Getting the goods on baked goods

After a long stint as pastry chef at the St. Paul Hotel, Sarah Herr is now her own boss, working the well stocked counter at the bakery she calls 3 Tiers (5011 34th Av. S., Mpls., www.3tierscakes.com).

Herr and her husband, Bryan, have transformed the former Scandia Bake Shop into a soothing green-and-pink hangout, luring in their neighbors (the couple live about six blocks away) with an ever-changing inventory of beautifully made cookies, bars, cakes, cream puffs, cupcakes, truffles, petits fours and other temptations, including, as the shop's name suggests, multi-tiered wedding cakes. "I'm trying to find my niche," Herr said.

The chalkboard lunch menu features scratch-made soups, sandwiches on house-baked breads and a stromboli of the day, sliced in 2- and 4-inch portions. Christmas cookies are on their way. "Russian tea cakes, chocolate madeleines, 'peanut blossoms' -- my childhood memory cookies," said Herr, who has discovered that one benefit of self-employment is immediate feedback.

"When you're in a kitchen in the basement, you do the work but don't get the rewards," she said, referring to her five years at the hotel. "Now it's fun to be able to talk to people face-to-face, and hear them say how much they enjoyed my work. That's so rewarding."

Meanwhile, the storefront that most recently housed Legacy Chocolates is now home to Sweets Bakeshop (2042 Marshall Av., St. Paul, www.sweets bakeshop.com).

In their cute blue-and-white shop, co-owners Krista Steinbach and Ly Lo specialize in three delicious goodies: cupcakes, brownies (and blondies) and French macaroons.

Their partnership was a matter of perfect timing. Lo, who handles the elaborate decorating duties, had just opened a cake studio and wanted to get into the retail side of the business. Steinbach had just finished culinary school, was selling her sweets a few days a week at Local D'Lish in Minneapolis and was looking for a retail space. In no time, along came Sweets. "We're both doing what we love to do," said Steinbach. "It's really great to be able to do that."

The elegant cupcakes are sold in eight daily flavors (from triple chocolate and pumpkin-ginger to cornmeal finished with bacon-maple buttercream) and the delicate, pastel-colored macaroons (try the salted caramel variety) are flying out the door. For Christmas? It's cupcakes decorated for the holidays and an elaborate and colorful croquembouche, made using green and red macaroons.

In other bakery news, Jerabek's New Bohemian (63 W. Winifred St., St. Paul, www.jerabeks.com) has opened a handy downtown St. Paul branch. Jerabek's Bakery, on the skyway level food court of the Alliance Bank Center (55 E. 5th St.), is selling breads and sweets (including the bakery's awesome cakes, sold whole and by the slice) as well as quiche, pot pies and other savories.

On the other side of the river, the Salty Tart (920 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.saltytart.com) is filling the void left at Java Jacks (818 W. 46th St., Mpls.) by the recently vacated Rustica (which is up and running at 3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., www.rusticabakery.com). The coffeehouse is now featuring owner Michelle Gayer's scones, croissants, cookies, cupcakes, galettes and more. "Now we are reaching this whole new audience that doesn't make it to the Midtown Global Market," she said.

RICK NELSON