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Entries in pastry profiles (39)

Monday
May312010

Hip to Be Square: Square Cupcakes at Columbia City Bakery, Seattle

Like, OMG! A square cupcake!

Wait, wait. Before you accuse me of being too easily impressed, allow me to assure you that this cake, from Seattle's famous Columbia City Bakery, has more going for it than just an unexpected shape: it's also a deliciously decadent and dense carrot cake. Proving that sometimes subtle sweetness is all you need, this cake derives much of its flavor and sweetness from the natural flavor of the carrots, which are then made even better when paired with a rich, buttery, cream cheesy frosting piped into a cute nubbly texture. Add a few nuts on top for crunch, and you've got yourself a winner.

It's so hip to be square, when you're a cupcake.

Square cupcakes (!), available at Columbia City Bakery, 4865 Rainier Ave S., Seattle; online here.

Saturday
May222010

Morning Glory: The Lovely and Amazing Morning Bun

It's time to talk about the Morning Bun, that beautiful American adaptation of French breakfast pastries.

First off, what is this thing? As Carey Jones put it so beautifully on Serious Eats,

In my mind, the morning bun is the perfect synthesis of the classic croissant and the irresistible sticky bun. Call it a croissant in cinnamon roll clothing. It’s made of a buttery croissant dough, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar (and often walnuts or pecans), then rolled into spirals. Each one is baked in a muffin tin, and when the morning buns rise, they spill up and out of their little slots. Kept in close quarters, the bottom stays a bit doughy, like a sticky bun interior, while the top lifts into an appealingly flaky, cinnamon-speckled dome.

Legend (that being lore from a CakeSpy Shop customer Katie's friend) has it that this bit of sweet manna originated in the Midwest US, perhaps the result of French settlers trying to recreate a piece of home with the ingredients and supplies they had readily available? It is listed on the Wisconsin Food Hall of Fame, at any rate.

But regardless of where it came from, one thing is certain--these beautiful buns are just as tasty as they look, and if you see one at your local bakery, you should grab one. Of course, making a trek to Tartine for one based on the picture above wouldn't be out of the question, either (and while you're in the Bay Area, hit up La Farine, too!).

For more lore and love on the subject of the Morning Bun (and recipes/bakery suggestions too!), you might like to read Serious Eats, Pink Stripes, and Apartment Therapy.

Tuesday
May042010

Take Your Pix: The Pixie from Pix Patisserie, Portland

Say Bonjour to the Pixie.

Quest-ce que c'est, this Pixie?

It's a sweet little treat from Pix Pâtisserie, the Frenchiest little spot in Portland, OR.

Now, settling on the Pixie wasn't easy--after reviewing a small but well curated collection of European-style pastries available, including an Opera Cake, Queen of Sheba Truffle Cake, a particularly fetching triangular Dobos Torte, and macarons a-plenty.

But the unassuming and small-ish Pixie was humming to me, and so it was what I chose. Per the website,

Pistachios, almond paste, and raspberry jam are the main ingredients making up this layered concoction people can’t seem to get enough of. One woman replied after her first taste, “Oh! This makes me wanna dance!” Enough said.

And while I'd like to say for the record that aforementioned customer was not me, it might as well have been. This little pastry may be small but it's mightily magical, buttery pastry layers spread with an incredibly rich pistachio and almond paste mixture which is given a bright dimention from the sweet jam. All of this awesome, of course, is sealed with a kiss of confectioners' sugar on top.

As Mr. Spy commented upon tasting, "It tastes like a Christmas cookie...only better."

You heard it here first--better than Christmas!

Of course, it would be remiss to not mention the pâte de fruit (we tried the blackberry). This gel-y candy is one of those confections, like marshmallows, which is really at its finest when homemade, and Pix's is the real deal, with a texture which is yielding but not too sticky or gelatinous, and full of natural fruit sweetness. A subtle and sweet little bite, and quite the steal at less than a dollar each!

Pix Patisserie has two locations in Portland; visit here for more information. They also ship a variety of their baked goods; visit here to learn more.

Thursday
Apr222010

Cream of the Crumb: Crumb Cake Cupcakes at Sugar Mommy Cupcakes, Denville NJ

Friends, I want to share with you what may be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen: the Crumb Cake Cupcake.

This beauty comes from what I consider the Crumb Cake Capitol of the world, New Jersey (Garden State, pshaw!). The crumb cupcake is on the menu at the newly-opened Sugar Mommy Cupcakes in Denville, and is described as "Yellow cake with cinnamon and sugar baked inside. Cream cheese frosting with crumbs on top." Of course, just to avoid any awkwardness later, I am admitting up front that I added the "i love you" motif to the back of the image. 

I learned of Sugar Mommy Cupcakes via trusted NJ Cake Gumshoe Steph (who also sells sweet stuff under the name SassyBelleWares), who unfortunately wasn't able to sample this particular variety, but did have good things to say about the cupcakes in general after her husband surprised her with a few: 

My husband said "this girl makes GOOD cupcakes" and he is not a cupcake lover like me. I tried the red velvet which was moist and I loved the frosting...usually I am not a huge cream cheese frostng fan but this one was more like a buttercream cream cheese. The other one I ate was a chocolate chocolate. I love chocolate bars but for some reason when it comes to cake & frosting I prefer vanilla vanilla. However, this chocolate cake was moist and the chocolate icing was light and fluffy and delicious. I will be going there to try everything else soon!

In the Denville area? Hit them up: Sugar Mommy Cupcakes, 60 Diamond Spring Road, Denville, NJ (Inside Cafe Metro); even if you're not in the area, you can get a virtual sugar rush online at sugarmommycupcakes.com.

Saturday
Apr172010

Flash in the Pain: Pain au Chocolat from Bakery Nouveau, West Seattle

You just try and tell me that isn't the loveliest and most hypnotic thing you've ever seen.

Oh, ok, we can look at it from another angle. If you insist.

OK. One more.

This buttery stunner is the pain au chocolat from Bakery Nouveau (you know, the one owned by the guy who won the thing), and it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

Now, usually I'm not a fan of croissants that have a crispy, shardlike texture on the outside--my greedy nature is saddened by the thought that I might lose a crumb of the outer croissant while eating. But happily, this one wasn't so much shardlike as it was lightly crispy yet yielding to a soft center--it felt almost like you could taste every ethereal layer of light pastry at once, and they were all very buttery. And then there was the chocolate, lightly bitter and a dark, rich complement to the lightness of the pastry.

Nothing pain-ful about this sweet treat. Well, except for the name, which I suggest they change to pleasure au chocolat, toute suite. 

Oh, and speaking of chocolate, according to Lorna Yee, next on the list to try at Nouveau is the chocolate cake.

Pain au chocolat from Bakery Nouveau, 4737 California Ave. SW, West Seattle; online at bakerynouveau.com.

Monday
Apr122010

Sublime: The Lime Cornmeal Cookie from Amy's Bread, NYC

Today I'd like to tell you about the subtle but sublime pleasure that is the Lime Cornmeal Cookie from Amy's Bread in NYC.

This cookie isn't flashy in appearance--it's actually rather unassuming. It would be easy to pass it up for something more classic like chocolate chip or oatmeal, or for something sexier like the double chocolate pecan.

But if you do opt for it, you're in for a sweet reward.

The crumb is lightly coarse and gritty-textured from the cornmeal, but a healthy amount of butter somehow keeps it tender and cohesive (happily, it doesn't crumble apart like its cousin cornbread likes to), and the sugar and lime add sweet and tart hints that perhaps don't sing, but definitely hum, in a very pleasing way. 

A lightly sweet cookie like this is refreshing and hearty all at once--and the cornbread almost makes it feel healthy. At least healthy enough that I'd consider it a completely appropriate breakfast cookie.

Amy's Bread has three NYC locations; visit their website, amysbread.com, to find out more. If you're not in NYC, the recipe for this cookie can be found in the book The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread: Cakes, Cookies, Bars, Pastries and More from New York City's Favorite Bakery.

Friday
Apr092010

Slice of Heaven: A Tip for Delicious Vanilla Slice in Melbourne, Australia

Vanilla slice photo c/o Flickr user StickyPix, used with Creative Commons Permission

What is David Jones?

No, it's not a former Monkee trying to be all mature.

It's a shop in Australia, per Wikipedia, "colloquially known as DJs, is an Australian retailer. Its primary business is an Australia-wide chain of premium department stores."

And as I learned from some uber-cute Australian customers who happened into my burgeoning gallery (at 415 E. Pine Street, Capitol Hill, Seattle, since you asked) the other day, their Foodhall is also the source for some of Melbourne's best Vanilla Slice.

Vanilla slice, for those of you who may not familiar, is not dissimilar to our stateside Napoleon or the French "Mille Feuille"--per Wikipedia, it is "filled with vanilla custard. It usually has only a top and bottom pastry layer. The sweet is often dusted with icing sugar, or topped with a plain or passionfruit flavoured icing."

Of course, for those of you who (like me) aren't free to run over to David Jones at the earliest convenience, there is a pretty good-looking recipe on Nigella Lawson's website.

Vive la Vanilla Slice!

For more information on David Jones, visit their site; for more information on the various incarnations of the Vanilla Slice, Mille Feuille, and Napoleon, visit Wikipedia!

Sunday
Mar212010

Beautiful Pear-ing: Tarte Poires Chocolat from Thierry Renard, Paris

I'm a firm believer that when something is done extremely well, it can make you a believer.

I'm also a believer that sometimes the most wonderful experiences are the ones that you stumble upon accidentally (if serendipitously).

Case in point: the pear-chocolate tart from Thierry Renard, a tiny boulangerie-patisserie in a Paris neighborhood off the beaten path, in a neighborhood with a hospital and what looks like a lot of medical students milling about.

Though I don't consider myself a big fan of pear desserts -- or chocolate-and-fruit flavor pairings, for that matter! -- after tasting this I had to concede that it was very, very good.

When the bitterness of the dark chocolate meets the mellow sweetness of the pears, which were soft but not in a mushy way, something lovely happens: both flavors make the other better. It's not a pastry made of sharp contrasts but more composed of subtleties, all wrapped up in a deliciously buttery crust. And the glaze and chocolate chips on top don't hurt, either. Oh, let's look at it again:

Who knew what a perfect pear-ing these flavors could be--merci, Thierry Renard!

Tarte Poires Chocolat from Thierry Renard, 131 bis Boulevard de l’Hôpital, 13th Arrondissement, Paris.

Tuesday
Feb162010

Amuse Bouchon: The Bouchon Ho Ho, Bouchon Bakery, NYC

It's time to talk about the fanciest Ho Ho you'll ever meet: the Bouchon Bakery Ho Ho.

I'll admit, when I first encountered this $5.25 log of chocolate and buttercream at Bouchon Bakery's Columbus Circle location, I was, to put it mildly, conflicted.

On the one hand: Awesome! It's a Ho Ho! But Fancy!

But on the other hand: Hey! This Ho Ho costs more than $5! What are they trying to pull?

And while tasting it was delightful, it actually made me even more confused.

On the one hand: This is a well made baked good. Each bite is exquisite, obviously made with fine ingredients, redolent with rich, dark chocolate cake, rich buttercream all enrobed in a decadent dark chocolate.

But on the other hand: Somehow it seems with every bite that nostalgia is playing a game with you, because it tastes so right...but isn't all of the wrongness of the original what makes it so wonderful?

Faced with a sweet dilemma, a piece of said fancy Ho Ho was presented to Cake Gumshoe Margie (um, also my mom), whose eyes widened upon the prospect of such a fancy version of a childhood favorite. Her esteemed opinion?

"It's very good...but if anything...it tastes just a little too fancy".

So, where does this leave us?

On the one hand: When we make bad stuff good, there's an appeal that can't be denied, something deeply rooted in nostalgia that appeals to our developed tastes.

But on the other hand: Unfortunately, as it seems, as much as we might want these treats to grow up with us, sometimes we can't get past the fact that the bad is sometimes what makes these treats so good.

Of course, in conclusion, I would like to say that you wouldn't have to twist my arm too hard to buy another one of these deliciously decadent treats--because never has existential musing been so sweet.

What do you think? Is making junk food gourmet a good or a bad thing?

The Bouchon Ho Ho, available at Bouchon Bakery; for locations, visit bouchonbakery.com. Call to ensure availability.

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