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Entries in philadelphia (37)


CakeSpy Undercover: Federal Donuts, Philadelphia

Federal Donuts

Today, I went to a place called Federal Donuts. They specialize in the following things, listed in order of my interest:

1. Donuts

2. Coffee

3. Fried Chicken

Apparently they have awesome fried chicken. Maybe one day I will go back to try it, but I hear the lines are epic. But mostly, I wanted to try the donuts.  Let me tell you about my experience.

Federal Donuts

When I walked into the small space, I had a good feeling about the donuts when I saw this: Federal donuts

I trust donuts!

Dollars to donuts, it was an extremely pleasant visit. When I walked in, I asked the friendly counter girl "what is going on here?" and she explained that they had a variety of "fancy" donuts ($2 ea), and you could also order donuts to be fried to order for $1.25. Whaa? Awesome. So the ordering began, and before you know it here is what was in front of me:

Federal Donuts

Whew! Time to get to work. Here's one of the spiced "Appolonia" donuts. Federal Donuts

Here's the creamsicle "fancy" one. Federal Donuts

and here was the figgity fig fig. I think they called it "double fig" but clearly I have made my decision. Figgity fig fig!

Federal Donuts

But the basis of everything--the place from whence it all begins--is the plain donut. They are fried to order.Federal Donuts

They have an interesting, smooth finish. But once you take a bite, you can see why this place is so freaking popular. It's delicious. It tastes like hot, doughy goodness. It's simple, and in its simplicity, it is great. It's assertively, but not aggressively, greasy, and somehow manages to have a feathery texture. It's a good donut to begin with, but the fact that it was fried to order, just for you, makes the experience so much richer.

 Federal Donuts

Let's have another one of those, shall we?

The fancy donuts are also very good--flavorful, and I appreciated how the donuts themselves seemed a bit denser (I am a dense donut lover) and enjoyed the creative but not over the top flavor combos. But really, I think that the hot fresh donuts are the way to go. Or at least get one of each, so you can see it all for yourself. 

I got there pretty early, and it wasn't too crowded and they still had plenty of donuts. But I hear that they DO sell out, so try to hit them early or during off hours (I am thinking the weekend is probably pretty insane). And let me know if you try the chicken, but it might take me a while to move past these donuts to anything else!

Federal Donuts, 1219 S. 2nd Street, Philadelphia; online here. 


Baked Good of the Day: Chevre Tuffet, Wedge and Fig, Philadelphia

Chevre cheese tart with caramel

How about a mini cheesecake?

...nah, why not fancy it up? How about a chevre cheese tart with caramel sauce?

Chevre cheese tart with caramel

That's more like it. Unexpected, interesting, and definitely delicious, the "Chevre Tuffet" is a mini goat cheese cheesecake which is singular in its flavor--wonderfully tangy yet mellow, and certainly a more lively and complex flavor than your typical cheesecake. But it gets even better with a crumbly crust on the bottom and a delicious smothering of caramel sauce on top. Actually, it gets so much better that you might be tempted to lick the plate (if nobody's watching, of course). 

Chevre cheese tart with caramel

Get yourself some tasty cheese tart action at Wedge + Fig. 160 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia; online here.


Seeking Sweetness: Pretty Sweets at Artisserie, Philadelphia

Artisserie Frozen Hot Chocolate

Near the University of Pennsylvania, there is a bakery called Artisserie Chocolate Cafe. Recently I went there, and while I wouldn't say my socks were knocked off, I thought their pastry work was solid--if you find yourself in the neighborhood, you'll be able to find something tasty.

However, the main reason I'm posting is that I did think it was worthwhile to show you some pictures of their pretty presentation. See the chocolate-lined cold hot chocolate, above; also, these fun Mondrian-inspired chocolate truffles:

Mondrian chocolates

So if you're in the 'hood, check them out--they have a variety of pastries and baked goods, too!

Artisserie Chocolate Cafe, 3421 Walnut St, PhiladelphiaPA 19104. Online here. 


CakeSpy Undercover: Cannoli from Isgo Pasticceria, Philadelphia

isgro cannoli

Recently, I went to a place called Isgro Pasticceria in Philadelphia to try the cannoli.

Now, there's good reason to go to this Italian bakery to sample cannoli. First off, they've been doing this since 1904, and the cannoli is seen as their signature item. Second, theirs are "the best". How can I tell this? Well, they have a big sign on the window that says so, and their website is bestcannoli.com. I like that moxie!

But how are they? I picked up three to see.

Of interest: their cannoli were pre-filled, not filled to order. I will be honest, I did not ask what the reason was. I know that for some bakeries, they go through them so fast that they don't need to fill to order. 

isgro cannoli

First was the classic cannoli. Man, was this thing good. The shell was crispy, the filling filled the whole shell (I despise it when there's a gap in the center!), and the flavor of the filling was fantastic. It was less sweet than some cannolis I have tried, and even almost slightly crumbly--it really was ricotta-esque, not over-sugared, but creamy enough to hold together until it got into your mouth, where it disintegrated into a creamy crumbly oblivion of deliciousness, speckled with chocolate morsels. 

Isgro pastry

Next was the vanilla mousse cannoli. It looked very promising, and the flavor was good--but the texture of the lighter mousse against the shell just didn't work. I think that the key to a good cannoli is the balance of flavor, texture, and a nice heft - so this one, while clearly well made, just did not do it for me. And yes, this is colored by my personal preference for a classic cannoli.


The chocolate mousse-filled cannoli was a bit better, texturewise: while again, the lightness of the mousse threw me off, this one had the ends coated in chocolate, and when a bite was taken of the filling, shell, and chocolate dipped section, it made for a nice combination. Once again, great flavor on all aspects.


Overall, I vote that you make Isgro a destination when you're in Philadelphia--it's quite near the main drag of the famous Italian Market, and if you love cannoli, you will enjoy trying their variety to see how they stack up. In my opinion, I found the classic to be a slightly different, but very excellent, specimen of cannoli. So my advice is to be sure to try the classic first! 

Isgro Pasticceria, 1009 Christian Street, Philadelphia; online here.

Isgro Pastries on Urbanspoon


CakeSpy Undercover: Philly Cupcake Company, Philadelphia

CUPCAKE from Philly Cupcake

Recently, I went to a place called Philly Cupcake Company. They are a bakery specializing in...well, cupcakes. Duh. Well, they do have a few other sweets too--brownies, cookies, chocolate covered marshmallows and nutter butters, and some homemade dog treats too. They're not new--they've been there for about 3 years--but this was my first time visiting.

And I was there for the cupcakes.

When you walk in, after encountering the store's slightly creepy mascot, you encounter a line of hutches which contain the cupcakes. There's a little velvet rope and you point at what you want and the employees fetch it for you. When there is a line, it strikes me that this could be irritating, but on the day I went, there wasn't a line. 

The menu at Philly Cupcake is eclectic. They have two tiers of cupcakes: "classic" and "fancy". The classics include basic flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, etc., and are $3. The fancy ones are a little more tricked-out (vanilla caramel cupcakes with twix bars; banana cupcakes with banana buttercream and a layer of white chocolate ganache, for example). 

I decided to start out with the basics, and went for vanilla and red velvet. Kind of the cupcake litmus test. The employee was very friendly and gave specific instructions (don't refrigerate or the cake will dry out; enjoy fresh, carry the bag in such a way so your cupcakes don't get mashed, etc). They packed the cupcakes in to-go containers, which is a nice touch.

I must say: overall, I was very impressed. The vanilla cupcake was moist and flecked with vanilla bean; the flavor was not showy but just a very good, simple vanilla. 

But the Red Velvet--I've got to say, it was standout as very good. The cocoa flavor was evident; the cake was extremely moist and rich in flavor, and the cream cheese was delightfully tangy. A fellow taster said the cream cheese frosting was a bit heavy, but I personally thought it was just right. I mean, do you really want your cream cheese frosting to be light and airy? Not me, friend.

Philly Cupcake makes a very nice cupcake--simple and unfussy, but with care taken and nice details (sparkles and pretty decorations on the vanilla; a simple but clean design on the Red Velvet). A nice showing, and I can't wait to return. 

Philly Cupcake Company, 1132 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia; online here.



Pastry Profiles: Hazelnut Cake, Swiss Haus Bakery, Philadelphia

Swiss Cake Haus

We are now going to discuss the experience of eating the Swiss Haus's signature sweet, "The Original Hazelnut Cake".

This is a very special cake, for a few reasons.

First, it's the bakery's signature dessert. As they beautifully put it on their website, 

Ok, here is the deal. This cake is what the entire Swiss Haus Bakery fuss is all about. This century old recipe that was brought over from Europe to Philadelphia over 85 years ago. It has three layers of hazelnut sponge cake filled with vanilla butter cream, covered in Swiss Chocolate Shavings.

Swiss Cake House

Upon my first visit, I was assured that this was the thing to get--a recipe that hasn't changed for over 80 years, because it doesn't need to. It's just that good. Well, that fascinated me. Especially because the flavor combination (not to mention that it has sponge cake, which I consider a featherweight of the dessert world) might not have been my first choice had it not been suggested.

Swiss Cake House

The cake is offered in a few sizes: small bites for about $3 (maybe a little more or less--lay off me, I was concerned with the cake), and larger cakes for larger prices. 

So what is this cake like? It's a nostalgic and highly pleasant sweet--especially enjoyable when you've heard the tale of how long the cake has been made (it always tastes better with a backstory, doesn't it?). Airy and sophisticated, the light sponge cake was deliciously coated with a light whipped frosting on all sides. While a little more chocolate couldn't have hurt, it's clear to see why the bakery has been making it for 80 years without pause. If you find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and grab a taste of history.

35 S. 19th Street, Philadelphia; online here.


CakeSpy Undercover: Scoop de Ville, Philadelphia

Scoop de ville

I'd like to take you on a brief virtual journey to Scoop de Ville in Philadelphia. 

Located in the center city area, not far from Rittenhouse Square, it's painted with very bright ice cream cones all over. Maybe just-this-side of garish, but in a pleasant way. Dessert should never be a halfhearted experience, after all.

Here's the interior (photo from the Scoop de Ville facebook page):After you walk in, you'll ogle at bright and sparkly stuff on the walls for a few minutes; then you'll make your way to the menu. It is a large menu.

Scoop de Ville

After looking through the mind-boggling menu of delicious ice cream (they get their ice cream from Bassett's), it's time to settle on the flavors you'd like to go with. For me, the answer was clear: butterscotch vanilla.

After you choose a flavor, if you'd like something mixed in, they will take your ice cream, and your topping...and drill it into submission with this machine.


What happens in the machine (other than the fun aspect of "We're playing with ice cream machinery!") is that it makes your topping and ice cream into a delicious soft-serve slurry.

Having chosen the Butterscotch Vanilla flavor, I hit up the staff for a mix-in suggestion. We decided (by committee) that chocolate covered pretzels would be a fine complement. 


The pretzels were pulverized in the machine, and lent a little chocolate studded saltiness to the dreamy ice cream. I think we made a very good decision indeed. I can't wait to return and try more exotic combinations from their combination menu--for instance, the "Abbey Road" (Vanilla ice cream or yogurt, Oreo, Golden Grahams, Nutella and Marshmallow Fluff on top) or perhaps the "Banana Bread" (Maple walnut ice cream or yogurt blended with oatmeal raisin cookie dough and bananas).

Scoop de Ville, 1734 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia; online here.


Butter Makes it Better: Philadelphia Butter Cake

Philadelphia butter cake

Probably, you already love Philadelphia Butter Cake. I mean, the title includes the words "butter" and "cake", so pretty much no matter where it's from, it's going to be lovable, right? In my opinion, we owe Philadelphia bigtime for giving us (and by "us" I mean, like, everyone in the world) the gift of this cake.

But, you may be wondering, what exactly is it?

Judging by the picture and the name, you might be tempted to think that Philadelphia Butter Cake, a rich, buttery cake with a gooey center, which served in bar form, is similar to Gooey Butter Cake, a St. Louis specialty. But you're not quite right: while they have some similar characteristics, I'd call them more "cousins" than "twins". 

Butter cake!

Likewise, you wouldn't want to confuse it with a simple "Butter Cake", or to expect a buttery yellow cake to be your result--there is really no frosting necessary with the Philadelphia version, and if you baked it expecting a layer cake, you'd be disappointed for sure. 

But let's go back to the Gooey Butter Cake. If you already know what that is, you have an idea of what you'd be up against with the Philadelphia Butter Cake. But the important differences? As I see it,

A. There is yeast in the "crust" part of the cake.

B. There is no cream cheese in the soft and gooey middle section; it is made of butter, more butter, a bit of flour, sugar, eggs, milk, and flavorings. 

C. The top forms a lightly soft crusty texture, which I found more pronounced than with a Gooey Butter Cake. 

The cake is sometimes referred to as "German Butter Cake", which leads me to believe that it is probably an American adaptation of a German cake, adapted in the new world to reflect the ingredients available.

The Philadelphia Butter Cake pictured in this post was obtained at the Flying Monkey Patisserie in the famed Reading Terminal Market, where, when ordering, I said "I'll have the buddah cake. Buddah". You know, to be funny. 

The cake was very, very good. It's so rich that it makes you want to cry, and has a touch of saltiness which complements the sweet, that makes you want to keep eating more and more. Their version had a more shortbread-y crust, so it may not be completely traditional, but it was totally tasty. I want more right now, in fact.

They also carry the cake at Town Crier Bakery and Bredenbeck's (I have tried this version, and it's very good). I also hear there's a fantastic version at Haegle's, which is famous for the stuff.

Here's a great blog post featuring a recipe for Philadelphia Butter Cake, including a step by step tutorial.


CakeSpy Undercover: Metropolitan Bakery, Philadelphia

Photo: Metropolitan Bakery facebook pageI have a big, sweet, carbohydratey crush on Philadelphia's Metropolitan Bakery. Why, you ask?

Well. There are a few reasons.

Metropolitan bakery

First off, they make wonderful bread. This is important. But sometimes, when a bakery excels at baking bread, their sweet treats seem secondary. And I get it--bread is their "thing". But very happily, Metropolitan Bakery doesn't fall into this category.

First, I will address their sticky buns. Like, whoa. Nice and yeasty, but with a pleasing amount of gooey filling, these buns are generously bathed in a caramelly coating and topped with pecans, making for a decadently delicious breakfast treat. I heated mine a little bit, and it sort of tasted like heaven. Really. I think I heard the "Dream Weaver" music playing.

Next, I will address their lemon bars. Now, by appearances only, the lemon bars are fairly average. I don't mean this as an insult. All that I am saying is, how could you know that this unassuming bar holds such a treasure of flavors? Assertively--nearly puckeringly--lemon, these cool and tart bars are anchored by a rich, buttery shortbread crust. Please, let me have another.

Next, I will talk for a moment about their raspberry crumb bars. Once again, not saccharine sweet, and beautifully finished off which a slightly salty, very buttery brown sugar crumb topping. I can see how one could even convince oneself that it's vaguely healthy. 

Metropolitan Bakery

Speaking of vaguely healthy, they also offer something called a Millet Muffin. Now, in general, such a title would not entice me--but wrapped in liner paper that made them look like little flowers, I was intrigued. And I was assured by the counter lady that they were very, very good. "Are they healthy?" I asked. And she said, "Well, not really". That's all I needed--"I'll take it!" I said. And you know what? These muffins are very good. The millet adds a nice, nutty flavor and a wonderfully crunchy flavor which doesn't fall into "crack yo' teeth" territory--but the muffin base is deliciously dense and buttery. I call it a winner. 

And because this stuff contributes to the overall bakery experience, I should say that as an artistic person, their logo, which is inspired by the Paris Metro, pleases me greatly. 

Their menu is pretty extensive, featuring cakes, cookies, Frenchie-stuff like caneles and macarons, and tarts. And everything I have sampled has been quite good. What I am getting at here is: go to this bakery.

Metropolitan Bakery has a few locations in the Philadelphia area; find out more about them on their website.


CakeSpy Undercover: Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

For this assignment, I went undercover--and underground--to visit Tiffany's Bakery.

This is an unexpected spot to find delicious treats--for one thing, it is in the basement level of an urban shopping mall. In the food court. It's flanked by places like McDonalds and Auntie Anne's--not exactly where you'd expect to find a scratch-baked, totally awesome bakery.

My trip was doubly delightful in that it was the spot suggested by my friend Margaret, a brilliant editor at Quirk Books. It's amazing, she promised. I didn't need to be told twice.

I was glad it had been suggested, because purely based on looks, the the bakery might not get you right away: the shelving and lighting are fairly generic and utilitarian.

But the crowd surrounding the sweet-smelling bakery is your first indication that you've reached an unexpected goldmine of deliciousness. And clearly they've got a loyal following: they've been baking up sweets for 33 years now!

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

And because we never do anything halfway, we got not one but about a half-dozen of their sweet treats, including a sticky bun, a cookie, a red velvet cupcake, a mini cherry cheese danish, and a "George Washington Slice", a sort of spicy brownie-gingerbread type bar. 

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

And you know what? Everything was very, very good. Standouts for me were the cherry danish and sticky bun, which were lightly yeasty, not too sweet, but pleasingly decadent on both counts. Also very strong was the cookie, which was spicy and flavorful. I personally did not try the cupcake but was assured it was a good specimen. The chewy "George Washington Bar" was like a chewy spice cake meets brownie--interesting, a little different, and I think it would make a great companion to eggnog around the holidays. 

I learned that Tiffany's is known and highly regarded for their generous slices of Strawberry Short Cake - making that my #1 pick for my next visit.

Tiffany's Bakery, Philadelphia

Another nice thing about Tiffany's is that they offer many of their items in two sizes, which I estimated to be "small-medium" and "very large".  The smaller size is perfect for mixing and matching or if you're serving a crew at a brunch or event. Or, you know, if you want to try six pastries in one sitting and convince yourself it's ok because they're "mini".

The final word? Visiting Tiffany's is an adventure, you'll have plenty of good people watching, and the pastries are worth a visit.

Tiffany's Bakery, 9th and Market, Gallery Mall Food Court; online here.

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