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Once You Find It, the Blackmarket Bakery in Irvine Will Merit Many Happy Returns

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Once you find it, the Blackmarket bakery will merit many happy returns

Even if you haven't been to Blackmarket Bakery, you might have already seen the vehicle they use for deliveries. The black Scion xB—with its tinted windows, black rims and full-body graphics—looks like a billboard on wheels. "Resistance is futile," reads the bold-faced caption along the side, near the cartoon image of a wedding-cake-shaped UFO levitating a figure by tractor beam.

Although the car is an eye magnet on the street—and, I'm told, at farmers' markets—the bakery seems invisible. It's in an industrial office park that would be soulless and depressing except for the fact that every 15 minutes, a passenger plane roars a few feet above the rooftops on approach to John Wayne Airport.

Thankfully, for those who would otherwise be wandering the street aimlessly, the car's usually parked outside, acting as a homing beacon. When you find the bakery's hidden door, it will feel like you've just located a speakeasy during Prohibition. But no secret knock or password is required to enter—just a sweet tooth.

Inside the cramped, bohemian shop, there are enough sugary confections to make you want to put your dentist on speed dial. A larger space behind this room features tables that are dusty with flour. And somewhere back there is where baking classes are taught by owner Rachel Klemek, a graduate of the CIA (the cooking school, not the spy agency) and proud member of the Slow Food Movement.

As a proponent of all things natural and made-from-scratch, Klemek operates with her grandmother's credo in mind: "If you're going to make a pound cake, you're going to need a pound of butter." You'll encounter nothing unpronounceable on her ingredient labels. The list for her spiral brioche sounds downright Zen—flour, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, yeast, salt.

Simplicity and technique govern every item Klemek bakes. Her froufrous follow the recipe for French-style macaroons and utilize no flour. They owe their structural integrity to nothing more than almond paste, egg whites, powdered sugar, sliced almonds and citrus zest. The resulting surfboard-shaped cookies eat like Nilla wafers but disintegrate like meringues.

Other cookies, such as her mocha shorties, crumble with the texture of loosely packed coffee grounds, carrying more cocoa flavor by volume than Nabisco would ever care to invest in an Oreo. Russian tea cookies will remind you of doughnut holes, but only because they look like their powdered-sugar-covered cousins. In fact, they're far more addictive than that. And since they're permeated with vanilla, they tickle your nostrils from the inside.

Klemek's Florentine bar is essentially a candy-topped pizza—a concoction Willy Wonka would be proud to call his own—in which a shortbread base is encrusted with dried cranberries, almonds and candied ginger, all held together by a sticky honey-caramel that slows down your chew to a slog. This one is best in small doses.

The hockey-puck-shaped triple-chocolate brownie isn't too sweet, and the formidably dense chocolate-almond bread pudding is sold in refrigerated bricks weighing more than a pound. Klemek's Basque tart hides a raspberry center. She will also bake you a fanciful, fun, fondant-covered cake to rival any of those sculpted by that Ace of Cakes guy.

But teeth-rotting confections aren't all Klemek has up her flour-smudged sleeves. On some days, there are savory items such as a scone packed with bits of jalapeño, corn and Cheddar—a hulking triangle of pastry that will bring your afternoon tea party to its knees.

Her best creation is the focaccia pocket, a two-fisted love-child of a calzone and Cornish pasty, filled with your choice of sautéed mushrooms and shallots, eggplant and tomatoes, or curry-spiced potatoes and carrots. It trumps the Hot Pocket even at room temperature. But just imagine it reheated—resistance will, indeed, be futile.

Blackmarket Bakery, 17941 Sky Park Circle, Ste. E., Irvine, (949) 852-4609; www.blackmarketbakery.com. Open Tues.-Fri., 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Check website for prices, class schedules and farmers' market appearances.

 
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