Old-fashioned Gingerbread with Rum, Molasses, and Spices

A slab of old-fashioned gingerbread

A slab of old-fashioned gingerbread

I was on a rampage for something sweet recently. I purposely keep my house snack-free. I also don’t drink milk or eat whole eggs, so baking is often out of the question. However, I did have eggs for once, and I had a hankering for something dark and spicy and flavorful, as opposed to some yellow cake mix I microwaved. (Yes, I’ve done that in my desperate moments).

Without a mix, I endeavored to undertake a rare project – something from scratch. I looked for spice cakes on allrecipes.com and uncovered this gingerbread recipe. It is gingerbread in the form of an actual cake as opposed to the flat cookie we are more used to. I made a lot of substitutions to the original recipe because I can’t follow baking directions to save my life. I added allspice, cardamom, and nutmeg, and I switched half the hot water for rum. I also decided I wanted even more molasses, so I changed the white sugar to brown sugar. The modified recipe is below.

The flavor of this cake is spicy and complex with a hint of bitterness. It’s like drinking a stout beer in that respect. It’s certainly sweet enough to still be called cake, as opposed to bread, but I’m not sure if children would favor the more subtle sweetness.

Fresh out of the oven

Fresh out of the oven

Originally from allrecipes.com, with modifications:

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup warm rum*

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg, and mix in the molasses.
  3. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. Blend into the creamed mixture. Stir in the water and the rum. Pour into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan before serving

*You will taste the rum. It gave the gingerbread a warm, tingly characteristic straight out of the oven but faded the next day.

So, some hijinks ensued, of coures. My brown sugar was dried out and lumpy, so I added some water and microwaved it. The hot, runny sugar mixed really well with the butter, but later, when I added the rum and hot water, I realized I should have scaled back the hot water to make up for the extra water in the sugar. I realized that too late, so I threw in some flour to fix it. It still turned out fine, amazingly!

Golden crumb

Golden crumb

Look at that beautiful texture. The cake was quite moist but heavy. The flavor profile is complex, and a single slab is heavy because it is such a tall cake.

Glistening crust

Glistening crust

And that shiny, caramelized crust. Mmm. Oh, it crackled and was simply delicious.

Lou added a green bow

Lou added a green bow

It’s a little boring to photograph, though, so while I was looking for ideas, my significant other, Louis, snuck in and added a gift bow to this slice. I thought it was amusing and slightly Christmas-y.

Gingerbread with a pecan

Gingerbread with a pecan

You can see that it had nice, crisp edges as well. I added a pecan just for this shot, but I do think that nuts would be a good addition to this gingerbread. The crunch would provide some textural contrast, and if they were roasted or sugar-drizzled nuts, the sweetness would be provide a foil for the rich and dark flavor of the gingerbread.

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Raspberry Danish from Extraordinary Desserts, Part 3

Raspberry Danish from Extraordinary Desserts

Raspberry Danish from Extraordinary Desserts

Of the three things I got from Extraordinary Desserts in October – the Chocolate Pecan Tart, the Chocolate Streusel Cake, and the Raspberry Danish -, the danish was by far the best. I admitted in an earlier post that I preferred fruit, and sweetness, and melting textures to chocolate, and pastry, and crunch. Well, this danish hit all the right spots. It was also the cheapest, at just $3.50, compared to the approximately $10 cost of the other items.

Karen calls it a danish but it seems more like a fruit pastry to me. Its crust is layered with pastry dough, topped with a wonderfully tart raspberry puree, some perfect vanilla glaze, and some berries for fun.

A daisy on a danish

A daisy on a danish

This was one of the cases where the flower placed on top was truly appreciated. It looks so beautiful there. With the other items, the red and yellow roses against the dark brown hue of chocolate seemed a little off to me, but a red and white pastry topped with white flowers and red berries was truly striking and harmonious.

Mm, raspberries

Mm, raspberries

The raspberry puree had soaked into the pastry dough, softening it with delightful berry flavor. That glaze was just a masterful touch as well. It’s such a simple thing, but it was a great, sticky, sweet contrast to the bright and seedy flavor of the puree. It was just wonderful.

A little gooey raspberry shot for you

A little gooey raspberry shot for you

You can see the gold foil here, but I honestly did not care in this case because this was so delicious. It was the perfect combination of sweet, tart, soft, comforting, and beautiful. It was so uncomplicated compared to the busy chocolate pecan tart and so light next to the chocolate streusel.

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Chocolate Streusel from Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego

As I mentioned in the previous post, I stopped at Extraordinary Desserts by Balboa Park in San Diego. It has a very good reputation, and as someone who loves dessert, it’s nice to see a place succeed that specializes in it. So often restaurants just drop the ball on their dessert menu, opting for boring favorites – creme brulee, chocolate cake, icecream, and either a brownie or bread pudding. I’d love to see more variation there, like flavored panna cotta, fruit-based desserts, maybe meringues or spice cakes or gingerbread or poached pears with cream. There’s so much out there!

Chocolate streusel from Extraordinary Desserts

Chocolate streusel from Extraordinary Desserts

I got this chocolate streusel because I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before.  Yes, that’s really all it takes to get something into my mouth. Novelty. I liked how it is an atypical dessert in general, because streusels are usually breakfast items.

Chocolate streusel topped with flowers, gold, and chocolate

Chocolate streusel topped with flowers, gold, and chocolate

As usual, it was topped with flowers, chocolate, a squirt of chocolate ganache, gold, and powdered sugar. That’s five toppings, six if you count the fact there were two different types of flowers – rose petals and a daisy. I wonder how much these accoutrements account for the price. I have to say, I wasn’t wild about this dessert. Streusel is dense and dry in general – it’s pastry, not cake. The chocolate insides were rich and moist, in contrast, but they were too one-note. It was just chocolate, no hint of anything interesting, like spices or fruit. It wasn’t very sweet, either, so it was just simply boring.

It’s a little unfair because this kind of dessert doesn’t fit my flavor profile at all. I know what I like – creamy textures, complexity, sweetness, novelty. This was novel in concept, but not novel in taste, and I really don’t like pastry that much. Croissants, turnovers, pie crust – I’m not a fan. The streusel didn’t really have a chance, so definitely take my review with a grain of salt.

Chocolate streusel, sideview

Chocolate streusel, sideview

Apologies, again, for the poor lighting. I had to use flash for these photos due to poor indoor lighting.

How not to use gold

How not to use gold

I complained in my last post about the use of gold leaf in the desserts. It was randomly smeared onto a pecan in the chocolate pecan tart. Here, they seem to have dropped it on a flower with no regard for where it stuck. Look, I don’t have a lot of room to talk because I’m not a great styler myself. My sole contribution to the display of this photo was the fork in cocoa powder, which I hacked together using a Swiss Miss packet.  It just seems so strange to me that you would introduce gold leaf, which instantly reeks of pretention, and throw it on a flower, on a dessert, with no care at all exhibited. It really reinforces the idea that it’s there just to look expensive, and I hate things like that. Don’t make it look expensive so it looks expensive and you can charge more. Make it high-quality.

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Chocolate Pecan Tart from San Diego’s Extraordinary Desserts

When I planned my trip to La Jolla and San Diego in October, I started by researching things to do (the zoo!), places to eat, and then houses, flights, and cars. I like to make sure I have at least one great dinner when I’m on a vacation, and, because I run this site, I also like to make sure my list includes at least one good bakery. I was in luck because a quick perusal of Trip Advisor showed an eatery called Extraordinary Desserts on the first page for San Diego restaurants. Sold! Say no more. When I asked for recommendations on Good Taste Photography’s Facebook page, Extraordinary Desserts came up again in several comments, so it was 100% certain I’d have to set foot in this establishment.

On Saturday evening, I went to the location by Balboa Park because I had just spent my day there. We planned to get dessert, keep it in the car, then go to the Gaslamp district to get dinner. I found parking right outside the restaurant and was surprised to see a great many tables outside and in, lit with candles and possessed of a bistro-like ambiance. I had expected a bakery or cupcake atmosphere with limited seating and a lot of take-out, but Extraordinary Desserts was in fact a cafe that only sold dessert.

They had waiters. Wow.

We stepped in line, which was already edging out the door despite it being pre-dinner at 6 PM or so. I knew what I was getting into, but the man in front of me did not. He stepped back into line with his female companion after perusing the selection ahead and said, “$10 for a creme brulee? No way.”

She just looked at him. It was The Look. This particular one was particularly withering to the male species, because, in that moment, what I felt radiating from her was an aura of “So you’re cheap?”. She said nothing, and he tried again, realizing his mistake. “The line is really long, and I don’t like anything here.”

Another moment passed. She finally said, “So you want to leave?”

“Yeah, let’s go somewhere else.”

“Fine.” Mama wasn’t happy.

$10 for a dessert is a lot. They were all pricy, except for my favorite one – the raspberry tart, which was only $3.50. However, if you’re already there, and you’re surrounded by people eager to eat these $10 items.. I don’t know. I’d stay. (That said, I was in Delicious Orchards recently, and I found some sea salt caramels, which I am always on the lookout for. I was positively going to buy them until I flipped over the box and saw it was $12 for 5-6 caramels. For sugar, cream, and salt! I can understand the man’s outrage.)

But back to Extraordinary Desserts, they left, and we stayed, passing by a display of teas and coffee until we were firmly in Dessert Land. There were about 10 desserts in the case with another refrigerated case under the cash register filled with cakes and parfaits. I picked 3 things somewhat at random: the chocolate pecan tart, because I don’t see that very often, the chocolate streusel cake, because it looked good and Lou likes denser cakes, and the raspberry danish, because chocolate never photographs well. (Yes, I’m always thinking of that.)

Chocolate pecan tart from Extraordinary Desserts

Chocolate pecan tart from Extraordinary Desserts

Disclaimer: the lighting in my La Jolla home was not very good. It consisted almost entirely of track lights on dimmers. There were no lamps. The house was a 1930 historic building, so I think its age, plus the fact California should be sunny all the time, made them scale back on such things. As a result, it was extremely challenging to photo anything in this house without flash. I lit candles, I turned lights on, I used my fastest lens, but I was still deeply unsatisfied with the photos.

However, the use of candles led me to this photo, which is very traditionally styled in a way I would normally never do. A glass table, a wine glass, a candle. It was like a Valentine’s Day shoot!

Chocolate pecan tart

Chocolate pecan tart

Onto the tart. It was the size of a cd and two inches tall, so it was definitely meant to be shared. It was dense, too, packed with nuts and goo. You can see the lattice-work of the crust on top, with pecans peaking out. It was like a pie on the top but a cake on the bottom. The crust was hard, dense like a brownie, and almost like a chocolate-chocolate cookie in taste and texture.

Pecan tart topped with flowers, chocolate, pecans, and gold-leaf

Pecan tart topped with flowers, chocolate, pecans, and gold-leaf

Every single item that Karen sells in Extraordinary Desserts has fresh flowers and gold leaf on it, as far as I could tell. These were rose petals, set in a dollop of chocolate ganache, topped with a toasted pecan that had edible gold leaf laid on it. Rose petals are edible but I just didn’t feel like it. I did  eat some of that pecan but I’m not wild about eating gold, either.

Honestly, I am just not a fan of this look, period. It just seems needlessly gauche, and the application seems sloppy. It screams of a checklist in the back that says. “1. Add chocolate. 2. Add flowers. 3. Apply gold leaf.” They’re just adding the requisite items, not thinking of whether it makes sense or pleases the eye. If half the pecan, vertically or horizontally, was covered in gold foil, or there seemed to be some sort of rhyme or reason to its appearance, I’d be down with it. As it is, this just looks a little pretentious.

Slice of the tart

Slice of the tart

But how did it taste? Golly, it is it dense. You can see the nutty texture in this photo – chocolate and broken nuts mixed with the gooey mixture of brown sugar, molasses, and bourbon that makes up the base of a pecan pie. It was too much for me, personally. Two bites, and I was so overwhelmed with the richness that I was done. That’s probably great for my diet but a little disappointing for my palate, because I’d like to linger over a dessert, enjoying it for several minutes. If you love pecan pie, and you love chocolate, and you think pie+cake sounds amazing, go for this.

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Halloween Cupcakes from Carlos’s Bakery and Whole Foods

Well, Halloween has passed, and we’re just three weeks from Thanksgiving. I feel like autumn is slipping away. Halloween is one of my favorite times of year, though, so here’s a slightly belated post on my favorite scary cupcakes.

They’re my favorite… and also the only ones I have pictures of. My significant other and I used to have a birthday tradition of cupcakes. We also spent a good part of our adult lives together in Hoboken, where he worked just down the street from Carlos’ Bakery, of Cake Boss fame. I walked by that place for years on my way to the Barnes and Noble (gone), CVS, and the Path train. Of course, I begged a cupcake off him on his way home from work for any special occasion I could justify. His birthday is October 30th, so I would promise him an NYC cupcake in return for a Carlos’ Halloween treat.

That is, until the show Cake Boss came about. These photos are from 2008 because that was the last time we could actually get in to the bakery to buy something without standing in a ridiculously humongous line. Believe me, we tried. I have photos of the line.. but no photos of the cupcakes. It’s a bummer. No more will I stand on the corner of Washington and Newark and smash a cupcake into my face. (Don’t ask.)

Of course, these photos being from 2008 also has another implication. This was just 5 months after I got my SLR camera, and I had no macro lenses. These photos were shot with the kit lens, a really slow 18-55mm, before I knew anything about proper lighting and styling.

Halloween cupcakes

Halloween cupcakes

So, in 2008, I traded Lou a Whole Foods spider cupcake for a Carlos’s ghost cupcake. I love this photo because the ghost looks very worried. I think he thinks the spider is going to eat him, despite how positively friendly the spider looks. The spider reminds me of a puppy with his googly eyes.

Ghost cupcake from Carlos's Bakery

Ghost cupcake from Carlos's Bakery

It was a red velvet cupcake with a fluffy white icing. I can’t remember how it tasted, but I always liked Carlos’ cupcakes. The cake was moist, the icing was supple. Nothing mindblowing, but solidly good.

A triptych of anxiety. Look, he has a lot on his mind. I mean, he’s dead, and he’s a cupcake.

Spider cupcake

Spider cupcake

And the spider. Well, he was adorable. Many a time had I admired the Whole Foods cupcakes from their glass case. They’re gorgeous, whether they have seasonal designs or flowers. I’ve had beautiful Whole Foods birthday cakes at work covered with vivid icing blossoms and leaves, and they were tasty, too. However, this cupcake.. well.. I think the Whole Foods icing takes color and shape so well because it is essentially lard. It is pure grease with no flavor at all, like what you find atop those tiny cakes at a Chinese Buffet.

You would suspect that the disk on top of the spider was a cookie of some sort, but no, it was just another lump of icing-lard dusted with cocoa. It was disgusting to bite into it. Truly. What about the cake? Well, it tasted like cornbread. Dry. Corny. This was an absolutely terrible cupcake. I’ve been turned off  WF cupcakes for life.

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Japanese Kit Kats – Blueberry, Mixed Juice, Pudding, Bitter Almond, and More

Japanese Kit Kat pile!

Japanese Kit Kat pile!

I recently heard of green tea and chestnut Kit Kats in Japan. I love to eat weird things, especially Japanese ones, and especially green tea flavors, so this was extremely exciting news. Since I was going to San Diego, and I remembered there being a Japanese community there, I told myself I’d stop at a certain shop and pick some up. I didn’t have to go that far, though, because I found a plethora of Japanese candy in Panninkin’s, a coffee and tea importer in the Gaslamp district. I bought almost every type of Kit Kat they had, in addition to some other Japanese chocolates because I just have no self control.

I actually didn’t know what I was buying when I bought it. Some of the Kit Kats had English or French on them, but most just had little icons or color cues. (I’d show you a photo of their full Kit Kat display, but they told me I couldn’t take photos of it.. after I bought over $20 of candy and two coffees from them. Come on, guys. That’s lame.)

Domu-kun eats my kit kats

Domu-kun eats my kit kats

That’s my Domu-kun cup! I got him at 7-11 when they did a promo. It seems really fitting to put Japanese Kit Kats in him. You may know him from the ‘Everytime you do (x), God kills a Kitten’ photos.

Domu-kun!

Domu-kun!

He is actually the mascot for a Japanese TV station, where he got some commercials.. and then he got his own manga, and his own video games, and internet fame. The 7-11 version portrayed him as ravenously eating everything in the store. In this image, it looks like he is trying to eat the ‘semisweet’ Kit Kat box.

Japanese Kit Kats in a cup

Japanese Kit Kats in a cup

What do we have here? The collection includes white chocolate and semi-sweet, which seem normal enough. There’s also raspberry and cookie-flavored. Still not impressed? How about bitter almond? (Cyanide flavored??) Mixed Juice? Pudding? Blueberry? They’re all here. 

The golden Bitter Almond wrapper on the bottom reminds me of a Twix.

The yellow one in the middle is the Mixed Juice. I had originally seen the shapes as leaves and turkeys, so I hoped that one might be the Chestnut flavor when I bought it. Then I ate it, and it tasted like bananas. It turns out the images were fruit. Oops.

Have a break, have a kit kat.

Have a break, have a kit kat.

I don’t remember Kit Kats in America coming in boxes. These all contain two sleeves of two Kit Kats each, for four total. They really go all-out in making the boxes look different. There’s a flavor called Royal Milk  Tea that even uses a British Burberry-like pattern on it. I, alas, did not get to try that one. In fact, even though my loot had a lot of flavors I’ve never seen in America, I missed the ones that were truly Japanese, like miso soup, soy, green tea, and sakura (cherry blossom). I also missed the ones that were truly weird, like corn, sweet potato, roasted tea, beets, and ginger ale. Yes, you can get all that in a Kit Kat. Here’s a comprehensive list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kit_Kat.

Framboise/Raspberry Japanese Kit Kat

Framboise/Raspberry Japanese Kit Kat

Here is the pink interior of the “Framboise” or raspberry. This was probably my favorite. I love the tart flavor of raspberry jelly, and it worked well with the wafer here.

Cookie Plus Japanese Kit Kat

Cookie Plus Japanese Kit Kat

This is the “Cookie Plus” flavor. You can see the extra dense layer on top — that’s where the cookie is. There also seems to be a greenish layer on the bottom.

Cookie Plus Japanese Kit Kat

Cookie Plus Japanese Kit Kat

That leads me to a funny story about Cookie Plus. Like I said, I didn’t know what kind of Kit Kats I had purchased. I spent a lot of time on the internet, looking at photos of other people’s Kit Kats and hoping they had captioned them. This worked for every case except one – Cookie Plus. Since I was desperate, and I’m not entirely unfamiliar with Japanese (I speak some and have been studying the culture since I was 10), I decided to try to translate it myself. There are three written languages in Japan – kanji, which has many, many elaborate symbols, hiragana, which is used for certain words in which the kanji is too difficult or doesn’t exist, or to augment kanji, and katakana, which is used for foreign words. Then, add in romaji, which is when they use roman letters (abc) to write Japanese sounds.

So, I assumed that the name of a Kit Kat flavor would be hiragana or katakana, because the letters didn’t look like kanji and it might be a foreign word. I eventually got ‘washiki purasu’ off the label. As soon as I saw purasu, I was excited, because that was probably ‘Plus’, so it seemed like I was using the write language. Unfortunately, washiki means a Japanese-style toilet. So, this was a “Toilet Plus!” flavored Kit Kat? I mean, it did have a, um, green layer at the bottom, and there were some whacky flavors, but that just seemed impossible. Plus I had already eaten some, so I had a vested interest.

After some more research, I stumbled upon a flavor called Cookie Plus. Alright! Now THAT seemed reasonable. But.. what’s the word for cookie? It’s kuuki. It turns out that the first part of the label used the kanji for cookie, which surprised me for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here. Well, better than Toilet Plus!

White chocolate Japanese kit kats

White chocolate Japanese kit kats

These were just white chocolate Kit Kats. You can buy them in America, and they weren’t so exciting. I also tried a pudding flavor, which was good – it tasted like vanilla pudding with a touch of something else like cinnamon or caramel. That was my second favorite. No one died from eating Bitter Almond, either. Mixed Juice tasted like a banana milkshake, so I wasn’t a fan. I don’t remember how strawberry cheesecake tasted, because I ate it weeks ago. Blueberry, alas, is still uneaten, and someone is getting it for Gift Day.

Next on my list.. green tea, sakura, and a wine Kit Kat, if I can score it. Definitely try some if you can!

Japanese kit kats with labels

Japanese kit kats with labels

This last photo is for any desperate Googlers trying to figure out what Kit Kat they have in their hand.

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Halloween Gumdrop Lollipops

Gumdrop lollipops, Halloween-style

Gumdrop lollipops, Halloween-style

Well, it’s that time of the year again. The leaves are falling, apples are everywhere, and your supermarket is filled with orange candy. Fall has arrived, and it has brought Halloween.
I’ll be doing several Halloween-themed posts this week since it’s a fun holiday, full of cute, gory, and/or inventive food with almost no boundaries. Compare that to the more rigid menu and color palette of the winter holidays, and you’ll see why Halloween is a favorite of mine.

I bought these lollipops in Maine in September, over a month before the holiday, since it seems like we prepare for holidays 60 days before they start here in America. They came from a candy store in Ogunquit, all five tied together in a ribbon. They’re made of flavored gumdrops.

They’re a little hard to photograph sharply because the sugar and spongy texture of the gumdrop makes everything look a little blurry. Golden summer sunlight would probably fix that problem in a minute, but we’re a little short on that for the next oh, 8 months. :(

The dude on the right looks like a Frankenstein at first because he is green, but when you look closer, you notice he has wee little fangs. I haven’t eaten him yet, so I don’t know what flavor he is, but the pumpkin was, naturally, orange-flavored, and the purple tarantula was grape. I loved the spider’s googly eyes.

Vampire, pumpkin, spider lollipops

Vampire, pumpkin, spider lollipops

This ghost is  a little creepy to me. He looks like he is a part of an old, faded sign above a fun house in an abandoned amusement park. The person who made the lollipop did a pretty nice design, though, with the mouth, cheeks, and tongue.

Ghost closeup!

Ghost closeup!

This skull reminds me of Nightmare Before Christmas. I’m usually terrible at styling, so I like the autumnal potpourri around him, but the actual candy is lacking sharpness. I shot this in a cube with two direct lights shining down into it, a lamp next to it, and an overhead light in the room, and apparently the light still wasn’t enough. Sigh.

Mr. Skull

Mr. Skull

I love this picture for its misdirection. The foreground of cinnamon sticks and tiny nuts looks like the main focus, but then there’s the blurry skull in the center. It doesn’t show off the product at all – you can’t even tell the skull is edible – but from an artistic perspective, I like it a lot.

Skull among cinnamon sticks

Skull among cinnamon sticks

Here is a bonus shot of one of my favorite Halloween knick-knacks, a clay kitty in a pumpkin. She’s not edible, but she is adorable.

Kitty on a leaf

Kitty on a leaf

Making gumdrops is relatively easy. You just need sugar, pectin or jello, flavorings, and time.

http://www.squidoo.com/homemade-gumdrops has a jello version

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Gum-Drops uses pectin

The pectin/gelatin firm up what is essentially colored sugar water. You can then pour the mixture into candy or chocolate molds once it has cooled and wa la! cute, soft candies for kids.

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Pistachio danishes, lumacas, and more at Grandaisy Bakery in NYC

I saw this photo on Serious Eats of a pistachio danish at Grandaisy Bakery and decided I just had to go there. Luckily, there was a location just 10 blocks from a place I used to work, so, with my friend Allison in tow, I trekked up to 72nd street. They sell a variety of baked goods, paninis, and unusual ‘pizza’. It’s rectangular and features flavors like sweet potato, onion and potato, artichoke, fennel, and celery root. The bakery is in a tiny alcove next to a large Gray’s Papaya, though, and I admit I was tempted to get a hot dog for lunch instead.

However, I steeled my will and got a Greek panini, a pistachio danish, a carrot cake hunk, a lumaca cookie, and a raspberry cookie.

Here it is. It has a tart-like, rustic crust, with pistachios on a bed of cheese.

Pistachio danish at Grandaisy Bakery

Pistachio danish at Grandaisy Bakery

Lumacas are not photogenic at all so I put them atop the raspberry cookie. Lumaca roughly means snail, and you can see how the cookie curves in on itself like a shell. They’re pastry-like, but crunchy, with currants, nuts, and some apricot preserves folded in. The apricot gives it some unexpected bursts of sweetness, but I just didn’t feel this cookie. It was crunchy and covered in sugar, so it was messy, and the fruit and nuts really got lost. I don’t remember it tasting like much.

Lumaca on a raspberry cookie

Lumaca on a raspberry cookie

I love the light in this photo. Everything looks so clean and bright and breezy.

Lumaca on a raspberry cookie

Lumaca on a raspberry cookie

The raspberry cookie was a flower pressed atop chunky raspberry preserves, all within a small round cookie. The jam was a wonderful, jewel-like crimson, and you could see large raspberry fragments in it for additional texture, so it was really quite lovely. Unfortunately, it was a shortbread cookie, and it broke in the bag before I could take a picture of it. I think, broken spoke aside, this photo still gets the essence of this treat across. How did it taste? The raspberry filling was just perfect. It was tart and flavorful. You were unmistakably eating smashed up raspberries, and there wasn’t a lot of sugar or other additives to confuse the experience.

Raspberry tart cookie

Raspberry tart cookie

Onto the carrot cake. I realize this photo is uninspired, but I found it difficult to take a compelling shot of what is essentially a small cupcake-shaped carrot cake. Take a look at the drink lid beneath the cake, to get an idea of the size. It was about 2 inches high, before icing, and 3 inches wide. The size works with a cupcake, but carrot cake is so dense and rich that it felt overly indulgent here. That said, it was still very good. The cake was incredibly moist and nicely spiced. The icing was good – bright and a little tart. I am glad they held back with it, because I could see the impulse to add an inch of frosting to this bad boy to even out its proportions.

Verdict? This is very tasty if you like carrot cake, but get it after dinner on a Saturday. This is not a donut you can just absorb into your day — it’s a full-on dessert.

Carrot cake

Carrot cake

Now that I got all the other items out of the way, I’ll return to the danish, my sole reason for visiting Grandaisy Bakery. While it is obviously topped with pistachios, there was a fruity taste as well that I believe was more apricot preserves sprinkled here and there. The folded crust is really quite lovely, and the texture was spot on.

Pistachio view

Pistachio view

As you can see, it was golden on the outside, but tender on the inside. I hate dry pastry crust that snaps into a mess of crumbs as soon as you bite into it, which was my problem with the lumaca cookie, and, luckily, that didn’t happen here. I should also note that this danish is about 4 inches across, and pretty deep, so you get a lot of filling and, overall, a lot of danish.

Side view

Side view

But how did it taste? Well, the interior looks to be farmer’s cheese rather than cream cheese. I discussed the origins of farmer’s cheese in my previous post on pierogies, but the important part to note here is that a cream cheese-based filling will be a little tart, but a farmer’s cheese filling will be nutty. This paired well with the pistachios and got punched up by the occasionally apricot chunk. It was well-balanced but ultimately, nothing to write home about. (Is that what I am doing right now? Oops!) Overall, I wasn’t struck by the desire to keep eating it.

Inside of a pistachio danish

Inside of a pistachio danish

Of all the things we ate, I’d choose the raspberry cookie as my favorite. I mentioned we also had a panini and some pizza. My panini was a little peculiar before you think of them as grilled and pressed, usually, but these were just sandwiches. The flavor I selected was good – chickpeas, hummus, greens, onions, and carrots.

Or was it?

When I looked this sandwich up on Grandaisy’s site, I found out the ingredients were actually skordalia, chickpeas, onions, carrots, and rocket. Skordalia? Rocket? Rocket is the British term for arugula, so that makes sense. I have never heard of skordalia before, though. It turns out is a Greek dip and condiment that is made of potatoes, garlic, and walnuts, all pureed together. It looked like hummus, but a little whiter, and I do recall it being quite garlicky. I’d definitely try skordalia again, both to eat and just for an excuse to say the word.

The pizza was good for what it was, which was thinly-sliced potato and onion layered on a thin crust pizza sheet. It wasn’t really pizza, and, if it had been hotter, I think it’d be better. I’d order a pie of it in a restaurant, but I wouldn’t stop by Grandaisy for it. It reminded me a little of pissaladiere, a French dish that layers caramelized onions on pizza crust, then adds anchovies and olives.

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Pierogies and Kielbasi

I’m Polish, but I grew up in an Italian town so I didn’t actually eat a lot of it growing up. I now seek out Polish food when I can as an adult but… preferisco la cucina italiana. :) We had frozen Mrs. T’s pierogies, kielbasionce in awhile, and “Polish hot dogs”. Oh, gods, they were awful. They were greasy and an angry red color, so far from the paler color and milder flavor of a hot dog. When I ate it, I was always disappointed, because I wanted a hot dog, or a kielbasa, or, heck, even an Italian sausage, but not this heavy, oily, wrinkled thing.

See how wrinkly it is?

See how wrinkly it is?

Pierogies were just alright. They were frozen and boiled back to life. However, for my high school graduation party,  my parents got some authentic food from a Polish market, including pierogies. Some were filled with farmer’s cheese, which I had never had before. They were amazing. I still remember how good they were, and I’m always a little disappointed when I find a place that’ll serve me pierogies but only potato ones because farmer’s cheese is now the gold standard in my mind.

I visited my mother for a barbecue this summer, and she happened to have some pierogies left over from a recent visit to a Polish market. They had potato, cheesy potato, and farmer’s cheese.

Mom: “Oh, do you want some pierogies before we fire up the grill?”

Me: “YES.”

Mom: “Okay. Butter, with onions?”

Me: “YES.”

This is what she gave me. Lusciously browned pierogies with caramelized onions, glistening in butter.

Pierogies with farmer's cheese

Pierogies with farmer's cheese

The cheese-filled ones were indeed delicious. Farmer’s cheese is an unripened cheese; almost all cheeses need to sit for several days to several years to get their particular flavors. In this case, you stop after adding the rennet and just squeeze out the moisture. Then you eat it! The variation that is placed inside pierogies is usually crumbly, like ricotta gets after it is baked. It adds a tangy, nutty counterpart to the pierogies, butter, and onions, sort of like a counterpoint that cuts through the richness.

Pierogies close up

Pierogies close up

If you wanted a pure comfort-food experience, pierogies with cheesy potatoes are probably for you. The insides are soft, carby, cheesy, and indulgent. If this is your thing, check out the recipe at the end of the post.

Pierogies

Pierogies

That brings me to the kielbasa. She had some of that, too. I liked it growing up, even the supermarket variety, and I’ll still eat that even today. I always preferred to eat it cold in slices, too. I’m not sure if that’s unusual. Anyone else eat it like that?

Kielbasa on a plate

Kielbasa on a plate

So, are you jonesing for some pierogies now? Someone on the Facebook page mentioned something called pierogi casserole. I kind of imagined a layered dish of pierogies, but I was completely incorrect. It’s actually a deconstructed pierogi; you layer lasagna noodles with mashed potatoes, cheese, and onions. Man, that sounds just full of carbohydrates! And so soft you barely have to chew.. I can see how some people would love it. Apparently, it is sometimes called Polish lasagna. And we’re riiiight back to Italian food. ;)

Basic recipe for pierogi casserole

Pierogi casserole with bacon, garlic, and sour cream

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Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing, Part 2

As I mentioned in the last post, I magically* came across a red velvet cake recently. I had a lot of good pictures of the exterior, but I also had several nice shots of a single slice of the cake that I also wanted to share – hence this part 2.

*I bought it at Shoprite

This photo reminds me of Christmas because of its red tones. Red velvet always seems to come out for Christmas in hats and santa outfits, so it makes sense. I’m not wild about the dark shadow on the right side of the slice, but I kept the shot because I like that it has an interesting background for once — the rest of the cake.

Red velvet cake

Red velvet cake

And here we go, straight into velvety goodness. That’s a good half-inch of icing per inch of cake. Mmm. The cake looks good, too – crumbly but somehow moist.

Slice of red velvet cake

Slice of red velvet cake

This picture inexplicably makes me think of an animal lying on its side.

Red velvet cake

Red velvet cake

The only thing I regret about red velvet cake is how odd and almost bloody it looks when the red crumbs smear into the white icing after you cut it.

Top view

Top view

Ah, look at that beautiful layer of crumbs on the side. I love it. It’s a great presentation style for this kind of cake.

Side view

Side view

I am not so fond of this picture for some reason, but felt I was lacking a shot of the cake itself post-cutting. It is here for completeness’s sakes, but I think the cake itself is too messy to make this a good shot. The angles are erratic, and the crumbs have smeared into the frosting.

Red velvet cake interior

Red velvet cake interior

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