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Entries in culture (23)

Wednesday
Mar042009

Bread (Pudding) Alone: Pontifications on the Ultimate Carbohydratey Treat

Bread Pudding, Bella Dolce
Just like any proper invasion, it started quietly, gaining momentum until suddenly, it was an unstoppable force. We're speaking of bread pudding of course--suddenly, it's everywhere.

OK, to qualify that statement, it's not as if bread pudding was ever off the radar. It's been around, on both the high and the low end, as long as we can remember. However, it seems that in the past year or so, its popularity has grown enormously--to the point that nearly every bakery, coffee shop and restaurant in Seattle (and even beyond) has a variation. So what gives?
Well, we have some ideas. Wanna hear?

Bread Pudding
Bread Pudding: Why?
First, before we talk about the present, let's consider bread pudding's past. According to this article,
Food historians trace the history of bread pudding to the early 11th and 12th centuries, as frugal cooks looked for ways to use stale, leftover bread instead of letting it go to waste. In 13th century England, bread pudding was known as “poor man’s pudding,” as it was a popular dish with the lower classes.
Yup--it was a budget-friendly dish then, and it is now. Sure, it's been gussied up--you'll see fancy versions with all sorts of toppings, and creative versions using everything from doughnuts to cinnamon rolls to brioche, but it really does boil down to the idea of giving new life to baked goods which would otherwise be thrown away. 
Even beyond the idea of making smart use of leftovers though, is the fact that bread pudding is also a vastly comforting dish. Warm, custardy and carbohydratey, it's the type of fare that can put you in a blissful carbohydratey coma, forgetting all manner of economic woes. Just look at all of the major food magazines lately--they've all got comfort food on the cover. 
To speak specifically to the proliferance of the sweet treat in Seattle of course, one need only consider the weather during the winter months: we don't know about you, but we couldn't think of a cozier sweet for a cold and rainy day.

Bread Pudding at La TarteGorgeous bread pudding, B&O Espresso
Bread Pudding: How?
Now that we've considered why bread pudding has been so popular lately, let's consider form. For it seems to us that there are two major players in the world of bread pudding, the first a more solid, cakey sort; the second being a more custard-y sort, consisting of the bread floating in a dish of cream. Which one is correct? Well, we wouldn't dare make the final call on that, so we turned to our dear readers to see which variation they preferred. 
While certainly some have a strong preference, it seems that the preference was for some sort of middle ground. Seems that a solid form is important, but it does need some sort of sauce or topping. As one reader said, a hybrid is best: "cakey (but not dry) bread pudding with sauce drizzled over"; and as another aptly echoed, "Nice and soft, but not soupy".

Bread Pudding: What Now?
So what's going to happen next? Well, as it is such an open-ended dish, we'd predict that you look out for more hybrids and creative innovation--often based on updating or taking a creative spin on old classic recipes--and in both sweet and savory variations. Want a peek? Here are just a few of the variations that have intrigued us on the sweet side of things: 
The NY Times' Jelly Doughnut Bread Pudding (Photo above, c/o NYT)
Su Good Sweets' Nutella Bread Pudding
...and of course, you may enjoy checking out the Bread Pudding experiment we ourselves did a few months back.

Bread Pudding(s) at Grand Central, Pioneer Square
Bread Pudding: Where?
Where do Cake Gumshoes get their bread pudding fix? In Seattle, we love the bread pudding at Boat Street Cafe (it's the one that everyone says is "the best"--and well, it's pretty freaking good, served in a rum-butter cream sauce) , B&O Espresso (floating in a dish of custard), Bella Dolce (more solid, served in a cupcake-cup), and Grand Central Baking (also served in a cupcake-cup, but with a delectable chocolate variation). How about in your hometown?

 

Tuesday
Jan132009

The Icing on the Cake: An Exploration of Icing, Frosting and Even Glaze

Glaze, Icing, Frosting
There are times in life when we find ourselves confronted with serious questions; in seeking answers, we might just have a defining moment or two. This is one such time: we are now going to discuss the question of icing versus frosting

Is there a difference between the two, and if so, what? Ingredients? Consistency? Or are the terms interchangeable, as in the way some say "pop" and some say "soda"? And going even further...what is a glaze? Here's what we found:
Our first stop, naturally, was the The International Dictionary of Desserts, Pastries, and Confections, which, while noting that there are many different types, ultimately tells us "the term icing is interchangeable with the term frosting". For shame, sweet dictionary--certainly it can't be that simple, can it? 
And so we moved on toNancy Rommelmann's fantastic book Everything You Pretend to Know about Food and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask, which (thank god!) has a whole section entitled "What's the difference between frosting and icing?". The section reads:
Often used interchangeably, frosting and icing are in fact different. Frosting tends to be thick and gooey, with a cream or butter base. It is slathered on cake layers, or applied in fluffy waves. Icing is thinner, sometimes with simply a sugar base, and creates a glaze on cakes and pastry, such as the kind you find on coffee cakes.

This idea is backed up in a Williams-Sonoma release simply entitled Cakes, in which it is noted that icing is "used to coat and/ or fill a cake...similar to a frosting, and the terms are frequently used interchangeably"...but ultimately "an icing is generally thinner and glossier" than frosting, which is "a thick, fluffy mixture, such as buttercream, used to coat the outside of a cake." Of course, the book even goes on to even differentiate a glaze from the two as being "thinner than either a frosting or an icing"...which makes the slope all the more slippery--but does further define the difference between these sweet toppings.

OK--so to review, with pictures:


Cinnamon Roll, Nielsen's, Queen Anne, SeattleTop Pot Doughnut (Purchased at Top Pot Belltown)
GLAZE: Thinnest type of sugar topping, often made with just a sugar base. Usually translucent. Common on cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, and heavier cakes like pound cake that don't need a lot more on top.
Bittersweet, ChicagoMini Flower CakesLe Fournil, SeattleChaos Theory, Chicago
ICING: Thicker than a glaze but not always opaque. Can be made with a sugar base or may also include egg whites, butter or cream. The term "icing" is often used interchangeably with "frosting". Coffee cakes and cookies are often "iced" rather than "frosted".
Magnolia Bakery CupcakesCloseup of Wedding Cake from Layers in Monterey, CAFrostingFrosting the Cupcake
FROSTING: The thickest of the lot, opaque and fluffy; think buttercream frosting on a birthday cake.

Of course, regardless of a picture chart, what became clear during our research is that while there are some ways to discern whether it may be a glaze, icing or frosting atop your sweet treat, it really is a fine line, and one ought not worry unduly about the difference. Because really, whether it's the sweet glaze on your doughnut, the fluffy frosting on your cupcake or the icing on the cake--it's the taste that counts.

 

Tuesday
Oct142008

Everybody Likes (Cookie) Sandwiches: Exploration of a Sweet Trend

Cookie Sandwich, Grandaisy
(Cakespy Note: the title is a shout-out to a favorite food site, Everybody Likes Sandwiches!)


On our recent trip to NYC, one bakery trend in particular stood out for us: the cookie sandwich is showing up in a big way in bakeries. Now, it's not as if this confection is new, or as if it has ever really been out of style (as proven by America's bestselling cookie for years, the Oreo). Certainly we've seen these cookies before; however, never with the proliferation that we witnessed on this visit. What makes this particular cookie sandwich of interest is that while it shares traits with alfajores, macarons, whoopie pies, and of course Oreo cookies, they are not quite the same as any of these cookies. What we saw was generally two generous rounds (3 inches or so across) of a fairly substantial nature, with a generous dollop of filling nestled between.
Here were some of the ones we came across:

Homemade Oreo from Bourbon Street, NYC
At Bourbon Street Southern Gourmet Pantry, for instance, they had the "homemade oreo"--a sandwich cookie made of chocolate wafers filled with a rich vanilla cream. It's a strange feeling to eat a freshly baked version of something that is normally store-bought; it's hard to say if it tastes better or worse--because once it has a title like that, you've got a taste association and expectation in mind. All that philosophizing aside though, we finished it and were smiling when it was gone, which may be the most telling review we can offer.

 

Grandaisy Bakery, 72nd St.Cookie Sandwich, Grandaisy

At Grandaisy Bakery, a few different varieties were available of what they called "panini dolce" (rough translation: sweetwich!)--Nutella, lemon ginger, and chocolate cream cheese. We chose the shortbread cookie sandwich filled with Nutella and dusted with powdered sugar. This cookie sandwich was simply superlative--the buttery cookies mixed with Nutella was such a gorgeous symphony of sweet, slightly salty and richly chocolatey that the only sad part about this cookie was the moment we realized there was none left.

At Magnolia Bakery, they make a "whoopie sandwich cookie" which, like its name implies, leans more toward the cookie end of the spectrum (as opposed to the more pillowy, cakey cookie bits usually used for whoopie pies). Theirs consists of two brown sugar cookies with a dollop of maple cream cheese icing in between. (Photo left courtesy NY Daily News).

 

At Baked, they boast a coffee and chocolate variety, as well as vanilla and chocolate varieties. (Cakespy note: Though it's different than the cookies we're talking about here, it's worth noting that they do also have award-winning pumpkin whoopie pies on offer as well!). The cookie sandwiches are also available at Royale in Manhattan, though some varieties did not warrant Serious Eats' seal of approval.

Treats Truck
And the Treats Truck of course boasts cookie sandwich varieties such as Caramel Creme, Peanut Butter, and Cinnamon. We didn't get to try these, but as a commenter said on Midtown Lunch, "The peanut butter cookie sandwich with peanut butter is quite possibly the greatest thing ever created. I suggest everyone buy anywhere from 1 to 39 of these cookies." Sounds like an ace review to us!

So what gives with the sandwich cookie? Was it a matter of one bakery's success inspiring others? Is it the result of a longing for nostalgic treats paired with a demand for better ingredients and quality?

While we can't answer these questions, we can quote Wayne Brachman from his book "American Desserts: The Best Sweets on Earth"--"sandwich cookies are a marvelous thing. Case in point: The Oreo chocolate sandwich is the most popular cookie in the world and has held that status for nearly a century". Wayne had it right from the start--if sandwich cookies want to make their presence known in bakeries far and wide, we say bring it on.

 

 

 

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