Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Union Square Donuts

Right across the water from Boston, bordering Cambridge, is Somerville, MA. Waiting there is an instant entry into my Top 25 to Visit, Union Square Donuts. Though the combination of their hours (closed by 3pm) and my work location (the southern suburb, Braintree) meant I could only visit once during my trip, I have two pretty great reasons to add this place to my list of must-visit Boston-area places. Here they are:

Chocolate Pretzel
An airy pretzel roll with thick crystals of salt on top, topped with a melty, sticks-to-your-fingers milk chocolate. Each bite is delicious and makes you wish you had a little more chocolate. Then you take another bite, but still wish you had a liiiittle bit more. So you chase the dragon until you’ve finished the entire thing, wondering if you should turn around and buy another. This is more of a roll than a doughnut. Don't care.

Brown Butter Hazelnut
A moist doughnut that is also airy, but not nearly as light. The intense sweetness of the brown butter glaze is balanced out well by the husky, nutty flavor of the hazelnuts. I'm pretty sure that if I put on some ruby slippers and clicked my heels together, I'd be transported to a place where I tasted this always. This doughnut is unquestionably a top five doughnut of my life.

Looking forward to my next visit to Union Square Donuts, even if transported there by Kansas tornado.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bobtail Year 2 in Review

How do you measure...measure a year?
- Jonathan Larson (RIP)

• • • 

While the characters of Rent choose to find value in the passage of time by the love they give and receive throughout a year, I've found it far more reliable to measure it based on ice cream consumption. Last month marked the end of Bobtail Year 2, during which I received two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail. After twenty-four pints, it's fun to acknowledge some stand-outs and crown some winners. But, first, a little review:

I first received this bi-monthly ice cream allowance two years ago as a donor benefit for giving to Oracle Theatre, After a year of eating and blogging, Chris at Bobtail gifted me with another pint punch card, thereby legitimizing my blogging bent that has now gone on for nearly a decade. While I'm grateful to receive such sponsorship, nothing has changed: I blog about ice cream I like* and try to put a spin on it when I can.

Bobtail Year 2 was crunchy, nutty, dreamyspice-y and occasionally crepe-y. It had spooky moments where we ate friendly snowmen and even fingers. It had appearances by the drizzly cousins, butterscotch and caramel. And it included a reunion with an old friend.

Year 2 was even tastier than Year 1, so much so I will highlight the best three. Topping the list is Butterscotch Peanut Brittle. It defied the expectation of what peanut and ice cream do when combined, tasting like peanuts instead of peanut butter. Number two is Olaf, the cream cheese, carrot and walnut ice cream that I liked so much I couldn't let it go. And number three of the year was Butterscotch Chip Cookie Dough, which still has my teeth tingling with delight. Here's hoping some of my favorites from the past two years make it into regular rotation.

*Because, really, who cares if I eat ice cream that I don't like? I don't want to read about that, much less write it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection

I'll review the flavors, but first a little history:

Once upon a time, there was a line of Häagen-Dazs products known as the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series. It took the concept of super premium pints of ice cream and elevated it even further with niche flavors. But the timing was off. Just a year after this line premiered, the housing market crashed, which made the higher-end-yet-affordable luxury of $5 pints of ice cream seem a tad absurd. And, sadly, as the economy went south, it took the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series with it.

Years later in 2013, Häagen-Dazs would introduce a new line of products that played off their elegant branding and the idea of something high end, Häagen-Dazs Gelato. This line offered products with almost identical ingredient lists to each corresponding ice cream flavor, but with a smoother texture. The catch was the one notable new ingredient was high fructose corn syrup, which accounted for the texture and the disgusting flavor. This series, which somehow still exists, is gross. That this was what the company put out the same year it ended its Five line (ice cream made with only five ingredients, meant to have a "more natural" appeal) is criminal.

This year, Häagen-Dazs premiered yet another new line, the Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection, which I'm happy to report is better than the Gelato line, even if it falls short of the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series. The aim is boasting collaborations with lesser-known artisan dessert makers (only one of which I've heard of before) to create unique flavors. Below, I have reviewed the five flavors that do not contain the fruit that shall not be named, ordered from least desirable to most:

Applewood Smoked Caramel Almond, a collaboration with San Diego's Praline Patisserie®
One bite in and you think, "This is...interesting. It is! It's really....different. A bold, new choice for an ice cream flavor." Two bites in and you think, "That was a fun exercise. What else is in the freezer?" The ice cream enrobing the smoked almonds isn't enough to make the savory smoked flavor feel like a dessert.

Chocolate Caramelized Oat, a collaboration with San Francisco's Clairesquares®
The caramel flavor of this ice cream is over-the-top, but at least it covers the flavor of the bargain bin chocolate that coats the oats. The texture of the oats, which is neither crunchy nor chewy, doesn't add much even though the mix-in is unusual.

Tres Leches Brigadeiro, a collaboration with NYC's My Sweet Brigadeiro™
Pictured on this carton is what appears to be like a spherical cookie dipped in chocolate. It looks delicious. It must be the "brigadeiro" thingie the flavor name suggests. This is what you'll think until you are a few bites in and you realize there are no cookies here. You read the back of the package and it says the brigadero has been melted down...and Wikipedia says a brigadeiro is basically a piece of chocolate...and it occurs to you that tres leches literally means three milks...and you slowly realize Häagen-Dazs just sold you a $5 pint of pretentious fudge ripple. I mean, it's good, it's rich, but it's a $5 pint of fudge ripple.

Ginger Molasses Cookie, a collaboration with Brooklyn's The Good Batch®
The clear winner of the bunch. The ice cream is a refreshing bite to eat and has the slightest spicy kick. It claims the ice cream is vanilla cinnamon, but the taste of the ginger bleeds over. The cookie mix-in, which has the crunchy/crumbly texture of the cookie in a Twix bar, adds a diversity to the texture, but not much flavor except for the times it houses a tiny bit of crystallized ginger.

Spiced Pecan Turtle, a collaboration with Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate™
The chocolate ice cream is not the powerhouse, sock-to-the-jaw flavor I hoped for (and Häagen-Dazs has had in the past), but the spiced-caramel swirl and the pecan clusters make up for it in spades. The spices have a wintery quality to them as well as a tiny kick of picante. This is also the only flavor in the new line whose collaborator I'd heard of, thanks to Chocolopolis.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bobtail Year: Butterscotch Chip Cookie Dough

May was the final month of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •
"Butterscotch, huh? Been a while." This was my reaction and everyone else's when I mentioned Bobtail's latest, Butterscotch Cookie Dough. (The previous month's flavor boasted butterscotch in the name, but hadn't really had much of the taste.)

Absence hath made my heart grow fonder. And good thing, too, since there's enough here to o.d. on the stuff.

There are more tiny butterscotch chips than any mix-in I've ever encountered at Bobtail. When I took the lid off my pint I'm sure there were dozens looking back at me just on the top layer, even amongst the couple chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough and pecans. Hunks of crunch, I tells ya. And it's sweet, enough to give a little tingle to your teeth.

I was sad to see this pint end. Another hit for Bobtail!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Post #300: Top 25 to Visit

Time for another clip show.

Here you will find my top picks, revised since Post #200 back in November 2012. As the blog has grown substantially, I've changed the Top 20 tag to the revised TOP 25 TO VISIT tag. (This includes two places I will post about in the next month or two.)

My hope is that you will check this blog when you travel and use that handy-dandy search box on the right to see what I recommend in your destination city. And if I haven't written about that particular place, I hope you sample the best and report back, maybe even write a Field Report guest blog. (While this blog's primary allegiance is with local scoop shops, see my Freezer Favorites for the best of grocery store ice cream.)

Favorite Ice Cream 
#1 Toscanini’s (Cambridge, MA) 
#2 Morelli's (Atlanta, GA) 
#3 Creole Creamery (New Orleans, LA)

Favorite Doughnuts
#1 Mighty-O (Seattle, WA) 
#2 Firecakes (Chicago, IL) 
#3 Union Square Donuts (Somerville, MA)

Favorite Pastries 
#1 Twice-baked almond croissants at Bakery Noveau (West Seattle, WA) 
#2 Kuoing Aman at Les Madeleines (Salt Lake City, UT) 
#3 Made-to-order cream puffs at Beard Papa's (many locations around the world)

Favorite Chocolate 
Toscano Blond, 63% Dark Chocolate with Peach and Apricot
Amadei (Tuscany, Italy; available in fine chocolate stores)

Favorite Fancy Dessert   
Skyland and Big Meadows Resort (Skyline Drive, VA) 

In addition to blogging about the best desserts from my travels and the occasional recipe (like my creation of the perfect S'mores ice cream), my hope has been to make you laugh along the way. Here are my favorite humorous posts since Post #200:
Thank you for reading and for the emails, texts, Facebook posts and carrier pigeons with your dessert recommendations.