blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and currants under a light white-bread dome. Dee-lish.

Word of the under-the-radar cake supply has spread. Now every month, Spence delivers a baker's dozen worth of cakes to dinner partiers, office workers and fellow restaurant types.

"I think it's a nice feeling to be part of something," Spence says. "Even if it's just cake."

Good cake, she fails to mention. So good, in fact, Bite Club almost killed somebody.

Spence isn't the only pastry maven to capture the sugary spotlight. In June, Melissa McKinney, Bluehour's former sweets genius, opened Criollo Bakery in Portland's chichi-lite Beaumont district. Unlike Spence's underground cake walk, McKinney's new bake space, with its cool stone floors and rust walls, is a showroom--for the Jaguars and Maseratis of the pastry world. Sexy lush models like the lemon-lacquered Baby Extreme Lemon Teacake ($1.50), glossy fruit tarts and crumbly Apple "Rugelach" Dumplings ($3.25) are parked front and center in lit cases.

In fact, you can't even buy coffee in this bakery, though it does offer a lovely, light lunch menu in the afternoon. So on a recent morning visit, we headed through Criollo's French doors to the Java Man Coffee outlet next door to feed our other favorite addiction. After all, for this junkie, caffeine and sugar are the ultimate speedball.


Contact Anja Spence at aspence@earthlink.net for details about the Cake of the Month Club.

Criollo Bakery, 4727 NE Fremont St., 335-9331.

 
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