- Alex Springer
When it comes to new bakeries opening their doors along the Wasatch Front, I'm a bit like a shark that picks up the scent of blood in the ocean. No matter how hard I try to push the temptation of chewy cookies, powdered doughnuts and chocolate frosting out of my mind, I can't resist the urge to drop whatever I'm doing and pop in for something sweet. The current object of my baked goods bloodlust is Midvale's Conte de Fée (7695 S. 700 East, 801-987-8112, contedefeebakery.com). They specialize in cakes and treats from Japan, and they boast a menu of dreamlike confections that begs to be explored.
Conte de Fée is French for "fairy tale," which is quite the appropriate appellation considering it started off as the pipe dream of two friends while they were studying at Utah Valley University. Owners and operators Ai Tanaka and Bayasgalan Purevdorg swapped stories and recipes from their upbringing in Japan and Mongolia, respectively, and together the pair dreamed up the idea for a local bakery that made the desserts they grew up with. "It was hard to find the same cakes and sweets I found back in Japan," Tanaka says during a phone interview. "We wanted to make simple Japanese desserts with elegant French-inspired decorations." Since the bakery's grand opening last month, Tanaka describes the experience as a dream come true.
When it comes time to check out the menu, it's clear that there's a reason for all this talk of fairy tales and dreams come true. The display cases are stocked with cakes adorned with frothy white buttercreams and crowned with strawberries or coated in shimmering chocolate ganache that seem to float on spun sugar clouds. Smaller treats like buttery croissants or their signature nama chocolates are arranged like birthday presents ready to be ripped into. This drowsy illusion continues with every bite of dessert—Conte de Fée has zeroed in on treats that offer only the downiest of textures.
For a prime example of what I'm talking about, check out their strawberry cake ($5.50): two layers of white sponge highlighted with smooth buttercream and thinly sliced strawberries. It's easy to look at this elegant slice of textbook cakery and assume that a sugar bomb will soon be detonated once it hits your tastebuds. On the contrary, the sweetness never oversteps the flavors of the fresh strawberries. Each bite lets you luxuriate in impossibly light sponge and languid strokes of creamy frosting.
Other installments in this tapestry of textures that Conte de Fée weaves into its menu are the cookies and crème cake ($5.50) and the tiramisu ($6.25). At first glance, a slice of this cake looks like a stack of Oreos suspended in a thick layer of vanilla buttercream—and then you get closer, only to realize that's exactly what this cake is. The cookies absorb enough moisture from the buttercream to effectively reproduce that perfect moment when a milk-soaked Oreo hits your mouth; it's truly a work of genius. The tiramisu was the one I thought would break the pattern of subtlety that I was picking up, but it too kept its cool. Ghosts of coffee and rum flavors haunt each bite, but again the star of this dessert is the soft and smooth texture.
I was also eager to dive into the Japanese treats that Tanaka had mentioned growing up with, and I can't wait for the Conte de Fée team to expand on this section of the menu. First up was the Castella ($7.75), a traditional Japanese sponge cake that originated in Portugal. It's about the size and dimensions of a first-edition Dostoevsky novel, but it remains light as a feather. Imagine the fluffiest angel food cake you've ever had, and then coat the bottom with a layer of caramelized sugar for a bit of sweet crunchiness, and you'll be somewhere near the mark. I love this for its pure celebration of a well-baked sponge cake, but couldn't help imagining how well that porous deliciousness would soak up other toppings and flavors.
The absolute banger of my visit was the nama chocolate ($8), however. It's essentially a chocolate bar made from thick cubes of dark chocolate ganache and topped with cocoa powder. It's the crown jewel of Conte de Fée's textural wonderland as it manages to encapsulate fudge, frosting and half-baked brownie batter all in one decadent bite. Tanaka mentioned that this treat is a popular gift in Japan for one's beloved during Valentine's Day, and I'm overjoyed that she brought it here to share.
Visiting new bakeries always lifts my spirits a bit, and that lift is always a bit stronger when the place features a few multicultural offerings that I've yet to see on my radar. From a fairy tale dreamed up by two friends with a shared sweet tooth to a reality filled with frothy treats and understated textures, Conte de Fée is a little bit of pure magic.