Archive for the 'salty-sweet treats' Category


Donutz hit the District

Zeke’s Donutz had its soft opening recently in the old Dupont Circle Tangysweet space (spoils from my weekend visit pictured below). Meanwhile, Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken is due to open any day now in Metro Center, after a few pop-up events at Chinatown Coffee where their goods sold out quickly. Apparently I’m not the only sucker willing to pony up $2.50+ for a donut.

The haul from Zeke's Donutz

Clockwise, from top left: Mexican chocolate, creme brulee, passionfruit, salted caramel, and lemon curd.

It seems that DC’s finally gotten on the gourmet donut bandwagon, and not a minute too soon for us sugar addicts looking for (cup)cake and pie alternatives. I’ve been dying for a good donut place ever since visiting the fried-dough mecca that is Doughnut Plant in NY. So it’s reassuring to know that more places are popping up where one can get a gourmet donut to take out (besides Palena Market).

We try 5 flavors from Zeke's Donutz.

We taste-tested the donuts by splitting them into fourths. The winner was the lemon curd (the one with the powdered sugar).

When I stopped by Zeke’s, they mentioned their official opening might be delayed because there was still work to be done on converting the space (I figured, since the Tangysweet sign is still in the window). So check their Facebook page for daily opening times. The guys at Zeke’s were super helpful in helping me choose from the 10+ flavors. In the end, I got 3 filled (creme brulee, Mexican chocolate, lemon curd) and 2 glazed (salted caramel, passionfruit).

Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken

Another gourmet donut place, Astro Doughnuts, is coming to DC in February 2013 (hopefully).

If you can only try one donut at Zeke’s–your willpower is admirable–I’d go with a filled option. The lemon curd was the favorite among my friends, the curd nicely balancing tartness with a custard-y texture. The creme brulee was a close second. The glazed flavors needed more glaze or filling to help balance out the doughiness. It was like eating a cupcake with too little icing on top. Don’t get me wrong–the glazes were very good, down to the flakes of salt on the caramel, and the authentic tang of the passionfruit. I just needed more of it given the overall size of the donut.

Update, February 18: Another donut-and-chicken place is open in Dupont, with donuts brought to you by Birch & Barley pastry chef, Tiffany MacIsaac. Check out GBD here.


Pioneer Woman’s strawberry oatmeal bars, a decidely unhealthy treat

Sifting through the user ratings on this strawberry oatmeal bar recipe, you might be misled into thinking that these are good for you. But take a closer look at the ingredients. Nearly 2 sticks of butter and a cup of sugar—that doesn’t even include the sugar in the preserves. While I clearly embrace sugar in my diet (a lot more than I should), these bars turned out too sweet even for me.

Pioneer Woman's strawberry-oatmeal bars

Tasty but not likely to be good for you, apart from the oats.

While it’s not a healthy recipe as-is, there are easy modifications that could make it more like a granola bar and less like a dessert: swapping out the white flour for whole-wheat pastry flour, maybe. Adding flaxseeds or nuts could also up the health ante. But this was my first time making them so I tried none of the above. I did, however, add a handful of toasted coconut flakes. I also substituted raspberry-apricot preserves, since I didn’t have any strawberry in the house.

Pioneer Woman’s show is compulsive viewing: partly because of her laid-back sense of humor, and partly because her family’s ranching lifestyle gives us a glimpse into a completely different world. But bear in mind that her recipes tend to be rich (and portioned for a small army) because (1) she’s got 4 kids, and (2) her family can afford to eat like that. They’re doing hard labor on a regular basis around the ranch. Meanwhile, many of us sit at a desk for at least 40 hours a week, and the likelihood we’re going to burn down a barn or round up cattle anytime soon is low. So I’ve made a mental note to bear that in mind when attempting her recipes, and adjust accordingly.


Massaging balls & forking: what I did in the name of peanut butter cookies

Making cookies can be a pain in the rear end, especially if the dough is hard to work with. These peanut butter cookies were particularly trying because the dough turned out like wet sand: too dry to hold together. Based on user complaints that the cookies were turning out too thin, I modified the recipe by adding 1/2 cup of peanut butter and 1/2 cup of flour. The consensus among commenters was that this was the right proportion. But it probably could’ve used another egg, too.

I sprinkled this batch with Kosher salt instead of forking the tops.

As a result, I had to massage each ball, kneading them like Play-Doh until the dough was the right consistency. Then on my first tray, I used a fork to make the traditional cross-hatch pattern you see on peanut butter cookies. But this process caused some of the cookies to begin breaking apart again. Patience running thin, I decided to forgo the forking, instead sprinkling a bit of Kosher salt on top before putting the remaining cookies in the oven. Fortunately, these turned out tasty (crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle) and the salt adds a nice touch, used sparingly.

The recipe, including the modifications below, made almost 4 dozen and takes a much more patient baker than me.


  • Additional 1/2 cup peanut butter, totaling 1.5 cups or about 1 jar
  • Additional 1/2 cup flour
  • Creamy peanut butter, since that’s what I had handy
  • Pinch of Kosher salt sprinkled on top before putting into the oven
  • Baking time was 10 minutes per baking sheet of 9 cookies

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



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?


Remember Almond Roca?

Photo poached from

It’s a chocolate-and-almond-covered toffee that takes some serious chomping to bite into–so it kinda sounds like your teeth are breaking (but you won’t care, since it’s delicious). Back when I was growing up in the 80s, it came in these unmistakable Pepto-pink tins. They actually still make the stuff in similar packaging. My mom re-used the tins everywhere in our house when I was a kid. It was always a bummer to open a tin only to find a collection of loose buttons or rubber bands instead of gold-wrapped toffee nuggets.

This dark chocolate roasted-pistachio toffee is basically the Trader Joe’s version of Almond Roca. At $4 for 7.5 oz, part of me hoped it would suck so I wouldn’t have to buy it again. It didn’t suck. On the contrary, it’s addictive. Luckily, I’m afraid that eating this toffee regularly will result in more chipped teeth.* That, and the price, will likely deter me from keeping this stocked in the pantry.

*I already have a chipped tooth that’s been unsuccessfully “fixed” twice. The first time, biting down on a baguette took the filling out. The second, a Twizzler was the culprit. I didn’t want to stop eating baguettes or Twizzlers, so the tooth remains jagged.


Scratch, a bakery that makes you want to become a regular

Every town in American deserves a place like Scratch. It’s a small bakery with a down-home feel in Durham, NC. This part of downtown Durham was never fully commercially “revived,” despite decades of efforts. So there’s a certain peaceful eeriness to the area, where small pockets of independently owned cafes, boutiques, and shops sit in the shadow of (or inside) former tobacco warehouses.

We paid Scratch a visit on a Sunday. The area around the bakery was so quiet, a group of teens were skateboarding down the middle of the road with glorious abandon.

I like a bakery that serves savory options side-by-side with the sweets. We had the sausage biscuits, which were probably the ungreasiest I’ve had in my life (for those of you who prefer a bit of biscuit with your butter instead, head to Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen) and a side of cheddar grits that would promptly shut down any misconceptions about grits being bland.

As for the sweets, Mr. X-sXe got the chocolate sea-salt crostata. It was so rich, you could split it 3 ways and leave perfectly satisfied.  It had too much chocolate filling, if that’s even possible.

I went for the lemon chess pie, figuring that if there was only 1 slice left, it had to be good. And it was. Not overly sweet, good level of tartness, flaky crust. I’m generally not a huge pie fan,* but  I’m definitely a fan of these pies.

*Unless it’s key lime or pumpkin, which should be available year-round.


Sweetbites, a magical truck that dispenses cupcakes and more

How could you not be drawn to a truck that looks like this? (Yes, that’s a cupcake display in the window.)

It was a thousand degrees outside when I caught up with the truck in Farragut Square last week. I kept my haul modest so it wouldn’t be destroyed in the heat: a salted caramel cupcake and chocolate banana bread.

Salted caramel frosting can be overwhelming, but this one nicely balanced the creamy, salty, and sweet. However, the cake could’ve used a bit more moisture. Same went for the banana bread. A layer of chocolate icing helped drive home the flavor, but the bread needed more bananas, more oil, more something to make it less crumbly.

Follow the Sweetbites Truck here or here.


Pork belly donuts. Do you dare?

Dear U Street Music Hall: Your pork belly donuts take the pig-product-as-dessert trend too far.

Yes, I’m a fan of chocolate-covered bacon, bacon Rice Krispy treats, and even bacon-fat cookies. So why must I draw the line? Because pork belly is 90%+ chewy (ok, delicious) fat. But putting pig products like bacon, for example, in desserts works best when the fat has been rendered off so you’re only left with the crispy meat. That’s why I don’t enjoy Vosges’ bacon bar—it’s like eating chocolate-bacon gum. Why would anyone want to wrap their lips around a donut sandwich with a sizeable chunk of fat in it, unless they were training for the 2012 Olympics?

Mind you, I haven’t actually tried these so I’m just railing against the concept. It could be that:

Mushy donut + chewy pork belly fat = mouthful of greasy yeastiness.


Fluffy donut + luscious pork belly slice = salty-sweet heaven.

But I’m probably not brave enough to find out.


Potato chips, meet ice cream. Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack

If Ben & Jerry’s offered to make you a custom flavor, what would you put in it? Jimmy Fallon chose salted caramel and fudge-covered potato chips. While I’m down with the salty-sweet combos, the potato chip “clusters” in this taste greasy (think Lay’s, but concentrated). Mr. x-sXe begged to differ, though, and polished off half a pint in no time.