These Sweet Bites at Aldi and Costco are Perfect for That Little Somethin’-Somethin’
While an overload of sugar isn’t great, some studies show that dessert tells our brain that the meal is over and can stave off mindless after-dinner snacking. Often, just a little bite is enough, whether after a meal or satisfying a craving — and that’s where mini-sized bites from Sugar Bowl Bakery fit in perfectly. Costco has carried treats from this San Francisco bakery for quite some time, and recently, Aldi also started carrying these. (We also found the products at Sprouts via Instacart, and a small selection on Amazon.)
Five Vietnamese immigrants, the Ly brothers, started Sugar Bowl Bakery in San Francisco in 1984, but it was a long, hard and circuitous path to get there. In their native Vietnam, they were farmers and bakers. After the North Vietnamese captured Saigon in 1975, it took the Ly family four tries to escape the country. In 1979, they, along with 140 others, fled Vietnam for Malaysia. In an all-too-familiar turn of events, pirates took everything but the clothes on the refugees’ backs. They spent the following year subsisting on rice, noodles and the occasional vegetable in a refugee camp.
Once they made it to San Francisco, the Lys worked odd jobs, eventually pooling enough savings to open a coffee shop that also sold their French pastries. “We all worked at whatever we could,” Binh Ly told SFGate. “We worked at cafés. One of my brothers delivered newspapers. Then we decided we should do a business. And we should do it as a family, because that’s what we do.” In time, one coffee shop grew to six, and the Lys sold those to focus on the burgeoning retail pastry business. In November 2013, then-President Barack Obama cited the Ly family as an example of a remarkable American success story. Today, Sugar Bowl Bakery is one of the largest, certified minority-owned bakeries in the country.
We were asked to sample the two easiest-to-find pastries in Houston: the Sugar Bowl Bakery Brownie Bites and Madeleines. (The entire product line is much more extensive and includes Petite Palmiers and Duet Bites, each of which are half Madeleine, half brownie. Unfortunately, not everything is readily available in stores, or even on Amazon. I’d like to see some of the other products become available, such as the Gingerbread Bites and Guava Madeleines.)
Of the two we tried, the madeleines are the ones that you could potentially pass off as home-baked — except the perfectly browned edge might give it away. The exterior has just a touch of firmness, and the interior gives way to a pleasantly large crumb that still holds together. The madeleine is only lightly sweet, which allows the butter and vanilla to come through. (Butter is actually the first listed ingredient.) The flavors are simple, much in the way that shortbread is, and the madeleines are perfectly paired with a cup of coffee, espresso drink or tea.
The brownie bites are not going to fool anyone into thinking these are home-baked. That’s hard to compete with, as one of the best aspects of baking brownies is the tantalizing smell. There’s a lot the Sugar Bowl Bakery renditions gets right, though. These are just a touch crusty on the outside, and surprisingly moist on the inside. It’s that aspect that comes closest to the home variety. The other advantage is the size. It’s a good little mouthful when you just need something a little sweet and chocolaty. I wanted the chocolate to come forward just a bit more (cocoa is sixth on the ingredient list), and could imagine a version of these made with mini chocolate chips.
Based on pricing found on Instacart, the tubs found at Costco contain 28 and cost $8.73. Sprouts had the smaller containers of nine brownie bites for $7.49. Different sizes may be found in-store. For the larger sizes, each little pastry is individually wrapped, so these would be great in an office break room. These also would be handy for doling out to kids (or adults who act like kids) as a special little snack when you want to limit their sugar intake.
Just keep the tubs stashed somewhere, or next thing you know, they’ll be empty, just as ours are now.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.