Find the familiar and the exotic at Gur Sweets

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By Emily Paster

Have you heard about the latest food fad, the cronut? Introduced in May by Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City, this cream-filled croissant-doughnut hybrid has become the dessert fad of 2013. People wait in line for hours hoping to get one of the only 300 cronuts that Dominique Ansel produces daily. Some media outlets are reporting that a cronut black market has sprung up, with cronut scalpers charging $100 a pop. Only in New York, right?

But wait, what about those poor souls who don't live in New York? Will they never experience croissant dough fried in hot oil? Well, have no fear: pastry chefs all over the country are busy coming up with their own version of the cronut. Just don't use the trademarked name, thank you very much. The first bakery in the Chicago area to offer this indulgent treat was Gür Sweets in suburban Elmhurst. And just like in New York. Gür Sweets makes a limited number of "gurnuts" a day, and when they are gone, they're gone. So if you want to try one, best get there early.

The Gurnut may have brought Gür Sweets some notoriety lately, but this bakery — open for just over seven months — is more than a one-trick pony. Even if you scoff at food fads and have no interest in ever eating a flaky doughnut-croissant love child, Gür Sweets is still well worth a trip.  This charming Elmhurst pastry shop has a wide variety of classic American treats from cupcakes and cookies to muffins and scones and even fresh-baked, artisanal breads.

Rubina Hafeez, the chef and owner of Gür Sweets, makes it a point of pride to use only the best, all-natural ingredients and to bake everything from scratch in small batches. She also makes custom cakes for birthdays, weddings and other celebrations. Hafeez is especially attentive to her customer's dietary restrictions and allergies: when I visited Gür Sweets, a father was there picking up a birthday cake for his daughter who had food allergies. He thanked Hafeez effusively for making the first bakery cake that this little girl could have.

While Gür Sweets stands out for the high quality of its products alone, it is a special place for another reason as well: In addition to making all the typical American bakery fare, Hafeez also offers a wide variety of South Asian sweets, many of which are unfamiliar to American palates and many of which are gluten-free — a quality that is becoming more and more desirable. In making all of her sweets, Hafeez follows the Muslim dietary laws, known as Halal, which have many similarities to the Jewish dietary law of kashrut. For people who abide by these laws, a bakery like Gür Sweets, which uses only butter and no lard or shortening, is a blessing.

Although I love Indian food and think of myself as an adventurous eater, I confess I was unfamiliar with every item on the plate of South Asian desserts that Hafeez put in front of me when I visited her bakery a few weeks ago. My favorite was the Maple Jamun, a fried ball of dough that is soaked in maple syrup for an American twist on a classic Indian dessert. I also enjoyed the ladoo, which is a dumpling made out of chick pea that is then fried and dipped in sugar syrup. Many of these South Asian desserts involve milk or cheese, such as the chum-chum, which is a cheese dumpling steamed in sugar syrup or the milk barfi, which is pure milk and sugar cooked to a fudge-like consistency. Hafeez also makes savory pastries, like samosas and ground beef patties.

Tasting these new-to-me desserts and talking with Hafeez about her passion for baking was almost as much of a treat as the delicious cupcakes I brought home. It is inspiring to hear how Hafeez gave up her successful career as a software engineer to pursue her culinary dream. Even more inspiring is Hafeez's unique fusion of European, American and South Asian baking traditions. Hafeez gives all of her customers the sweets they crave and, with any luck, introduces them to something new along the way.

So if you find yourself in downtown Elmhurst — which has a really nice selection of boutiques and restaurants, by the way — make a point to stop in Gür Sweets. The bakery has a seating area that is perfect for nibbling a pastry and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. And if you are one of those people who must try the latest food fad, or prides him or herself on having tried everything, you may want to make a special trip for a gurnut and a Maple Jamun.

Full disclosure time: I was invited to visit Gür Sweets and meet with the owner by their PR representative. I sampled several desserts free of charge and received some treats to take home. I was not asked to write about my experience and did not receive any compensation.

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