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Entries in regional specialties (22)

Sunday
May292011

Wickedly Delicious: Wicked Whoopie Pies, Freeport Maine

Whoopie pies are basically the best excuse to eat two large, cakey cookies at once, with a big smear of frosting holding them together.

There are two places in particular in the US in which this sweet treat proliferates: Pennsylvania and Maine. The style is slightly different in both places, and if you want to read about who truly invented it, you can read this great article in the New York Times.

And of course, in Maine there's even an added dimension of controversy, because the race between Whoopie Pie and Blueberry Pie as official state dessert was quite a hot debate.

But at this moment, we're going to set aside controversy and backstory and simply talk about some Whoopie Pies that I ate in Maine, from Wicked Whoopies. I went there shortly after I visited a big boot with Carrie of Fields of Cake.

If this place looks kind of corporate when you walk in, that's because it is; they have a retail storefront in the Freeport Outlets in Maine (and another in Farmingdale), but also have a very large mail-order business. 

Initially I found it slightly off-putting that each pie was individually cello wrapped in the style of Twinkies or lower-market treats, but I was extremely impressed by the variety of flavors--banana! Red Velvet! Pumpkin! Lemon!... and pretty much I got over it once I unwrapped slowly and saw what treasures awaited.

First off, the Maple Whoopie Pie. The cookie-cakes were extremely moist and redolent of that gorgeously mellow maple flavor; the cream filling was the perfect complement, extremely rich, pairing the mellowness of the maple with a nostalgically and fairly unforgivingly sweet charm. I say this in a loving way. It was a mouthful of awesome.

But the real highlight was the chocolate-covered mini whoopie pie ("whoop-de-doo"). these were under a dome and were not individually cello-wrapped, which made them feel slightly more pinkies-out.

Now, you might think that topping a cream-filled double-chocolate cookie sandwich would be gilding the lily, but you know, it actually didn't come off as excessive in the taste. The thin chocolate shell added a nice texture contrast, and kind of crunch-melted into the soft cookie as you bit into it. This was a fairly pleasurable experience to repeat over and over until the cookie was all the way gone. 

Final verdict: not pinkies-out fancy, but double-fist, big-time tasty.

Wicked Whoopies has two locations in Maine, but you can also order online; find out locations and order online here.

Tuesday
Mar292011

What I Ate On Vacation: An Introduction to Ate from Mexico

Usually, when someone brings you back a souvenir from their vacation, it's a cheesy t-shirt or small creature made from shells or snowglobe or something.

But not Diane, who you may know as the hottie who drives the truck called Street Treats in Seattle. When she recently took a Mexican getaway, she not only thought of me when she tried a local specialty called Ate, but she brought me back a big sack of this sweet stuff.

What is Ate? First off, let's make sure you're pronouncing it right. It's "ah-tay", so basically say "latte" but take off the L. 

As to what it is, it's fairly simple: dried fruit paste coated in sugar. Kind of like real-fruit gumdrops. While it appears that quince is a popular variety, the bag Diane brought me has a mix of (if I translated it right) quince, guava, apple, and Mexican Hawthorn and peach (thanks Adela). The candies are lightly crunchy on the outside but tender on the inside, and what is nice is that they actually taste like fruit--not merely fruit-flavored candy. They are very sweet, however, so a little goes a long way.

Want to eat some Ate? You might have luck purchasing at a Mexican grocery store, if you've got one in your area; otherwise, find a recipe here. Thanks again to Diane from Street Treats for introducing me to this delightful treat!

Sunday
Feb272011

Gee Whiz: Cinnamon Toast With Cheez Whiz Recipe

If you've ever been plagued by the question "what are they eating for breakfast in North Dakota right now?" I have an answer for you: if it's a special day, probably cinnamon toast with Cheez Whiz. No, I am not kidding. I have it on good authority from locals that this is something that they actually do, without a trace of irony. Curious, I gave it a try, and have to assign it this verdict: it's terrible. It's awful. I couldn't stop eating it.

This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled.

Cinnamon Toast With Cheez Whiz

1 serving

  • 2 slices cinnamon swirl bread (with or without raisins)
  • 2 tablespoons Cheez Whiz

Procedure

Toast the cinnamon swirl bread. Smear each slice with a tablespoon of Cheez Whiz. Enjoy.

Monday
Dec132010

Season's Sweetings: A 12-Layer Christmas Cake for Serious Eats

Whoever said that size doesn't matter clearly stuck with cakes that were, like, seven layers or fewer.

But here's a treat to power you through the holiday season: a towering 12-layer red and green Christmas cake. Why twelve layers? Why, one for each day of Christmas, of course!

A riff on Maryland's official state cake, the Smith Island Cake, this red-and-green confection is brimming with holiday cheer, and butter. Serve in slender slivers, because a little goes a long way with this sugary splendor.

Note: To avoid confusion, I should say that though it takes cues from both, this cake is neither a Red Velvet cake (it does not contain cocoa) nor truly a traditional Smith Island cake (the cake part is, but the icing is traditionally chocolate). Consider it a holiday mash-up, with liberties taken on both cakes to make for a festive holiday look.

For the full recipe and writeup, visit Serious Eats!

Saturday
Oct232010

Pitt Stop: The Famous Burnt Almond Torte from Prantl's, Pittsburgh PA

So, anyone who has ever talked to me (like, ever) knows that sooner or later, we're going to start talking about baked goods.

And a couple of years ago I had a great conversation with a young lady from Pittsburgh who told me a beautiful tale about a famous dessert from her town: the Burnt Almond Torte from Prantl's Bakery. Actually, I believe she referred to it as "a torte worth shoving grandma out of the way to get to quicker." Oddly, I didn't ask any follow up questions.

But suffice it to say, the description left an impression, and when a customer in my Seattle store mentioned that he was headed to Pittsburgh for a visit, I left him with a very strong suggestion that he try this torte.

But he did one better: he brought me back a piece. Apparently not only had he bought one of the tortes, but had become hooked: as he confessed, he had eaten a slice that very morning for breakfast (a practice which I support, btw).

The torte itself has an interesting story, as I learned from a Pittsburgh-based dessert enthusiast

It wasn't until the 1970's though, that Prantl's began to serve its most famous item- the Burnt Almond Torte. In the midst of an unusual surplus of almonds, the Almond Board asked bakers to use more almonds in more creative ways. Henry Prantl, an original owner, traveled to California to learn and came back with an idea for a cake which he refined into the ever-delicious Burnt Almond Torte.

Well, Henry did good, and one taste of this torte reveals why it's an enduring legend in the area. It's comprised of Prantl's "famous yellow 'scrap' batter cake, creamy custard, homemade buttercream and loads of secret recipe toasted almonds", and it is very, very good. The cake itself is light, but don't you dare think it's virtuous, because the thick slab of custard contained inside not only keeps the cake moist, but adds a decadent dimension--which is then multiplied by the addition of thick, creamy buttercream and crunchy, toasty almond slivers. They may think that they're doing a good job of keeping the secret to the preparation of these delicious almonds under wraps, but I'm pretty sure I've figured it out: they mix in a heaping handful of crack.

Because this cake really is that addictive--in Mr. Spy's words, it was "an epic dessert".

Thank you Dennis for bringing back a slice for us to sample!

Prantl's Bakery is located in Pittsburgh; visit their site for locations and details. You can also buy a "travel" version of the torte online here, and if you're feeling brave, you might want to give this copycat recipe a try (though I haven't tried it).

Prantl's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Jun052010

Have a Ball: Kimball Popcorn Balls from South Dakota

When I recently had some customers in my store who were visiting from South Dakota, it didn't take long for me to steer the conversation to something very near and dear to my heart: the Special K Bar I fell in love with in Sioux Falls last year. But after several minutes of waxing poetic about said treat, I turned it over to them: enough about me, what sweets do you like to eat?

Happily, said customers were more than happy to introduce me to a South Dakota sweet specialty: the Kimball Popcorn Ball. This is a sweet confection not unlike a rice krispie treat, but made with popcorn--and, you know, in ball form. Sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy, all at once, these are addictive little morsels that live up to their motto: "just try one...you'll want another!".

And the legend is interesting too. On the "about us" page on their website, they quote a passage about the origins of the popcorn ball (from the book America Eats)

There is a legend that the popcorn ball is actually a product of the Nebraska weather. It supposedly invented itself during the "Year of the Striped Weather" which came between the years of the "Big Rain" and the "Great Heat" where the weather was both hot and rainy. There was a mile strip of scorching sunshine and then a mile strip of rain. On one farm, there were both kinds of weather. The sun shone on this cornfield until the corn began to pop, while the rain washed the syrup out of the sugarcane. The field was on a hill and the cornfield was in a valley. They syrup flowed down the hill into the popped corn and rolled it into great balls with some of them hundreds of feet high and looked like big tennis balls at a distance. You never see any of them now because the grasshoppers ate them all up in one day on July 21, 1874.

before explaining how they got involved in the game:

We wanted to demonstrate that arguably the best popcorn balls are made right here in the heart of small-town America – Kimball, South Dakota. Our unique recipe has evolved into two deliciously inviting variations: original and honey (made with South Dakota honey). 

And for that, Kimball Popcorn Balls, CakeSpy salutes you.

Discover Kimball Popcorn balls here (site includes online ordering). Incidentally, if you're curious about other South Dakota specialties, check out South Dakota Flavor!

Friday
Nov202009

Minty Sweet: Peppermint Whoopie Pies by Kitchen Witch

Peppermint whoopie pie
When I unexpectedly found myself with a $25 gift certificate for RegionalBest.com (thanks Keren!), I immediately set myself to the task of buying the most delicious-looking thing that cost closest to $25 including shipping. The result? A half-dozen peppermint Whoopie Pies from Kitchen Witch, a holiday take on the Amish / New England classic. And at $27.50 including shipping, they fit the bill.
Kitchen WitchPeppermint Whoopie Pie
Proud of my prowess for bargain-hunting, I promptly forgot about the purchase, but was delighted to receive a package marked "Perishable" a few days later. Opening up the box, the pies were safely nestled below packing material in an airtight baggie, in which they were individually wrapped in the traditional plastic wrap. Happily, half of the cakey cookie part did not come off with the plastic wrap when opened (a whoopie pie pet peeve!).
Peppermint Whoopie Pie from Kitchen Witch
So how does a peppermint whoopie pie taste? Pretty good, I must say. The cakey part was extremely moist and chocolatey, and the peppermint filling was the of the traditional creamy, slightly slick texture which usually inhabits the inner section of a whoopie pie, but with a light peppermint flavor. Kind of like a very big, cakey peppermint patty. It was very easy to eat--the only problem was how quickly and easily it disappeared. Luckily the portions are fairly modest as whoopie pies go--i.e., not the size of a saucer--so you feel pretty good about having a bite (or three) of a second pie. At least I did.

Kitchen Witch cookies can be found on RegionalBest.com or on Etsy.

Tuesday
Aug182009

South African Munchies: Delicious Crunchies

South African Crunchies
I first discovered Crunchies, a (natch) crunchy South African bar cookie, when CakeSpy Buddy Naomi handed one to me and said "eat this". Of course I was more than happy to oblige. Now, these cookies (made by local catering company On Safari) vaguely resembled granola bars, but one bite made the difference achingly clear. These cookies have a flavor that granola bars could only aspire to: crunchy, salty-sweet, coconutty, and very buttery.

So what's the deal with these cookies?
South African Crunchies
As one South African blogger reminisced,

Growing up in South Africa, the one cookie-tin constant that every child will remember is crunchies. They were usually one of the first things that your mom let you bake and kept forever in an airtight container, so we all grew up on crunchies. To me, they were distressingly unglamorous....but they certainly were a stalwart of every cookie tin that I remember growing up.

Want to make some crunchies? While On Safari's recipe is proprietary, I did find a crunchie recipe on the Hulett's Sugars (a South African manufacturer of sweeteners) which seems pretty legit.

 

South African Crunchies

  • 310ml (1¼ cups) flour
  • 310ml (1¼ cups) breakfast oats
  • 310ml (1¼ cups) coconut
  • 185ml (¾ cups) Huletts White Sugar
  • 20ml (4 teaspoons) Huletts Golden Syrup
  • 125ml (½ cup) butter or brick margarine
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) bicarbonate of soda
  • 45 - 60ml boiling water
  1. Combine dry ingredients.
  2. Melt the Huletts Golden Syrup and butter together. Combine the bicarbonate of soda with the water and add to the butter mixture.
  3. Mix together with the dry ingredients.
  4. Press the mixture into a Swiss roll tin (or for a thicker crunchie, bake in a square 20cm x 20cm tin) and bake for 20 minutes at 150ºC. Gently press down the sides if they seem to rise too much.
  5. When light brown, remove from the oven and cut into squares. Switch off the oven. Return crunchies to the oven, for about 10 minutes to dry out.
  6. Allow to cool before removing from tin.

 

Saturday
May232009

Seeking Sweetness in South Africa: A Basic Primer

koeksister photo from flickr user Chameleongreen


One of the most interesting aspects of discovering a culture is discovering how--and what--they eat. What flavors are commonly used? What are their native ingredients? What are the regional specialties? And most importantly, what's for dessert?

 

On a recent batch of emails with South African CakeSpy reader Sophie, she not only gave a tip on a shops to pick up cute cupcake pincushions (Delagoa African Arts and Crafts), but also paused to discuss what kind of sweets they like to eat there. Cupcakes, it turns out, haven't hit in the same way they have in the US (yet), but sounds like they've got plenty of other delicious sweets to keep them busy--thanks again to Sophie, who gave the 411 on the dessert scene in South Africa:

With our 11 official languages (and those are just for indigenous languages) and a myriad of other cultures (Chinese, Portuguese, Bulgarian, German and other African nationalities) it is difficult to pin-point what desserts South African as a whole enjoys. So I’m sure you’ll understand if I can only tell you what my own South African culture (Afrikaans) enjoys!

The Afrikaans culture has its roots in the Netherlands and France, as most of our ancestors came from there during the late 1600’s early 1700’s. So many of our desserts show (I think!) similarities to those countries.


But firm favourites are:

 

· Melktert (loosely translated to Milk tart) is especially nice and creamy and it’s a firm favourite on Sundays or at parties; here is a recipe. I have a recipe from my great-grandmother that I’m dying to try still and most Afrikaans families will have recipes for this that go back many generations.

· Malva pudding is a unique South African dessert (it’s to die for!) and it almost tastes like a brandy pudding, but just much, much better. Here is a recipe.

· Koeksisters are a very, very sweet but extremely popular syrupy-coated doughnut in a braided shape and I usually can’t have more than 2 (or 3, or definitely no more than 4!). Read more about them here--also, check out the "Koeksister Monument" here!

· Melkkos (which loosely translates to Milk Food and does not sound all that appetizing) is lovely as a dessert or as a meal, especially on a cold winters’ night. It’s quick and easy and you only need 4 ingredients: milk, flour, butter and cinnamon.

What about cakes, you ask? Well, reports Sophie:


On the cake side I’m actually not to sure what would be “typical Afrikaner” cakes ... I know we love Black forest cake, carrot cake and chocolate cakes but I’ve actually never really thought about what would be the uniquely South African cakes. Now I’ll never rest until I know!

 

Friday
Nov072008

Cookies So Nice, They Baked Them Twice: Musings on Biscotti, Mandelbrot and More!

Chris made the cutest biscotti ever
(The mini biscotti pictured was made by ace Seattle Pastry Chef Chris Jarchow!)


What in the world is a twice-baked cookie?

 

To discover the real meaning of the twice-baked cookie, you've got to start with the biscuit. In terms of etymology, "biscuit" means "twice cooked"--and acording to John Ayto's book An A-Z of Food & Drink, "its name reflects the way in which it was once made. The originl biscuit was a small flat cake made of wheat flower, sugar, egg yolks, and perhaps a little yeast. It was intended for long keeping, so to dry it out it was returned to the oven for a while after the initial cooking process had finished". The signature hard texture and long shelf life has endeared the twice-baked cookie to seafaring voyagers, teething babies, and lends itself quite nicely to dunking in sweet wine.

In the United States, the term "biscuit" refers to something else these days, but the concept of a twice-baked cookie is still very much alive. To Americans, the most famous example is probably the Italian version, biscotti. It's arguable, but our theory for its preeminence is that it grew in popularity with the coffee-house revolution that hit the US in a big way, in which biscotti was a common food to be offered.

Interestingly enough however, many different cultures boast some variation on this biscuit--and so we've prepared a small primer on some of the twice-baked cookies out there for you. (Note: If you want to read more about it, check out this article too!).

 

Biscotti by the Italian Woman at the Table

Biscotti: While in Italy, biscotti is a kind of catch-all phrase for cookies, in North America, we think of it as a long, dry, hard twice-baked cookie with a curved top and flat bottom designed for dunking into wine or coffee. The name biscotti is derived from 'bis' meaning twice in Italian and 'cotto' meaning baked or cooked. Generally, what separates biscotti from other variations is that it frequently gets its fat solely from eggs and nuts--often it does not contain oil or butter. Of course, these days there are all sorts of variations, so this is not a hard-fast rule. Here's a link to a delicious recipe.

 

Beschuit met Muisjes
Beschuit met muisjes: In this Dutch version, which translates to "biscuits with little mice", a twice-baked bread not unlike the rusk (below) is characterized mostly by its garnish: according to Wikipedia,

They are spread with butter (or margarine) and the muisjes (lit. 'little mice') are sprinkled on top. These muisjes are sugared aniseed balls. They are sold in a mixture of two colours: White and pink. In 1990 a new mixture was introduced: white and blue, and it has become a custom, but not a universal one, that the latter (blue) are served when a boy is born, and the former (pink) for a girl. When a child is born in to the royal House of Orange, orange muisjes are sold.

 

 

Croquets de carcassonne (or biscotte): This is the french variation on biscotti; from what we could find, the major difference seems to be that biscotte contains butter (and plenty of it!). While we couldn't find the reasoning behind the name Croquets de carcassone, it did have a nice ring to it, so we included it! Here's a recipe.

 

Marla's Mandels
Mandelbrodt (also known as Mandelbread, Mondelbrodt, Mondel bread, and probably more that we've missed!): Never heard of it? No surprise. As our foodie crush Arthur Schwartz writes, "Isn't it ironic? It used to be that biscotti were explained as Italian mandelbread. These days, mandelbread is explained as Jewish biscotti." While mandelbrodt shares similarities to biscotti, it is not the same: unlike biscotti, which gets its fat primarily from eggs, mandelbrodt will generally contain oil as well. And while nuts are common in biscotti, they're a key ingredient in mandelbrodt, which literally translates to "almond bread". If you're curious, you can buy some via mail-order at marlasmandels.com (photo above); also, you can find a recipe here!

Lulu's Mondel Bread
Paxemadia (or biskota): In this Greek version, from what we can gather, the main variation here is with spices--one informative biscotti recipe posting suggests that you could make a biscotti recipe into the Greek variation by adding "a flavor mixture of 1/4 cup flour mixed into 1 tablespoon crushed coriander seed, 1 tablespoon crushed anise seeds, 2 tablespoons grated orange peel, 2 tablespoons grated lemon peel; and 1 1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts."

Rusks: Like the term "biscuit", "rusk" seems to be more of a concept, with all sorts of different cultural variations, from long, slender versions to small rounds to toast-shaped versions. Like Mandelbrodt, the rusk differs from biscotti in that it will often contain an added fat--oil, or sometimes butter. One thing seems certain though: more than any other variation, the Rusk seems to be attached to seafaring culture--Swedish recipe books and John Ayto's book (referenced above) both refer to it as a cookie that accompanied naval officers and sailors on long voyages. Here's a recipe.

Sukhariki: The Russian term also seems to be a catch-all, referring to any type of crispy bread, from more crouton-esque variations to sweetened ones. Here's a hazelnut variation.
Zwieback
Zwieback: Per Wikipedia, the name comes from German zwei, meaning "two", and backen, meaning "to bake". This is the only variation in which we saw recipes that called for yeast, and indeed, this would be in keeping with it sometimes being referred to as "zwieback toast". Of course, this is not to be confused with Russian Mennonite Zwieback, which is more like a roll. More than any other variation, we associate this one as a baby's toothing snack. Most notably, however, we have to say, zwieback certainly takes the cake when it comes to cultural references. here are just a few:

  • In an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Homer the Smithers", the character Smithers remarks to his boss Mr. Burns, "...I've alphabetized your breakfast. You can start with the waffles, and work your way up to the zwieback."
  • In the 1991 classic film Doc Hollywood, when Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox) first arrives in Grady, nurse Packer tells him there is Zwieback and Vitamin C in the cabinet.
  • In "Dear Mildred", an episode of the TV series M*A*S*H, Radar O'Reilly compares his first days with Colonel Potter to visiting summers with his prim-and-proper aunt; "You can't dunk your zwieback in your Bosco."
  • In her song "Caving In", Kimya Dawson sings that she is "just a piece of zwieback toast getting soggy in a baby's aching mouth."

 

 

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