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Entries in new mexico (27)

Monday
Jan052015

Postcards from the Road: January 2015

What in the world has CakeSpy been up to? Well, my friends, quite a bit. In the past few months, I have visited many places, seen many things, and tasted many, many desserts. Let's take a quick tour of the recent past, shall we?

November started very nicely with a trip to Nashville for the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Not only did I get to see some old friends and meet some new, but I got to reunite with my boyfriend, the Pillsbury Doughboy! Since I love the photo, I will just show it again, OK?

When I got back, I finished up an article I wrote for New Mexico Magazine, featuring some original dessert recipes. It was awesome to write for a glossy magazine and such a pleasure to work with Candace Walsh, a writer and editor who is also sort of a hero to me. I can't wait for you to see it in print in February. Here's a mysterious little sneak peek:

Photo via Doug Merriam

Doug Merriam, a totally awesome photographer with whom I worked on the story, turned out to be a Very Good Person to meet. We decided to do a swap: photo tips for me, social media tips for him. I've already seen an improvement in my photos, such as this one of microwave fudge...

and I hope you'll enjoy the new photos I take, with not only my new photo skills but also my new camera!! That's right, after 7 years of using a $40 point and shoot for all my photos, I've upgraded to a real camera. It was a big deal to me, as I had never spent more than $40 on a digital camera. I got this one used, and in total with accessories it came to nearly $200. I realize many bloggers may laugh at this, but for me it was a pretty big deal. 

I got involved with my etsy store in a big way, adding new prints. While alas, right now the shop is shut for the month, check it out in February for some awesome new prints and artwork, including this illustration which was comissioned by the James Beard Foundation.

I was hired by a longtime customer to do a new painting for the holidays. The first painting I ever did for her was of a cupcake, a banana, and a John Deere Tractor. Yes, for real.

Custom order

In this painting, the couple is reunited with their tractor...in Scotland. This was a very fun painting to do.

With the holidays drawing close, I started to get all sorts of sweet treats in the mail. I received some dried plums in the mail--apparently, they are not prunes anymore. Names aside, these made some awesome bar cookies when I used them instead of raisins to make the award-winning "H-Bars" recipe from the new book Holiday Cookies: Prize-Winning Family Recipes from the Chicago Tribune for Cookies, Bars, Brownies and More.

This isn't necessarily cake related, but Porkchop the pug got the good news that he had lost five pounds. That little boy was getting sort of fat but he's in good shape now! Here is a picture of me and Porkchop in case you needed some cuteness.

I also got to see several recipes I created for Peanut Butter and Company go live--a delicious salty caramel pie...

and to-die-for peanut butter snowballs. Serious love for these addictive morsels!

I also did my first recipe for Colavita, which came out great: lemon pistachio olive oil tuiles. Pinkies out!

Tuiles

I quickly followed it up with a second recipe for chocolate babka made with olive oil, which also came out splendidly. 

Chocolate babka

I taught a class for kids in Santa Fe, on the important subject of holiday cookie baking. Here's a snapshot from those several hours of adorableness. 

Oh, and I painted my yoga mat. 

As Christmas grew closer, me and my sweetie packed up our bags and headed east. We drove from New Mexico to Connecticut, which meant that I could add a few more states to my map of states where I've done yoga. Here are the US states in which I've done yoga so far:

 

Oh, by the way. In Lawrence, where I stopped to do yoga, I also got to re-visit Sylas and Maddy's in Lawrence, Kansas, which I had previously visited in August on my massive road trip. This is a place worth visiting.

We got to go to the Uprise Bakery in Columbia, MO, and were delightfully surprised by their offerings. From rolls to a cappuccino brownie that looked like a Nanaimo bar to awesome coffee, this place was a wonderful spot.

I need to tell you, though, the big hit of the trip was Terre Haute, IN. We stopped there for the night, and in the morning, we knew we simply had to check out a place called Square Donuts we found online. I mean, how could you not?

Square Donuts

The donuts were a treat, and yes, they were square.

Square Donuts

But even bigger treat was a few blocks away, where we happened upon the Clabber Girl factory! Clabber Girl

I hadn't known they were based in Terre Haute so this was a real surprise. But as we went in, the surprise blossomed into pure delight. They have not only a factory but a full-fledged MUSEUM going on!

Clabber girl

We toured the museum, and then settled in for breakfast in their cafe. They had really awesome biscuits and sweet baked goods, such as the below almond chocolate croissant, which was PACKED with filling. This place was a real treasure and I highly suggest it.

Clabber girl

We powered on through to Connecticut, arriving Christmas eve. I didn't take a picture, but my sweetie's sister in law made a bûche de nöel. Since she is French, like, as in born and raised in France, it was amazing. As you might expect.

The next night we had a quiet dinner with some cakes from the Cheesecake Factory for dessert. Do you believe I've never had one of their desserts? I actually really enjoyed them, especially the key lime cheesecake, yummmmm.

After that, I took the train down to NYC for some time with friends. Me and my friend James watched "Christmas Icetastrophe" which was as terrible as it sounds, and then ate bagels, which were better than anywhere else because they were from NYC. I also got pizza, which is always necessary.

Bagel

I spent part of the next day with my friend Phil, and even picked up one of these at Whole Foods:

...before heading down the shore to my parents' house in NJ. In NJ, I snacked on Shazaam cookies from Nature's Corner...

Shazaam cookie

and took yoga classes at YouNique Yoga in Belmar. Then I got sick and all I could eat for a day was ice cream from Hoffman's (pictured top of post). Actually, can I get sick more often? That was kind of great.

We then packed up our bags again and headed toward Asheville, North Carolina, where I will be spending this month doing a yoga immersion at the Asheville Yoga Center. I'm staying in a cute little log cabin!

So far, Asheville is simply amazing. We had a great first meal at Homegrown, a great follow up breakfast at Green Sage Cafe, and then went back to Homegrown because it was that great.

We've also sampled the goods at French Broad Chocolates and City Bakery...more to come on those. But suffice it to say that this cake pop I stuck in my mouth was very tasty. 

We've hit up a few grocery stores, because for me, there isn't much finer than exploring a new grocery store (not kidding). I got a "brown cow" cheesecake at Fresh Market, and enjoyed it in a no-frills kind of way.

Cheesecake

We also got a bunch of other goodies at Fresh Market and Harris Tweeter, the local grocery chains. What can I say, I love grocery store bakeries. So yes, this happened:

Dessert time

...and this:

Cannoli

I can't wait to see what comes next in 2015!

Happy New Year!

Sunday
Nov232014

Best of New Mexico: Homemade Blue Corn Pinon Bread

This one's dedicated to my Santa Fe friends.

If you've ever been to Santa Fe, New Mexico, you know that it is a special place indeed. The food reflect's the city's "tri-cultural" background: Native American, Mexican, and Spanish. With, of course, a touch of modern hippie and crystal-chaser in the mix. It makes for an interesting food scene, to say the least. (for my ultimate review of New Mexico sweets, check out this post!)

Two ingredients which are in frequent rotation in both baked goods and savories alike are blue corn and piñon nuts (pine nuts), respectively. One beautiful example of a delicious fusion of these ingredients was found in the beyond-locally famous atole-piñon pancakes served at Tecolote Cafe, a funky little breakfast place on Cerillos Road that is famous for their "no toast" policy. 

Tecolote Cafe, Santa Fe

Well, me and everyone in Santa Fe was saddened when Tecolote shuttered their doors earlier this year due to a lease matter. I mourned those pancakes. 

Well, I am happy to say that Tecolote has found a new home and will be re-opening soon. In the meantime, I will "toast" them with a food that is inspired by them but that will never-ever appear on their menu: blue corn piñon bread.

Made with part blue corn flour and plenty of buttery piñon both in the bread and on top, this is a beautiful loaf with a novel, slightly blue-purple tint when looked at from the right angle. Taste-wise, it's lightly nutty; the blue corn gives it an intriguing, earthy taste. With mellow little lumps of rich piñon punctuating every bite, it's an absolute delight served with butter and a little salt.

Since it's made with whole wheat flour, too, it has a firm enough structure so that it is also appropriate for any type of dish you'd make with sandwich bread. 

Blue Corn Pinon Bread

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Yield: 1 large loaf 

  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour, sifted
  • 1 cup blue corn flour, sifted
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup piñon, to taste

 Procedure

  1. Combine the water and yeast. Once the yeast begins to bubble lightly, proceed.
  2. Mix all of the remaining ingredients with the yeast mixture in the order listed, reserving 1/4 of the piñon to top the bread later.
  3. Knead, either by hand with a dough scraper or with a stand mixer, until it has progressed past a shaggy texture to a solid, slightly sticky mass. This can take up to 5 minutes by hand; less when using a mixer. It will never quite take on the smooth elasticity of wheat flour-only bread, but the extra moisture is necessary as the whole grains will absorb it. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise at room temperature until it’s quite puffy and doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Gently deflate the dough with your hand (a gentle pressing, not a knockout punch), and shape it into a fat 9″ log (it may still be slightly sticky; I used lightly oiled hands). Place it in a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan. Sprinkle remaining piñon on top.
  5. Cover the pan, and let the dough rise for 2 hours or even overnight, or until it has formed a crown which extends 1 inch or slightly more over the rim of the pan. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  6. Bake the bread uncovered for 20 minutes. Tent it lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until it is golden brown on top, and when knocked lightly, yields a slightly hollow sound.
  7. Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out onto a rack to cool. When completely cool, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature. 

Have you ever baked with blue corn flour before?

Monday
Jun092014

The Ultimate Guide to New Mexico Sweets

In case you didn’t know it, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in New Mexico since last year. I didn’t know much about New Mexico before I came aside from the fact that it was, in fact, in the USA (apparently a leg up on some other US residents who don’t even know that!). One of the most impressive things to me about New Mexico is not its dramatic sunsets or majestic mountains or even the fact that it’s where that sandy desert Boyz II Men Video was filmed, but its unique desserts. I thought it would be interesting to give you an in-depth look at the desserts of the “land of enchantment”, including a little cultural context and a look at the ingredients which are commonly used in dessert here.


New Mexico: a brief culinary background

Many believe that the dramatic, sweeping sunsets and ruggedly beautiful landscape of New Mexico, which has inspired artists for centuries, is the reason behind the state motto “the land of enchantment”. Not to put down Georgia O’Keeffe and company, but I do respectfully submit that the cuisine is equal if not greater in terms of enchantment level.

New Mexico’s sun-baked soil and chilly desert nights provide a unique growing climate. While many crops are grown in the state, the short growing season, dry climate, and temperature variances lead to extremely concentrated flavors. Whether it’s a red-hot chile or a supersweet apple, the flavors are alive.

The colorful and zesty nature of the cuisine is certainly evident in its enchiladas and famous green chile cheeseburgers, but it carries over to the dessert course, too. They’re not afraid to embrace flavor in their dessert: let’s say New Mexico was doing chile-infused chocolates way before it was trendy.

What you have in New Mexico is a unique mash-up of cultural cuisines. Initially settled by Native Americans, colonized by the Spanish, home to many Northern seeking Mexicans, and now home to many aging hippies. Each contingent has made distinct contributions to the cuisine of the area, which shows traces of each of the aforementioned sources but is not quite any of them--New Mexican cuisine is a thing all its own. This is true of the desserts, too. Gluten-free wild blue corn pudding with Mexican spices? It wouldn’t be unheard-of.

It’s important to remember that the Native Americans were there first, and the mentality of using what the earth provides still certainly pervades the culture, including that of dessert. Early sweets would be likely to employ ingredients that were simply there: eggs, corn, honey, lard, spices, and milk--in the earliest days, goat milk, but as the industrial revolution came about, dairy from cows, too.

The influence of the Spanish and Mediterranean explorers added cooking methods and ingredients that would not have been around otherwise, making for a fusion of Spanish recipes with native ingredients: that’s where we get such dishes as bunuelos, biscochitos, and natillas.

As a side note on Native American sweets, this is one of the most difficult parts of the dessert scene to pinpoint, as many of these treats are baked at home rather than as offerings in a commercial setting. I did my best, as you will see below. 

Some of the cuisine in New Mexico can be confused with the food of Mexico, because both can tend to earthy and rich in flavor. In New Mexico, the cuisine is particularly chile reverent, and the fiery pods are used even in desserts such as New Mexican apple pie with green chile or brownies scented with red chile.

Since the 1900s, New Mexico has been a hamlet for artists of all types. This has brought an air of sophistication to the state’s dining, which has over the years led to city and hipster type interpretations using locally harvested ingredients. Trendy doughnut shops featuring blue corn and chile on their (gluten free) holey treats? Hey, it could happen.

Key ingredients

Pinon chocolate decadence

Here’s a look at some of the key ingredients which are used in New Mexico sweets. Not all of the ingredients are exclusive to the area, but you’re very likely to see them play a role in the sweets of the region. They can also give a deeper look at the way ingredients may play into desserts, giving a local flavor to even desserts or sweets such as cookies, cakes, or doughnuts. For instance, a doughnut is not a regional treat in New Mexico, but a blue corn doughnut could be unique to the area.

Blue Corn


Blue corn? Yep. This is a variety of maize which is grown in New Mexico. Mild, nutty, and lightly sweet in flavor, perhaps its most distinguishing characteristic is its color, which is indeed an indigo hue. The cornmeal is a frequent part of sweet recipes, making its presence known in quick breads, doughnuts, pancakes, and bundt cakes.

Chile

To say that chile is a vital part of New Mexican cuisine would be an understatement. Beyond condiment, chiles are sold directly from roasters on the side of the road, and are present in just about every meal. The big question is red or green? Or “christmas” - both? They are added to desserts too, including Pumpkin Green Chile pie, Red Chile Brownies, and a famous apple pie with green chile.

Cinnamon

The importance of cinnamon in New Mexico desserts cannot be underestimated. It is the dash of something that makes natillas sing; it is the extra spice that makes biscochitos warm and fuzzy in your mouth.

Chocolate

Everyone knows that Spanish explorers loved drinking chocolate (at least, that was an interesting tidbit I remembered from History class). Chocolate remains a rich tradition in the area, with traditional drinking chocolates readily available and a wide variety of locally made chocolate available. In Santa Fe, there’s even a self guided “chocolate trail” including a number of fine local purveyors.

Dairy

One of the state’s largest sources of income is through its dairy products. This translates into the dessert arena, where many dairy-rich desserts can be found regularly at restaurants. It wouldn’t be New Mexico without flan or tres leches cake (or both) on the menu.

Piñon

You may call it a pine nut, but in New Mexico, this is not reserved as an ingredient for pesto. It’s a way of life, with the scent of piñon roasting a part of the landscape and street vendors advertising the new batch. Though fairly expensive as an ingredient, it’s not unlikely to see it used in desserts, such as chocolates, pancakes, or ice cream.

Peanuts

The conditions for growing Valencia peanuts--characterized by three or more small kernels to a pod and a bright red skin--are a small, sweet peanut which can be roasted or boiled. If the baker is using local ingredients, these unique peanuts contribute a slightly different peanutty flavor in New Mexican sweets.

Pecans

Pecans for pie

Although we usually will think of Louisiana when we think Pecans, it’s one of New Mexico’s top agricultural crops. This makes pecan based desserts a stronghold, whether it’s a rich pecan pie, pecan-studded cookies, or a rich caramel turtle chocolate cake.

Piloncillo

This is a type of unrefined cane sugar which resembles brown sugar in color, but has more similarity flavor-wise to palm sugar. It is purchased as a cone, which can be shaved or cut.

Pistachio

Grown in the desert, pistachios are actually one of New Mexico’s top harvests. Though a popular ingredient globally in dessert, its presence is prominent in New Mexico desserts, from lemon pistachio white chocolate doughnuts to delicious and unique pistachio brittles.

Prickly Pear

Nicknamed “indian fig”, the prickly pear is the sweet-tart reddish fruit from a cactus which grows in the dry areas of the southwest (prominently in New Mexico and Arizona). It is a key ingredient in imbibements such as margaritas, as well as in dessert course treats such as sorbets, ice creams, and sauces.

Sweet Specialties of New Mexico

These are the treats you’ll see often enough to take notice in New Mexico. Some are unique to the area, and others simply proliferate in a big enough way to bear mention.

Apple pie with green chile

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

In New England, there is a saying that “apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.” In New Mexico, it’s green chile that adds a little spice to the life of apple pie. It’s a commonly seen specialty in restaurants and cafes, and a recipe has even been shared in the Smithsonian.

Arroz dulce or Arroz con leche

Photo via Wikipedia commons

You’ll recognize this dish if you see it: it’s rice pudding. The version favored in New Mexico has a distinctly Mexican inspired flavor; it’s almost like the pudding version of horchata. It’s made with milk, sometimes raisins, and always spiced with cinnamon.

Atole

Corn is the base of this traditional beverage of Mexico and Central America. Corn flour is combined over heat with water, piloncillo, cinnamon, vanilla and optional chocolate or fruit to make an earthy, hot beverage which is commonly served as an accompaniment to tamales during the holiday season. 

Biscochitos

Biscochito, Golden Crown

As the Official State Cookie of New Mexico, this delicately flaky anise-scented cookie demands civic respect. There are variations on the recipe: sometimes they’re made as circles, sometimes as diamonds, sometimes trefoils. The spelling is sometimes of debate, too: you’ll see them as biscochito or bizcochito (see lore, below). But most old-school bakers will agree on at least one thing: the secret to the melt-in-your-mouth texture, which simply cannot be substituted without sacrificing authenticity, is lard.

Blue corn pancakes

Tecolote Cafe, Santa Fe

Using blue corn in pancakes is a trend which is generally credited to Tecolote Cafe, whose atole pinon pancakes have been featured on the Food Network and beyond. It has spread far and wide, though, and is a frequent occurrence on breakfast menus.

Buñuelos

Photo via Wikipedia commons

These lightly sweetened doughnut-esque fried bits of dough are not unique to New Mexico; you’ll find variations of them as widely flung as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In New Mexico, you’ll often see a version which seems like a relative of the sopaipilla; the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. They are typically sweetened with sugar and cinnamon; sometimes, a sugar cane glaze is employed for maximum deliciousness.

Capirotada

Greer Garson's capirotada (7)

Photo via Flickr member Joel Kramer

This variation of bread pudding is characterized by its addition of cheese and spices--a cinnamon-rich mixture which makes it sort of like bread pudding meets cheesecake with a dash of horchata. There’s no part of the equation that is wrong.

Chile chocolate


Chocolates scented with chile are an everyday occurrence in New Mexico. All chocolate shops will stock some variation on the theme, whether it’s straight-up dark chocolate with ancho chile or a more involved confection with pinon, caramel, and chile. Brownies will also commonly contain chile.

Chongos

Chongos photo via Wikipedia Commons

Apparently “chongo” is a Spanish term used similarly to the term “chignon” which is referred to a particular twist of women’s hair. Certainly there is a twist involved in the dessert, which is made with cheese curds which are “twisted” and served with a sweet syrup.

Dulce de calabaza

Calabaza para preparar dulce de calabaza tradicional del día de muertos en México

Pumpkin is treated with a method somewhat similar to making candied citrus to make this unique confection. It’s candy-like on the outside yet remains soft on the inside, making it a singular dessert. You won’t so much find it at bakeries as you will as a snack at flea markets, or if you’re lucky, someone’s grandma made it for you.

Dulces membrillo

Dulces membrillo via Wikipedia commons

From the Spanish by way of Portugal, Dulce de membrillo is made of quince fruit, sugar and water, cooked over a slow fire. It is sweet and mildly tart, and similar in consistency, flavor and use to guava cheese or guava paste. It is sold in squares or blocks, then cut into thin slices and spread over toasted bread or sandwiches, plain or with cheese, often served for breakfast or as a snack, with manchego cheese or mató cheese. It is very often used to stuff pastries.

Empanadas dulces / empanaditas

Sweet Empanadas, Sweetheart Coffee

Hand pies stuffed with all manner of sweet fillings are a common sight in New Mexico. Typical fillings include dates, apples, peaches, or quince. They can be small or quite large. 

Flan


You know flan: a decadent cooked caramel cream custard which is popular in a variety of cultures. Perhaps owing to the combination of dairy production and Mexican and Spanish influence in the state, flan is extremely popular in New Mexico. It's as standard on dessert menus as chocolate cake.

Fry Bread

Mmm... fry bread with honey and cinnamon

Also called Navajo fry bread, this is a staple that comes with a sad story. After being ousted from their land, Native Americans had to make due with what they had. Government supplies of staples were often rancid; making due with the minimal ingredients they had, fry bread was born. It has become a sacred tradition, and some say “it is to be consumed by the people until the earth has again become purified.”

Horchata

Juan More Taco - Lunch

You'll see your fair share of horchata in New Mexico. This beverage made from soaked ground rice comes across as “milky” but it’s typically not made with actual dairy. It’s typically sweetened with sugar and scented with cinnamon. It’s a common street vendor beverage and is a common beverage offering at restaurants in New Mexico.

Hot chocolate

Kakawa

Sure, you can find the Starbucks or Swiss Miss types of hot chocolate in New Mexico. But you can also find a more exotic and luxuriant Mexican/Spanish style of drinking chocolate. According to cuisine expert Gwyneth Doland, “Both hot chocolate and atole are traditional accompaniments to tamales. Mexican hot chocolate is far, far superior to the American version. First, they make it from real chocolate. Then, they spice it up with canela, vanilla and sometimes a kick of chile. If you can’t find ancho chile powder, try regular old red chile powder; just don’t use a powder that contains anything except ground chile peppers.” 

Jamincillo

Have you ever heard of milk fudge? Or perhaps penuche? If so, you have an idea of what jamincillo is; if not, let me explain. It’s made with milk, sugar, butter, vanilla, and pecans. The first four ingredients are heated and lightly caramelized; once they reach a level of firmness, they are either rolled or pressed into a pan to form confections.

Marquesote


This is a simple and classic sweet in Mexican and Salvadorean traditions. Made with yeast, it’s sweeter than a typical bread, and with a more delicate crumb owing to cornstarch, but less sweet than a cake (so it is often called “Mexican cake bread” which seems to tell it like it is). It can be served simply, with confectioners’ sugar as a breakfast item, or gussied up with fruit or syrups. You'll often see variations on this type of cake bread in the panaderias which are so common in New Mexico. 

Mexican wedding cakes

Mexican Wedding Cookie, Chocolate Maven, Santa Fe NM

They exist under many names and in many different cultures: Russian teacakes, snowballs, kourabiedes, Armenian sugar cookies.

They’re extremely popular in New Mexico; bakeries and restaurants always seem to stock them. Variations will include Bocaditos de miel de abeja (honey drops) and yemas de nueces (nuts and yolks, referring to some key ingredients).

Molletes

Molletes are better known as a sort of open faced breakfast sandwich, but there is a lesser-known dessert version. Sometimes referred to as molletes de coco, these are sweet buns filled with a sweet mixture, usually a creamy custard. They can be appointed and garnished with rum, coconut, icing, and pumpkin seeds.

Natillas

Photo via Wikipedia commons

In my opinion, the best way to describe natillas is to call it “rice pudding, but without the rice.” It is a relative to the French îlles flottantes, or floating islands. Cooked on the stovetop, natillas have more milk and fewer eggs than their French cousin, which makes it thinner and creamier.

Paletas

Papaya Paleta from La Newyorkina, NYC

To call paletas “ice pops” would be a disservice and an understatement. Far from the frozen sugar water sticks of color, paletas are rich in flavor, made with fresh juices. They’re extremely vibrant both color and flavor-wise. They’re a popular item in the summer in New Mexico.

Panaderia fare

Conchas, pan de huevo, marranitos, bigotes: all of your favorite pan dulce favorites from Mexican panaderias can easily be found in New Mexico.

Panocha

Photo via Wikipedia commons

Panocha is a pudding made from ground sprouted wheat and piloncillo. It is traditionally eaten during Lent. The sprouted-wheat flour itself is called "panocha flour". But listen to me right now. Do not google images for it, because you'll learn that it's also slang for something else. 

Pastellitas Indios

Pastelito

Almost like a garibaldi biscuit, this pastry is like a pie that has been flattened on purpose: it has dried fruit condensed to a sticky-sweet filling between flat pastry crust. It's way better than it sounds. 

Sopaipilla

A signature New Mexican treat, this is not necessarily sweet. Literally “little pillow”, this fried bread is typically served with honey, which is why I give it honorary sweet status. It’s served alongside savory meals, though, but I consider it sort of like a sweet respite during a savory meal.

Tamales

True, they’re more famous for being a savory dish, especially popular around the holidays. But here's a secret: give them a sweet filling and they’re a dessert! You’ll find fruit-filled varieties throughout the state, with fillings ranging from cheese to fruits.  

A particularly interesting variety of tamale is called kneeldown bread. Also called Navajo tamales, this is a sort of sweet tamale, but don’t be misled by the name. Made from corn, fat, and water, it derives its sweetness naturally, from corn, but is baked hard, like a cracker, and sometimes stored all winter long. It’s named for the prone position assumed to make it.

Tres Leches Cake

Literally “three milks”, this cake is beloved all over, but has a strong presence in New Mexico--along with flan, it's as ubiquitous as chocolate cake on dessert menus. The style can vary, but if you ask me, a good one is made with a spongey cake to absorb all of the milk, and is so saturated that it almost sops a bit when cut into. 

Pastry profiles

A sampling of regionally famous and interesting desserts I've sampled or heard about from trusted sources in New Mexico. I believe that these desserts are unique in that they all offer a distinct sense of place while you're in the Land of Enchantment.

Atole Piñon Pancakes, Tecolote Cafe, Santa Fe

Though the restaurant is closed for the moment (they lost their lease and are looking for a new spot), their pancakes are legendary. As wide as a salad plate and satisfyingly thick, one pancake really will do. It’s flecked with plenty of blue corn and studded with piñon.

Good Pie Cafe, Pie Town, NM

Apple Pie with Green Chile and piñon, Daily Pie Cafe, Pie Town

This is probably the most famous pie in New Mexico, as it is the only one I can think of which has been featured in the Smithsonian. A thick double crust plays house to spicy apple slices flecked with green chile and pinon.

Blue Corn Doughnuts, Whoos Donuts, Santa Fe

Whoo's Donuts

Picture a cake doughnut. Now, change everything: make it with blue corn to give it an ever so slightly gritty texture and nutty flavor, and top it with a sticky sweet raspberry jam spiced with a whisper, not a shout, of jalapeno. It sounds a bit much but truly, it’s a thing of delicious beauty.

Caramel Pinon Ice Cream, Taos Cow, Taos

If you like dulce de leche ice cream, chances are you’ll love this creamy, mellow yet sophisticated flavor. Caramel ice cream gets a rich expansion of flavor thanks to a smattering of pinon nuts, which round out the flavor and make it more interesting.

Chocolate Pecan Pie, Cafe Pasqual’s

Cafe Pasqual's, Holiday Pie Mania, Santa FE

Pecan pie is great, but like a great many things, it is improved by chocolate. The name may not insinuate its greatness, but one taste of this sweet and flavor-filled pie will make you a believer. It’s a beloved dessert at a beloved restaurant.

Custard empanadas, Leo’s Bakery, Las Cruces

Fruit empanadas are one thing. But fruit and custard? Amazing! The custard empanadas are a popular and interesting item to try at Leo's Bakery in Las Cruces. 

Eclairs, Charlie’s Spic N Span Cafe, Las Vegas

A giant cream puff sign will put you in a pastry mood even before you walk in the door, but the eclairs are what keep the crowds coming. Technically, these are not eclairs, but large, elongated cream puffs with chocolate icing...but really, who’s complaining?

Fruit filled burritos, Michael’s Kitchen, Taos

Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. But sweet, not savory.

Ice cream sundaes from Vanilla Moose Ice Cream, Aztec

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

To call the owner of Vanilla Moose “zany” would be an understatement. She concocts a mile-long list of mini sundaes with any number of toppings from pretzels to pineapple upside down cake, and serves them with a smile. Free mini cones for babies and dogs.

New Mexican wedding cake, Mary and Tito’s, Albuquerque

Mexican wedding cake

I know I just spent all this time explaining that Mexican wedding cakes are actually cookies, but this exceptional cake happens to have almost the same name as the cookie but actually be a cake. Confused? Don't be. Focus on the cake, which is really quite incredible. I'd describe it as being like hummingbird cake, but without the bananas. 

Peanut mexican wedding cakes, Glenn’s Bakery, Gallup

Typically, mexican wedding cakes are made with almonds or pecans, but this interesting version makes use of New Mexico's peanut bounty. Not many cookies feature peanuts--they all seem to have peanut butter--but these make a case for more peanut usage in cookies. 

Pinon biscochitos, El Meze restaurant, El Prado

Looking for a fancy version of the state's down-home official cookie? Look no further. Delicately flavored with pinon, the biscochitos at El Meze restaurant, owned by famed NM food historian Fred Miller, are really something else.

“Potato” ice cream, Cowgirl Cafe, Santa Fe

Photo via Trip Advisor

There’s no actual potato in this dessert, which is named for its looks rather than its flavor. Ice cream is rolled in cocoa and presented as a baked potato, down to trompe l’oeil pat of butter. It’s a favorite with children, but beloved by adults, too.

SPAT (pinon caramel truffle), Chocolatesmith, Santa Fe

Named for the shoe covers favored by turn-of-the-century dandies (I don't really see the resemblance but I can let it go), these chocolates are rich in caramel and slightly salty pinon. They're a unique treat at a purveyor which features many New Mexican ingredients in their delicious chocolates. 

Tres leches cake, The Pantry Restaurant, Santa Fe

Pantry restaurant

The Pantry restaurant is famous for breakfast in Santa Fe, but here's a little known fact: one of the employees' wives makes their tres leches cake in small batches at home and supplies the restaurant. This cake tastes like love, and oozes milky goodness when the tines of your fork hit the cake.

Lore and interesting bits from New Mexico

The curious case of the biscochito

Pretty much everyone I've emailed or spoken to spells the state cookie "biscochito". But we're all doing it wrong: the official word is that it's "Bizcochito". As I learned here

In 1989 New Mexico House Bill 406 declared the bizcochito as New Mexico's Official State Cookie.  The battle over the state cookie was not about adopting it but how to spell it.  Several lawmakers got on the House floor to press for the "s" or"z".  Eventually the Senate returned it as "bizcochito".  To this day the Senate version prevails, but as we all know, it's the taste that gives a biscochito the name, no matter how you wish to say it. 

Pastry Pilgrimage: Pie Town

 Pie Town

Pie Town is located in a relatively remote part of southern New Mexico, and is very much the small frontier town. When I went there, I was told jokingly that its name is inspired by the fact that the town is "exactly 3.14 miles from the middle of nowhere."

As the legend goes, the town gets its name from an enterprising local who began to sell sundries and snacks, notably pies, to travelers passing through. Without much else to discern the town, it began to be referred to as "Pie Town". The name caught on, and has held strong.

Interestingly, pie has not been a constant in the town that bears its name. There have been long stretches when no pies, or worse, not very good pies, have been sold.

Today, two of the small handful of retail businesses in Pie Town are pie related: the Good Pie Cafe and the Pie-O-Neer. The former is only open seasonally, so you'll have to wait until spring to sample their pies; as the Pie-O-Neer advises, "our days and hours change like the weather"—that is to say, call ahead if you're planning a trip to try them out.

A recipe for the road

It would be inhuman to close without at least one recipe, right? So here's a recipe for some biscochitos!

Pinon Biscochitos - from Fred and Annette of El Meze Restaurant

Ingredients

 

  • 1 cup butter; softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp anise seed; finely ground
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups pinon nuts; finely ground
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup water

Directions

  1. Preheat over to 375 degrees. 
  2. Cream butter and shortening together with mixer or in food processor. Add sugar and anise seed and blend until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. 
  3. Mix flour, baking soda, ground nuts and salt together. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until smooth. 
  4. Add enough water to form a stiff cookie dough. Chill dough for 1 hour or longer.
  5.  Cut chilled dough into 6 pieces (keeping pieces in the refrigerator until ready to use). On floured surface, roll out cookie dough until 1/8” thick. Cut out with 1-1/2” round cookie cutter. Press pinon nuts on top of each cookie. Sprinkle heavy with raw sugar. 
  6. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Cookies need to soft brown color, not white.

Well, that was a totally sweet tour of New Mexico sweets, sweeties! If you have anything to add or thing I got something wrong, please feel free to chime in to make this guide even better!

Tuesday
May272014

Sweet Art: Hipster Unicorns Invade Santa Fe

I've had the craziest day in Santa Fe.

It started in the morning when I went to BODY for a yoga class. It was a dreamy class, but when I exited...there was a veritable sea of unicorns outside!

Well, I rubbed my eyes, shook my head, and chalked it up to a lack of caffeine so I headed over to the Betterday coffee shop, a known hipster hangout and fine purveyor of coffee.

But you wouldn't believe what I saw there... More unicorns! And these ones looked suspiciously like hipsters.

Starting to think that perhaps I was going crazy, I thought I would escape for a while in the soothing dark of a matinee. So I headed over to the Cocteau theater, which happens to be owned by George Martin of Game of Thrones fame.

But I wasn't alone... The Jean Cocteau appeared to have been taken over by yet more fashionable unicorns, and these ones were reading the Santa Fe Reporter, using iPhones, and even name-dropping.

Sensing that I was experiencing some sort of unicorn-induced hysteria, I decided to seek sanctuary at the Cowgirl BBQ nearby, where I figured I would at least see some people in cowboy hats acting southwest-y, and the horses on the wall would not have horns.

Well. I'm sure that you saw this coming, but the hipster unicorns had infiltrated the Cowgirl, too!

Maybe to those who have spent more time in Santa Fe than me, this type of thing is commonplace. But for me, it was a pivotal moment: I felt like I finally understood why they call New Mexico the "land of enchantment".

Monday
Oct142013

CakeSpy Undercover: The Vanilla Moose, Aztec NM

I need to tell you about the business that may just be my favorite soft serve ice cream joint on earth. 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

And please know that this statement does not come lightly, as I was born and raised by the Jersey Shore, a soft serve mecca if ever there was one.

But in the most unexpected place--Aztec, New Mexico, in a region called "Four Corners" given its proximity to the spot where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah all meet--there is a most magical ice cream spot called The Vanilla Moose.

Here's what you'll see as you drive up. 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

There are picnic tables leading up to the burger shack-style order window. You can drive through, too, but that's definitely not as much fun as walking up. 

Soft serve is what's on the menu here, vanilla and chocolate, and it's done right. It's creamy and smooth, with none of the "ew"-y grainy texture that can characterize lesser varieties of soft serve (and like I said, I know). But if a plain ol' cone is too boring for you, that's ok, because they have a number of different ways to dress it up, as you'll see on the menu. Vanilla Moose, Aztec

By the way, the menu boasts "spoiling dinners since 1983" and "as always, free doggie & baby cones". Seriously, don't you love them already?

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

There are floats, cones, shakes, and especially sundaes. Now, don't get me wrong, because we got a shake and it was most excellent--chocolate with almond syrup and almonds inside and on top of the shake, thankyouverymuch--

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

But. In my opinion, the true joy here is the sundaes. We sampled several, so I feel well qualified to tell you about it. They are served in several sizes, but I found the "junior" size to be just right. It's like a small ice cream, but when topped with a number of different textured and flavored additions and whipped cream and a cherry on top, it's the perfect amount. 

Some highlights? The brownie sundae was a study in balance, with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream playing beautifully off of the chocolate-rich brownies (made by owner Pam) and the rich fudge sauce. When it slightly began to melt and all of the flavors came together...perfection. Good with nuts, too. 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

The peanut cluster sundae was ideal for this sweet-and-salty dessert lover. Creamy vanilla ice cream was coated with caramel and crunchy salty roasted peanuts, then (why not) it was all topped with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. It was just indulgent enough, and the saltiness made each bite completely tantalizing, making you want more sweet, and then the taste of sweet made you want more salty. 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

During a week-long stay in the area, we went four times. The owner, Pam, who took over the business from her mother, and her employee were both just stellar, dealing with simultaneous drive-through and walk-up customers with ease, speed, and friendliness. On a visit when there was no line, Pam came 'round the counter and sat with us and talked about New Mexico, spirituality, cross-country moves, and of course, her role as one who brings sweetness to many lives. She's a pretty cool lady. Tell her I said hi if you go. 

And, speaking of which, yes, I do think you should go. Aztec is an interesting little town, with Native American ruins which are fascinating to tour, and it's just a stone's throw from uber-cute Durango, Colorado. It's worth a visit if you find yourself in that part of the world.

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

But please, make sure you visit The Vanilla Moose. I'll warn you, they're closing in about 2 weeks (a little before Halloween) for the season, but they'll be back in the spring, and the spring after that, and it's my sincere hope that they are there forever. Because we need places like this to make us pause from being so busy in our everyday lives, and savor some sweetness just for a few minutes.

OH! And remember how I told you they do free doggie cones? Guess who we brought on one of our visits...

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

Yeah, this happened. Porkchop loves The Vanilla Moose, too! Wonder what emotions he felt while eating his cone.

 

Vanilla Moose, Aztec

The Vanilla Moose, 1721 West Aztec Boulevard, Aztec NM 87401. On Facebook.

Thursday
Sep122013

Carb Lover's Delight: Golden Crown Panaderia, Albuquerque

Golden Crown Panaderia

When I tell you about Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque, it's probably going to sound strange. 

You see, from the best I can tell, they have four specialties there: 

1. Empanadas

2. Biscochitos

3. Bread

4. Pizza

Golden Crown PanaderiaGolden Crown Panaderia

Yep. Empanadas and biscochitos, okay. Bread...all right. The pizza is a little bit of a curveball. And yes, in case you're wondering, they do have other stuff--like mexican wedding cake cookies and a variety of other pastries. Here's there menu so you can ogle. But we zeroed in on the stuff that we were told was the best.

Golden Crown Panaderia

Now, I don't know about you, but I might not have high hopes for, say, the pizza at such an establishment. But the most incredible thing is that they do all of four things things amazingly well. 

But since this is a dessert and baked goods site, I am going to assure you that the pizza is well worth a try and start talking about the sweets now, ok?

Biscochito, Golden Crown

First, the biscochitos. We were extremely delighted when, upon entering the bakery, the employee just gave us each a biscochito. If you've never tried one, they're a flaky, almost pie crust-esque spiced cookie, often made with lard, which is the official State cookie of New Mexico. Their biscochitos were perfect. Golden Crown Panaderia

They simply crumbled into a sweet, melty oblivion in your mouth, and the lightly crunchy dusting of sugar and spice was gentle, not overpowering, letting the flavor of the rich but slight cookie shine. 

Now, I should tell you for future reference that if you ever buy biscochitos, you must eat them immediately. It's not that they won't keep, but they will crumble. I have purchased biscochitos before and taken a short walk with them and somehow they've turned into a pile of crumbs. Be warned.

Next up were the empanadas. We got apricot and cherry. They have a number of flavors, though--raspberry, apple, lemon, et cetera. Nothing crazy, but a nice variety of flavor options.

Golden Crown Panaderia

The fillings were OK. Like, serviceable. But sort of along the lines of one of those TastyKake hand pies. Fancier of course, but still of that ilk. The apricot tasted better than the cherry, we thought. But either way, the fillings are really just an excuse to have something to wrap the crust around.

Golden Crown Panaderia

But dudes, dudettes, the crust. The crust was similar to the texture of the biscochitos, making me wonder if it was a biscochito crust or perhaps just a lightly doctored biscochito dough altered for a sturdier texture. Golden Crown PanaderiaLike the cookies, they were dusted with sugar and spice. The crust was perfect. It was flaky, lightly nutty (perhaps owing to the spice?) and like the biscochitos, just melted in your mouth. This is the type of crust you're willing to travel for. 

Golden Crown Panaderia

Get yourself to the Golden Crown. I think you'll enjoy their crust quite a bit, be it on an empanada or a pizza.

Golden Crown Panaderia, 1103 Mountain Road, Albuquerque NM. Online here.

Saturday
Jun152013

Sweet Discovery: Mexican Wedding Cake, Mary and Tito's Cafe, Albuquerque

 

Mexican wedding cake

 I'd like to share with you the most interesting dessert I've had in a while.

It's called Mexican Wedding Cake. But this is kind of a funny name, for a few reasons.

First off, when I think "Mexican Wedding Cake", I think of a cookie--a snowball sort of cookie. Not an actual cake.

Second, it doesn't really look like a wedding cake. It actually more resembles a Hummingbird cake, with walnuts and pineapple and cream cheese frosting...but without the banana. It's baked in a bundt type pan.

Third, we're not in Mexico. We're in New Mexico, at an eatery specializing in New Mexican food. It can't be denied that New Mexican cuisine is heavily influenced by that of Mexico, but they're not *quite* the same. Although to this last point, I feel as though at least one of the employees referred to it as "New Mexican Wedding Cake".

But who really cares about the name when a cake tastes this good?  

 

Mexican wedding cake

 As previously mentioned, it's a nice, dense, sort of Hummingbird-esque cake, but without the banana. It is dense with spices, fruit, and buttery cakey goodness. When I say dense, I mean it. It's almost gooey, like the texture of a baked pudding. Upon reflection, it's like having a glimpse at the evolution between fruit cake and fluffy layer cakes, with delicious results. And the frosting, oh, the frosting. Here's a posterior view to give you an idea:Mexican wedding cake

 It's somehow light, almost with the texture of whipped cream, but rich in cream cheese flavor. It's applied thickly, and you'll be so glad it is. This is a very, very special cake, served in an unassuming spot (picture below): 

What a find!

As I learned from the fantastic site NM Gastronome, (owner) Antoinette has been making this cake for better than 30 years (though she doesn’t look much older than 30 herself) and says she’s made it thousands of times.  You won’t find any better in New Mexico.  You won’t find anything close.

As I learned from the same post,

In the February, 2013 edition of Albuquerque The Magazine  celebrated the Duke City’s best desserts. The fabulous Mexican wedding cake was recognized as the “to die for dessert to remember.”  I’m not too sure what that means, but if it means the Mexican wedding cake is unforgettable, the honor is certainly well deserved.  It’s certainly one of the very best desserts in New Mexico. 

You've got to try this one if you find yourself in Albuquerque! 

Mary & Tito's, 2711 4th Street, N.W. Albuquerque, NMMary & Tito’s Facebook Page.

 

Monday
Jun032013

Sweet Surprise: Key Lime Pie from Zia Diner, Santa Fe

Key Lime Pie

Sometimes, you find sweet dessert finds where you least expect them. For instance, I would not have thought that Santa Fe, New Mexico, would be a great place to get an authentic slice of Key Lime Pie. Turns out, I was wrong, because they're selling the good stuff right at the Zia Diner, not far from the central downtown area. How delightful to be surprised like this!

As I entered the building to meet a friend, I was greeted by a case full of baked goods. I was informed by the hostess that their sweets are all made on site, and that they're all very, very good. I had a long and loving look at this cream puff: 

Cream Puff, Zia Diner

Before sitting down for some savory food. After dinner, though, you can bet your bottom dollar we were ready to see the dessert menu! When asked what was good, the waitress said that if there was any part of us that held love for key lime pie, we simply had to get theirs. "Is it made with real Key Limes?" I asked. Apparently, yes. She also told us that Floridians have a way of testing a pie to see if it's authentic from the get-go: they look at the color. Artificially tinted or regular-lime only impostors will not have the correct color, which is kind of a custardy yellow (not green!). She also told us that Floridians approved of this pie. But would a Spy?

Key Lime Pie

Yes! Oh my! This pie was very, very good. Shockingly tart on first bite, but subsiding as it warms in your mouth to an even, tart-sweet richness. Zingy citrus--this pie tastes like sunshine. A very nice texture, sort of like that of panna cotta--it didn't collapse when cut into, but wasn't stiff or too firm, either. Soft...yielding. 

I was very impressed by this Key Lime Pie, not only because it was delicious but that it was proof that sometimes, even a professional dessert detective can be pleasantly surprised by a sweet in the most unexpected place! 

If you're not in or near Santa Fe, however, you can enjoy the dessert gallery on their website (why doesn't every restaurant do that?).

Zia Diner, 326 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe NM; online here.

Saturday
Apr202013

CakeSpy Undercover: Momo and Company, Santa Fe

Momo and Co

This is what a gluten-free cupcake looks like at Momo and Company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is a totally gluten-free and mostly vegan bakery near the Georgia O'Keeffe museum, downtown.

How did they get there? So glad you asked. Per their website,

What happens when you put together a native New Yorker with an affinity for baked goods (bordering on obsession) and a native New Mexican who has a passion for Boba tea?…you get Momo & Co! Leslie Thompson, founder of Momocakes Vegan, Gluten-Free Bakery and Carola Kieve, lover of all things Boba have teamed up to bring 100% Gluten-Free, (Mostly) Vegan goodies and the 1st ever All Natural Boba Tea Bar to Santa Fe, NM.  Initially our journey was a personal challenge to be more mindful of what was going into our food and beverages but along the way we’ve learned that many people need to eat allergen-free foods as a necessity .

While eating gluten-free may be a necessity to some, it need not equal suffering--for anyone. So it makes me so glad that places like Momo and Company exist, where gluten-free treats are available for those who can't eat gluten, but delicious for everyone.

By the way, this is what two gluten-free cupcakes look like at Momo. 

Momo and Co

On my recent visit with my friend Judi, we each got the breakfast sandwich (I know, not sweet) on gluten-free bread. Hey, the bread was pretty good and held together quite well (I've had trouble with gluten-free bread falling apart on me in the past). 

The cupcakes, made with a proprietary blend of flours (each of their baked goods has a slightly different mix to ensure the best flavor and texture), are among some of the better gluten-free / vegan varieties I've tried. The cake held together (once again, I have had trouble with that) and on the chocolate-chocolate cupcake, little studs of chocolate added extra delight. The frosting had a little bit of a "crust" on top, which I like--the only bad part is that it made it solid so if cutting the cupcake in half, the frosting comes off in a chunk. But this does not affect the flavor--just the visual. 

Cupcakes aren't the only sweet on the menu--they also have sticky buns with chocolate:

Momo and Co

as well as chocolate chip cookies, mexican wedding cake cookies, a waffle bar with plenty of sweet toppings...

and of course the savory / sandwich menu.

Momo and Co

Momo and Company, 229a Johnson Street, Santa Fe; online here.

Wednesday
Apr172013

Pastry Profiles: Chocolate Tart from Tree House Pastry, Santa Fe

Tree House Pastry

Tree House Pastry Shop and Café is not easy to find. It's in an unlikely spot--inside of a mall, across from an insurance agent. But it's worth seeking out, particularly for their chocolate tart. It's both vegan and gluten free, but don't be scared off when I say that, because there is nothing virtuous at all about the taste of this devilishly decadent tart. Does the secret lie in the crust, made of crushed candied walnuts? Or is it the dense, lusciously luxuriant slab of chocolate topping, which is so thick that it will coat your teeth? Or is it the secret addition of raspberries which add a little tart burst to all taht chocolatiness? Either way, after a few bites, you don't care so much about the ingredients as you do that it keeps on finding its way to your mouth.

Treehouse pastry

I wouldn't go quite so far as to tell you this tart alone is worth a trip to Santa Fe, but...I am saying that if you are in Santa Fe, this tart is worth seeking out. Or maybe it will make you strongly consider Santa Fe for your next vacation. 

Tree House Pastry Shop and Cafe, 163 Paseo de Peralta (inside of the DeVargas Center), Santa Fe, NM 87501; online here.
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