What else do you do on a Sunday after brunch if you’re a dessert blogger? That’s right, it’s time to find some pie. A friend of mine suggested Four & Twenty Blackbirds, which I had been wanting to check out for awhile. Some of her favorites: pear-apple-rosewater, grapefruit custard (inconceivable!), and Derby pie. She also loves the bread, but who cares? I wanted PIE! F&TB is found on a lonely stretch of 3rd Avenue, in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Its lovely little black and white old-timey storefront is like a desert oasis. A chalkboard sign out front made us panic: peach, salted caramel apple, and apple blackberry were all crossed off, leaving nectarine blueberry and lemon chess. We dashed inside and quickly ordered one of each at $4.50 a slice. No nectarines, by the way, just blueberry:
Now, I have to say that I’m not a big fan of blueberries for much the same reason that I’m not a big fan of raisins– I can’t stand the darn stems that often remain intact in cookies and pies. This slice of blueberry pie was astoundingly good, however. The fruit was vibrantly fresh tasting and not too sweet, and the crust had a lovely raw sugar top that complemented the filling perfectly. And a little dollop of unsweetened whipped cream was just the perfect accompaniment.
I had never had lemon chess pie, so I was very curious. Chess pies are apparently a Southern sugary custard pie made with corn meal. No one seems to know the origin of the name. Perhaps it’s from keeping it in a chest or from saying that it’s “‘jes pie,” as opposed to cake or something. Whatever it is, this slice was quite good, but not as amazing as the blueberry. The lemon flavor was very delicate and it wasn’t overly sweet at all. My only problem with it was that it was a bit soggy, but that was really probably due to the fact that it was 80 degrees in there. I guess they don’t have AC?
While we were eating our spoils, a huge group of tourists/vultures came in and snapped up the rest of the lemon chess pie, and under “PIES:,” the in-store chalkboard soon read “♥ Blueberry.” It was only about 4pm, and they were almost out of everything. But that’s really the way every bakery should be. The fact that they run out of stuff means that their stock is always fresh. Well done, proprietresses Melissa and Emily Elsen, now that my G-train is running all the way to 4th Ave., I’ll be visiting your shop again soon!Four & Twenty Blackbirds
439 3rd Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215
Note: you can’t buy whole pies on the spot– you have to call ahead and place an order with 48 hours’ notice.
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 201-659-1753 http://philippinebreadhouse.com/
Cupcake litmus test: if you cut one in half with a knife, the two sides fall down, and the frosting top comes off, the cake is too dry and/or there’s too much frosting, and, basically, you’re in trouble. If you cut one into quarters, and the four tops remain intact after impact with the plate, you’ve got a moist, delicious, perfectly balanced red velvet cupcake from GoodieBox. I mean, (elderly New Yorker who’s gushing with praise) it’s so good– you neva’!
I recently went to a GoodieBox tasting at the East Harlem Café, a cute, hip joint with gorgeous mozaic art pieces. GoodieBox is a baked goods supplier operating out of Weehawken, NJ that specializes in classic and simple baked goods. Their red velvet cupcake was the best I’ve ever had. Perfect, light, vanilla cream cheese frosting– not too much to be sickening, not too little to be sad plus the aforementioned moist, springy cake. You can either order these babies online or hope that your local coffee shop starts carrying them. GoodieBox Bakeshop 201-430-8634 goodieboxbakeshop.com East Harlem Café 1651 Lexington Ave
(between 104th St & 105th St)
New York, NY 10029
We were in Georgetown; we wanted cupcakes. Georgetown Cupcake was (GASP!) closed. My dessert-deprivation panic began to set in, but then my trusty guide remembered something about another cupcakerie thereabouts. With her keen sense of direction, especially when it comes to sweets, she led us through an out-of-place mall, past the C&O Canal, to Baked and Wired– the perfectly-named coffee shop/bakery in this collegiate neighborhood. And what splendors we beheld inside:
These cupcakes were very fine indeed. The origami-like pointy wrappers were very pretty. (I wonder if they’re more difficult to frost than cupcakes nestled in normal wrappers?) The cakes in our chosen specimens were moist enough to be tasty, but not so moist as to collapse under their icing roofs. The Strawberry cupcake had real fruit chunks in the cake. The Mocha cupcake had a slight coffee flavor, but was mostly chocolate– just the way I like it.
Since Baked and Wired is a café, you can also get some coffee and a slice of quiche, then take a load off under a big American flag they’ve got as part of their modern, minimalist, hipster-attracting decor. Georgetown Cupcake, you shouldn’t be closed on Mondays– people’s eyes wander… their heads turn… and before you know it, they’ve got a new favorite.Baked and Wired 1052 Thomas Jefferson St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20007 202-333-2500 http://www.bakedandwired.com/
If you work in or near Tribeca, please don’t read this post. If you do, and you gain a ton of weight as a result, then don’t say I didn’t warn you.
To get an idea of how good the food is here, just imagine actually eating at Bouley, the restaurant, but instead of having waiters serve you, you get it yourself. To call it a buffet, however, would call to mind– very inaccurately– memories of, say, Ponderosa. I mean, this place has duck à l’orange and the most decadent croques monsieurs of your life, for pete’s sake! You get to take your spoils into a fancy-pants dining room. Sure, the plush seating is somewhat stained and grotty, but what do you expect? I just like the fact that they trust the public to keep the mess in check. Plus, they’ve got real silverware and washable plastic water cups all ready for you, so yay for the environment. They’re only open until 8:30pm, and they’re not open on Saturdays, which makes me wonder if they’re worried people will decide to save some major dough and come here instead of Bouley. It’s really that good.
Finding Cannelle Patisserie is an adventure in its own right. Since it’s located in the upper reaches of Jackson Heights (and dabbling into East Elmhurst), it involves both train & bus for me to get there from my Brooklyn roost. Then… hmm… where is it? Did I write the address down wrong? Nope, it turns out this real French patisserie is located waaay back in Waldbaum’s strip mall, requiring you to walk through a suburban-sized parking lot to get there.
Going to Steve’s AUTHENTIC (all-caps!) Key Lime Pies is like visiting a crazy sea captain, if said sea captain kept a hermitage on a pier in Red Hook and baked delicious pies all day. Just follow the sign on Van Brunt & Van Dyke Sts., past the little garden crowned with a boat, and you’ll find the promised: “Pie’s Here.” Hooray! Inside you’ll find a relatively dark, vaguely nautical-themed space which is the wholesale bakery itself with a small counter for purchasing pies. Steve’s is very insistent on making sure you understand that getting an actual key lime pie is rare. Key limes are a specific variety of limes that are named after the Florida Keys and are much smaller, more yellow, and more acidic than regular Persian limes you’d buy at the store. They’re rare because they’re annoying to deal with: the thornier the key lime tree, the more fruit it bears, and the little buggers are chock full of seeds. Steve’s is proud to take on the burden: they import the limes, squeeze and deseed them, make the pies, and sell them in Red Hook and through various lucky establishments throughout the city. The menu is simple: you get either a key lime pie in various sizes or you get a Swingle, which is a 4″ tart dipped in dark, semi-sweet Belcolade chocolate and frozen on a popsicle stick. I’ve had it once, and I’m not sure whether the sourness of the limes marries well with the bitterness of the chocolate– it’s a bit much to ask of the tongue, perhaps. I always get the regular 4″ personal tart with its smooth and citrusy filling in the tasty Graham cracker crumb crust. It’s not too sweet and not too sour– the perfect balance.