French Délices Part 3: Ice Cream and Gelato

Friday, June 25th, 2010 | ice cream, Travel | 2 Comments

Also a major player on the French dessert scene is the glace, or ice cream.  Nice has a famous gelateria called Fenocchio, which, funnily enough, has a rival gelateria called Pinocchio.  The rivalry converges at Place Rosetti in the Old Town, where Fenocchio has its flagship location while Pinocchio has two across the way from each other.  We all benefit from ice cream wars, don’t we?  I only went to Fenocchio, and what an abundance of flavors– 96 to be exact!  Of the many delightful parfums, imagine verbena (a flower), beer, vanilla-rose-pepper, thyme, Coca-Cola, Grand Marnier, jasmin, and chocolate-ginger.  French ice cream is delicious and often comes in the form of complicated and expensive sundaes.  I saw a few in Nice that cost 25 Euros!  Yes, they came with seven scoops of ice cream, several toppings, and whipped cream, and probably should be shared, but wow, what a price.  I accidentally purchased one of these while asking for an iced coffee in Lyon.  I said café glacé, which literally means “iced coffee,” and was brought a monster of a sundae featuring several scoops of coffee ice cream, cookies, nuts, and whipped cream for 8 Euros.  It was expensive, but very satisfying.  After consuming this, I became sleepy, so I then purchased a regular coffee.  This is the kind of mindless eating and drinking that you get in France, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I also tried an iced nougat at Brasserie Georges in Lyon, just for scientific study.  It really wasn’t tough or chewy like you’d imagine a real frozen chunk of nougat would be, but rather had that nutty flavor and candied fruit, but with a decidedly ice creamy texture.  It was tasty and a nice antidote for a rich meal.  Our evening was punctuated with the waiters firing up an old-timey barrel organ to play Happy Birthday, which would be followed by a baked Alaska-type dessert garnished with a live sparkler being placed in front of a lucky birthday boy or girl.

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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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Scottish Sweeties Part 4: Tray Bakes & Banoffee Pie

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 | Travel | 1 Comment

In order to further your understanding of British desserts, I present you with three different kinds of tray bakes and the famous banoffee pie:

Millionaire’s shortbread consists of three layers: shortbread (a very buttery, crusty cookie), a mix of toffee & dulce de leche, and chocolate.  It’s obviously quite sweet, so I love it. 

Tiffin is traditionally made up of cocoa, Golden Syrup (light molasses), stale biscuits and whatever else you need to use up around the house, like raisins & nuts (Scottish people are a frugal lot).  It often has a layer of melted chocolate on top and requires no baking.  Just mix it up and pop it in the fridge.  I have no idea what the relation this kind of tiffin has, if any, to the similarly-named Indian lunch.  Unless, of course, people would eat this dessert for lunch, which I can totally get behind.

I have a confession to make: I don’t like dates.  They look like roaches whole, they look like roaches squished, and their flavor is meh.  In the interest of cultural anthropology, I must report on the ubiquitous date square in Scotland.  It tastes like you think it will.

Banoffee (banana & toffee) pie, however, is wonderful, if you get a good one.  It consists of a layer of a pie shell filled with sliced bananas, toffee & dulce de leche, and whipped cream.  What’s not to like?

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Scottish Sweeties Part 3: Deep-Fried Mars Bar

Friday, March 19th, 2010 | Travel | No Comments

Yes, it had to be done.  I had to try a deep-fried Mars bar.  Even though I’ve been coming to Edinburgh all my life and have never seen one, all my American friends kept telling me that Scottish people love these things, so I was on a mission.  Here’s what you do: find a chippy (fish & chips joint), ask them kindly, and they’ll run out from behind the counter to grab a still-wrapped bar from their candy stash, which they’ll then open up, dip in batter, deep-fry, and present to you for your immediate consumption, all for around £2.

Well, I loved it.  I was afraid it would taste fishy or sausagey or be tainted by some other flavor from the pile of assorted deep-fried shapes you see on their warming tray, since I’m guessing they’re all dipped in the same batter and oil.  But it didn’t.  No hint of fish or meat at all.  I was also worried that the bar’s insides would become like molten lava, but my worries on this front also faded the minute I took a tentative bite.  The inside was pleasantly warm and melty.  The thin layer of batter had a nice crunch– not too greasy  and it immediately adhered itself to the roof of my mouth along with the oozy caramel.  So I don’t suggest trying to carry on a deep discussion about Existentialism or the many iterations of the health care bill while you’re eating.  Just enjoy.

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Scottish Sweeties Part 2: S. Luca’s Ice Cream Parlour

Friday, March 19th, 2010 | ice cream, Restaurants | No Comments

As a child, a trip to S. Luca’s ice cream parlor in Musselburgh, a port town very close to Edinburgh, was the greatest of treats.  Sluca’s (my grandfather’s nickname for it), has been making the most unctuous ice cream since 1908, when Mr. Luca Scappaticcio came over from Italy and learned the craft from a Swiss sous chef (weird, right? aren’t Italians the ones who are kinda known for ice cream?). Sluca’s sundaes, especially the almighty Knickerbockerglory, are legendary, and I had to make a pilgrimage:

The Knickerbockerglory is a parfait made from vanilla and strawberry ice cream, with strawberry topping and whipped cream.  The Praline Parfait is Neapolitan ice cream with chocolate sauce and hazelnuts.  Both are quite tall and force you to improve your posture greatly in order to consume them.  The Meringue Mess is vanilla ice cream floating in a butterscotch and freshly-cut banana soup, with a little crunchy meringue for texture.  These 3 were, of course, parfaits parfaits. 

At first, I scoffed at my mom’s Sticky Toffee Pudding order, as there were plenty more delightful sundaes to choose from, but she pointed out that an STP is good for my Scottish dessert research and also quite tasty, so I relented.  It wasn’t sticky, so much as sweet and decadent.  The cake was so moist, it sparkled like a mound of jewels.  An STP’s toffee is typically made from black treacle (molasses), Demerara sugar (unrefined and brownish), and cream.  Ours was quite warm, and the accompanying scoops of vanilla ice cream melted right into the toffee pool. 

We brought some vanilla and strawberry ice cream home for my grandfather, who will almost certainly eat it smothered in extra-thick double cream, which I think is illegal in the U.S.  My Grandpa is such a rebel. 

S. Luca
32-38 High Street
Musselburgh  EH21 7AG


Scottish Sweeties Part 1: Homemade Treats

Friday, March 19th, 2010 | Homemade | No Comments

I was in my mom’s home town of Edinburgh last week to celebrate my aunt’s 50th and my cousin’s 18th b’days (Hello, Auntie Margaret & Lisa!).  The baking was out of control.  Check out all the desserts we had in one night of partying:

My mom made a Celtic “Hoops” roulade.  For those of you who don’t know how crazy Scottish & Irish folks– actually all Europeans– actually all Earthlings outside the U.S.– are about soccer, then let this cake be your introduction to the insanity.  My family worships the Celtic football team, so the decoration was green & white stripes, much like the players’ jerseys.  The sponge cake was light and moist, and it was filled with fresh raspberries and cream and frosted with cream cheese icing.  Heavenly.  Then we had my Aunt Miriam’s delicious chocolate cake, made with Cadbury Drinking Chocolate, which not only sounds, but actually is, much better than the likes of Nesquick.  Now some may say that also having lemon & chocolate tarts was just too decadent, so those people aren’t related to me.  And, finally, what meal would be complete without some Butlers chocolates straight from Dublin as a digestif?  I wonder where I could possibly have gotten my sweet tooth?

Philippine Bread House – The Lovely Breads

Friday, March 5th, 2010 | bakeries | 2 Comments

Continuing my theme of going to close-by, yet unknown (to me) towns in the Garden State, I kicked it in Jersey City this past weekend. There is a sizable Filipino population, so I naturally wanted to see what folks have for dessert:

Sapin-sapin is an egg-yellow, white, and purple layered jello-like “pie” made from rice flour and coconut milk. I like how PBH has a separate packet of crunchy coconut bits to sprinkle on top. This way, they don’t get soggy– good thinking. The dessert itself, alas, was fairly bland. Its presentation and nice chew were its strongest features. The Kalamayhati, or glutinous rice, however, had no strengths other than the novelty of its (to quote a friend) La Brea Tar Pits-like consistency. You can see in the pictures that there were obviously bubbles while it was being made, which burst, but then retained their circular pock-marks. That, along with the pics of folk trying to fork some up, should be all you need to tell you that this was thick, gooberous stuff. I did not like! The Ube halaya, or purple yam jam (now THAT’s a good band name), was also bland, but at least had a pleasant vegetable purée texture. But the Polvoron, or powder candy, was my least favorite. Don’t let the term “powder candy” trick you. This was basically a hard, short (as in crumbly) cookie that tasted like lard. Not Crisco– animal fat. Animal fat and sugar. I shudder at the thought. Nothing wrong with lard in a Christmas pudding– it seems decadent and fitting with the season. But in an innocent cookie? Blasphemy.

PHB’s best offerings, unsurprisingly, are its breads. And oh, such breads! The Taisan mini, like a cross between chiffon cake and brioche, was so moist and light, with a wonderful spongy mouth-feel. It had butter and finely granulated sugar on top, which leant a lovely sweetness and hint of crunch. The Pan de sal, or salt bread, was not really salty at all, but rather vaguely sweet. It was soft and warm and delicious. Apparently, this bread came over to the Philippines from Spain long ago and used to resemble a French baguette, but due to a decline in the quality of wheat, it eventually became soft and poofy. I guess I like weak wheat! The Ensaymada ube, or purple yam brioche, was also excellent. It also had the fine sugar on top, but with the addition of grated cheddar-like cheese. Weird, I know. You’ve got this sweet, doughy, squishy roll filled with purple yam jam, and then you’ve got this cheesy bite. I will dream about these breads.

On a totally non-dessert note, if you’ve never been to a real old-school movie palace before, do yourself a favor and hit up the Jersey City Loews, which is surprisingly easy to get to off the Journal Square Path Train stop. I recently saw “The Third Man” there and can’t wait to return on March 27th, when they fire up “On the Waterfront.” Oh, the heartbreak when Marlon Brando famously says, “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”  Happy Friday!

Philippine Bread House
530 Newark Ave.
Jersey City, NJ  07306


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: