By Lauryn Nania, Point Park News Service
For Ethan Griffin, the holiday season doesn’t arrive until he heads to Market Square to sell his “moonshine” bars and other sweet delicacies at the Pittsburgh Christmas Market.
Angela Carnicella loves selling Prantl’s Burnt Almond Torte cake during the holidays as much as she likes to eat the treat called “one of the best in America” by a leading publication.
In preparation for holiday mint chocolate lovers, Mindy Sturchio is putting together a large order of 4,000 pounds of peppermint bark.
The holiday season has arrived in Pittsburgh which means it is officially time to indulge in the famous candied almond cake, peppermint chocolate bark and Belgium chocolate fudge without guilt. One way to keep the jolly atmosphere of December lifted is to find your way to some of the best dessert shops that serve the tastiest seasonal treats located in the Pittsburgh area.
“It’s kind of like a rainbow assortment,” Ethan Griffin said, describing his array of colorful truffle “moonshine” bars placed in the Chocolate Moonshine Company’s limited time booth located at Pittsburgh Christmas Market in Market Square.
Pittsburgh is spotted with many dessert shops that sell delectable treats for the holiday season, like at Pittsburgh Popcorn Company, Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream, The Milkshake Factory and Katie’s Kandy.
Moonshine Bars in Market Square
The Chocolate Moonshine Company, created in 2011, sells gourmet fudge with chocolate imported from Belgium and fresh cream from local Pennsylvanian companies. The company is most famous for their “moonshine” bars which add vibrant colors compared to a basic chocolate pallet. The chocolate has a silky, truffle texture filled with different fruits ranging in various flavors such as strawberry, orange, and raspberry.
The bars, almost looking too exquisite to eat, are hand painted with French cocoa butter. Griffin said the most frequently sold moonshine bar is the Sea Salt Caramel, which adds a splash of savoury to the sweet, Belgium chocolate and milky caramel. To put these chocolates into quaint gifts, the company offers a “build-your-own” box that allows you to pick different pieces of various moonshine bars packed into either four pieces for $12 or ten for $25.
However, if you’re seeking something that is enriched with a holiday flavor, Chocolate Moonshine Company sells Peppermint Crushed Fudge that is packed with crushed peppermint.
“We’re already sold out of [the Peppermint Crushed Fudge for the day],” Griffin said. The Market Square location opens at 11 am, so it is best to arrive as soon as doors open to get a piece of the holiday sweet.
Almond Torte You Can’t Find Anywhere Else
“It is probably the BEST cake America has to offer,” Huffington Post said in 2014. This nationwide famous cake Huffington Post is referring to is the Prantl’s Burnt Almond Torte Cake. Toasted nuts are all the rave during the holidays, so adding them to yellow cake and sweet buttercream transforms a classic Christmas snack to a renown dessert.
Angela Carnicella, manager at Prantl’s in the Downtown Pittsburgh location, smiles as she raves about the widely loved cake. Carnicella describes the dessert as a yellow battered cake with buttercream coated on the outside, and a vanilla custard stuffed inside, and finally covered in sugar-toasted almonds. The most popular size is an 8×8 cake, serving about 6-8 people, at $24.99.
Henry Prantl, the creator of this desirable cake, traveled to California in 1970 and was working during an “almond epidemic”, as there was a surplus of almonds, Carnicella said. The almond surplus granted Prantl the idea of coating a simple, custard cake with toasted almonds. Prantl traveled back to his roots in Pittsburgh with his new recipe in tow, and the rest is history.
24-year-old, Megan Little, from Lawrenceville found her way back from work to a Downtown bakery to pick up an almond torte to celebrate her father’s birthday. Little reminisces to the first time she tasted her favorite cake.
“I think it was was last Mother’s Day I took [the almond torte cake] home because I heard how good it was. And now it’s tradition that [my family] has to get it for every birthday,” Little said.
The Burnt Almond Torte is available to purchase at Prantl’s three locations– Downtown, Shadyside and Greensburg.
A sinfully delicious bakery that serves any sugary dish imaginable ranging from hand-scooped ice cream to chocolate covered bacon is located on Liberty Avenue in Downtown. Sinful Sweets, which opened in 2011, offers a variety of tasty and original desserts.
Mindy Sturchio is a manager at the Downtown location. She said Christopher Weck, owner of Sinful Sweets, had built a lot of his life around sweets. Prior to owning Sinful Sweets, Weck had family in Chicago that owned a candy store that he worked at. After moving to Pittsburgh, Weck opened the store originally in Lawrenceville, but eventually made its way to Downtown.
Sinful Sweets has its shop decorated in clear cases to display the endless rows of tasty treats that were once decorated in many colors, but as December arrived, dwindled to mostly themes of green and red to accommodate the season.
“We’re changing our color schemes, like from rainbow sprinkles to holiday themed sprinkles, and I’m sure we’ll be having holiday cookie dough,” Sturchio said.
The most popular sweet for the holiday is a chocolate bar known as “Peppermint Bark.” Sturchio describes this minty, chocolate duo as one layer of dark chocolate, topped with another layer of white chocolate, and intermixed with crushed peppermint. For 8 ounces of the bark, it is charged at $10.99.
Sturchio laughs at the mention of Peppermint Bark as the company is currently working on a whopping 4,000 pound order of it.
“It’s definitely the most popular item for the holiday season,” Sturchio added.
Popcorn You Should Try Before You Die
Pittsburgh Popcorn Company, with nine locations ranging from Downtown to Greensburg, serves the ultimate duality of sweet and savoury. Popcorn takes an interesting twist to its usual accompany of butter at Pittsburgh Popcorn Company; the popcorn comes in a variety of sugary toppings like chocolate, caramel, peanut butter and even more extravagant flavors such as thin mint and maple pecan.
Devon Sweeney, a Popcorn Company worker since 2016, stands mounding many large pans of freshly kettle cooked popcorn in delicious, sweet toppings in the Downtown location. Sweeney said the chocolate caramel popcorn is a must have when coming through town. Sweeney is correct according to Thrillist, which lists the Popcorn Company at number 17 in “50 Things to Eat in Pittsburgh Before You Die”.
Christmas themed flavors are also available. The most popular holiday addition falls under a very prevalent Christmas flavor – a peppermint infused popcorn. Sweeney explains the popcorn undergoes a caramelizer as the peppermint is added to it, creating a different, yet delectable holiday flavor.
Pittsburgh Popcorn Company is coming up to a decade since it its origins began. Rob Day, the man who created the company, opened the stores with his wife.
“They wanted to give it a go, and it worked out, and it’s been doing pretty good ever since,” Sweeney said.
Ice Cream Even When It’s Cold
Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream placed in Shadyside and Downtown Pittsburgh offers plenty of enjoyable frozen treats made for everyone, even those on vegan diets.
The establishment has been around for four years, with the original location in Shadyside opened by Chad and Lauren Townsend.
Nikki Walker lists the array delicious of ice cream flavors ranging from Chad’s Vanilla — named after Chad Townsend, the founder of Millie’s — to a vibrant purple cream labeled Concord Grape Sorbet. Though the sorbet and vanilla are offered at Millie’s year round, the company also offers holiday flavors.
Straying from traditional ice cream flavors such as chocolate or vanilla to enhance the holiday season, Millie’s offers limited time flavors such as Maple Bourbon and Sweet Potato Marshmallow.
What really draws in the customers of Millie’s is their most popular ice cream: Vietnamese Chocolate. Walker describes the composition of the frequently sold flavor as a vanilla base mixed with additional condensed milk. The condensed milk is a necessity into making the flavor “rich” and “decadent” as traditional Vietnamese chocolate is always topped with the ingredient. The finishing touch added to the ice cream is coffee which is shipped locally.
“It’s very rich, real, and pungent,” Walker said about the Vietnamese chocolate which happens to also be her favorite flavor.
Milkshakes For Every Diet
A Pittsburgh sweet shop that has been around for over a century is ready to take on the spirits of December as the store is decorated with tables of assorted chocolate spotted with mini Christmas trees, and workers are bustling behind the counter creating vast flavors to incorporate in classic ice cream shakes.
The Milkshake Factory, originally located in Lawrenceville in 1914, was a quaint shop that sold a variety of chocolates. In 1978, the company expanded their menu from not only chocolates, but milkshakes which will later become their renown product in over 55 flavors.
Matt Shmura, manager of the Downtown location, offers customers samples of their peppermint bark for the holiday season as he stands under a large sign that displays their featured December shake, the Peppermint Brownie Fudge milkshake.
As Pittsburgh is widely known famous for their love of hockey, the Milkshake Factory is offering the “Guentzel Milkshake”during the holidays, which is named after Jake Guentzel, player for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Shmura describes the shake as a cookies and cream base mixed with fudge and brownies.
Point Park University freshmen, Valeria Sanchez and Lily Scott, sit sipping on their dairy-free milkshakes as they take a sweet break from the hardships of finals week as college students.
“[The milkshake] is amazing,” Sanchez said about her cookies and cream dairy-free milkshake.
“We’ve been coming here since August. It’s really good,” Scott said.
“You can’t even taste the difference,” Sanchez adds about the dairy-free milkshakes compared to an original milkshake that is normally composed with dairy product.
Aside from the milkshakes, Shmura said the Milkshake Factory is serving dark chocolate peppermint bark, and hot chocolate bark which consists of chocolate stuffed with mini marshmallows topped with a marshmallow drizzle. Quaint chocolate items are also being sold that are shaped in iconic holiday symbols such as reindeer and Christmas trees which make the perfect gift.
Spotted on Wood Street of Downtown, Katie’s Kandy is located. This candy shop takes a nostalgic trip to the sweets of childhood as the store is decorated with shelves of every candy imaginable.
“Unique is what sells,” the owner of Katie’s Kandy, John Weston said.
Weston first opened a Katie’s Kandy in Homestead, and is named after his daughter, Katie. Weston in previous years used to work in a candy store which eventually inspired him to open his own.
Weston stocks the shelves of Katie’s Kandy with sweets that have been imported from around the world. Weston said the importance of selling unordinary candy is because of the quality.
“The chocolate is just better. The shelf life of a Snickers bar is eighteen months and the shelf life of [the Bueno Bar] is six months,” Weston said in comparison to Snickers, an American candy, versus a Kinder Bueno Bar, a hazelnut cream bar coated in chocolate, which is European.
The immense, unique chocolates served at Katie’s Kandy allows for stockings to be stuffed to the brim with delectable candy, all in which is sold at even a sweeter price.
There is nothing like treating yourself or the ones you love most to mouth-watering desserts as December begins to thrive in holiday spirits. Take a tour around Pittsburgh to find yourself collecting some of the tastiest treats to officially enjoy your holiday season.