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Entries in new orleans (6)

Sunday
Jan052014

Beignet, Done That: Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

I'd love to keep you in suspense about what I ordered at Café du Monde in New Orleans, but if you've ever been there (and perhaps even if you haven't), you will already know the answer: beignets.

Beignets

Not only are they the only foodstuff on the menu, but they're also the dish, accompanied by cafe au lait, for which the establishment is famous.

Qu'est-ce c'est, le beignet?

These heavenly bits of fried dough are related to doughnuts, but they’re far Frenchier. In their purest form, they are simply fried rectangles or triangles of sweet dough that puff and become pillowy when fried. They are served with copious amounts of confectioners’ sugar. More adventurous bakers will offer different flavors and even filled varieties in New Orleans, but it's pretty straight-up at Café du Monde.

More about Cafe du Monde.

Beignets, cafe du monde

Perhaps the most famous beignet maker in town is this Café du Monde, which has been beignet-ing it since--believe it--1862. It is open 24 hours a day in the historic French Quarter and specializes in beignets and coffee laced with chicory. Are they the best in town? Locals have varying opinions, but it’s a singular and necessary experience in New Orleans. To be sitting "courtside" in the covered outdoor seating area and watching buskers, local vendors, and passers-by, and just generally seeing the world go by, is as evocative a New Orleans image as eating a croissant in Paris, or having tea in the UK.

Listen. Not that you asked me, but the 'Monde has several locations that you shouldn't bother with if your time is limited. The true experience is at the original location, on Decatur street, in the French Market.

How it works

Cafe du monde

Café du Monde runs a tight machine. You arrive, and you sit. Your napkin holder is also your menu. Of course you want beignets, but what to drink? Cafe au lait (do it)? Or just plain chicory coffee? They do other, fancier drinks, too, but don't bother. 

The beignets will arrive, three on a plate, with an almost comical amount of confectioners' sugar forming mountaintop peaks on top. The sugar partially dissolves into the fried pastries as you eat, but it is pretty much guaranteed that you will leave the establishment looking like you have a serious cocaine problem. You know, from what I have seen on TV. 

You may think to yourself that you won't finish the beignets, but you will. Because even if you've heard that there are better beignets in town, it is hard to beat this experience and they are quite good. If there are two of you, you might just order more. Just let it happen--you're in New Orleans, after all. It's a good place to let it all hang out, and everyone deserves a treat. 

Beignet, done that

Cafe du Monde, 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans. Online here.

Monday
Dec302013

CakeSpy Undercover: Angelo Brocato, New Orleans

IMAG6104

It's probably about time that I tell you about my trip to Angelo Brocato in New Orleans. It's been there since 1905, so it's about time you made it over. 

Listen, I forget how I learned about this place. Probably on a website, or in a guide book. That is to say--it's not an unknown place. But I am here to tell you that when you read about it on a website or a guide book, you must listen to what the people say. You must go to Angelo Brocato in New Orleans.

It's a little out there. It's not on Bourbon Street, it's not in the Garden District. But it's worth a jaunt. 

When you get there, you'll see this sign outside. Don't you love it already?

Angelo Brocato

When you go inside, you'll be greeted by a big bakery case, and next to it, a big gelato case. And then, there are chilled desserts.

Brocato

Bakery case Gelato

What will you choose? I'll tell you what we chose. Maybe that will give you some ideas.

We'll start with the cassata.

Cassata

Let's make that two.

Two cassata

If you've never heard of the stuff, Cassata is a traditional Sicilian treat. It starts with sponge cake which is drenched in liqueur, then layered with a cannoli-esque cream then sealed in with marzipan and candied fruit. I don't know if that tells you how delicious it is, though. It's rich and surprisingly not over-sweet, delicate yet substantial. The one at Angelo Brocato is wonderful, and full of almond-y flavor which works beautifully with the cream. This marzipan was so good I wanted to marry it. 

But...as great as the cassata is, it's even better with gelato.

Cassata with gelato

On to the ricotta cheesecake.

Ricotta cheesecake

It's just gently sweet, crumbly and somewhat dry--not in a bad way, but you definitely want some coffee or tea with this guy.

Next up was a "Greek cap", basically a puff pastry stuffed with almond cream. It tasted like the best part of an almond croissant, all condensed into a little hockey puck shape.

Greek Cap

Are you still hungry? I'm still hungry. How about some chocolate and hazelnut gelato? Gelato

It's so smooth and creamy--I think this is my favorite gelato since Capogiro in Philadelphia.

So, basically, to summarize. Before:

All of it

AFTER:

Finished

And it was such a joy to do it. Please, let me urge you strongly to visit Angelo Brocato--as soon as humanly possible. It's old school, it's quality, it's a joy. I hope they do it for a hundred years more and longer.

Angelo Brocato, 214 N. Carrolton Street, New Orleans. Online here.

Monday
Sep162013

CakeSpy Undercover: The Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

I first heard about the Buttermilk Drop in a New York Times article, gloriously entitled "A City Drenched in Sugar". I had known that New Orleans was a city famed for its sweets, but I don't think I really knew until I read this article. Not only King cake waited for me in the Big Easy, but doberge cake and snowballs and doughnuts, too.

Actually, a particular type of doughnut called the Buttermilk Drop.

As I learned from this site, the buttermilk drop is a doughnut unique to New Orleans which gained fame at the now defunct but still beloved McKenzie's Pastry Shoppe. It is, on the surface, not an incredibly unique treat. It looks like a doughnut hole, but it's bigger. But not quite as big as a full-sized doughnut. But one taste will tell you that this is a very special doughnutty morsel. Rich in buttermilk, yes, which gives them a perfect delicate crumb yet substantial texture, which is gorgeously and generously coated in a thick glaze. 

I can understand why New Orleans would simply not stand for this doughnut disappearing.

Today, from what I gather, you can get buttermilk drops at two places: Tastee's, which apparently purchased the rights to a number of McKenzie's recipes, and The Buttermilk Drop Cafe

I recently tried them at The Buttermilk Drop Cafe, an establishment with an interesting story. Owner Dwight Henry first gained fame as a maker of sweet treats, then gained local celebrity status when he put incredible effort into helping re-open businesses in his Seventh Ward neighborhood following Hurricane Katrina.

Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

And then, he was "discovered" when the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild was filming in his neighborhood, and ended up being featured in the movie. So basically now, in addition to being famous for making doughnuts, he's being featured in New York Times Magazine style shoots

Well, I will tell you, I was intrigued.

Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

So when you walk into The Buttermilk Drop Cafe, I was greeted by an odd sight. A large room with ample seating space...but no seating. A menu that seemed to invite sitting and staying a spell...but nowhere to sit and stay. Cool artwork on the wall and even ceiling. 

Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

A large case greeted us, but only a portion of it was filled. All of what filled it looked good though: DOUGHNUTS. Glazed and cake, vanilla and chocolate, in rounds and braids... Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

and, of course, the famed buttermilk drops.

Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

From behind a small glass window, a friendly girl took our order. It was alarmingly affordable. The doughnuts and buttermilk drops were all well under a dollar each, which was refreshing. 

Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

We got a few buttermilk, a few chocolate, and of course several buttermilk drops.Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

The doughnuts were very, very good. Light in texture, with a solid buttermilk flavor, and most importantly, drenched in a highly delicious glaze.Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

But the real star was the buttermilk drops. Was it the power of suggestion, that I was ready to love these best because I had heard so much about them? Perhaps. But d-a-m-n were they fine doughnuts.

The texture of the buttermilk drop is perfect. Like I said before, it's a delicate crumb, but a substantial doughnut in nature. I love the size, too. It's more serious than a mere doughnut hole, but not quite a full size doughnut. It is the perfect snacking size. And the glaze was so liberally applied that it kind of fused into the drop's crust...oh, heaven.

Buttermilk Drop Cafe, New Orleans

So what am I saying here? Get yourself to the Buttermilk Drop Cafe. I was impressed by how "real" the place has remained even following its fame. Weird about the seating, but you can deal. This is an experience that must be lived by doughnut lovers.

The Buttermilk Drop Cafe, 1781 N. Dorgenois Street, New Orleans. Online here.

 

Monday
Sep092013

New Orleans Bread Pudding: Palace Cafe Recipe

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

I like bread pudding. But usually, "like" is about as far as my affection goes. I like it. I'll eat it. But I'm never like "yeah! Bread pudding!" and happy dancing about it or anything.

That changed when I tried bread pudding in New Orleans. I said to myself, "they get it here, man. They really get it." The texture is not so much like custardy, soaked bread as it is like velvet. It's so smooth. And they put this sauce on it which is as addictive as I imagine crystal meth to be. At just about every establishment at which I sampled bread pudding in New Orleans, it was one of those situations where I was like "OK, I'll have a bite" and then ended up eating the whole thing and scraping the spoon on the bottom wanting more. 

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

Upon inspection of a variety of recipes and talking to bakers from the area, I think I've pretty much figured out the secrets behind the bread pudding success in New Orleans: they basically double the butter, cream, and eggs, and add booze besides. And the results are stellar.

I'd like to try as many of these New Orleans bread pudding recipes as I can. Will you taste along with me? 

First up is the White Chocolate Bread Pudding from the Palace Cafe. It's owned by Dickie Brennan, a famed restaurateur in the area. 

This recipe intrigued me, quite frankly, because I had a lot of white chocolate on hand. 

White chocolate

I'll tell the truth: I made some changes. First, I halved the original recipe. I just didn't have 15 eggs on hand, and it seemed like it would make more bread pudding than two people needed in my household. 

Halved, the recipe worked great. The texture is like butter. It's so soft, and so moist, it practically oozes like a tres leches cake.

YES!

This is probably owing to the glaze. It seems like an obscene amount of liquid at first, but somehow the bread pudding absorbs it all. The white chocolate tastes wonderful with the dash of bourbon I took the liberty of adding to the recipe. Actually, after a few bites, everything in the world looks glorious.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

Adapted from Palace Cafe: The Flavor of New Orleans - printable version here

6 servings

  • 1 loaf French bread (you are not going to use the whole thing, but have it on hand)
  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 1 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ounces white chocolate, chopped (or use chips)
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 7 egg yolks
  • A rather generous glug of bourbon

White Chocolate Sauce

  • 8 ounces white chocolate (broken into small pieces)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Procedure

  1. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Divide it in half--you'll definitely use half, and you might use some of the rest of the cubes. If you don't, you can make croutons, yo. Place the half you're using in a large bowl. Set to the side.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch pan. Set to the side.
  3. In a large saucepan, heat the whipping cream, milk, and sugar over medium heat. Dash in the salt. When hot, take off the heat and add the white chocolate pieces; stir until melted.
  4. Combine the whole eggs and egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the eggs in a steady stream, whipping the eggs as you pour. If you wanna, add that glug of bourbon now. 
  5. Add the mixture to the bowl with the bread pieces.
  6. If the bread is positively swimming, add some more bread until the bread is covered, but not by much.
  7. White Chocolate Bread Pudding
  8. Feeling good? Now, transfer it to the prepared pan. The cubes of bread will poke up but it's really liquid-y.
  9. Using a spatula press down the bread so everything is absolutely saturated.
  10. White Chocolate Bread Pudding
  11. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until set and golden on top. You don't want brown, just lightly golden. 
  12. While it bakes, prepare the sauce. Bring the milk to a boil in a small sauce pan. Take off the heat and add white chocolate; stir until smooth and completely melted. It's going to be a fairly liquid sauce. White Chocolate Bread PuddingPour over the bread pudding right when it comes out of the oven. It may look like an obscene amount of liquid but the bread pudding will absorb it. White Chocolate Bread Pudding
  13. Let cool and enjoy. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Saturday
Feb062010

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler: New Orleans King Cake from Sucre

So, recently I was contacted by Sucré (say it: soo-kray), a bakery in New Orleans, inquiring if I'd like them to send me a sample of their king cake. They assured me it was one of the best.

It's ok if you're jealous. This is really kind of an awesome thing to have someone offer.

Needless to say, there wasn't a type point-size large enough on my email to fully convey the powerful "YES" I wanted to send back. But they must have gotten the idea, because a few days later, this was on my doorstep.

(Olive the pug was keenly interested in this parcel.)

There was a pretty box inside...

And then within that...

Behold, the Sucré King Cake. A ring of twisted, buttery dough sweetened with cinnamon and sugar and filled with a whipped cream cheese filling. 

And it sparkles.

Really, I'm not sure if the pictures quite convey it, but this is an exceedingly lovely cake to look at.

And it tastes just as gorgeous as it looks. 

The cake itself has a texture like a cross between brioche and croissant, simultaneously light and rich, and redolent with buttery flavor. The cream cheese filling infuses each bite with a sweet, dense richness which adds a smooth contrast to the buttery flakiness of the exterior. It's all beautifully topped with a layer of thin confectioners' sugar icing which adds just a bit more sweetness and balances out the slight savoriness of the cream cheese filling. One taster said if anything he would have enjoyed a slightly thicker layer of icing, but it's not like he left any of his slice uneaten.

While a great teatime cake, I found it tasted best for breakfast--kind of like a fancy, sparkly danish. It pairs beautifully with a dark, strong coffee.

Now, because I know that receiving something for free can affect one's opinion, I purposefully did not look at the price of the cake and independently polled tasters as to how much they would pay for such a confection before looking up the actual cost. People estimated anywhere from $40  to $60 including shipping, which makes it all the more delightful to say that if you buy a Sucré king cake, it costs only $19.95 plus $9.95 shipping in the US. Honestly, I think that's a pretty great value! Of course, once you get on their site, escaping without purchasing some gorgeous macarons (including Mardi Gras-themed ones! Pictured below), chocolates or confections in addition to your King Cake may prove difficult.

Final word? The Sucré King Cake gets an A+ from CakeSpy. Vive le Roi!

King Cakes and other confections by Sucré can be purchased online at shopsucre.com. If you're in New Orleans, aren't you lucky, because you can experience the magic in person, at their retail shop, at 3025 Magazine Streeet, New Orleans, LA 70115.

Sunday
Sep072008

Parlez Beignet? An Exploration of New Orleans' Famous Treats

September 6, 2008: Beignets in Seattle
Our beignet story began with a brow wax. Now, generally "brow wax" and "delicious pastry" aren't things that go together--but it turns out, the aesthetician was originally from New Orleans, which inevitably led to a discussion about the best sweet stuff in the Crescent City. She waxed poetic about one specialty in particular--the beignet. (Cakespy Note: To avoid potential embarrassment later--it's pronounced "ben-YAY"--in your Frenchiest voice possible, please.)

What's a beignet? The answer may differ depending where you are in the world.


Beignet
The word beignet itself comes from the early Celtic word bigne meaning "to raise", and according to our French dictionary, the literal translation is "fritter". If this seems simplistic, there's a reason why--according to this site, "In France, beignet is an umbrella term for a large variety of pastries made from deep-fried dough with fruit or vegetable filling". However, though French in origin, the beignet's legend seems to lie in New Orleans, so we like this definition (from What's Cooking America) best:
Beignets, a New Orleans specialty, are fried, raised pieces of yeast dough, usually about 2 inches in diameter or 2 inches square. After being fried, they are sprinkled with sugar or coated with various icings. It is like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole. Beignets are the forerunners of the raised doughnut. When you hear people in New Orleans say, "Goin' fo' coffee an' doughnuts," they mean coffee and beignets. In 1986, beignets became the Louisiana State Doughnut.
And certainly, even if you've never tried a beignet, you'll recognize it as looking like a cousin to many other treats--at moments close to, but not quite the same as--doughnuts, zeppole, funnel cake, pączki, buñuelos, boules de Berlin...the list goes on.

But back to that pivotal brow wax.

Beignets from Cafe Beignet
Turns out, the N'awlins-bred aesthetician wasn't pining over the fried treats, for she had found beignets right in Seattle--in the unlikely spot of the Center House in the Seattle Center. The Center House, under the shadow of the Space Needle, isn't much of a destination--it's more of a mall-type food court, not exactly a foodie mecca--but as she had learned, this little spot makes their beignets using the same mix (note: though the thought of a mix might scare off some, the ingredients were decidedly tame--Enriched wheat flour, enriched barley flour, milk, buttermilk, salt, sugar, leavening (baking powder, baking soda, and/or yeast) as Cafe Du Monde, which is probably the most famous of the beignet joints in New Orleans, having garnered mentions in Jimmy Buffet songs and in John T. Edge's donut book, if you're into pastry name dropping (we totally are).

When we went to Cafe Beignet on a Saturday afternoon, there was no line, and we watched the young employee roll out, shape and then fry the beignets to order. Now, we've never been to New Orleans so we don't really have a point of reference--but we can say that our beignets, taken piping hot to go and liberally dusted with a cinnamon-sugar topping, tasted hot, fried, sugary--that is to say, in our estimation, pretty delicious.


In Seattle? See for yourself at Cafe Beignet, Center House, 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA; (206) 441-0262.

Not in Seattle? We found this recipe (below) which we're gonna try next time, or you could buy the Cafe du Monde mix at cafedumonde.com.


Beignets
Beignet Recipe
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature & beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons instant active dry yeast
  • Vegetable oil*
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
* Use just enough vegetable oil to completely cover beignets while frying.

Using a mixer with a dough hook, place water, sugar, salt, egg, butter, evaporated milk, flour, and yeast in the bowl. Beat until smooth. If using a bread machine, select dough setting and press Start. When dough cycle has finished, remove dough from pan and turn out onto a lightly oiled surface. form dough into an oval, place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled (3 to 4 hours) or overnight.

To prepare dough, remove from refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured board to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into approximately 3-inch squares.

In a deep fryer or large pot, heat vegetable oil to 360 degrees F. Fry the beignets (2 or 3 at a time) 2 to 3 minutes or until they are puffed and golden brown on both sides, turning them in the oil with tongs once or twice to get them evenly brown; beignets will rise to the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff. NOTE: If the beignets don't rise to the top immediately when dropped into the oil, the oil is not hot enough. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels, then sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar. Serve hot.

NOTE: The dough can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator - it actually improves with age; just punch down when it rises. Dough can also be frozen; cut and roll, or shape doughnuts before freezing.)

Makes 18 beignets.





Cafe Beignet on Urbanspoon

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