Greetings everybody, and welcome to the new year. As many of you know, a new year brings the opportunity to make a change in your life through New Year’s resolutions. They’re often difficult to keep, and require dedication and strength of mind to maintain. For this reason, I’m going to warn you before you get too far: if you’ve resolved to lose weight or start eating healthier this year, you may want to stop reading this column here.

After all, to read about all the devilishly delectable foods Madison has to offer would be torture for someone who is trying to cut calories, and in this first edition of Tasty Thursdays of 2010, I searched Madison for the best places to find baked goods. Proceed at your own risk.

There aren’t many real bakeries near campus in Madison. Of course, the many coffee shops lining State Street all offer baked goods that pair well with coffee, such as cookies and biscotti, some even made in-house. But I wanted to find the places where baking is considered an art and customers arrive in the wee hours just to get the goods straight out of the oven. With that in mind, I ultimately decided to stick with three traditional, well-known and long-established bakeries in Madison: Greenbush Bakery, Lane’s Bakery and Stella’s Bakery.

Greenbush Bakery is one of those underappreciated gems of the Madison culinary scene. Located inconspicuously on Regent Street, Greenbush offers some of the freshest, fluffiest donuts I’ve ever eaten. Their specialty seems to be just that — donuts, with almost any variety available: cake donuts, old-fashioned buttermilk donuts (the bumpy, glazed cake-like donuts), glazed donuts ? la Krispy Kreme (but better) and all sorts of different frostings and fillings. I don’t recommend you pass over every other treat Greenbush offers just for the donuts, however. I sometimes drive there for an apple fritter the size of my head at 10 p.m., hoping they won’t be sold out.

That’s another perk of Greenbush — they’re usually open until at least 11 p.m. (on the weekends as late as 2 a.m.) which is perfect for fueling a study session or stopping by with a date for a little late-night sweetness. Another cool aspect of Greenbush Bakery: Everything offered is certified kosher. Try a “Rabbi’s Delight,” a glazed, oblong cake donut with raspberry or strawberry filling. I’d skip the apple turnovers, however; the one I tried was too flaky and the dryness of the pastry contrasted unpleasantly with the wetness of the apple filling. Delighted though I was with the donut options at Greenbush, I still desired a little bit more variety; I needed options that went beyond glazed icing.

Lane’s Bakery is a verifiable Madison staple, having been in operation since 1954. The Park Street location offers a very grandmotherly atmosphere; a simple interior with tables and chairs, party decorations, colorful cakes and cookies, and a huge glass case filled with all kinds of sugary goodness greet you upon entering. One of its long glass cases is dedicated entirely to colorfully frosted sugar cookies and a large variety of elaborately decorated cakes available for any occasion.

I was eager to sample Lane’s Bakery’s cookies. Upon trying one, however, I found that it was mostly overly sugared frosting with a crunchy cookie hidden somewhere underneath. It was much too sweet and a little too hard, and I knew that I’d have enjoyed the cookie — in the shape of an adorable blue monster — much more if I were a 7-year-old. However, Lane’s does offer pastries for those with a more developed palette, as well, boasting a huge display case fully stocked with just about any type of pastry imaginable. Traditional donuts, bear claws, ?clairs, danishes, donut holes and cream-filled rolls are available, along with a selection of homemade pies and any type of bread you may need, from challah to hot dog buns. Lane’s Bakery is tough to beat in terms of selection, and despite the frosting-induced coma I nearly fell into after eating one of its cookies, overall Lane’s proved difficult to beat in the search for the best bakery in Madison.

The search, for me anyway, culminated when I found Stella’s Bakery, infamous at the farmers’ market in the summer for its Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread. Getting there requires a car, but I knew I couldn’t rightfully do an article about bakeries justice without mentioning this hidden gem. It’s located amid a bunch of warehouses and woods on the very outskirts of Madison, and you’ll be wondering what the hell you’re doing all the way out there until you roll down your windows and smell what must be the scent of heaven. Inside Stella’s, the open industrial kitchen is surprisingly friendly and the smallish selection viewable in its bakery case is compensated by the fact that every single item in it is among the best money can buy. There are muffins and cupcakes, bear claws, cinnamon rolls, danishes glazed to perfection, all kinds of breads and rolls, and of course, the famous Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread.

If you’ve never tasted this absolutely delightful treat, I highly recommend you make it a priority before you leave this university. It’s available at the farmers’ market in the summer, and devotees of this baked masterpiece crave the warm, melty cheese bread as if it were a drug. It’s sprinkled to perfection with spices that provide just enough kick to balance the sweetness of the bread and cheese, and the large loaf it comes in will last you for days (if you can resist devouring the whole thing instantly).

Due to the sheer weight this bread holds in my favorite foods list, I figured Stella’s would have an easy edge over its competitors, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I tasted other items from its display case. The gigantic chocolate chip oatmeal cookie was soft and chewy, and its French bread proved absolutely perfect for snacking and making sandwiches. Despite a selection vastly smaller than that of Lane’s, and with fewer sweet treats than both Lane’s and Greenbush, I deemed Stella’s Bakery the winner in this search because of the diversity of baked goodies available and the all-around delightfulness of each of their items.

Throughout this search I ate enough carbs and sugars to last me a month. Detrimental though they are to any diet out there, the pastries I’ve eaten in Madison are going to be difficult to forget. Luckily, I did not make a New Year’s resolution to eat less, cut calories, eat only healthy foods or anything else that may hinder my ability to try any and all foods Madison has to offer. I look forward to continue searching out the best of the best eats so you can make wise dining decisions in the new year. Cheers!

Elin Amundson is a senior majoring in history and philosophy. Want to be Elin’s sponsor for her addiction to Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread? Send her your support at [email protected].