Archive for the 'other delicious desserts' Category


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.


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



What the hell are canelés?

They’re not as fetishized as macarons, as common as croissants, or as dunkable as madeleines. But they do hail from France (the Bordeaux region, specifically). And they are worth introducing to your taste buds.

Canelés are basically baked custards that looked like they popped out of a tiny 70s jello mold.

They haven’t been on my radar for a long time. I rarely (never?) see them at DC-area French bakeries. The last time I found these was in the Trader Joe’s frozen case. Those ate like rubber. (Aside: I’m guessing that chewy texture is authentic to canelés and comes from the special baking mold they use. I just don’t like it. See my rant on mochi.)

Then last week, Smack was featured on a recent Tasting Table email. They described theirs as having a special crunch. I was willing to take a risk, ordering an assortment of 25: plain, lemon, chocolate-dipped. (They’ll deliver them to your door for an extra $6.)

When I emailed Smack about leaving the box at my front door, they were concerned about the canelés losing their crunch if exposed to the whims of the weather. This company is definitely a labor of love. Not just because of their concern with the quality, but also the presentation. The caneles come immaculately packaged in a gift box with a giant bow.

BTW, they were spot on about the importance of the crunch. That’s what made these little babies so good. They were just sweet enough, fragrant with vanilla and rum. The dark chocolate ones were the best. Tip: after refrigeration they lose their crunch around day 3, so order only what you can eat while fresh.


Doing dessert at Pete’s aPizza

This hazelnut bar was calling me from the dessert case at Pete’s Apizza. Heavy desserts like this are made for thickening your winter coat, and best offset by a bitter mug of coffee. The richness is perfect for (never-ending) cold weather days like these, but probably too heavy in warmer weather.

This was basically hazelnut chocolate mousse topped with candied, roasted hazelnuts, all atop a wafer crust (the kind you find in German chocolate bars). While I do recommend trying this if you need your sugar/chocolate fix, afterwards I was on a sugar high I couldn’t come down from. Also, my coworker tried a bite and was thrown off by the salt on it. So be forewarned if you don’t like salty with your sweet.

Blueberry crumb bars

Somewhere in the world, it’s not winter and the streets aren’t piled high with dirty snow spotted with dog pee (grumble grumble). Those warmer places must be enjoying a bountiful crop of blueberries, because they’ve been on sale lately, inspiring me to try this Smitten Kitchen recipe.

The “bar” part of the recipe is butter and egg integrated into flour, baking power, lemon zest, and sugar. You break the (very cold) butter into bits with butter knives, a fork, or a pastry cutter. I consider this process cardio, because you have to go at it for about 10 minutes before the mixture gets to a sand-like consistency. To avoid the manual labor, you can probably also cut the butter into tiny cubes, then pulse them in a blender with the other ingredients.

Next time I’d add at least another cup of blueberries and more sugar to the filling. You’re not supposed to mess with baking recipes, but this is too much bun around too little burger. And based on my limited experience with Smitten Kitchen recipes, they’re conservative with the sugar.


A summery lemon souffle counters the winter doldrums

A lemon souffle at Kinkead’s that tasted more like an omelette left me with a hankering. Thankfully I came across this recipe for lemon “spound” cake (similar to a souffle) and had a bag of Meyer lemons that needed a home. Try it with regular lemons if you can’t find Meyer, but maybe compensate with a touch more sugar.

Although delicious, these had me yearning for more tartness, which is why I added the blueberry sauce. (Note: I tried the recipe a second time with 2 extra tablespoons of lemon juice, using 1 Meyer lemon and 1 regular one, but alas, still not mouth-puckering enough for me. Additional note: Don’t follow my lead by modifying baking recipes–they often don’t turn out when you mess with the science.)

Luckily blueberry sauce is very quick and easy: toss a handful of blueberries with at least 1/4 cup water into a saucepan on high heat. Turn the heat to low after you bring it to a boil. Add sugar and fresh lemon juice to taste. Keep it simmering until it’s the consistency you want, bearing in mind that it will be slightly thicker when cool. Don’t forget to taste constantly so you can fine-tune the sweet & sour balance. For those who prefer not to wing it, try this recipe from the Contessa.


Trader Joe’s Peppermint Hot Chocolate

I bought this as a hostess gift one year and it got rave reviews, so I tossed it into my cart on a December trip to Trader Joe’s. It was an impulse buy, one I’d wished I’d left in the candy aisle right before the registers, aka the graveyard of reconsidered purchases.

Trader Joe’s products are usually a decent value, but this is $4.99 for 8 oz, and we only got 4 servings out of it. By comparison, a 12 oz bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips is less than $3 at Target, and goes a lot farther when making hot chocolate. You don’t get the nicely designed tin or peppermint zing, but you do get a richer chocolate flavor (and you can always stick a Starlight mint in it, to similar effect). Or if you’re a food hoarder like me and stockpiled TJ’s Minty Mallows, that does the trick too.

Lactose-intolerant folks, be warned: this TJ’s product contains nonfat milk powder.


Super Tacos & Bakery: Taqueria meets patisserie

Just the name Super Tacos & Bakery alone begs the question: how can you be good at tacos and cake? And do you have a lot of customers who follow up their tacos with a slice?

The natural thing to try would’ve been the tres leches or flan, but the ol’ lactose intolerance had me going for a safer choice: chocolate cake. Unfortunately, they were out, so I got this bread pudding.

You can’t really tell from the photo, but it’s huge and weighs almost a pound. Call me a size queen, but for $2.75 that’s a bargain. When it comes to bread pudding I don’t like to be reminded that I’m eating bread. This ate more like cake. Actually it could’ve been sweeter–a brandy sauce or custard would pair well. Still, it’s a pound of bread pudding. I’m intrigued enough that I’d try their other cakes.


Why fancy desserts can leave you high and dry

• They’re usually more of a feast for the eyes than the mouth
• The portions are “fun size”
• They always seem to come with a scoop of ice cream flavored with curry, 5 spice, or some other Iron-Chef-type flavor that’s more interesting in concept than execution

These desserts hail from CityZen, DC. Mr. X-sXe and I were big fans of the Sicilian pistachio mousse, presented cannoli-style. The cranberry sauce wasn’t something you’d think would go with pistachio, but it worked. We could’ve each put away another plate of these.

This pistachio mousse looked like Christmas on a plate.

I didn’t care as much for the chocolate tart with olive oil ice cream (it came with the tasting menu–probably not the dessert I would’ve picked, given a choice). The chocolate was too subtle; the olive-oil ice cream brought nothing to the party. I noticed the couple next to us barely touched theirs, so I’m not the only one who was underwhelmed by this dessert.

The small treats plate is to fancy joints what orange wedges/fortune cookies are to Chinese restaurants: that extra something that makes for a nice finish to a meal. Here, a chewy macaroon is flanked by a fruit jelly and Earl Grey chocolate. I’d take these over a fortune cookie any day.


Eccles cake, aka British currant turnovers

Faux Grant brought back this cookbook from England (cheers, Faux!), which encourages you to make a proper meal out of afternoon tea. Aside: if we Americans paused for afternoon tea, I bet we’d have a lot less road rage. Anyway, the book is split into savory dishes (potted meats, sandwiches, spreads/pastes) and traditional British desserts, which I’m a big fan of–even the ones with sketchy names like spotted dick.

On my first outing I tried the Eccles cake, which dates back to the 18th century. A coworker had mentioned enjoying this pastry on a trip to England, which was the first time I’d heard of it. The recipe in Mrs. Simkins calls for pre-made puff pastry filled with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, lemon zest, and currants. Basically, a turnover with a mincemeat-type filling (less the meat).

Currants are the raisins of the UK but way less sweet, and smaller. You’ll find them dotting baked goods such as scones and buns, and there’s a ubiquitous drink called Ribena that’s blackcurrant flavored.

The nice thing about this recipe, besides its simplicity, is that you can fine-tune the filling. Citrus peel give you the fruitcake heebee jeebees? Leave it out. Want to spice it up? Add some cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Here’s the variation I used, but you can take creative license with it. Just remember to keep tasting the filling as you’re cooking it.

Recipe: Eccles cakes

Adapted from Tea With Mrs. Simkins

8 tbsp currants (avail. from the bulk bins at Whole Foods)

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp brown sugar (or more, to taste)

1 tbsp water

Finely grated lemon zest of 1/2 lemon

1 sheet of ready-made puff pastry (I got mine from the freezer case of Trader Joe’s, a 9″x9″ sheet)

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

1 tbsp sugar in the raw to sprinkle on top (optional. Use any large-grain sugar you have on hand.)


Cook the currants, sugar, butter, water, lemon zest, and nutmeg in a small pan, stirring constantly until the sugar has lost its graininess and the currants are plumping up nicely (about 5 minutes). Taste the mixture before you turn off the heat to see if it could use additional sugar, spices, etc. Let mixture cool.

Defrost the puff pastry (less than 10 min. at room temp, or defrost in the fridge during the warmer months). Cut the sheet into four 3″x3″ squares with a non-serrated knife. Put a couple spoonfuls of the cooled currant mixture into each square. Brush 2 adjacent edges with the beaten egg, then fold over the edges diagonally to make a triangle shape. Press the edges together to seal. Brush the top of each triangle with the egg wash, and sprinkle with the sugar in the raw.

Bake at 375 degrees on a greased baking sheet (or use parchment paper) until the tops are nice and brown Since ovens vary, start checking them around the 12-minute mark. I ended up baking mine about 20 minutes.

Makes 4 eccles “cakes.”