Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Essay on Dessert and all things Sweet

Dessert dreams, the very ones that occupy a not small space in my mind...lets just say often.  I both believe and like to hope that there isn't just a meager percentage of others who feel (as well as battle) the same haunting thoughts of all things saccharine and delish.  Knowing I am not alone in such, making me feel better about being such a die hard dessert lover, by leaps and bounds.

To me, all things sweet are one of the many quintessential aspects of what make life stellar.  They are one of the millions of marvelous puzzle pieces that add small bursts of joy and richness to living.  A decadent slice of cake, multi-tied, sandwiched between layers of airy frosting.  The cake itself, moist, light, subtly sweet, and spongy.  A fruit tart, glistening with glaze brushed along its surface.  The fruit, vivid gems atop a thick swirl of pastry cream, nestled underneath the fruit.  The light crunch of a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie.  Chocolatey, with a burst of minty cool in your mouth while chewing.  Those cookies, so slim, crisp, and satisfying make it, for me, a wonder that more people dont polish off the entire box in one sitting routinely (yes, guilty as charged over here).

I still dream of the Danish chocolate cake from the Danish Pastry Shop (in Medford, MA).  Moist, with a layer of thick ganache in the middle, a snow shower of coconut flakes on top.  The fist sized cream puff with its flakey shell, a dusting of powdered sugar on top and thick cream piped into its center.  The lemon raspberry cake, moist, spongy, with a whipped buttercream frosting.  And the carrot cake cupcakes, bite sized, a pile of cream cheese frosting piped atop and a marzipan carrot, the figurative cherry.  

My own photos, snapped from days of working at the Danish Pastry Shop back in 2013.

Then, upon moving to Prague, Czech Republic during the autumn of 2013, I sampled two especially mouthwatering baked goods from Krusta bakery. Perníková hvězda, or in my own words, a gingerbread star.  A cake in the shape of, you guessed it.  The inside dotted with gingery chips.  Its surface topped with a dusting of powdered sugar.  Biting into one, it was as though tasting Christmas. 

And the other Czech sweet with which I fell in love, Trdelnik.  A swirling of sweet dough woven around a solid metal cylinder and baked over an open flame, blazing just underneath.  The column of dough turning slowly on the metal apparatice.  The finished product, a sweet baked pastry, slightly crisp on the outside, soft and bready on the inside.  One can request their trdelnik topped with numerous confections, from a sprinkling of crushed nuts, to a swath of Nutella, or a cloud of powdered sugar and cinnamon.  This saccharine snack becoming the one I most craved, as well as the namesake for this very blog.

During the six weeks of going to class 9+ hours a day that autumn in Prague, in working towards obtaining my TEFL certificate so I could then teach English as a foreign language, a classmate of mine, Greg and myself, would eagerly await break for one sole purpose.  On Thursdays during our morning break at school, Greg and I would rush down the stone steps, the echo of our footsteps resounding through the school hall, race outside and down the bustling street to the cluster of tents and stalls at the end.  There, merchants stood selling their wares, some edible, just as many others not.

Piles of pastries and cakes towered, sugar glittering on their surfaces, cream spilling out their sides.  Greg and I allowing our eyes to rove the haul before discussing with grave seriousness what we would sample that day.  Pooling our money, then pointing wide eyed and excited at various items before deciding on our dessert for the day.  We retreated back to school, clutching the white paper bag nestling two or three treats of choice.  And once finally back in class and much to our peers envy, devouring the sweets while attempting to stifle our mutual moans of pleasure.

Prague scape/Prague Castle during that autumn of 2013.

My class for TEFL certification that autumn 2013.

On moving to Germany, it was there I discovered Bienestich.  The German to English translation, "bee sting."  This is a vanilla cake, two tiers, sandwiched with a layer of thick vanilla custard-like cream in the middle.  The top of the cake, spread with a sweet, honeyed glaze mixed with crushed almonds.  I am not usually a fan of almonds, nor of honey desserts, but this one takes the cake.  Pun intended.  Bienestich rapidly becoming my favorite German sweet.  Finding myself swooning over numerous slices throughout my time there.

Now, onto croissants, pain au chocolat, macarons, and eclairs in Paris.  Man oh man, for some top notch sweets, the City of Lights is where you want to go.  The croissants here, predictably, like none other that you will sample elsewhere.  Hence, where they originate from, so it makes sense.  Flakey on the outside, yet buttery and ever so slightly chewy on the inside.  Heaven.  The pain au chocolat, much the same in terms of texture and taste, but with the cherry on top added addition of bittersweet logs of chocolate running along the inside of the pastry.  Divine. 

Macarons, something I used to find rather repulsive which, only as of the last 1.5 year or so, has since changed.  Now, I love them.  Chewy, sweet, with a smooth cream in the middle, these are the best bite sized sweets.  And eclairs, that flakey crust, filled inside with a sweet cream, topped with a rich stripe of chocolate frosting along the length of the sweet.  The flavors together making for a classic, straight forward, even somewhat simple, but totally tasty dessert.  The Parisians, doing all of these best obviously.

Now, lets meander on over to another country and differing dessert.  Gelato in Italy, a must sample in ones lifetime.  Sure, there is much crappy gelato to be found in the overrun tourist traps littered throughout the countries cities.  However, there are just as many high quality, majorly delicious, mouthwatering places worthy of checking out and sampling within.  And much like the specified sweets above with regards to Paris, Italians do gelato best (which makes sense, since its their dessert ;-)).  And gelato isn't just a pleasure to eat, its gorgeously displayed within gelateria shop windows.  The abundance of flavors, showcased behind glass in fantastical, colorful swirlings of cream in all manner of shades.

Judith was stuck into hilarity by how sloppy I was in attempting to consume this gelato.  Hence, she just "had" to take a photo ;-p

Skipping on over to Portugal, there's no question of my touching on Pao de Deus.  One of the few desserts tasted in my travels that, over the years, to this day still haunts me.  It was that good.  The explosion of awesomeness that this sweet delivers, burned into my memory and dessert dreams the second of sampling. 

During my second solo trip in Europe which took me to Lisbon, happening into a bakery and asking them "what would you recommend?"  They inquired, would I like something generally delicious or something specifically Portuguese?  I opted for the latter.  They pointed to the humble, unimpressive looking Pao de Deus, or, in translation, "bread of the Gods."  What appeared to be a yellow roll topped with some kind of paste, a sprinkling of powdered sugar atop. 

I asked what it was?  A sweet roll, topped with a coconut paste, they told me.  Very traditional Portugese.  Despite not being a fan of coconut, I decided to try it.  When in Rome...

And good lord, the second I bit into said sweet roll, already several blocks away from the bakery by now on foot, I promptly turned around, went back, and bought another which I would carry with me for eating later on that day. Phenomenal.  The roll, fluffy, slightly eggy, moist, lightly sweet.  The coconut paste on top, quite sweet, smooth but ever so subtly grainy.  Just, wow.  One of the very best desserts I have sampled in my travels.

On yet another adventure...Budapest, Hungary!  Where one afternoon was wiled away at Café Ruszwurm in no particular hurry, over three slices of cake, accompanied by steaming mugs of green tea.  Sighing in pleasure over the pillowy cloud of sweet cream, sandwiched between two flakey sheets of pastry.  Moaning as we spooned pieces of Dobra Torta into our mouths, a traditional cake of Budapest.  The chocolate buttercream layers light and fluffy between thin, spongy layers of cake, all topped with a thin sheet of hard caramel, smooth and clear as glass.  

The conversation that afternoon particularly engaging and deep.  Our jaws, dropping upon receiving the bill.  Having heard rumors that Budapest was cheap but this was astounding.  Twelve euro for the three slices of cake and three drinks.  The same spread in Frankfurt would have cost around twenty.  

Speaking further of sweet treats in Budapest, it was here that I discovered Turo Rudis.  A beloved Hungarian specialty which is a small candy bar, surrounded by an outer chocolate shell, filled with a sweet curd cheese.  Having read about these online prior to our departure in researching “must try Hungarian foods.”  On our first free afternoon, beckoning my travel buddy in crime to follow me into a supermarket and promptly snatching up a couple packages of these.  As anticipated, they were delicious.

Sampling, and loving, my Turo Rudis.  Yes, I snuck several into the Hungarian Baths, much to my travel buddy's delight and giggles following my producing a handful from my bag.

Now.  Onto Marias in Boston, MA.  Aside from the Danish Pastry House in Medford, MA, this place (as of now) earning the spot for top dessert eating in the city in my book.  Their Italian Rainbow Layer cookies?  To die for.  They also have supposedly the best cannolis in the city, though I haven't sampled them myself yet.  But the sweets here are, in short, superb.  

As well as, another bomb diggity Boston sweet spot, Union Square Donuts.  Hands down, the best donut I have ever sampled in my life.  And, as a fairly enthusiastic donut devotee, I can speak confidently about such.  These are some of the fluffiest, pillowy, but deliciously sweet donuts I have had the pleasure of tasting.  High tail it here if you live in Boston, or, anywhere close to Boston, ASAP.

To touch briefly on a few of my own baked goods, and no, not to toot my own horn but instead, just to continue on with the sonnet of all things sweet that perpetuate my dessert dreams.  Namely, pancakes.  I have enough varying pancake recipes on routine rotation that a book could be spun on these sweet cakey breakfast treats alone.  From coconut turmeric pancakes, to lavender blueberry buckwheat, to blueberry ricotta, to matcha with raspberry and chocolate, as well as pumpkin chocolate chip with cranberries. 

Sweet potato chocolate cake- grain/gluten free, dairy free and without refined sugar, yet its fudgy, totally decadent, rich and delicious..  Pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust, autumnal and spicy, creamy and lightly sweet.  Blackberry Gingersnap Mascarpone cake, layers of sweet blackberry cream sandwiched with spiced gingersnaps.  Sweet potato pie, the crust a brown sugar, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.  Paleo chocolate cupcakes, shockingly moist, nearly creamy, light and springy, I was shocked by how stellar these sweet treats turned out to be, assuming Paleo cupcakes would almost certainly fall short and, at their worst, might even be awful.  Thankfully, they were the opposite.   

Blueberry Ricotta pancakes, also super easy to make.  Fluffy, lightly sweet, so delish.  Likely to become your new favorites, as they have mine.

Light, fluffy, delicious, and so good for you.  These coconut turmeric pancakes are a breeze to throw together.
Hands down, one of my best recipes.  This one is shockingly easy to make, so quintessential New England and Thanksgiving, REALLY delicious.  Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust.
Get excited. These chocolate Paleo cupcakes are easy to make and yours for the sampling.
Want these pumpkin oat buckwheat pancakes for breakfast?  Here you go.
How to make that sweet potato pie, with the melt-in-your-mouth crust.
Here is the recipe for my sweet potato chocolate cake.  Grain/gluten free, dairy free, and without refined sugar.  Yet, SO yummy.

Popovers on the Square in Portsmouth, NH is a more recent damn good dessert destination that's been discovered.  Their specialty, no surprise here, popovers.  Airy, buttery, flakey and delightful.  A bombshell of a dessert option here: the popover sundae.  As big as your head, this is a goblet sized bowl filled with, of course, a popover which has then been split in half, doused in several scoops of ice cream, drizzled in caramel sauce and hot fudge, topped with whipped cream, walnuts, and fried bananas.  This treat is truly insane, granted, its totally tasty. 

Also on offering, a plethora of cakes and small (ish) sweet treats.  Cupcakes, cookies, and more.  I have tried both the three tier chocolate ganache cake, as well as the three layer chocolate mousse cake.  Both were outstanding, though the latter was better.  Still fantasizing about that one.

Dessert adds a sweet treat, a punctuated lift, a burst of glee to everyday life.  And no, to love and enjoy desserts, one does not necessarily have to eat sugar, dairy or wheat.  Though omitting those things does make enjoying dessert more challenging, its very possible to both find as well as make your own treats that still satisfy without being laden with loads of unhealthy ingredients.  The choice is yours, with regards to what you are ok with and prefer eating.

Desserts are a celebration.  They can be the exclamation point to a phenomenal eating experience.  Dessert can be romantic, even sexy.  They can be an accomplishment or a work of art.  Dessert can be a surprise and even, a gift.  Desserts can add a sense of anticipation and excitement to your day or week.  They can make your day, or moment, just a little bit sweeter.  Dessert can be immensely memorable, as well as inspiring, for future baking experimentation going forward.  Dessert can be a tradition or even, a source of bonding and coming together. 

Dessert can wear so many hats, it can be so many things.  Dessert, making life in both big moments and small, just a little bit sweeter ;-)

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