Archive for December, 2012

16
Dec
12

A genius creme brulee imposter

Easiest, most delicious pudding recipe I've come across in a long time.

There are a number of reasons I’m digging this burnt caramel pudding recipe. (And apparently lots of other people are too: it won the “Best Pudding” award on Food52.) One is that I rarely attempt puddings, custards, or crèmes of any kind (caramel, brulee) because they can be time-consuming and I usually end up scrambling the eggs. But the Food52 directions are really clear, so even someone prone to baking disasters like me can manage this.

Second is the simplicity of the ingredients. This recipe calls for heavy cream, 1/2 vanilla bean, sugar, egg yolks, water, and salt (optional). Basically, the same ingredients you’ll find in a classic creme brulee. The only challenge was finding the vanilla beans at a price I could swallow. Turns out that Trader Joe’s has them in 2-packs for $4.

Burnt caramel pudding, pre-baking.

Right before they went into the toaster oven. BTW if you want to avoid spillage, add the water after you stick them into the oven.

Oh yeah, these turn out amazingly delicious—caramel fans will find that the combination of creaminess plus burnt-sugar taste (which pervades the pudding instead of just sitting on top, a la creme brulee) takes your taste buds to many happy places.

You’re really supposed to bake these in the oven, but I went for the toaster oven instead. The tops ended up browning (within 15-20 minutes, I think?), which turned out to be a good thing, forming a darker brown crust. Once I realized the tops were too close to the upper heating coils, I stuck a piece of foil loosely over the ramekins for the rest of the baking time.

They were still jiggly/slightly liquid in the middle when I took them out of the oven. After refrigeration, there was just a tad of liquid at the bottoms. Next time I do these I’ll leave them in a bit longer.

Burnt caramel pudding, closeup.

The scrapings from just half a vanilla bean (split among 4 ramekins) go a long way.

11
Dec
12

Sweet Streets of NY, Day 4: Tricked-out cookies & panettones to cap things off

On the last day of our NYC trip, we had a half day to hit a few more food places before heading back to DC. Here’s what we picked up for the bus ride home:

The chocolate chip-walnut behemoth from Levain.

Levain Bakery, Upper West Side

After JDang mentioned that Levain’s cookies were so good that her friend in LA asked her to schlep $100 worth back (that works out to 25 cookies), we realized we needed to try them on the last day of our visit.

For those of you who balk at a $4 cookies, know this: these are as heavy as rocks, so pound for-pound, I doubt they’re that much more expensive than Mrs. Fields’ cookies from your mall food court.

IMG_0454

We decided to walk from our hotel on East 29th all the way up to West 74th. We took Fifth Avenue most of the way, which gave us to the opportunity to check out some of the stunning holiday windows. After a quick detour through Central Park, 40-odd blocks later, we came upon a tiny basement shop. The compact space (with no table to sit at, be warned) was inversely proportional to the heft and hype behind these supersized cookies.

So, were they worth the long-distance trek? I like a good cookies, but these weren’t spectacular enough to merit the hype. Here’s why: (1) Levain doesn’t offer a plain chocolate chip—you can only get chocolate-chip walnut. Walnuts in cookies, blech. (2) The soft texture of the cookies makes them eat more like brownies than cookies. (3) The double chocolate chocolate chip may send you into sugar shock.

If you do try them, get them to share.  Much like the Cheesecake Factory cheesecake slices, you’ll be hard-pressed to finish one on your own in a single sitting.

Welcome to Eataly, panettone heaven.Eataly, Chelsea

I don’t meet many people under the age of 50 who are as into panettones as me and Mr. X-sXe. I think it may have to do with the stigma of fruitbread, even those these are nothing of the sort.

Panettones are oversized, buttery brioches (don’t tell the Italians I said that) studded with dried fruits like orange peels and raisins. Don’t worry, they don’t usually include nuts or any of that day-glow dried fruit weighing down your typical doorstop fruitcake. If you want to test drive a panettone, you can get a small one at Whole Foods (or large one at Trader Joe’s) for around $5. And if you don’t like it, you can always turn it into bread pudding or French toast.

At Eataly, we came upon a huge display of panettones ranging from $15-$50+. We took home two kinds, a peach one and a chocolate-hazelnut one. The peach one was the moistest panettone we’ve tried to date, but a bit stingy with the dried peaches. The chocolate-hazelnut one has yet to be broken into—I’ll update this post after we try it.

Related Posts:

Day 1 Spoils

Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

Day 3: More Donut Gluttony, and a Gourmet Take on Hostess

04
Dec
12

Sweet streets of NY, Day 3: More Donut Gluttony, and a Gourmet Take on Hostess

These may be some of the best donuts ever to cross your lips. Starting at 9 o’clock: the coconut cream, pistachio, creme brulee, and tres leches.

Doughnut Plant, Chelsea store

Smitten with the Doughnut Plant cake donuts we tried at the Stumptown Coffee pastry case, we decided to head to the mothership herself to see what other flavors we could stuff down our gullets. We ended up at the Chelsea location (there’s another one in the Lower East Side). The funny thing is that there’s a Dunkin’ not far from the store where you can get a donut for less than $1. But why would you do that when you can pay $3 for the best donut you’ve had in your life?

Glowing Sign at Doughnut Plant

The décor makes you feel like you’re entering a Willy Wonka donut factory. Donut pillows on the walls, donut tiles on the booths, and a giant, glowing donut menu. The only part that falls a bit short is the donut display itself, where a sample of each of the flavors of the day were crammed into a small glass case. You kind of want to see them in their full glory on platters, or at least in a bigger display case, lined up like soldiers.

On this visit we had the pistachio, coconut cream, crème brulee “doughseed” (mini-donut), and a reprise of the Tres Leches (at Mr. X-sXe’s insistence). Unlike the other cake donuts we’d tried, the pistachio didn’t have any filling, which meant it was somewhat dry and uninspiring. The crème brulee, the flavor that piqued my interest in the Doughnut Plant in the first place, was good but not as sublime as I’d built it up to be in my head. The coconut cream was generously filled and fluffy on the outside. Delicious as it was, it still couldn’t touch the blackout cake donut, which remains my favorite.

There are many, many options to maintain your sugar rush at Empire Cake.

Empire Cake, Chelsea

That night we met up with a friend, JDang, who suggested checking out Empire Cake, which she’d passed on her walk to meet us. It’s a charming shop (but what shop filled with cakes and pastries isn’t?) on 8th Avenue. Their specialty, apart from custom cakes, are their gourmet versions of greatest hits from the possibly-soon-extinct Hostess, like the Ho-Ho (Swiss roll), Snowball, and Twinkie.

Imitation is flattery: a homemade version of the Hostess Snowball surpasses the original.

We tried a pink Snowball. It tasted like a homemade, less artificial version of Hostess’ own, one that doesn’t make you wonder about the chemicals involved in making it shelf-stable. But to be honest, we went to Empire Cake post-dinner, post-donuts with food fatigue, so our taste buds were maxed out for the day. You just might have to go there to judge for yourself.

Related posts:

Sweet Streets of NY, Day 1 Spoils

Sweet streets of NY, Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

01
Dec
12

Sweet streets of NY, Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

DoughtnutPlant-Stumptown
A rundown of the sweets we tried during our second day in NYC:
One of the things that made our stay at the Ace Hotel memorable (helping to make up for our jail cell-sized room) was the Stumptown Coffee in the lobby. For a habitual tea drinker, their brew’s perfect because it’s pretty mild, at least to my untrained coffee palate. Anyway, this Stumptown location offers an impressive case of sweet accompaniments: French macarons, fruit tarts, cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar, and these Doughnut Plant cake donuts.
Stumptown carries 4 flavors: the tres leches and blackout became our breakfast staples for the duration of our stay. The first time Mr. X-sXe bit into one, he actually paused to contemplate what had just happened to his taste buds. They’re that good. Each donut has a thread of filling running through it: condensed milk in the tres leches; bittersweet chocolate cream in the blackout. Sounds like overload, but it’s not because these aren’t nearly as sweet as your typical glazed Krispy Kreme—by comparison they taste healthy.
MomofukuMilkBar_CerealSoftServe
Though this place is tinier than a Manhattan studio apartment, there’s a constant stream of customers demanding their cereal milk soft serve—even on a windy 40-degree day. If I were Christina Tosi, I’d be applying for some kind of trademark protection. The soft serve tastes like what’s left in your cereal bowl after you’ve fished out the last soggy Frosted Flake. It’s served up with cereal crumbles, what tasted like corn flakes to me. The soft serve flavor was too reminiscent of milk from the jug for my liking, but I guess that’s the point.
Left to right: the compost, chocolate marshmallow, and blueberries & cream cookies

Left to right: the compost, chocolate chip marshmallow, and blueberries & cream cookies

Cookies
The lady behind the counter at the Milk Bar explained that the compost, chocolate chip marshmallow, and blueberries & cream are their top-selling flavors. All are buttery, chewy cookies, but we enjoyed the chocolate marshmallow the most. The cookies held up nicely after a bus ride home and a couple days sitting on our kitchen counter. You can attempt the recipe for the compost cookies here or order all of the cookies flavors online here.
MomofukuMilkBar_CrackPieCrack pie
I’ve tried Momofuku’s towering cakes before, but this was my first time trying their pie. The funny thing about their pie slices is that they package them individually in cardboard sleeves. The crack pie reminds me of a cross between shoofly pie and crème brulee, with a strong molasses taste from the brown sugar.  Due to the ooey-gooey richness, it’s hard to enjoy more than a few bites of in one go, even for those of us with a fiendish sweet tooth. You’ll want a very bitter mug of coffee to go with this.
Related posts:
Day 3 preview: We make the holy pilgrimage to the actual Doughnut Plant store in Chelsea, then cap the night off at Empire Cake, where you can get homemade versions of those Hostess cakes that are on the brink of extinction.