Archive for the 'cake' Category

17
Aug
13

Blame Max Brenner for all those sugar-buzzed kids in Bethesda

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Max Brenner Chocolate Bar opened up earlier this month right next to Jaleo in downtown Bethesda. The only reason I knew is that my friend The Chicken sent me some photos of the s’mores pizza and crepes she’d shared with her kids. Their verdict? Pretty good but stomach-ache inducing. I decided to check it out, with bottle of Pepto at the ready.
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This part of Bethesda’s generally overrun with harried parents chasing small children, strolling small children, and wrangling small children. Not surprisingly, many of those families are taking their kids here. At one point during my last visit, I got worried about the safety of their fondue grills. Open flames and kids amped up on sugar/caffeine–hmmm. Here’s to hoping that the tables aren’t wobbly.
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Despite the high prices, small portions, and long lines, this place will likely succeed in this location. Here’s why:
  • It’s family-friendly, although some kids may be asking their parents what a “chocolate syringe” is. See photo #2 above.
  • Although you can eat-in, you’re not paying for a waiter. You order at the counter, then they bring your goodies to you.
  • There was a gap in the market for a dessert bar in Bethesda. Sure, there’s Georgetown Cupcake, Tout de Sweet, Fancy Cakes by Leslie, and various froyo options. But none of them offer a proper sit-down experience. No wonder Washingtonians (Bethesdans?) are lining up for $15 crepes and $8 milkshakes.
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Although I did manage to avoid a gastrointestinal fail on both visits, I can’t see myself returning here often. There’s a big novelty factor that wears off fast. The first time I went was to check it out. The second time was to take an out-of-town guest. Everything that I ordered was good (lava cake combo the first visit; milk chocolate fondue the second). Nothing that I ordered was to-die-for. But if you’re a kid, it’s probably heaven.
27
Apr
13

Suspend your disbelief: this prune cake’s actually really good

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A steaming bowl of mashed prunes isn’t exactly an auspicious start to a cake. In fact, it can do the opposite of whetting the appetite.

Yet this prune cake with buttermilk icing from the Pioneer Woman’s really, really good. Like a mild spice cake without the annoying cloyingness you can get from too much molasses and/or brown sugar. The buttermilk icing gives the entire thing a caramelly finish.

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I suppose if she called it dried plum cake, it wouldn’t sound that much better. Seriously, though, no matter your feelings for prunes, this is a cake worth trying if you’ve got some extra buttermilk in the fridge.

You can cut back on the sugar without hurting the taste (I cut back to 3/4 cup for the cake and 3/4 cup for the icing. I didn’t end up using all of the icing.). Provided you don’t over-mix the batter, you get a super fluffy, moist cake that will having you re-evaluating your preconceived notions of prunes.

25
Feb
13

Blackberry-mango cobbler, barely salvaged from flatness

Last weekend, I made a rookie baking mistake.

Pioneer Women's blackberry cobbler. I added a mango, too.

On a recent episode of Pioneer Woman, Ree made this blackberry cobbler. There are only 5 basic ingredients, all of which I had in the house (or so I thought)—how could I screw it up?

  1. butter
  2. milk
  3. sugar
  4. flour
  5. fruit (blackberries, plus I added 1 chopped mango)

Here’s how: The recipe calls for self-rising flour, which I don’t normally use. Not that I noticed while I was mixing the ingredients.

The blackberry-mango cobbler, right before it went into the oven.

It was pretty before it went into the oven. Too bad I forgot the leavening agent.

After the cobbler had been baking for 10 minutes, I realized I’d added no leavening agent (no yeast, eggs, baking powder, or baking soda: the ingredient you need to make the cake-y part of the cobbler). *starts tearing hair out at potential wastage of fruit*

Luckily, at this point it was early enough to take the cobbler from the oven and mix in 1 teaspoon of baking powder plus a pinch of salt. This made the cobbler a whole lot less presentable, but saved it from turning into shortbread.

The result wasn't as pretty as it could've been, given the last-minute first aid. But it was devoured in 2 days anyway.

The result wasn’t as pretty as it could’ve been, given the last-minute first aid. That, and the fact that we attacked it.

A few other notes:

  • Add 1 stick of butter, not 1/2 stick. Reviewing a few of the user comments made me realize the Food Network recipe was off.
  • A 3-quart dish is a little large for this recipe, unless you’re ok with your slices being brownie-height. Otherwise, use a smaller dish and keep an eye on the baking time.

The final cobbler was still pretty awesome because the sugar topping creates a crunchy, chewy crust. (Try using a larger-grain sugar, like sugar in the raw). Plus, you can really add almost any fruit you want—don’t limit yourself to berries. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s healthy, given how much sugar and butter goes into this.

18
Feb
13

Meet the world’s most dangerous cake

Your diet is doomed: the world's most dangeous cake.

The dry ingredients, left to right: flour, cocoa powder, sugar, chocolate chips, and a pinch of salt.

According to Mr. x-sXe, it’s right around this time every year that gym attendance starts tapering off. So if you’ve already wavered on your diet-and-exercise resolutions, this cake’s for you.

It’s called dangerous for good reason: you probably have all the ingredients in the pantry, and it takes less than 10 minutes to prep/bake. Plus, cleanup just requires washing a whisk, spoon, and mug. Recipe here.

The cake texture reminds me of Ethiopian bread.

But how does it taste? The cake’s very moist, light, and spongy. The texture isn’t for everyone—it reminded me remotely of Ethiopian bread (it tastes nothing like that, of course). But it’s a good go-to for a chocolate fix when you don’t want to bake an entire cake. I recommend a heartier sprinkling of chocolate chips than the recipe calls for. Maybe a dollop of cream whipped with vanilla, amaretto, or Grand Marnier. Hey, if you’re gonna do it, do it right.

01
Feb
13

When life gives you Meyer lemons, make pound cake. Maybe.

Tis the season for Meyer lemons galore

Meyer lemons. The name alone sounds delicious. I say this at the risk of being stoned by pastry chefs, but methinks they’re a bit overrated. The zest is surprisingly bitter, and the sweet flavor, while nice, isn’t as bright as a typical lemon. But these were on sale at Whole Foods (8 for $3), and I’m a sucker for a bargain. You can also find them cheap at Trader Joe’s right now.

After some initial waffling on what to do with an entire bag of lemons, pound cake began calling my name. But I was conflicted about which recipe to try. The Martha Stewart one had mixed reviews (confirmation that Martha isn’t perfect). The other recipes I came across, no critical mass of user reviews. In the end, I took my chances on this recipe from Tide and Thyme because it uses sour cream, which I’ve found helps make for a moister cake.

  Meyer lemon pound cake

The result was a very sweet, slightly bitter pound cake that was borderline too buttery. (I found 2 sticks of butter to almost be overkill for one 9″ x 5″ loaf—despite the origins of the name “pound cake” stemming from “a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, etc.”). The cake does turn out moist, especially with the lemon syrup saturating it. I screwed up the frosting, which is why this looks bald compared with the Tide and Thyme photo.

PS: I ended up using 6 lemons for this recipe, although you could get away with using fewer than that.

08
Jan
13

The automat is due for a comeback. Cakes and pies on demand, people!

"Automat" by Berenice Abbbott, 1936.

Utterly fascinated by this photo titled “Automat” by Berenice Abbott, 1936 via Wikipedia.

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.

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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

28
Nov
12

Sweet streets of NY, Day 1 Spoils

Some regard San Francisco as the gastronomy capital of America. But a recent trip to NYC affirmed for me that it takes the culinary crown—at least, when it comes to sweets (and yeah, that’s despite its lack of a Tartine). The thing is, whatever your obsession, NYC probably has a store dedicated to it. Take this place that sells only rice pudding. Or giant French macarons. That’s not even factoring in the dessert trucks.

Given the plethora of food oases, it’s easy to overdo it. Luckily we walked a lot during our visit, which helped alleviate the post-binge bloat. We managed to consume a plantation’s worth of sugar during our mere 4 days there. Here’s a rundown of our Day 1 intake.

Fat Witch brownies, Chelsea Market

These brownies didn’t strike me as anything special in the store—more like a gift-giving idea than anything. But I had a change of heart after we tried them back at our hotel. They’re rich yet not dense, so you don’t feel like you’re eating a chocolate brick. They’re probably my second-favorite brownies after the ones at Pret a Manger, which seem to have a tad more chocolate. The caramel was better than the red (dried cherry) flavor. BTW, I noticed on Fat Witch’s website that they’re one of Oprah’s Favorite Things, official seal of things the hoi polloi should aspire to blow their monetary and caloric budgets on.

Ronnybrook Farm apple pie milkshake, Chelsea Market

We stopped by for an apple pie shake, which even between my and Mr. x-sXe’s hearty appetites, we couldn’t finish. This thick apple-caramel concoction needed something to offset the treacly sweetness (and a wider, bubble-tea-sized straw to suck it up with). A side of salty pie crust to scoop it up would’ve been welcome. It felt like a sin to toss about a third of it away, but we wanted to reserve some pancreatic juices for post-dinner goodies.

Stand Burger toasted marshmallow milkshake, East 12th Street

Undeterred by our Ronnybrook fail, we headed to Stand Burger a few hours later. Mr. X-sXe has a thing for toasted marshmallow shakes, after being spoiled by the one at Good Stuff in DC. We got the small and polished off the whole thing quickly. Unlike Ronnybrook, Stand gets that you need a supersized straw for a thick shake. (Minor gripe: the actual marshmallow on top was stale.)

Related posts:

NYC, Day 2: a cornucopia of goodies at Doughnut Plant and Momofuku Milk Bar

NYC, Day 3: donut gluttony and a Hostess-inspired treat

15
Nov
12

A sweet-tart fix for the holidays, Barefoot Contessa’s apple-cranberry cake

Barefoot Contessa's easy apple-cranberry cake

I rarely buy cookbooks, because there are usually only a few recipes from each that I want to try, much less make over and over again. Instead, I print recipes from the web and organize them in binders with clear sheet protectors (= easy to wipe when schmutz gets on them during cooking). Only a select few kitchen-tested recipes make it into the binder—the ones I know I’ll come back to.

This apple-cranberry cake (Is it a cake? Is it a crumble? The user comments are abuzz debating this point.) is one I plan on revisiting. It’s got lots of fruit like a pie but the vanilla cake is a nice foil, soaking in some of the juices. Also, this cake is mouth-puckeringly tart, fragrant with the orange and cinnamon flavors of the holidays. The simplicity of the recipe, coupled with the delicious result, is why so many of us wish we were one of the Contessa’s frequent dinner guests.

I doubled the recipe to make 2 (didn't want to waste the rest of my container of sour cream).

After sifting through the comments section, I decided to go with 2 Granny Smiths* and ½ bag cranberries, rather than the recommended 1 apple/1 bag cranberries. The cake was plenty tart using this alternative fruit combo. I also took a lighter hand with the orange, using the zest from just 1 orange (didn’t want it to overpower the other fruit flavors). There was just one instruction the Contessa overlooked: place a cookie sheet under your cake as it bakes. As the fruits begin to bubble, my cake pan runneth’ed over, causing a right mess on the bottom of the oven.

BTW, fresh cranberries are seasonal so if you plan on making this after the holidays, stock up while they’re on sale. They freeze beautifully.

*Great apple pie that tip the Contessa mentioned during this episode: if you want your filling to be less runny, use Granny Smiths. They have lots of pectin that prevents that watery consistency.