Dessert Gum?

Friday, January 21st, 2011 | Store-bought | 2 Comments

Does everyone remember some years ago when there was chocolate-flavored gum?  And it was disgusting?  Well, it’s baaa-aaack… in the form of Wrigley’s Extra Dessert Delights Mint Chocolate Chip flavored sugar-free gum, where you can “Have Your Dessert & Chew It Too!”  (Um, I usually chew my dessert first– I’m not a bird.)  We all know that specific chemical the flavorists use to make “chocolate.”  But the acrid taste is somewhat masked by a minty flavor, creating a “nice” balance.  I’m not saying I’m cool with Wrigley’s claim that this is somehow dessert (!), but it’s worth a try… I guess:


Better Together (B.T.) Baking: Brownie Bliss

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 | Store-bought | 3 Comments

I think my brother’s trying to kill me.  For my birthday recently, I very innocently asked for something to expand my mind, and I thought a book about NYC garbage would do nicely.  But noooo, my brother decides to expand my waistline instead by sending me 12 humongous brownies from Better Together (B.T.) Brownies out in Haverford, PA.  Good Lord, what am I to do with these things?  Eat them all?  Well, if you insist…

Now, I’m the kinda dessertatarian who likes her brownies to be on the fudgy side.  I understand where you cakey types are coming from, but there’s just nothing that beats a nice dense, moist, rich-as-hell brownie, and B.T. is feelin’ me.  You know you’re really cooking with fudgyness when the first ingredient is eggs.  Organic eggs, that is.  In fact, all the ingredients in these brownies are organic, so they’re good for you, right?  And they’re Fair Trade, locally farmed, proceeds going charity, no refined sugar, hormone free, yadda, yadda, yadda…  They’re basically just dense bricks of chocolate bliss:

The Cookie brownie is the best, because it’s about one-quarter soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie, and three-quarters brownie.  So you get the best of both worlds in every bite.  The Peanut Butter has a visible stripe of p.b. and is so very rich, they should send a glass of milk with it in the mail.  The B.T. Chocolate stands up to its flashier compatriots by being made with 70% dark chocolate, so its siren song is subtle sophistication.  Who can resist?

Kudos to you, Todd Kelly, owner and baker for B.T., and former financial analyst who’s finally found his calling (aren’t they all?), for making a fiiiiiiine product.  And thank you, bro’, for very smartly picking a brownie place that is not only amazing, but also close enough to NYC for me to receive these delights at their freshest.

B.T. brownies are sold at select locations around Philly, PA, and VA, but if you don’t live anywhere near those places or are lazy, just fire up your computers and order away:

**UPDATE**: They now have a pumpkin brownie (with cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate chips) and they’ll have a mint brownie with white chocolate chips available around Thanksgiving!

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French Délices Part 2: Macaron Madness

Friday, June 4th, 2010 | Store-bought, Travel | 1 Comment

Macarons are the little gemstones of the pastry world.  They come in every color and flavor, and are highly sought-after.  Some of them are even come covered in sparkles!  A stale one is so sad– you hold it delicately and take a tentative bite, then the cookie collapses into shards and dust, and you must console yourself with the tiny bit of filling that’s inside.  But a fresh one is a glorious contrast in textures, with meringue-almond cookies that are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.  Then there’s the delicious filling, sometimes a cream base, sometimes more a fruit jelly base.

My favorite place in NYC to find a good macaron is Almondine, with locations in D.U.M.B.O. and Park Slope.  I found that French pâtisseries offer so many more interesting flavors than just your average chocolate or strawberry.  I saw mandarin orange, lychee, zucchini-mint, salted caramel, white peach-saffron, grapefruit, Earl Grey tea, green lemon-ginger, cola, rum-raisin, and marshmallow, to name a few.  Perhaps French pastry chefs like to experiment as much with macarons as their American counterparts do with ice cream.

Here are a few samples from different places in Lyon:

I also learned about the existence of both savory macarons, like black olive, gorgonzola-sesame, and tomato-basil, and sweet and savory hybrids, like duck foie gras with apple-spice, pimento-pepper, and carrot-cumin.  Maybe they would have been nice to try for anthropological reasons, but I had valuable stomach space to preserve!

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French Délices Part 1: The Common Crèpe

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 | Store-bought, Travel | 1 Comment

I just returned from a wonderful trip to my dessert motherland, France.  This blog cannot possibly express the extent of my insane reverence for the French people’s mastery of sugar and cream.  They have dairy products we don’t even have words for in English, for Pete’s sake!  All I can do is show you some examples of the many delights (or délices) I had along the way.

I begin with the humble crêpe.  Maybe you’ve had one slathered with gel-like “strawberry” sauce at some crêperie in the Lower East Side.  Or you’ve tried a specimen from one of seemingly countless NYC street fairs, or even at the Bastille Day festival put on by the French Institute.  It’s fun to watch them use that little wooden wand to work their magic, isn’t it?  And how wonderful that even the bad ones are pretty good, right?

My favorite crêperie in all the land is Crêpes à Gogo in Aix-en-Provence, a small and chichi college town located just north of Marseille, and my old stomping ground when I studied abroad there.  It’s located in a depressing underground passageway beneath a traffic circle, but they’ve been around since 1979, so they must be doing something right.  They make both savory crêpes (aka galettes) and sweet crêpes:
We began with a forestière galette (ham, swiss cheese, and mushrooms) made with buckwheat flour.  It was plump with filling– a nice amount, but not sickening– and we (perhaps erroneously) felt semi-healthy for getting something with a buckwheat base.  Then we moved on to our lemon and sugar crêpe, made with generous squeezes of a lemon wedge (not that bottled stuff) and lots of sugar.  Yes, you can get Nutella and whipped cream, but the simplicity (not to mention caloric savings) of lemon and sugar are heavenly.  The secret seems to be in the repeated application of toppings after each fold of the crêpe.  Our crêpe was warm, moist, refreshing, sweet, springy, and light.  It was so juicy that the syrup dripped on my purse and leg, and, amazingly, also on my partner’s leg and shoe.  It was pretty windy, but I guess I must chalk my messiness up to being in a crêpe daze.  Adieu, perfect crêpes… until we meet again.

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British Sweeties: Candy Bars and Biscuits

Friday, April 30th, 2010 | chocolatiers, Store-bought, Travel | 1 Comment

Since Kraft recently bought Cadbury, I’m extremely worried that the Flake bar will start tasting like American cheese, so I decided to stock up while I was in Scotland a month ago.  It was ’bout time for a tasting:

Wispa & Flake bars are basically textured Cadbury chocolate.  It just goes to show what a difference texture makes, because I’m not a huge fan of plain Cadbury chocolate, which they sell in the form of the Dairy Milk bar.  I think it’s too rich, milky, and it has a tinge of raisin flavor.  Wispas & Flakes solve this problem by making the chocolate lighter.

Wispas are full of tiny little air bubbles, which somehow produce a light and silky chocolate taste– almost like a meltaway.  I adore them, but they are pretty hard to get in the U.S., so my aunt kindly brings me yearly stocks of them, which I gobble up faster than I care to admit.  The only person I’ve ever shared them with is my chocolate-crazy niece, Maddy, who eats them in quiet reverence at the tender age of seven.  Well done, little one!  For some insane reason, Cadbury stopped making the Wispa in 2003, but a public outcry caused them to come back “for a limited time” in 2007.  Then after more squirming and rage from the public (why must they play with our minds with this whole “limited time” thing?!?!?!), the world gave a great sigh of relief when the Wispa was brought back permanently in 2008.

Flakes are made of bark-like ribbons.  Buying an intact specimen in the store, far less keeping that way across the Atlantic, is almost impossible, but somehow the one in the photo made it, that is until I ate it.  It must be pointed out, by the way, that a soft serve ice cream cone in Britain without a Flake sticking out of it is like a kitty without fur: naked and sad.

Double-Decker bars get their name from the iconic British double-decker buses.  They have a layer of crunchy, chocolatey biscuit, and a layer of nougat.  I do get that hint of raisin flavor somehow, but I like it here.

The Crunchie claims to be a chocolate bar filled with a honeycomb center.  Since chewing on wax is out of the question, the next best thing is chewing on something called a honeycomb, but is actually a super crunchy, tooth-achingly sweet, golden candy.  Thank goodness for the nice amount of chocolate coating to provide some balance.

While doing a scotch of research for this post, I discovered that Kraft also owns: Lu (makers of the wonderful Petit Écolier chocolate biscuits), Côte D’or (the Cadbury’s of Belgium), Marabou (the Cadbury’s of Sweden), Milka (the Hershey’s of much of Europe), and Toblerone (the triangular-shaped Swiss chocolate bar with crunchy bits of nougat).  Kraft’s all like, “Bring it, Nestlé.”

I also would be remiss if I didn’t write a quick word about Britain’s love of biscuits, which are often a chocolate & dry cookie combo and can be eaten at almost any time of day, but most often make an appearance at tea times.  Digestive Biscuits, a deceptively healthy sounding example, are my favorite.  They’re simply delicious.  You can get them without chocolate, but why would you?  They’re like wheat cookies or something– still sweet, but also a bit worthy, as my mother says.

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The Vermont Country Store – God, when I die, can you make this my heaven?

Friday, February 19th, 2010 | Store-bought | 1 Comment

I’ve always been a sucker (heh) for candy.  As a kid, happiness was finding myself in a bulk food store with a bag in my hand and candy barrels as far as the eye could see.  I could not understand why adults didn’t 1. spend every last penny they made on candy (food, housing, and clothes be damned!) and 2. make cookie batter and just eat it.

If you’re looking for old-timey candy like Squirrel Nut Zippers, Walnettos, and Cream Filberts, or other confections like malt balls, giant lollipops, and fudge, The Vermont Country Store is the place to go:

The peanut candies: so peanuty, crunchy, and sweet.  The malt balls: crunchy and malty, the best flavor is the chocolate peanut butter.  The Vermont Cookie Buttons: be they Purely Maple, Double Vanilla, Zesty Lemon or whatever, are bite-sized, crunchy goodness.  And a newby on my most recent visit (can you tell I’ve been here about a billion times?): a maple-flavored cheesecake mix which I had a sample of.  Oh my, such sweet heaven.

What is up, though, with the old-timey (and very European) penchant for black-licorice-flavored things?  And is there anything more vile-sounding than Double Salt Licorice from Holland (where else)?  Those are in the running with British Licorice-All-Sorts for being the worst sweets on the planet.  I choose to ignore their very existence.

I was curious about the Cherry Mash, “an American favorite since 1918.”  It was pretty terrible, actually.  The nutty chocolate exterior was cheap and flavorless, and the cherry interior was cloying and fake-tasting.  It’s made with maraschino cherries, which I usually like, but this just tasted like cough medicine surrounded in crunchy wax.  I shudder just thinking about it now; it is my version of ipecac.  There is a “recipe” on the back of the wrapper for a Cherry Mash Milkshake—no thank you to that!

Are you surprised that they have fudge here, too?  Of course not!  We all know what kinds of places have fudge, and that when you find yourself in a particularly quaint little town that doesn’t seem to have much going on, they will have fudge.  I call them “Fudge Towns.”  TVCS’s fudge is deelish.  The best is their Penuche flavor, which is made from brown sugar rather than white, so it’s like super-powered fudge.

There’s a sign up that says, “Kids, count your own candy and let us know how much you owe.”  What a strong incentive to do some math!  Most of the candies have different prices, so they have to keep track.  There’s a video on TVCS’s website where the owner, Lyman Orton, describes the occasional kid who’ll bring a giant bag of candy up to the cashier with, like, 75¢ written on it.  The cashier lowers her glasses, teacher-style, and gives the kid the stink-eye.  So the kid says, “Whoops, maybe I should count that again.”  Oh, the little dickens.

If you go, make sure to go on an empty stomach.  There are abundant samples of sausages, cheeses, dips, and fudge.  My friends and I always get “Vermont County Store Stomach,” which is what happens when you mix bellies full of snacks & sweets with long car rides up and down hills on winding roads.

And they don’t just have food, of course.  You can also find erotic toys for the elderly & sexy lingerie with matching caps there.

The Vermont Country Store
657 Main Street
Weston, VT  05161
1292 Rockingham Road
Rockingham, VT  05101
or order from the extensive online store:

Graham Crackers – What’s up with them?

Friday, September 18th, 2009 | Store-bought | No Comments

There’s nothing quite like a graham cracker crust with your key lime pie or your cheesecake, is there?  And what would s’mores be without ’em?

So who was this Graham person, and why did he invent this cracker/cookie hybrid?  It turns out there’s a fabulous story behind him, best told at The Straight Dope.  Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) was an American dietitian who started a movement to get people to eat healthy foods– an early Gwyneth Paltrow, if you will.  He advocated lots of good stuff you can totally get behind: eating whole grains and vegetables, brushing your teeth and bathing daily, getting lots of exercise, and sleeping 7 hours a night.  Unfortunately, he also forbade alcohol, spices (including salt & pepper), sugar, fat, and meat.  And so it was through this “Graham Diet” that the idea for graham crackers came about, as they’re supposed to be bland little healthy snacks that are made with whole wheat flour.  In his day, people thought white flour was the flour of refinement, and that only poor people ate coarsely ground whole wheat flour, so Graham had a tough time convincing them otherwise.  Now, before you think he was a bastion of good sense (albeit a bit puritanical), I must inform you that one of his main reasons for promoting this healthy lifestyle was to stave off the evils of what he called “the self-abuse,” aka masturbation.  He believed that sexual exertions led to all kinds of nasty things, like blindness, epilepsy, indigestion, and insanity.  Through lots of cold baths and bland food, one could keep these impulses at bay.  The guy ended up having quite a bit of influence, most notably on Harvey Kellogg of Kellogg’s (Super-Bland) Cornflakes fame.  Also, Americans do shower a lot.

In 1898, Nabisco was able to successfully market graham crackers, adding honey to the recipe in 1925, and continuing to change it until we’ve got the common graham cracker of today: full of refined flour, sugar, fat, and chemicals– exactly what Graham railed against.  If you’re on the hunt for more of an old-school graham cracker, look for Health Valley brand.  It’s sure to curb your sexual appetite.