Putting the Extra in Extraordinary

Extraordinary Desserts is known for its gorgeous desserts, many of which are topped with fresh flowers.

San Diego’s dynamic food scene would not be complete without sweet treats. One baking institution in the city has set the example for what it means to provide gourmet desserts to customers. But Extraordinary Desserts, with two locations in the heart of San Diego, isn’t satisfied with mastering just that one aspect of the business.

When you talk with owner Karen Krasne, the first thing you notice is her passion. Whether she’s discussing travel, education, family, or business, her enthusiasm and energy is on full display.

The talented pastry chef was born and raised in the area, but left to pursue her dream. She graduated from the University of Hawaii with a Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition, which has given her a unique perspective on the role of food in our lives. Following that, she studied pastry-making at Le Cordon Bleu before returning to San Diego when an opportunity presented itself to open a bakery there.

Every so often, Krasne returns to France to learn more about the pastry arts. One could describe her as a citizen of the world, traveling to exotic and faraway places to experience the culture and use that experience to inspire her desserts.

Owner Karen Krasne is dedicated to creating memorable desserts.

Many of the products at Extraordinary Desserts are topped with fresh flowers, something Krasne picked up from her time in Hawaii. Another noticeable trait of many of the desserts at the bakery is gold leaf, a French/Parisian component. The colors the bakery uses help to set it apart from its peers, with dazzling desserts that pop out of the display case.

“We’re very colorful. Where a lot of bakeries can use beige and brown tones because that’s the color of dough and that’s the color of chocolate, it’s important to me that it’s a painter’s palette,” Krasne says.

The complexity of each dessert’s look extends to its taste as well. Krasne points out that the products have a lot of layers and textures that have become another calling card of the bakery. “There’s a lot going on in just one item from the counter. A cookie is not just a cookie. It might have four different types of sugar,” she says.

It’s that sophistication from a design standpoint that Extraordinary Desserts looks to balance with accessibility. Unexpected flavor combinations and vibrant touches of fruit and flowers add flair without making each dessert seem overly fancy. To stay true to itself, the bakery doesn’t rely on trends to dictate where it goes with design, but it does follow the flavor trends.

Gold leaf is another of the bakery's unique traits. 

That’s where Krasne’s work ethic comes in handy. She is constantly searching for the right flavor profiles to satisfy her customers. The bakery was an early adopter of the elderflower trend, which has soared ever since the British royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle featured a lemon elderflower cake at the reception (the pastry chef who made the cake, Claire Ptak, is a California native just like Krasne).

“I love that! We have a cake that we soak with elderflower, and now it’s going to be huge! We also do an elderflower glaze on a lemon scone,” Krasne says.

Krasne also identifies matcha as a flavor that is prominent right now and will be here for a long time. On a trip to Japan a decade ago, she met with matcha producers in cities like Kyoto and Uji. Extraordinary Desserts has been in business with those producers ever since, flying in matcha every three weeks to make lattes unlike any other. Krasne gets excited talking about the possibilities of this flavor profile both in beverages and baked goods, and the window that can open up to any flavor profile once it’s thoroughly researched.

Despite being in the industry for several decades and earning accolade upon accolade, Krasne hasn’t let success make her complacent. She’s always looking to try new things at her bakery locations, including introducing new items on a consistent basis.

The Balboa Cake celebrates over 100 years of San Diego’s Historic Balboa Park.
 
“Whether it’s an ice cream, cake, or cookie, we’re always playing in the back (kitchen) in order to have one new product each week. And that way, we don’t overwhelm our servers. We make sure they taste and understand it, in order to carefully convey that information to the customer,” Krasne says.

Extraordinary Desserts employs nearly 45 women between its two locations, a point of pride for Krasne. She’s passionate about her role as a woman in the baking industry and looks to foster talented women in the industry through mentoring. With great success comes great responsibility, and Krasne looks to earn her label as an industry leader by passing on her knowledge to the next generation of bakers and pastry chefs.

Another honor Krasne has earned during her time in the baking world is the “Queen of Cakes.” She was dubbed that by Gourmet magazine, a reference to her bringing a fresh and contemporary sensibility to special occasion cakes. In 2011, Krasne shared her cake techniques with the world in the form of her cookbook, “Extraordinary Cakes: Recipes for Bold and Sophisticated Desserts.” The book showed readers how to make amazing desserts that satisfy sophisticated palates, and it showcased Krasne’s aforementioned sense of unconventional flavor pairings such as the luscious Blood Orange Ricotta Torte.

On Saturday nights, the line outside Extraordinary Desserts can extend well onto the sidewalk, a testament to Krasne’s decadent creations and the atmosphere that she has created at both of her bakery’s locations.