Dessert discoveries: TV baking judge Duff Goldman’s favorite sweets
BYLarry Bleiberg, Special for USA TODAY 7:50 a.m. ET March 17, 2017
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Judge Duff Goldman, as seen on Food Network's "Spring Baking Championship."  Patrick WymoreFullscreen Boston's Modern Pastry Shop is famous for its sfogliatella, sometimes called a lobster tail.  modernpastry.comFullscreen Savannah Square Pops in Georgia serves hand-made frozen pops, including the Pulaski, a salted-caramel pop dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in pretzel pieces.  Judd WigginsFullscreen Boise's Janjou Pâtisserie bakes croissants renowned for being buttery and flaky.  Moshit Mizrachi-GabbitasFullscreen Milk & Honey in Northeast Harbor, Maine, is renowned for its Honey Sticky Buns with almonds or pecans, and its brownies.  milkandhoneykitchen.comFullscreen Pie Town Cafe in Pie Town, N.M., serves New Mexican apple pie, made with mild Hatch chiles.  pietown.comFullscreenReplay1 of 62 of 63 of 64 of 65 of 66 of 6AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow Captions

Savannah Square Pops in Georgia serves hand-made frozen pops, including the Pulaski, a salted-caramel pop dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in pretzel pieces.(Photo: Judd Wiggins)


Duff Goldman's sweet tooth has led him to some delicious places. The pastry chef and judge on Spring Baking Championship, which has just started its third season on the Food Network (Sundays 9 p.m.), has driven across the country more than a dozen times. As the owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and Los Angeles, he seeks out local gems. "There are places that do a couple things and do them really well." He shares some favorite dessert discoveries with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Modern Pastry Shop Boston Boston is famous for Italian pastries, but Goldman, a Massachusetts native, is drawn to a lesser-known treat: a sfogliatella, sometimes called a lobster tail.  This North End bakery makes it by hand and fills it with whipped and pastry cream. "It's like a puff pastry, all in one sheet. It's paper-thin and basted in butter and you want to break off each tiny, super thin leaf."

Pie Town Cafe Pie Town, N.M. One of Goldman’s favorite road trip discoveries was this tiny settlement specializing in pie. On a whim he tried a slice of New Mexican apple, made with mild Hatch chiles, and it became one of his all-time his favorites. "I love gooey pies and the the chiles made it interesting, a savory element."

Janjou Pâtisserie Boise Idaho may be known for potatoes, however it was a French bakery that won over Goldman. The croissants, available with chocolate, transcend mere baking, he says. "I'm a pastry nerd and you can tell someone put a lot of time into it. These croissants are so buttery, so flakey, they make such a mess. It's almost like shale, you can see the layers all the way down."

Cookie Momster Tulsa It's not the strip mall setting that intrigued Goldman, but the size, texture and taste of the cookies on offer — particularly the snickerdoodle. "They're not uniform. They're handcrafted You can tell a person made that cookie," he says. "The inside is just bliss. It’s so soft, so tender, and just this side of underbaked, it’s just perfect.”

Good Mong Kok Bakery San Francisco Goldman first tasted a Chinese egg tart in Hong Kong, and when he saw one again in San Francisco's Chinatown, he was astonished that the taste was identical. "It was almost like it was made by the exact same person," he says. "It's incredibly simple: standard sugary dough, like a cookie dough, and a custard they make that's really eggy, but barely sweet. It was just awesome."

The Sugar Shack St. Petersburg, Fla. When Goldman visits family in Florida, he makes a point of stopping at this delightfully touristy shop. "It's so kitschy, but in the best possible way: White and wicker and lots of knickknacks and stuff," he says. And the pie, made with fresh Key lime juice, doesn't disappoint. "It's super soft and creamy, really nice graham cracker crust, and the meringue is beautiful."

Savannah (Ga.) Square Pops Many cities seem to have a gourmet frozen pop shop, but this place takes the treat to a new height, Goldman says. "They're cool looking — big and square and blocky." His favorite is the Pulaski, a salted-caramel pop dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in pretzel pieces. "They have the most amazing flavors. You can taste a human made it by hand in a small kitchen."

Old Mill Tasty Shop Wichita Goldman loves the Old West saloon ambience at this sweet shop in a revitalized historic district. The penny candy and egg creams lived up to the setting, but it was the chocolate malt that he still remembers. "It was nostalgic and awesome, and it was in a really cool part of town."

Fonuts Los Angeles As a pastry chef, you could hardly call Goldman a health-food nut, but he swears by this specialty shop offering nothing but baked, gluten-free and vegan donuts. "You'd never know it. They're delicious. My favorite one they make is an old-fashioned buttermilk blueberry."

Milk & Honey Northeast Harbor, Maine Goldman was initially faked out by the enormous size of the Honey Almond Sticky Buns at this café. "You see it and think there's no way I can eat this, but it's soft and pillowy inside and so light." And then there's the topping. "It's just a party in your mouth.” The café opens for the summer season in June.