Archive for the 'vacation desserts' Category

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.

IMG_0454

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

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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

01
Dec
12

Sweet streets of NY, Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

DoughtnutPlant-Stumptown
A rundown of the sweets we tried during our second day in NYC:
One of the things that made our stay at the Ace Hotel memorable (helping to make up for our jail cell-sized room) was the Stumptown Coffee in the lobby. For a habitual tea drinker, their brew’s perfect because it’s pretty mild, at least to my untrained coffee palate. Anyway, this Stumptown location offers an impressive case of sweet accompaniments: French macarons, fruit tarts, cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar, and these Doughnut Plant cake donuts.
Stumptown carries 4 flavors: the tres leches and blackout became our breakfast staples for the duration of our stay. The first time Mr. X-sXe bit into one, he actually paused to contemplate what had just happened to his taste buds. They’re that good. Each donut has a thread of filling running through it: condensed milk in the tres leches; bittersweet chocolate cream in the blackout. Sounds like overload, but it’s not because these aren’t nearly as sweet as your typical glazed Krispy Kreme—by comparison they taste healthy.
MomofukuMilkBar_CerealSoftServe
Though this place is tinier than a Manhattan studio apartment, there’s a constant stream of customers demanding their cereal milk soft serve—even on a windy 40-degree day. If I were Christina Tosi, I’d be applying for some kind of trademark protection. The soft serve tastes like what’s left in your cereal bowl after you’ve fished out the last soggy Frosted Flake. It’s served up with cereal crumbles, what tasted like corn flakes to me. The soft serve flavor was too reminiscent of milk from the jug for my liking, but I guess that’s the point.
Left to right: the compost, chocolate marshmallow, and blueberries & cream cookies

Left to right: the compost, chocolate chip marshmallow, and blueberries & cream cookies

Cookies
The lady behind the counter at the Milk Bar explained that the compost, chocolate chip marshmallow, and blueberries & cream are their top-selling flavors. All are buttery, chewy cookies, but we enjoyed the chocolate marshmallow the most. The cookies held up nicely after a bus ride home and a couple days sitting on our kitchen counter. You can attempt the recipe for the compost cookies here or order all of the cookies flavors online here.
MomofukuMilkBar_CrackPieCrack pie
I’ve tried Momofuku’s towering cakes before, but this was my first time trying their pie. The funny thing about their pie slices is that they package them individually in cardboard sleeves. The crack pie reminds me of a cross between shoofly pie and crème brulee, with a strong molasses taste from the brown sugar.  Due to the ooey-gooey richness, it’s hard to enjoy more than a few bites of in one go, even for those of us with a fiendish sweet tooth. You’ll want a very bitter mug of coffee to go with this.
Related posts:
Day 3 preview: We make the holy pilgrimage to the actual Doughnut Plant store in Chelsea, then cap the night off at Empire Cake, where you can get homemade versions of those Hostess cakes that are on the brink of extinction.
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

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

17
Oct
11

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.

14
Oct
11

Miette San Francisco is the Zooey Deschanel of bakeries


Miette is a sweets shop/bakery that’s the pinnacle of adorableness. Stepping inside makes you feel like you’ve gone through the back of the wardrobe, into a pastel-colored world of adult-approved confections. This is a place where everyone walks away happy. (We went near closing time, so the fridge case was somewhat barren by then.)

We visited the location in the Ferry Building: a gourmet, touristy food court cross-bred with a farmers’ market. I imagine the freestanding Miette stores are even more of an immersive experience.

Their coconut cake was heavenly, moist cake with light layers of coconut frosting in between. My favorite dessert of the entire trip, which is saying something considering the caliber of the city’s food. Apparently the cake’s made with plenty of coconut milk, the bacon of the fruit world. I.e., anything made with it will invariably taste good, but not be good for  you.

We also sampled an array of cookies, starting with the French macarons.  They make theirs without food coloring, a “California interpretation” of the French classic. This caused some confusion over which one was what flavor (we tried everything from lavender chocolate to pistachio). While the cookie part was good, the flavors in the creme-y filling could’ve been stepped up.

The peanut butter cookies, chocolate sables, and gingersnaps came home with us to DC. (You can order them online.) My favorite was the latter, which were crisp and buttery with chewy bits of candied ginger. Mmmm, Miette. How I wish I’d brought home more of your delicacies.