Archive for the 'pastry' Category

06
Jun
13

In hono(u)r of the royal spawn, a scones post

Kate Middleton’s due in July, so I thought the timing was appropriate for posting about these scones I made earlier this year.

Afternoon tea is one culinary tradition we can’t fault the Brits for. Imagine how much nicer people would be if we all took an afternoon break to nurse a hot mug of tea and nibble on tiny pastries. Bet it’d go a long way toward alleviating road rage during the evening rush hour.

Meyer lemon scones with jam

Easy-to-make lumpy, bumpy lemon scones with dried cherries.

If the word “scone” evokes those triangular bricks from the Starbucks pastry case, think again. Scones are easy to make from scratch, don’t require any special baking equipment, and are infinitely tastier than anything you’ll find commercially. Straight from the oven, they’ve got crunchy exteriors that give way to fluffy, moist pastry on the inside. The leftovers also hold up well re-heated in a toaster oven. (Note: if you want yours to be triangles instead of circles, work your dough into a big rectangle and cut it into even triangles. Adjust your baking time accordingly.)

If you make them yourself, you can customize the ingredients by adding whatever combination of chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, and flavored glazes you want. Just be mindful not to overwork the dough. You need those pieces of cold butter to stay solid so they can create pockets of fluffiness while baking.

Glazing your scones is optional.

Glazing the cyclops scone.

I used this recipe for Meyer lemon scones from the White on Rice Couple, substituting dried cherries for cranberries. They were mighty tasty with jam. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you could also whip up some cream to serve with these, and pretend you’re having high tea at Claridge’s. I’ve also seen jars of the aptly named clotted cream for sale at Dean & Deluca, if you want to get super authentic.

09
May
13

Michel Richard knows his way around a dessert

Napoleon a la Michel

Now that’s a napoleon (mille-feuille)!

A while back, I had the good fortune of stuffing my face at a work lunch at Central in downtown DC, a Michel Richard joint. The chef’s known for his playful turn with foods (as well as looking a lot like Santa Claus).

A profile of Richard that ran in The Washington Post many years ago revealed one of his culinary inspirations: KFC’s fried chicken. Yup, his haute cuisine is inspired by the Colonel. That gives you some insight into why his creations, sweet or savory, are big on contrasting textures and often have a crispy element.

Michel's crunch bar from Central

Those of us who didn’t order Michel’s crunch bar were jealous of those who did.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of the 3 Central desserts we tried.

The restaurant’s best-known treat is Michel’s chocolate bar, the chef’s Kit Kat-inspired happy ending. This was chocolate-y without being cloying, and had a nice crispy texture. If you’re unsure which dessert to try, go with this one. It was the all-around favorite.

The gimungous size and presentation of my napoleon made for some envious looks around the table. But the layered pastry and cream, while delicious, needed a little kick. A drizzle of chocolate or fruit puree, or even the traditional napoleon icing, would’ve made for less monotonous eating. It’s unusual that I don’t finish a dessert, but I left some of this on the plate.

The disappointing lemon bar from Central.

The lemon tart didn’t find many fans at our table.

My comrades in gustatory indulgence who ordered this lemon tart weren’t super happy with it. It’s a layer of shortbread topped with bland lemon mousse topped with meringue. Next to the more showstopping dessert options, this one’s a dud.

A peek at Central DC's kitchen.

Central’s kitchen, where the pastry magic happens.

02
May
12

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

 

Gjelina:

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

Lavender-almond

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

Unmemorable

29
Jan
12

Afternoon tea, served 2 ways

That's a baby scone mounting a cupcake. "High Tea" cupcake from Red Velvet.

When I’m in Gallery Place, I feel compelled to cruise past Red Velvet Cupcakery to see what the special flavor is. They’re always coming up with incredibly creative concoctions, some of which deliver on flavor (like their Dark & Stormy, inspired by the drink) and some of which fall flat on execution (see their cheddar apple cupcake).

The current special flavor is called “High Tea.” It’s a cake with a ton of black tea baked in, orange cream-cheese frosting, and a tiny scone on top. Yes, that’s a tiny scone—not a piece of a scone, but a scone baked to be Smurf-size. While adorable to behold, the cake part tasted odd. Mr. X-sXe thought it was because they chose too smoky a black tea. I couldn’t put my finger on what I didn’t like about the cake part. All I knew is that it’s the sort of thing you consider interesting but aren’t dying to eat again.

While visiting my parents over the holidays, my mom and I went for afternoon tea at Washington Duke Inn in Durham, NC.  If I were a stay-at-home trophy wife, I’d make a point of going to afternoon tea every few months. It’s relaxing, fun, and something about the assortment of tiny goodies makes you feel like Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette. In reality, I go maybe once every couple of years. Point is, it’s kind of like the Melting Pot: a meal for a special occasion. You’ve gotta go with someone you can stand to stare at for a few hours, and definitely not on a first date. After all, it takes time for your body to acclimate to all that sugar. Plus, hot water refills for your teapot are free.

Washington Duke offers a fairly traditional tea service—cucumber sandwiches, tiny pastries, fancy chocolates. The best part is the freshly baked pecan scones with lemon curd, strawberry jam, and crème fraiche. So save a little room, if possible, because those come out last.

There were only a few other tables of afternoon tea diners. Most of them looked like tourists, not the genteel southern types in oversized hats that you’d expect. It didn’t make for good people-watching, but at least there’s plenty of food to keep you preoccupied.

21
Oct
11

A taste of La Boulange & Samovar, before the mad dash to the airport

One day on our San Francisco trip, we got off from an overcrowded cable car sweaty and ravenously hungry. I needed to get some food down my gullet, and quick. There was a Taco Bell nearby. Tempted as I was (yeah, I know I’m in in the minority as far as being a Taco Smell fan. But I’d still consider eating their taco supremes even if I found out they were made with Alpo. I said consider.), we were in the city of tasty foodstuffs, so we felt obligated to try harder. That’s how we ended up at La Boulange.


While I was in line, a glass case of pastries and macarons stared me in the face. Since I couldn’t get it out of my mind for days, we made a point to stop by again on the last day of our trip.

The almond croissant–while topped with lovely roasted almonds–was stingy with the filling. The pastry, not as flaky as we’d hoped. Solid showing, but not a stunner.

As for the macarons, the poor things endured a 12-hour trip back to the East Coast, including a layover in Dallas. They were in a dilapidated, soggy state by then. Luckily, we took these photos while they were still presentable.

The other place we tried on our last day was Samovar, a “tea lounge.” Because the online reviews of this local chain were mixed, we were on the fence about making the effort. But I’m glad we did.

The Yerba Buena Gardens location is in a serene spot overlooking the gardens. On a nice day, it’s probably a prime place for getting cozy with a kettle of tea. We sat inside, where the air was heady with incense–the smell actually turned my stomach a little.

This rosewater-tinged Greek yogurt combined some things I’m not crazy about: dates and walnuts. Yet it was so, so good: spoonfuls of Middle-Eastern flavors perfectly melding together.

Mr. X-sXe had the quinoa waffles, which are described as “pillowy” on the menu. That, they were. The syrup that came with it almost tasted of molasses, but our waitress said it was made of palm sugar. Either way, it had a caramelized flavor that made us want to do shots of it.

The tea at Samovar is pricey, but we shared a pot of pu-erh that the nice waitress kept refilling with hot water. The earthiness of the tea was a nice complement to our treacly breakfast dishes.

It’d be pretty accurate to say we left our palates in SF. All our food choices after we got home to DC seemed just blah. *Sigh*

15
Aug
11

Proof that Tout de Sweet’s almond croissant is the best thing ever

Photo by JDang

JDang bites into the much-hyped-by-me almond croissant from Tout de Sweet (a bakery in the older section of downtown Bethesda, near Tastee Diner). She chews. Her chewing gradually slows as her dopamine levels surge.

“This might be the best thing ever,” she declares reverently.

Me: “It IS the best thing ever. See why I feel like I should kowtow whenever I see that pastry chef? Those hands are magic.”

JDang: “I love Bethesda!”

Me: “What? That’s like saying, ‘I love Northern Virginia.’”

As JDang left DC, I snuck another one into her lunch for the bus ride.

On the phone, a week later:

Me: “So how was that day-old almond croissant?”

JDang: “Sooo good.”

Me: “Even soggy?”

JDang: “Yeah, even soggy.”

Ms. Cake: “Aren’t you glad I forced it on you?”

JDang: “Yeah, I THOUGHT I didn’t want it, because we’d binged on sugar all weekend. But I got on the bus and realized I was wrong.”

There you have it. Quod erat demonstrandum. Tout de Sweet makes the best almond croissant ever. Try it and beg to differ.

08
Aug
11

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 musingfoodie.blogspot.com

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 mochachocolatarita.blogspot.com

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.
11
Jul
11

Ode to a croissant

It’s normal for me to become obsessed with a new dessert find, only to get sick of it a few weeks later. However, I’m not expecting a more long-term fascination with the almond croissant from Tout De Sweet.

The pastry chef at this place is clearly a genius, because I’ve never tasted a croissant like this before. Yes, I recently sang the praises of the pastry selection at Praline, but I daresay that Tout De Sweet has eclipsed that level of deliciousness.

What makes this almond croissant so amazing? Let’s analyze.

  • The texture. It’s crunchy on the outside, with tender pastry and gooey filling inside.
  • Filling: The all-important almond filling isn’t heavy like marzipan, and lacks the gritty texture you sometimes encounter.
  • Fresh-roasted almonds: They taste like something recently pulled from the oven, rather than prepackaged.
  • Right amount of powdered sugar: It’s applied with a light hand. You don’t want to be choking on the sugar, or getting it up your nose.
  • Mysterious crust: There’s a mysterious caramelized layer on top that adds extra flavor and texture. (Look closely at the photo, between the sliced almonds.)

If you have the slightest hankering for pastries, it’s worth schlepping to Bethesda–even if you’re allergic to yuppies–to try this. An added plus, the chef and his wife who run the shop are exceptionally nice people.

13
May
11

Pastry haul from Paul

Paul Bakery opened its U.S. flagship in DC a couple weeks ago (how’s that for yer “second-tier city,” Chef Spike?) to a bit of fanfare, so the lines have been long. As I queued in a seemingly endless line, my accomplice was patiently waiting for me in an illegal spot by the courthouse, flanked by a bunch of police cars. Eventually she found a parking spot, but you can imagine the additional stress this added to our situation.

A macaron sized for American appetites.

As I waited in line, we exchanged panicked phone calls. “Has the line gone anywhere?” “Should you cut bait?” “How many people are ahead of you?”  Never has a pastry run been so angst-ridden and adrenaline-filled.

Finally, about 35 minutes later, I’m face-to-face with a glass case full of pastries on the left, salads and baguette sandwiches on the right. Given my misguided mentality that time spent in line = directly proportional to volume of food that must be bought to justify time standing in line, I ended up bringing back half the dessert case. 5 pastries at about $6 each, after tax. That makes cupcakes look like a steal.

At $6, the giant macaron is the price of 4 normal macarons–but it’s not large enough that you feel like you’re getting the Costco volume discount. The size seems distinctly un-French. And honestly, I’m not sure I want my macarons the size of a junior cheeseburger. Part of the charm of these cookies is savoring each nibble. The tininess makes them all that more special. (Or perhaps I’ve been brainwashed by the French. Entirely possible.) While the cookie part was enjoyably dense with a strong pistachio flavor, it was soggy instead of crispy on the outside. That could’ve been a result of its time sitting in the humid sandwich case, or in the getaway car of gluttony. Either way, it was a bummer.

Clockwise from bottom right: strawberry Napoleon, pistachio macaron, chocolate macaron, chocolate mousse cake, regular Napoleon. Photo thanks to http://justlastweekend.tumblr.com/

The Napoleons were simply a top and bottom layer of pastry sandwiching a custard filling. That made it hard to eat, since the filling would spill out when you went in for a bite. Personally, I prefer the Napoleons of my youth: concoctions with alternating layers of cream and pastry, topped with a thick black and white icing.

The chocolate mousse cake was pretty flimsy by the time we got around to it–the layers of mousse had come to room temperature by then. So it was pretty much like spooning chocolate-mocha fluff into your mouth. My accomplice enjoyed it this way; I liked the leftovers better straight from the fridge a couple days later, giving my teeth more to sink into.

Overall, we’d wanted to be more thrilled with Paul’s offerings than we actually were. They’re kind of like all the free museums in this town–it’s nice to know you can exercise the option if and when you want to, but you wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way.

01
May
11

My version of heaven is stuffed with desserts, not virgins

For Mr. X-sXe’s birthday, we went to the all-you-can-eat brunch at the Roof Terrace Restaurant at the Kennedy Center. The reviews I’d seen were mixed, but a friend mentioned she was pleasantly surprised when she went last year, so we took our chances.

If you look to your left as you enter the restaurant, you’ll notice an entire room of desserts. Let me repeat: an entire roomful. Not just that, but the mirrored walls and dim lighting create the illusion that the spread is larger than it actually is.

Side note: The curious thing about this brunch buffet overall is that none of the food is in the dining room, apart from the omelette station. The main buffet was also off in a separate area–the restaurant kitchen, which was cool to see. As far as whether the brunch is worth trying, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth if you like seafood. There are raw oysters (tasted pretty fresh to me), crab legs (didn’t try), smoked salmon (very good), etc. The antipastis were also tasty, running the gamut from grilled artichokes to cured meats. If you like fresh fruit, there was a great selection of berries to go with your pancakes/French toast/waffles.

What wasn’t so great was their breads and roasted meats. After one bite of a biscuit, I decided the other bite wasn’t worth eating; the roast beef required some serious gnawing to get it down. The tiny muffins were pretty sad-looking. I was also disappointed that the eggs in the eggs benedict were fully cooked, though I suppose there are food safety reasons for that.


But back to our main topic of conversation, the desserts. The smaller bite-sized ones included:

  • cheesecake lollipops
  • cheesecakes
  • fruit tarts
  • soggy eclairs
  • cupcakes

The larger ones were:

  • 2 types of chocolate cake. One was a dense dark chocolate, probably my favorite of everything I tried. The other was disgustingly sweet, with a frosting-like consistency.
  • bread pudding
  • flan
  • creme brulee, Mr. X-sXe’s pick. (Our theory is that they just took the flan and put a caramelized sugar crust on it, since the two tasted so similar.)
  • pecan pie

There were also wine glasses of chocolate pudding, which tasted too strongly of cocoa powder. And a couple other options that escape my memory.

Surprisingly, the most thrilling part of the dessert room was just being in it, taking in the beautiful presentation. Apart from the chocolate cake and creme brulee, we didn’t have any reason to go back for seconds. But such is the nature of these all-you-can-eat things. By the time you get around to dessert, you’re already feeling sick. So strategize accordingly, and pace yourself.