Archive for the 'chocolate' Category


Los angeles dessert haikus

A bit of wisdom served up on Santa Monica Pier.

We’ve been on blog break because we were eating our way through LA, trying sweets from various restaurants and bakeries. While we had some good ones (the coconut bavarois from Red Medicine is now a fond memory), most were unspectacular. We also tried one patisserie (Jin in Venice) that made us all-the-more grateful for Bethesda’s Tout de Sweet. As much as I wanted to like Jin–Asian owner, picturesque outdoor seating, tempting selection of lunch options–the goods just didn’t deliver.

A rundown of the sugar tour:


Red Medicine:

Coconut dessert

In a tropical ant farm

Reluctant to share

Bitter chocolate

Ruined by string of butter

Pastry chef misstep



Famous pot de creme

JELL-O pudding on steroids

It’s salty! It’s sweet!

Strawberry rhubarb

A crisp more like a pot pie

Overly soupy

 Jin Patisserie:

Macarons and cake

A feast for the eyes, not mouth

Post-dessert remorse


Sesame-peanut cookies

Jin redeems itself?


Tender Greens:

Caramel cupcake

Like midget banana bread

Icing overload


Cake Monkey:

Two kinds of cookies

Both chocolatey sandwiches



Chocolate meets cardamom

Lately, I’ve had cardamom on the brain. It all started with this Naked Beet recipe from Then, like a sign from above, I uncovered a long-lost bag of cardamom that same week at the bottom of a kitchen basket. I won’t speculate on how old it is—it was unopened with no visible expiration date. That’s good enough for me (if this makes you never want to come to dinner at my house, I totally understand).

Ever had chai? Then you’ve probably tasted cardamom before. The pods are boiled with cinnamon, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and other spices to make that aromatic brew. Cardamom is also commonly used in Indian sweets. It’s definitely got a kick to it: like milder peppercorns with a hint of cinnamon.

One fascinating thing about cardamom is that the seeds naturally neutralize your breath. Gum manufacturers have taken note—it’s shown up in Wrigley’s Eclipse and toothpaste. Chewing on the seed is the best way to experience the flavor full-on, like in these Persian candies.

As the Naked Beet recipe noted, once the seed is ground up, the powder quickly loses its potency. But I had trouble finding cardamom pods that didn’t cost $15 for a small bottle. I also couldn’t find cacao nibs. So I settled for this double chocolate-chip cookie recipe and my recently unearthed bag of ground cardamom.

 Recipe additions/modifications:

1)      1 individual serving packet of Starbucks VIA ground coffee

2)      1 tablespoon ground cardamom

3)      Substitution: I used a Plugra-type cultured, higher-fat butter (totally optional)

Note: do not use cheap cocoa powder. It’s the difference between your baked goods tasting chocolate-y vs. chocolate-ish. When I swapped my Trader Joe’s cocoa powder for Ghirardelli, it made a huge difference.

These cookies won’t freshen your breath, but they’re pretty good. I probably should’ve dissolved the coffee with a bit of water before adding it to the batter, for better incorporation.

These make good breakfast cookies, if you need a jolt of caffeine to get going in the morning. (Yes, I am advocating eating cookies for breakfast. There is scientific evidence that high-fat foods could kick-start your metabolism. At any rate, it’s better than eating a sugar-and-caffeine-packed cookie late at night.)


UK vs. US: chocolate bar face-off

Hershey’s new Air Delight bar is clearly a rip-off of the British Wispa or Aero bars you find in every UK corner store: chocolate with air bubbles in it. But Americans don’t give a crap about texturized chocolate, if you believe this article. In some ways, it feels like whipped yogurt or cream cheese: an excuse to give you less product for the same money.

Hershey's Air Delight, from Click on the photo for their review.

In contrast, the British are all about texture. They even name their bars for it: the Cadbury Flake (chocolate that, uh, flakes off), the Cadbury Crunchie (chocolate coating over a crispy honeycomb center), the Galaxy Ripple (like a Flake but coated in smooth chocolate and made by one of Cadbury’s competitors).

Cross-section of the Cadbury Flake. Difficult to eat gracefully but delightful with your soft serve cone. Photo from

So, what are Americans looking for in a chocolate bar? I quickly surveyed the candy rack at Target to find out. If I had to pick an overall trend, I’d say we’re suckers for a good salty-sweet mix—usually involving peanuts.

1)      Snickers: chocolate coating, peanuts, caramel, and nougat

2)      Twix: chocolate coating, caramel and a subtly salty cookie

3)      Reese’s: chocolate coating, salty peanut butter

4)      Take 5: chocolate coating, caramel, peanuts, and pretzel

5)      Butterfinger: chocolate coating over a peanuty, crunchy center

In summary, I don’t think the texturized chocolate thing is gonna catch on here. Personally, I love a Flake or Crunchie now and then (pick one up at the Classic Cigars & British Goodies store in Clarendon, World Market, or Dean & Deluca). Plus the overall quality of British chocolates is better, due to higher cocoa content. Eat a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar side-by-side with a Hershey’s bar and you can tell the difference.

But given that my UK friends used to always ask me to bring them bags of mini-Reese’s cups, it seems there’s a gap in the UK market for more salty-sweet bars. Got that, Cadbury?


Sizing up mini treats from Marks & Spencer

Ms. Pie and I do agree on one thing: the cookies she brought back from UK chain Marks & Spencer are totally unremarkable.

This may sound like a 180-degree reversal of my previous position on British desserts. However, I’d like to clarify that the Anglo-treats I most covet are the refrigerated kind (chocolate mousses, trifles, sticky toffee puddings, and the like). Not the ones you find in the cookie aisle.

BTW, M&S is a UK department store chain as famous for its cotton undies as its range of ready-made sandwiches (although poorly conceived combinations like “cream cheese with strawberry and grapes” give me pause. I hope that flavor got phased out). Their groceries are pretty pricey, more so than your average Tesco, Safeway, or Sainsbury’s. So you’d think their cookies would be decent. You’d think.

Here’s what we tried:

Jaffa cakes: These are named for Jaffa oranges. They’re a spongecake with a layer of orange (or another fruity) jelly, coated in chocolate on one side. I used to eat these by the boxfuls in college. I guess my palate has evolved, because now there’s half a bag that’s been sitting in my pantry not getting any less stale.

“I refuse to eat them, because I do not believe that orange marmalade and chocolate belong together. In this case, two great tastes make me want to barf,” commented my pro-pie counterpart.

Er, if you’re still curious to try them, you might be able to find them at your local grocery store under the Le Petit Ecolier brand.

Oat biscuits: I’m guessing these are M&S’ version of McVitie’s Hobnobs, a fibrous oat-based cookie from the company that made Prince William’s groom’s cake. The texture would make you think were made by Metamucil if they were in American grocery stores. These were ok-tasting with a glass of soy milk. But they need more butter, lard, bacon grease—something to make them taste less healthy. Maybe M&S should take a cue from McVitie’s by offering a chocolate-coated version.

Wafer curls: Due to my lactose intolerance, I usually steer clear of milk chocolate. So I left this one entirely up to Ms. Pie: “I love flute cookies, where there’s a thin layer of chocolate within a buttery and flaky rolled cookie. It’s crunchy and slightly salty and then full of delicious chocolate—like a chocolate pie in cookie form. But then Marks & Spencer had to try to improve on perfection by dipping the whole thing in chocolate, thus smothering the delicate nature of the dessert. Don’t try to do over-the-top, Britain. Leave that to the Americans, who know how to engage in excess without killing flavor.”


Unhappy endings @ Chez Panisse & Commonwealth

Let’s say you’re out at a fancypants restaurant, the type that offers a tasting menu. You have an enjoyable meal. Then the desserts come out. And–pfffffft–your gastronomic high is deflated due to the lameness of this final course. Sound familiar?

Here are a few things that might end a nice meal on a down note:

1)      A “unique” ice cream flavor. Frankly, it’s a copout. Haven’t we learned this from Iron Chef yet? Please, no more curry/tarragon/whatever ice creams. There are plenty of gelato places where we can get inedibly exotic flavors.

2)      Overly rich chocolate desserts. I’ve seen leftovers of gorgeous chocolate mousses/tortes at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw and CityZen that met a tragic end in the trash. Don’t serve a brick of chocolate at the end of a long meal. Your patrons may explode.

3)      Something reminiscent of a Sara Lee product. See Chez Panisse almond torte below.

4)      Desserts that are heavy on concept, light on substance. See Commonwealth below.

While in San Francisco, we had a special meal planned at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ legendary restaurant in Berkeley. Known for founding “California Cuisine,” Chez Panisse is also famous for its desserts (thanks to the talents of Lindsey Shere, its longtime pastry chef who retired in 1998).

Needless to say, I had high expectations of what was billed on the menu as “almond torte with Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise sabayon.” Maybe I’m just easily impressed by foreign words.

Anyway, out comes this:

If it looks like a fluffier version of Sara Lee pound cake, it pretty much is. Was the sabayon sauce delicious? Yes. Was the fruit fresh? Absolutely. BUT it was clear that the restaurant was phoning this course in. Not the impression you want your guests to leave with.

Our other nice meal was at Commonwealth, a random discovery in the Mission. Initially we hesitated to try this place because I’m not a huge fan of molecular gastronomy. While I appreciate the creativity that goes into it, often the food leaves my taste buds high and dry. Bottom line is, if your foams-dirts-spheres don’t taste good, the interesting presentation doesn’t make up for it.

Let me explain. My first experience with molecular gastronomy was a business dinner at wd~50, celeb chef Wylie Dufresne’s place in NYC. The food at wd~50 was totally imaginative. Maybe too much so: my root-vegetable lasagna had no pasta in it—just thinly cut slices of veggies layered to look like lasagna. An edible work of art. But after a few bites, I was wishing I was at a red-checkered-tablecloth joint, digging into the real deal.

Back to Commonwealth. It was probably our best meal of the trip. Then came the desserts. I got a deconstructed apricot cobbler with a piece of meringue that’d been zapped with liquid nitrogen. But the combination of torched apricot, cookie crumbs, and meringue was hardly as spectacular as the presentation. In fact, it felt like I’d eaten a lot of air and sugar.

Mr. X-sXe had better luck with his peanut butter semifreddo, a peanut-butter candy bar with popcorn that’s actually frozen bits of cream. Commonwealth partially redeemed itself with this creation. It felt like a better balance of execution and creativity than my letdown of an apricot cobbler.


Why this chocolate mocha mousse cake went to waste

A few weeks back, Ms. Pie and I headed to Elizabeth’s Gone Raw for an all-raw, vegan meal. It’s a set menu every Friday, varying weekly. We started with spicy kale chips and watermelon gazpacho, followed by a mushroom salad. All delicious and light enough. Then out came the faux olive cannelloni, the size of 2 small eggrolls. I had a fleeting thought that they would never fill us up.

But somewhere between the cannelloni and this nice chocolate mousse cake, the food seemed to expand in our stomachs. Literally. My guess is that the dehydrated kale, and the cannelloni wrapper (made of dehydrated coconut) grew like sponges in our systems. By the time dessert rolled around, it felt like I had a 5-pound food baby pressing down on my bladder.

As we waited for dessert, I found it curious that most of the diners weren’t finishing their cakes. Especially since this was the cake that The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema called a showstopper: “Chocolate mocha mousse cake is a fetching little tower crafted from cacao, dates, coconut and more, ringed with a creamy-tasting sauce of espresso – decaf and cold-press, naturally.”

Just a few bites into the rich concoction, we could venture no further. Pity, because it was really delicious. The only thing that could’ve been better was the gratuitously thick layer of cocoa powder up top. Between me choking and Ms. Pie’s throat burning, we felt like we’d been maced.

Like the other diners, we were too full to finish the dense, chocolatey dessert. So we doggie-bagged our leftovers. Big mistake. The mousse was rendered into a sad puddle by the time I got home.


Ms. Pie gets married, sans pie

We had an amazing meal at 701 following Ms. Pie & Faux Grant’s wedding (huzzah!). It  was just one of many meals in a weekend orgy of food—as all weddings should be. The night before, we’d had Baked & Wired cupcakes at the hen/rooster party. A dozen leftovers went home with me, which means there isn’t much room for a lot of real food in the freezer right now. A good problem to have!

While there were no pie options on the 701 dessert menu, it wasn’t missed thanks to selections like the the “Piña Colada,” an upside-down pineapple cake swimming in coconut cream sauce (below), and the “Chocolate Dome,” a rich mousse accompanied by beet ice cream (above).

Beet ice cream, you say? How can that be good? Well, Ms. Pie’s sister is a die-hard beet hater, but even she declared, “I could eat beets if they were always served like this!”

On a previous visit I’d noticed that the 701 pastry chef sometimes puts an Asian twist on the desserts. The pineapple cake was no exception. I couldn’t put my finger on what that spice was. Cardamom? Anise? All I know is that it made this no ordinary pineapple upside-down cake.



A waste of sugar?

To state the obvious, I have a sweet tooth whose daily demands must be met. Yet there are plenty of sweets that I can walk away from without a tinge of remorse. Here’s a rundown.

Fudge is the bastard child of chocolate
Ever made fudge? You add sugar, butter, and cream or milk to chocolate. Only in America would we find a way to make chocolate sweeter, fattier, and richer.
Another reason I’m not a fan: fudge with nuts. You know what that looks like. (Sorry, but at least I spared you the photo.)

Photo from

Entenmann’s is delicious only if you’re 10
Actually, I’ve got a soft spot for their danishes, since as a kid, they were an exotic treat in a house dominated by Chinese food. But for nostalgia’s sake I tried a box of their “chocolate”-covered donuts a while back, which was like biting into cakey matter coated with candle wax. They’re so bad, I’d feel guilty about leaving them in the company kitchen.
Candy corn should have existential questions about why it was put on Earth
Pass out packets of these at Halloween if you want to see what dejection looks like. As a kid, when splitting your Halloween spoils into the “keeper” and “trade” piles, bet this was usually in the latter.
Hershey’s Chocolate Bar gives “American chocolate” a bad name
If you want quality chocolate, don’t eat this. Chocolate is #2 on the list of ingredients, after sugar. Hershey’s makes plenty of good stuff (Reese’s, Take 5, Peppermint Patties), but the classic chocolate bar isn’t one of them.
Black licorice, the Marmite of the candy world
A Danish friend who came to visit traveled with bags of black licorice, as if it was life-sustaining insulin that she couldn’t leave home without. Maybe, like Marmite, you develop a liking for it only if you were raised on it.

Photo from

Obscure ethnic wildcard: mooncakes are proof that my people shouldn’t make desserts
Mooncakes are a seasonal tradition during the Mid-Autumn Festival, in a bunch of Asian countries. They’re basically a pastry shell wrapped around dense, sweet paste. Usually that paste is made of mung beans, but variations include fruit, sesame seeds, etc.
The thing that gets me is that to represent the full moon, there’s sometimes a salted egg yolk in the middle. Biting into one unexpectedly is slightly traumatic. This is why most Chinese people eat fruit after a meal, and why there’s a limited selection of desserts on a Chinese menu. Sweets aren’t our culinary strong suit.

Co Co Sala’s chocolate boutique

Walking back to the car after lunch at Ella’s, a Co Co Sala sign beckoned me and Mr. X-sXe: “Frozen Co Co.” It was 90+ degrees, and humid as a devil’s armpit. We dutifully went inside.

CoCo Sala opened a chocolate boutique adjacent to their main restaurant about a year ago. As we waited for our drink to be blended, we checked out the high-end goodies. “Chocolate-enrobed bacon,” read one sign. It brought back memories of the mac and cheese I’d had here a couple years ago, which came with a piece of said bacon. Although a little too chewy, it actually went well with the mac.

Finally, the frozen “co co” emerged. It’s made with ganache (chocolate + cream), ice, and chocolate shavings. Liquefied brownie meets Frappuccino. Delicious, yes. But if you’re looking for something light and refreshing on a hot summer day, this isn’t it.

While inside, Mr. X-sXe was taken by the fetching display of individual chocolates. Next thing you know, we walk out with a box of 4 for $10. At that price, it almost hurts to eat them. Our flavors were pistachio, lemon, co cojito, and banana ginger. While they were all good, I can only get so excited about filled chocolates. Doesn’t matter how high end they are—they always bring back memories of the Whitman’s samplers we’d get at the drugstore as kids (“I want the chocolate-covered cherry!”). Damn you for ruining filled chocolates for me, Whitman’s.


Cow, we won’t need your services today (vegan cake from Elizabeth’s Gone Raw)

Mr. X-sXe and I tried Elizabeth’s Gone Raw a few weekends ago, an all-raw, vegan restaurant in a townhouse near McPherson Square. Never having been to an all-raw place before, I wasn’t expecting an amazing taste experience. But wow. From spicy kale chips to truffled mushrooms to a creative interpretation of cannelloni, we walked away thinking we could eat like that every day (if we had a raw personal chef). Especially since I’m a lactose-intolerant Asian who could evacuate a small auditorium after consuming dairy.

What’s also cool about this place is they list every ingredient that goes into their dishes. Imagine if other places did that—it’d probably make you hesitate when you saw how much butter, cream, and sugar is sneaked into restaurant fare.

So here’s the dessert that capped off the meal, a cacao layered cake with goji berries and chocolate mousse. Ingredients, for those wondering: almond milk, agave, maple syrup, vanilla extract, coconut oil, almonds, maca and cacao powder, goji berries, cashew flour.

The cake was divinely rich, with layers of chocolate mousse, nuts, and hints of coconut mingling at the party in your mouth. My only gripe is that the sauce was too earthy to do it justice. The chocolatey-ness screamed for a tarter accompaniment. Regardless, we scraped our plates clean.

PS: Live Green DC card holders can eat at Elizabeth’s for half-price every 3 months. So it’s 2 for $75, as opposed to $75 each, for 5 courses. Given the tasty food, good service, and unique townhouse setting, it’s not a bad deal.