Yeast is the word: Check out the pecan rolls and bear claws.
Lane's Bakery has been in business in Madison since 1954, when the first location opened on University Avenue. It moved to South Park Street in 1957 and built the chalet-style bakery and cafe at Drake and South Park in 1987. The chalet location closed in September 2012, bowing to a spate of redevelopment in the immediate area. This past December, Lane's finally reopened in a new storefront in the Atrium section of the city's Villager Mall redevelopment.
The Villager parking lot speaks to the mall's vitality. It is always nearly full with visitors to Yue-Wah Oriental Foods, the new Goodman South Madison branch library, Madison College-South, Urban League of Greater Madison, Access Community Health, UW Space Place -- and the list goes on. The mall is apparently hopping, and Lane's is its sole eatery and coffee shop.
Lane's is not a bread bakery or a croissant bakery. It's an old-fashioned kaffeeklatsch kind of bakery. It's a decorated cake kind of bakery, with oodles of colored frosting doodles and Sesame Street cupcakes for kids.
Despite its new digs, Lane's has not attempted to transform itself into a contemporary coffee house. While the bakery does offer free Wi-Fi, there are no comfy sofas, just tables. The somewhat staid lunchroom atmosphere from the chalet location remains, though it's a pleasant enough space, with lots of windows and plenty of natural light.
Near the bakery counter is a chalkboard menu of coffee drinks. Beans are from Johnson Brothers, and while there are no pour-overs, it's a worthy cup of the day.
There was a time when I was obsessed with Lane's poppy seed cakes, which I ordered or requested for every special occasion. However, I'm told the poppy seed cake is not available right now, as that element of the new bakery operation is not yet up and running.
Cakes aside, some of Lane's strongest offerings are its yeast-raised pastries. The bear claw is outstanding -- nice fresh buttery dough, enough almond flavor without tasting like full-on marzipan, not too sweet. The pecan roll is likewise fresh and buttery.
The cheese Danish is also good, with the tang of the cream cheese providing some balance to the sweetness of its icing.
But for a lot of folks, Lane's is all about the kringle.
Kringle, the American ground zero of which appears to be Racine, is a Danish pastry dough rolled into a large "O" and filled. Racine-style kringle is thin and dense and sweet. At $10 an oval, they make a popular office breakfast treat. Lane's offers them in a cast of flavors (not all of which are available on any given day): lemon, cherry, raspberry, pecan, almond, blueberry, apple and apple-cinnamon. Occasionally there's a one-off, like pumpkin. The fruit flavors (with the exception of the apple-cinnamon) may also come with cheese added.
I recommend the apple-cinnamon. It has more of a real baked-fruit flavor and comes un-iced, which tempers the extreme sweetness -- somewhat. The cream cheese/cherry, for example, with plenty of icing, is far too sweet.
Lane's does a good job with its bakery-case cookies. The peanut butter is very peanutty, with chunks of almost whole peanuts and butterscotch chips. I also liked the oatmeal raisin, chewy in the center, crisp at the edges, not overly spiced. These are large, chewy cookies, not to be confused with the rather dry boxed cookies in the center of the store.
The black-and-white cookie here isn't flat, but rather a mound, almost cake-like, and of course topped with half vanilla, half chocolate icing.
The sugar cookies, plentiful now in heart shapes, are quite thick, yet retain the crispness that works so well for the sugar cookie. I'm not sure how they accomplish this trick.
Lane's also bakes bar cookies and other treats, like a seven-layer bar. If you see the Apple Spencer on offer, snap it up. Apple Spencer is a dense, very apple-y cake that's almost like a very moist bread pudding, topped with streusel and icing. This is a nice bit of German-style Konditorei baking and, pleasingly, not too-too sweet.
Signs point to Lane's not being quite back up to full speed in its new location. The website doesn't have any cake-ordering options yet; in-house, nothing in the bakery cases has a price marked on it. This is frustrating, but easily remedied.