Friday, July 13, 2012

On-Demand Ice Cream

I'm not sure how practical this is, but I love the idea of on-demand ice cream:
San Francisco-based startup Uber, developer of the Summon-a-Car application, is temporarily giving users the ability to call an ice-cream truck through their app.
The company's app, available on Android or iPhone, can be used to request and book private vehicles in a number of U.S. cities. Today, however, users in seven cities can also use the app to request the presence of an ice-cream truck.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake

It's July 4th, so what better way to finish up a cookout than with homemade strawberry shortcake? To be clear, this is the traditional version, featuring a biscuit topped with strawberries and whipped cream, not the New Jersey diner version, which is more of a layer cake with strawberry filling.

The biscuit I make is nothing fancy, just a simple Bisquick-based recipe that I adapted from The Absolute Beginner's Cookbook by Jackie Eddy & Eleanor Clark:

2 1/3 cups Bisquick baking mix
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1/2 cup milk
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Mix the Bisquick, sugar, butter, and milk in a bowl until it forms a soft dough.
  3. Spread in an ungreased 8" round baking pan (I find the disposable aluminum foil ones work well). 
  4. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
I typically plan a few hours to a day ahead by slicing the strawberries and sprinkling with sugar, so they form a bit of a syrup. Of course, if you're looking to do red, white, and blue on the 4th, you can add blueberries, as well.

For whipped cream, you can go "fancy" by whipping up your own, or "slum it" with Redi-whip.

My wife did a better job than I usually do assembling the shortcake this year. After cutting the biscuit into wedges, she horizontally sliced each in half, added strawberries and whipped cream in the middle, and then topped with the second half of the biscuit, more strawberries, and more whipped cream.

The result was the perfect blend of summer fruit flavor, moist and crumbly biscuit, and whipped creamy goodness. Happy 4th of July indeed!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Watermelon

Photo by moreno0101
Perhaps this is sacrilege on a blog populated by homemade cookies and New Orleans pralines, but today I want to sing the praises of one of nature's great desserts: watermelon. I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent seedless melon at the supermarket this early in the season. My favorite preparation is peeling the melon, cutting it into fairly large cubes (perhaps 1.5 inches per side), and putting it in a bowl in the refrigerator. The melon then gets uniformly icy cold, and it's easy to eat with fingers or a fork.

I love the juicy crunch as I bite into a piece of watermelon and the sweet, pungent flavor that is unmatched by any other fruit. While regular watermelon is equally delicious, I prefer seedless to avoid the crunch of hidden seeds and the hassle of trying to avoid them. A cube of a decently ripe seedless watermelon, though, is a bite or two of pure perfection.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger

Add a new entry to the catalog of "snack-y desserts I wish I didn't know existed." Specifically, Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger. Now, usually I don't like things covered in dark chocolate. Partly that's because the dark chocolate often isn't very good. Partly it's because the bitter, complex flavor of dark chocolate is too strong to blend well with the filling. Somehow, though, Trader Joe's gets it right. Small chunks of crystallized ginger are coated in a smooth, mild dark chocolate that complements the sweet and spicy ginger flavor perfectly. I can "thank" my sister-in-law for the discovery of these morsels, as she decided to try them during a recent run to TJ's while visiting us. In the end, I ate about half the package. That will teach her to keep a delicious dessert within arm's reach!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kouign-Amann in Montreal

Kouign-Amann? What's that? I'd never heard of it either before my first trip to the bakery of the same name in Montreal. It turns out that Kouign-Amann (pronounced roughly like Queen Amonn) is a Breton pastry. And a very delicious one at that. The Montreal version is served as a wedge of a large round, almost like a slice of pie. It's apparently made from layers of brioche dough, but somehow the virtuoso bakers get the top and bottom to have a delicious, caramelized coating while leaving the middle moist, flaky, and delicately chewy. Beyond that, it's hard to describe, other than with superlatives. If you find yourself in Montreal, it's worth heading up to Avenue du Mont Royal Est just for a taste. Of course, once you're there, you may as well buy a few of the delectable chocolate and almond croissants, too!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Celebrating the Humble Jellybean

Photo (cc) by Small_Realm.
It's Easter, and here in the United States, that means more jellybeans will be consumed today than on any other day of the year. The jellybean is one of my all-time favorite candies. While I appreciate the exotic flavors popularized by Jelly Belly, I tend to favor the classic, larger beans, whose flavors are often described by color ("I like the red ones!") rather than taste. And, yes, I even enjoy the black ones, though I'm not one of those fanatics who buys entire bags of them.

What's your favorite flavor and/or style of jellybean?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Golden Oreo Ice Cream

I've previously professed my love for the perfect mass-produced cookie, the Golden Double Stuff Oreo. So imagine my delight when I discovered a new Golden Oreo flavor of Breyers ice cream. Part of the Breyers Blasts! series, the new concoction blends pieces of Golden Oreo into a swirl of sweet cream and "golden" vanilla (i.e., vanilla dyed yellow). I don't care for the gratuitous visual effect—I would have preferred a white base—but the flavor profile is pretty good. I think there's maybe too much vanilla between the cookie and the ice cream, but that's a minor quibble. I've still found myself returning over and over again to the freezer for just one. more. bite.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Great price for a great mixer

One of the best baking-related purchases my wife and I ever made was this KitchenAid stand mixer, currently available at the lowest price I've seen it from Amazon.com. Cookie dough, cake batters, meringue, and whipped cream mix up quickly and effortlessly, and you can gather ingredients for the next step of the recipe while you wait. (Compare to the hand mixer version of this story, where your arm muscles start to cramp around the fifth minute of waiting for soft peaks to form.) If you've been thinking about snapping one of these up, now may be the time. One caveat is that if you tend to make double recipes or breads with stiff dough, you may prefer the larger, more powerful, and more expensive model.

Photo by flickr user John-Morgan.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

St. Joseph's Zeppole

I'm a day late in posting about St. Joseph's zeppole, an Italian dessert that features prominently on March 19, known in the Catholic festival calendar as St. Joseph's Day. The dessert is a large, braided version of fried dough that looks like a donut but tastes more like an Italian cream puff. It is traditionally filled or topped with pastry cream and cherries, though fillings such as ricotta and chocolate cream show up, as well.

Photo (cc) by flickr user Finizio.
I tried my first St. Joseph's zeppole at Modern Pastry Shop here in Medford recently. I liked how the tartness of the cherries complemented the sweet pastry cream. I've never loved Italian pastry dough, and this was no exception. The zeppole was soft and almost spongy, and its flavor was a little bland. As far as I'm concerned, if I can get a cannoli (or, rather a cannolo) or a slice of ricotta pie any time of year, I see no need to wait until March for St. Joseph's zeppole. If you like the idea of a soft cherry cream puff, though, find yourself an Italian bakery the next time St. Joseph's Day rolls around.

Friday, March 16, 2012

What I'm making for dessert on St. Patrick's Day

On Saturday, March 17, my wife will reconnect with her Irish roots by making Irish soda bread and cooking up some (home-)corned beef and cabbage. To complement this fine dinner, I thought I'd try to make a St. Patrick's Day dessert. In the U.S. (which really popularized the holiday), most of the desserts I've seen feature some combination of green food coloring, flavors associated with the color green (mint, lime, pistachio), shamrock shapes, and Irish alcohol (Guinness, Bailey's, whiskey). I thought I'd try to seek out something a bit more traditional.

After doing some digging, I found this site, which seems to have some genuine Irish cred. Several of the desserts look excellent, but for this year, I'm going to try the apple barley pudding. It sounds relatively simple and rustic, much like the soda bread and boiled dinner. And, despite the typical association of apples with autumn, the description makes clear that this was a recipe that would be made with apples that had been kept in cold storage throughout the winter.

What are your ideas for St. Patrick's Day desserts?

Update 3/17/12: Links added. And the pudding came out well, though it only required 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Free Sprinkles Cupcakes

If you live in one of the ten cities that hosts a Sprinkles Cupcakes location, you can get yourself a free cupcake between 8 and 9pm today or tomorrow. I've never tried Sprinkles, but it's hard to imagine a free cupcake being a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Approximately 3.14 Reasons to Eat Pie

Today, March 14 (written as 3/14 or sometimes 3.14 in this part of the world) is Pi Day, a celebration of everyone's favorite irrational number, π. Now, I recognize that Pi and pie are homophones and not the same word. But, it is the case that the ratio of a pie's circumference to its diameter is Pi. To this dessert blogger, that's as good a reason as any to seek out a slice of pie. Our family already finished off a fabulous apple crumb pie that my wife made over the weekend, so we'll have to find another source today. We might go over to Redbones, a local southern-style barbecue joint, which has a very decent pecan pie. How will you be celebrating Pi Day?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Step Up From Butter Pecan

Butter pecan is almost a delicious ice cream flavor. I mean, the base flavor is butterscotch, and how can that be bad, right? The problem is the pecans. While I love them in pie or pralines, they just don't belong in ice cream. It's the texture, really. Those dry, cold, crumbly bits of nut totally mess up the creaminess of the ice cream.


It's a good thing, then, that New England restaurant and ice cream chain Friendly's has, for many years, offered Butter Crunch. This ingenious flavor replaces the pecans with pieces of butterscotch candy. You know those yellow-orange butterscotch discs that you can buy at the drug store, but you always want to bite them instead of suck on them for fifteen minutes? Imagine someone breaking one of those into small, not-too-sharp pieces, and scattering them throughout butterscotch ice cream. See what I mean? A step up from butter pecan.

I don't think Friendly's is a national brand, but my mom has reported finding Butter Crunch in the freezer at a Stop & Shop as far away as New Jersey; your mileage may vary. If you find yourself in greater Boston, many local ice cream shops carry ice cream from a nearby dairy, Richardson's, which also makes butter crunch.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Happy 100th, Oreo!

Today, the humble Oreo cookie turns 100 years old, as reported by the New York Times:
On March 6, 1912 - before the Titanic sailed or sank, before the first Opening Day at Fenway Park - the National Biscuit Company made its first sale of Oreo sandwich cookies, to a grocer in Hoboken named S. C. Thuesen.
While I enjoy Oreos on occasion, they have never been my favorite. But variations like the Double Stuff Golden Oreo and derivatives like Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream make me very grateful to the National Biscuit Company for introducing the sandwich cookie a century ago.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Donut Treat Near San Francisco's Moscone Center

Last week, I was in San Francisco for a conference at the Moscone Center. After discovering Beard Papa cream puffs the last time I was there, I made sure to scout out some other good eats during this trip.

One morning, I decided to get breakfast at Dottie's True Blue Cafe, a local institution with consistently great reviews. Frankly, I was disappointed; everything on my plate—including homemade buttermilk-dill toast—was fine, but not great. So, I skipped their baked desserts and headed into a donut shop I noticed a few doors down. Now, trying out a local donut place, especially one that also advertises fried chicken, is a bit of a gamble. But after following the sheep to disappointment at Dottie's, I figured I'd give it a try. I knew I was in the right place when I walked in and saw this:

 
I really wish I could have tried every variety, but I somehow forced myself to choose just one. I went for the maple-glazed old fashioned (second row from the top, right-most tray, left-most donut). The glaze was really a star here; it was thick and flavorful enough to be tasted along with the fresh fried dough flavor of the donut itself. The donut had a great texture, light and cakey, and melted in the mouth. By the time I finished it, I wished I had bought more than one, but by then I was at the conference center headed to a meeting. I probably won't be going back to Dottie's, but you can bet I'll seek out this donut shop again! Unfortunately, I didn't catch the name of the place, but it was about half a block to the right of Dottie's on Sixth Street.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Trying the Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Recently, I highlighted a recipe I found online for Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. Unsurprisingly, I didn't make it long before I had to try making them for myself. So, how did they turn out?


The first thing I discovered was that unwrapping an entire bag's worth of caramel squares was time consuming and caused my large, aging hands to cramp. Still, not to be deterred, I carried on. The dough was stiffer than I'm used to, making it challenging to stir in the chocolate chips; I resorted to kneading them in with my hands. The stiff batter, though, was well suited to pressing into the bottom of the baking pan and stood up well to the warm caramel poured atop it. Spreading the second layer of batter was harder, though dropping it in small blobs and smooshing those down individually helped.

Unlike regular cookies, which you can eat as soon as they're cool enough to avoid burning your palate, these bars have to be cooled in a refrigerator to help the caramel set. They're worth the wait, though. As you bite into a bar, you get the buttery, caramelized crumb of the chocolate chip cookie, followed by the rich caramel, which takes on an almost taffy-like consistency. The salt provides an extra burst of brightness.

Overall, these were a success, but with some qualifications. They are not your typical quick and easy bars. Unwrapping the caramels, fighting with the stiff batter, and cleaning caramel off everything make them a bit of a chore. And, while they were delicious, I thought they were a bit tough in consistency. I might try these again sometime with a different cookie recipe (maybe the fabulous Cook's Illustrated recipe) and/or using a homemade caramel sauce.

Have you tried making this recipe or a variation on it? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

The good folks at Two Peas & Their Pod offer a recipe for Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. Yes, it's a dessert that combines the chewy texture of a bar cookie with chocolate and a salty-sweet flavor profile. I haven't even tried these yet, and already I'm drooling!

Hat tip: BrownEyedBaker

Update 3/4/12: Learn how they turned out when I made them!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More great Boston desserts from Yelp

Just after I posted my Five Must-Try Desserts in Greater Boston, the local Yelp newsletter shared some of Yelp users' favorite Boston desserts. Amazingly, I haven't tried any of them (yet!), but you can bet that I'll be putting the buttermilk biscuit bread pudding with caramel sauce at Highland Kitchen (Somerville) on my to-eat list. The cupcakes at Cakeology in downtown Boston sound great, too. Has anyone tried them? Any favorite varieties?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Five Must-Try Desserts in Greater Boston

Whether you're visiting Boston for the first time or you've spent your life consuming frappes and Jimmies, there are certain local desserts that you just shouldn't miss. Here are five of my top selections in and around the city:
  1. Cannoli at Modern Pastry Shop (North End or Medford Square)

    If you grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood, you're already familiar with cannoli: crisp, hollow pastry shells filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and dusted with powdered sugar. If you're in Boston's North End, skip the more touristy Mike's, which leaves pre-filled cannoli to get soggy on the shelf, and head to Modern just down the street. If you're heading north of the city, the Medford Square location has the same great pastry without the lines (except right before Italian/Catholic holidays).
     
  2. Molten Chocolate at Finale (Park Plaza or Harvard Square)

    Molten chocolate cake has become a classic in recent years. Who can resist the warm, gooey center? The pastry chefs at Finale take this popular favorite to an art form, applying perfect technique to high end ingredients. The result is well worth the premium price.
     
  3. Crème Brulée Cheesecake at Not Your Average Joe's (multiple locations)

    Sure, Joe's is a chain, but it's a consistently good one that knows how to put out a quality dessert. The cheesecake is rich and creamy, and its slightly crispy caramelized top adds just the right contrast in textures. Go for dessert, stay for dinner, and perhaps try a raspberry-lime rickey while you're there!

     
  4. Ricotta Pie at Arthur's Pastry Shop (Medford)

    Take a cheesecake and interbreed it with a cannoli, and you'll end up with ricotta pie. The best can be found at Arthur's Pastry Shop in Medford, just a couple miles down the road from Modern Pastry (see #1 above). As long as you're stocking up on Italian favorites in Medford, you might consider a trip to Bob's Foods, an Italian specialty store that also has great subs and pasta dishes for takeout; LaCascia's for more great subs and baked goods; and Italo Bakery for cheap but delicious fresh-baked bread.

     
  5. Black-and-Whites at Lyndell's (Ball Square, Somerville)

    Also not far from Medford (but more accessible by public transportation) is Ball Square's landmark bakery, Lyndell's. Everything I've had there is great, but I especially recommend the black-and-whites, which are basically flattened cupcakes with half chocolate, half vanilla frosting. They also have every other combination of chocolate or yellow cake with chocolate or vanilla frosting. My favorite is the yellow with vanilla, but the black-and-white is the classic.
Now it's your turn. What must-try Boston desserts would you add to this list?


Update 2/22/12: Correction to Italo Bakery.