The caramel cupcakes at Bronzeville’s Abundance Bakery are so loaded with frosting that they rest upside down on their muffin-tops to support it all. Eating one is a gooey affair that requires a spoon, not to mention a glass of milk and possibly a friend to help. The cupcakes, like most everything at the bakery, are very sweet, very large, and very good. From a single display counter in a tiny storefront on 47th Street, Abundance Bakery has been offering a wealth of baked treats for twenty years.
Depending on your sugar tolerance, the cupcakes tread the line between sweet perfection and just too much. The thick corn-syrup-based caramel is thick and viscous, poured onto the cake rather than frosted. The soft, fine-crumbed yellow cake is nearly lost under the caramel, which drowns out the cake’s own subtle brown sugar flavor. Though the frosted cakes are perhaps too heavy for some, Abundance redeems itself with its surprisingly light and tasty pineapple upside-down cake. The same soft yellow cake finds its perfect complement in a crunchy brown sugar coating and brushed-on simple syrup, with a caramelized pineapple slice and dot of Maraschino as the literal cherry on top.
Perhaps it’s just as well that Abundance doesn’t specialize in cakes, since in a head-to-head competition, other South Side bakeries like Brown Sugar Bakery in Grand Crossing would come out on top with their more balanced approach to the cake-vs-frosting dynamic. Instead, Abundance prides itself in the oft-neglected but no less delicious world of deep-fried sweets, including handmade donuts and a foot-long apple fritter.
The apple fritter is the bakery’s pride. According to the woman behind the counter, customers from the suburbs make morning pilgrimages to buy fresh fritters still hot from the kitchen. Debates rage in Chicago foodie circles like that on LTHForum.com about whether the best apple fritter belongs to Abundance or Old Fashioned Donuts on 112th Street, but it’s hard to argue that Abundance’s version isn’t impressive. An oblong disk bigger than this author’s head and at least an inch thick, the deep-fried dough is golden brown and glazed with opaque white sugar. It tastes like sugar and fat, and the thumbnail-sized chunks of apple seem small, few, and far between. But they’re tender and sweet without being mushy, and their naturally fruity flavor perks up a dessert that otherwise quickly becomes monotonous and overwhelming. It’s delicious, no doubt, but best shared among friends.
Abundance Bakery does have its weaknesses. The general formula is sugar and lots of it, which is a good place to start. But it’s taken to extremes in the chocolate brownie, a brick of sugar cemented by fat in which chocolate seems like an afterthought. The texture is firmly on the cakey side, not fudgy, and the dry chocolate frosting doesn’t add any moisture to a cake that cries out for coffee.
Luckily, Abundance provides. Along with baked goods and birthday cakes, the bakery sells coffee and a limited selection of food. As advertised in the window, a $3 purchase earns a free hot dog. To be honest, our dog tasted free–but it was free! As a dog with everything, it included the standard onions, mustard, relish, peppers, tomato, and even the rarely-seen cucumber slices. But oddly, the celery salt was replaced by actual chopped celery. The free bean soup, on the other hand, was something worth paying for: pieces of tomato and onion floated with soft beans in a surprisingly rich and spicy broth. Since the small space doesn’t offer seating, we carried our paper bags full of pastries out into the snow. My soup was warming on a winter day, and I appreciated anew Abundance’s generosity.
Abundance Bakery, 105 E. 47th St. Monday-Friday, 6am-6pm; Saturday, 7am-6pm. (773)373-1971.