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Schwan’s — yes, Schwan’s — turns Edwards Dessert Kitchen into North Loop’s sweet spot

October 24, 2018 GMT

Oh, that chocolate souffl.

For starters, the technical acuity was off-the-charts impressive. What a study in textural contrasts! Arching ever so slightly as it puffs up above the edges of a tall ramekin, the top formed a delicate crust, although its soft-spoken sturdiness was slowly undermined after it was drenched in a vanilla- and orange-laced custard. Once my spoon had pierced that outer edge, the steaming interior segued from a wet sponginess to a shameless, near molten decadence.

The flavor? Similarly impressive, and expressive. The chocolate, fashioned from Venezuelan cocoa beans, radiated an intense bitterness, its full-bodied essence cleverly magnified by espresso. Countering the souffls just-from-the-oven heat was a sculpted scoop of a supremely supple sorbet, its bright sour-sweet notes the work of mandarin oranges, perfumed with allspice. Truly, perfection on a plate.

Chocolate and orange, they always go so well together, said chef Christina Kaelberer. Yeah, thats the understatement of the year.

She is the creative force behind Edwards Dessert Kitchen. This fascinating and appealing North Loop newcomer is worth a visit for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that Kaelberer is a master at easing the sugary bite that often plagues so many desserts.

Schwans, the frozen foods giant, is the money behind Edwards Dessert Kitchen (the Edwards name is lifted from the companys frozen pies division), and while the story is that the Minneapolis restaurant is a sort-of laboratory for its corporate overlord, its hard to picture any of Kaelberers exacting and imaginative work filtering its way down to lowly supermarket freezer cases.

But in the end, should consumers care? No. Nor should they tsk-tsk about what Edwards Dessert Kitchen isnt. That would include breakfast place (except on the weekends, when a few savory items pass for brunch) and lunch hangout (again, theres just those few savory dishes, and doors dont open weekdays until 2 p.m.). Its primarily a nighttime spot.

Open just three months, its been fascinating to watch Kaelberer and her crew figure out what works, and what doesnt. Heres hoping for more made-to-order desserts, because the crew has an obvious affinity for that genre. Along with that souffl, dont miss the tasting platter, currently brimming with four exceptional ideas: a pear/date cake thats an upscale nod to sticky toffee pudding; a keenly refreshing, apple-filled Pavlova; a delicate, pecan-laced Paris-Brest; and an ingenious play on fresh figs and juicy red grapes.

Less successful are the in the case items (an ode to hazelnut and chocolate, a tropical fruits cream puff), not because theyre not delicious, but because their construction requires them to stand up to long periods of refrigeration, a necessity that slightly minimizes their otherwise visceral appeal. Instead, go for the verrines, jars painstakingly layered with all kinds of adventurous goodness.

To appease the citys liquor license bureaucracy, theres a brief savory menu. Wisely, the items dont stray too far from the pastry kitchen universe. Were never going to serve steak au poivre, Kaelberer said with a laugh.

Pte andagrave; choux, cleverly trimmed with everything bagel seasoning, becomes the backbone of a giant gougre filled with sumptuous smoked salmon from Duluths Northern Waters Smokehaus, a thoughtful alternative to standard lox. A colorful cherry tomato salad proves to be an ideal acidic foil for the over-the-top richness of a crisped-up panini thats filled with Gruyre and salty ham. Best is tender, slightly sweet brioche toasts, each lavished with earthy roasted white beech, shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Oh, and bridging the sweet-savory divide, theres a well edited and well appointed cheese plate, including a slightly funky, cave-aged cheese from Italys Piedmont region, made with sheep, cow, goat and, yes, donkey milk. Its pushing a bit of a boundary, said Kaelberer with a laugh. But thats what we do with our desserts.

So true. Rather than a standard-issue brownie, she cleverly underlines the link between cocoa and mole, splurging on marrying two varieties of premium dark chocolate with a spiced-up mole sauce, then finishing with pecans and caramel. Betty Crocker, its not.

Her version of a bar snack is caramel corn, but she minimizes its often too sugary bite by taking the caramel fairly dark and then dusting the popcorn (I love popcorn. Its such a guilty pleasure, she said) with a cinnamon-ancho chile powder blend. A standout on the kitchens How Do We Make This Better? tour is the snickerdoodle, subbing out the usual cinnamon in favor of a more lively Asian five-spice blend, and then finishing with caramel, because, honestly, doesnt caramel improve everything it touches?

The scoop case is filled with eight superb selections. Flavors range from basics such as vanilla and chocolate which may appear simple, but their complex composition is hardly simplistic to such trippy excursions as sweet potato-toasted marshmallow (the antidote to any pumpkin spice aversion) and an avocado-lime sorbet.

Kaelberer has an affinity for gluten-free baking. Witness her chocolate chip cookie, which manages to be tender but also chewy; it probably helps thats she enlisted a premium Callebaut chocolate chip.

Prices? At first glance, theyre a bit steep. That category-killing chocolate souffl and that gorgeous fall tasting platter are both $15. But most everything on the Edwards menu feels shareable, by design, right down to those gigantic and yes, $5 cookies.

Along with recruiting Kaelberer, the Schwans brain trust has made lots of wise choices. It selected Shea Design of Minneapolis to create a sophisticated but welcoming space (anyone with kitchen renovation plans will swoon over the pearly Vermont marble counter) and then dropped what had to be a big pile of cash. Who benefits? Anyone with even a trace of a sweet tooth.

After training at the former Art Institutes International in downtown Minneapolis, Kaelberer got her start at several local hotels before moving on to top properties in New York City, Boston and Napa Valley.

Shes an example of one of the most exciting trends in the improving-the-Twin Cities-dining-scene front: a local who gains top-flight experience elsewhere, then returns armed with priceless knowledge and know-how to dazzle her hometown. Welcome back, chef.

Rick Nelson is the Star Tribunes restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib