Thursday, December 14, 2017

Taza Chocolate Factory Tour in Somerville, MA

Taza's two best: Chocolate Mexicano 70% Dark Chipotle Chili and Coco Besos
You may be familiar with Taza Chocolate. It comes in two round discs, has a course texture and boasts itself as being "Mexican Stone Ground Chocolate." But that isn't all there is to know about their product. Here are some things I learned when I went on the Taza Chocolate Factory Tour:

What are the origins of Taza Chocolate? 
Alex, the founder, went to Oaxaca where chocolate is primarily for drinking, not eating. While there, he studied with molineros (mill experts). Taza started in 2007 in Somerville, MA. The goal was to make the Oaxacan style chocolate, but in a way that was both good for eating and drinking. Today Taza still uses molinos (stones used to grind chocolate) from that region, though Taza carves the ridges into them themselves to their chocolate-making specifications.

What is the benefit of the stone ground method?
There is no conching. Conching pulverizes the bean. Taza's stone ground method doesn't pulverize because pulverizing causes chocolate to lose some of its nutrients, like magnesium and antioxidants.

What is the process for making stone ground chocolate?
All of the bean harvesting is the same: the cacao pod is cut from the tree, the beans--actually seeds--and white fruit are removed and placed into wooden boxes to ferment for up to 7 days, the beans are dried on wooden slats for up to 8 days, and then they are packed and shipped.

Because Taza is bean-to-bar, the process in their factory starts here with roasting the cacao bean. Roasting both develops the flavor and loosens the shell. Next, winnowing separates the shell from the nib. (All there is is nib and shell, so to eliminate waste, the shells are used as mulch.) Next the nibs are crushed between the stones. One stone is stationery, while the other rotates. The nib is ground up into a paste known as chocolate liquor, which has a texture like hot peanut butter. The chocolate liquor is then combined with cane sugar in the mixing tank. At this point in the process, chocolate used for the Taza's disc chocolate is ground once more to break down the sugar crystals. Then it goes in a holding tank, followed by tempering for texture and appearance, molding and wrapping. Then you can eat it!

The process is a little different with their bars. For their bars, they use a wheel with more finely etched ridges to lightly pulverize the bean to get a smoother texture. This pulverizing is not as much as a conch used typically in chocolate making. The bars are European style, which is to say they add more cocoa butter.

Why are most of Taza Chocolate's products round?
So it can fit in a cup for drinking chocolate.

Is Taza Chocolate Fair Trade?
No, they are not Fair Trade by choice. Instead they are Direct Trade, which has less intermediaries/bureaucracy via brokers. Instead 100% used toward the product goes to farmers.

Learn anything else?
Sure did:

  • Cacao plants are the size of a "fully-inflated American football." They are cut open with a machete.
  • The flavor of baba, the white fruit cacao beans (seeds) live in, is like lychee, jackfruit or durian in quality. (The guide said that it is the sweetest fruit he had ever tasted.) Baba is what activates the fermentation. It's called "baba" (which translated to "spit") because originally people sucked the fruit and spit the seeds out.
  • Cinnamon is originally from Sri Lanka, so the Aztecs and Mayans couldn't have used it in their chocolate drink.
  • Tempering actually changes the melting point, which sounds like black magic, but heating up other foods also has an effect, like how the texture of onions changed when carmelized.
  • My guide's favorite chocolate other than Taza is El Rey. Gotta check that out!
Learning's fun and all, but what about the chocolate? Was it good?
Yes! There's no denying that the rough texture of stone ground chocolate is a paradigm shift from the chocolate most people are used to, but it sure is tasty. In the shop after the tour, we were allowed to sample chocolate to our heart's content. After doing my duty for my readers and eating as much as needed for a full report, I can say that there were two Tazo standouts I would direct you to first: the Chocolate Mexicano 70% Dark Chipotle Chili disc and the Coco Besos chocolate-coconut bar. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Quick post: Four shops to try

Salt & Straw.
As time passes, there are four spots I wish I'd blogged about when it was fresh in my brain. Consider this humble post a small tribute to four places I hope to visit again so I can make good on a full-length post for each. Here they are, all different time zones!

Salt & Straw in Portland, OR - Ate there two or three times. Multiple varieties of chocolate and some weirdo flavors here, too, like Pear & Blue Cheese and Arbequina Olive Oil. They have locations in California now, too.

Churn in Phoenix, AZ - When I went to Phoenix for work, a friend directed me here. Of the flavors offered, I only recall one of them being off the beaten path. Classics are the focus at Churn and they do them well, so well that Churn has earned a spot in the TOP 25 TO VISIT.

Betty Ringer Ice Cream in Dallas, TX - Betty Ringer hadn't been open long before the Dallas Observer named it the Best Ice Cream Shop in 2017. This one is actually fresh in my mind, but I feel I needed to visit multiple times to do it justice. Sadly, this was the last ice cream shop I stopped at after a week in Dallas!

Sister Pie.
Sister Pie in Detroit, MI - What I can tell you is I went for up for seconds...and I would have gone up for thirds if the store hadn't been closing for the day.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Freezer Faves: Graeter's Black Raspberry Chip & Buckeye Blitz

Packaging from days of yore.
While this blog is primarily a fan of local scoop shops, it acknowledges that sometimes a person just wants to stay in for the night. That being said, this is one of my Freezer Favorites.

• • •

Cincinnati has many ubiquitous local food chains around town. Some are worth all of the hype they've been given and are a must-try for tourists, like chili-topped spaghetti at Skyline Chili and the reuben at Izzy's; others are less deserving of their fame, like provolone pizza at LaRosa's or ribs at Montgomery Inn. But one chain in particular gained so much deserved acclaim that it is now available in grocery stores across the nation.

The flavors in their native habitat.
I've blogged about Graeter's ice cream before, but it deserves to be revisited, especially for how widespread it has become. To review a little bit: Graeter's ice cream is made using the French Pot process, which is a small-batch method: a mere two-and-a-half gallons per batch! The main benefit of this inefficient process is a denser, creamier ice cream; it has less air in it, but it doesn't freeze into a rock. There's no denying the texture of Graeter's ice cream is different, smoother and more stuck to itself. But even better than the texture of the ice cream is the chocolate chips. Instead of using solid chunks of chocolate, Graeter's pours in liquid chocolate. By doing this, the chocolate chips in flavors like Black Raspberry Chip and Buckeye Blitz are soft, yielding and far more flavorful than the chalky snap of most chocolate chunks. These two flavors are perfection on a spoon: sweet and tart black raspberry and rich chocolate peanut butter. Simply unbeatable.

It is this blogger's personal opinion that Graeter's ice cream is even better at the scoop shop, perhaps because the ice cream is kept at the optimal temperature for eating. Grocery store and home freezers are at the best temperature for preserving ice cream (and other foods if you use your freezer for something other than ice cream). If you do go to Cincinnati to enjoy Graeter's, be sure to check out the art deco Cincinnati Union Station, Fountain Square, the river trail, the view of the skyline from Devou Park in Covington, KY. Just don't forget the ice cream!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ice Cream Tasting Game at Rick Moonen's RM Seafood in Las Vegas

16 scoops, all alike in dignity and mystery. A colorful sampler of the ice creams, sorbets and ice milks they rotate between at Rick Moonen's RM Seafood in Las Vegas. The Tasting Game presents the customer with the scoops and asks them to guess what flavor each scoop is. Each customer is given a free spot--Vanilla Bean--while the rest of the 15 scoops are part of the game.

Much harder than it sounds, I guessed eight-and-a-half correct, not counting the free spot. (Half points are for flavors I guessed partially correct, like knowing there was banana in the banana-caramel flavor, but missing the caramel portion.) My server said the average was five or six correct, so I was above average. He seemed most impressed that I guessed coconut curry and lychee correctly. Meanwhile, I'm kicking myself that I didn't correctly identify pistachio or cherry. Not that it mattered in the big picture because I never would have guessed cardamom with star anise or green tea. I asked the server and he said no one had ever guessed them all and that the record was guessing 14 of the 15 mystery flavors correctly.

Row 1: Pistachio, Coconut Curry, Coffee, Vanilla Bean
Row 2: Cardamom Star Anise, Thai Mango, Banana Caramel, Candy Cane
Row 3: Strawberry Guava, Green Tea, Raspberry, Cherry
Row 4: Nutella, Passionfruit, Lychee, Chocolate

Located at The Shoppes at Mandalay Place right on the Las Vegas strip, there is no shortage of places nearby to spend a pretty penny, but RM Seafood offers a three course business lunch for $28, though the Ice Cream Tasting costs an additional $10. The Ice Cream Tasting is $22 a la carte, though, so that plus two other courses is a steal at $32. Adventurous and fun. Recommended!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chicago Cake: Molly's Cupcakes

On my dessert hierarchy, cakes are usually way, way down near the bottom, above desserts I dislike (Turkish Delight, banana anything) and below those I do like. But Chicago has taught me what cake and cupcakes are capable of being.
• • •

During the cupcake bubble, I thought I'd tried it all, cupcake after meh cupcake. Then Molly's Cupcakes opened my eyes. All of their cupcakes are worthwhile, so I'll have to limit myself to the Top 5:

1.) Pumpkin Spice - spice cake filled with pumpkin mascarpone, topped with cream cheese buttercream 
An annual favorite during pumpkin season, this cupcake stands tall amongst many would-be competitors for Chicago's pumpkin crown.

2.) Chocolate Raspberry - chocolate cake filled with fresh raspberry puree, topped with chocolate ganache and a fresh raspberry
Raspberry puree is borderline erotic in this dessert. And the chocolate is rich enough to warrant adding the tart raspberry to cut through.

3.) Ron Bennington - chocolate cake with peanut butter filling, chocolate ganache and crushed butterscotch topping
Decadence, thy name is Ron Bennington. Well, maybe not THE Ron Bennington, but the cupcake for certain.

4.) Peach Cobbler - vanilla cake with a peach filling, whipped topping and peach on top
Buttery, sweet and fruity. Just like a cobbler, but lighter.

5.) Red Velvet with Cream Cheese Frosting
Pulling from Molly's selection of make-your-own non-filled cupcakes is a standard so good you're reminded of why it's a classic.

Though they've expanded to New York City and Iowa City, Molly's was founded in Chicago, where it has two locations.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Chicago Cake: Jennivee's Bakery

On my dessert hierarchy, cakes are usually way, way down near the bottom, above desserts I dislike (Turkish Delight, banana anything) and below those I do like. But Chicago has taught me what cake is capable of being.

• • •

From the first time I visited Jennivee's Bakery, I quickly became a regular, trying as many flavors I could keep up with. Their main focus are cakes (which may be light, but are loaded) and cupcakes (which are dense with tasty toppings). A shop in their first year, they do a lot to stick out among the crowd. First, there's the shop's founder, a young Filipino transwoman entrepreneur. Then there's the shop's hours, which cater to the late night crowd. And, best of all, there's the originality of the product, highlighting my three favorites:

Purple Velvet Cupcake - Also available as a cake slice, the dense cupcake is the better choice. If you've never had ube before--a purple yam that features in some Filipino desserts--this is an excellent place to start: ube cake with ube mousse and coconut strings. It's a delicate flavor knocked up a few notches into something truly unique to the Chicago dessert scene.

Sans Rival Cake - As the French name implies, this cake has "no rival." Unlike anything I've had before, this crispy, chewy cake consists of layers of meringue cookies packed between layers of buttercream. I ate half of it (a reasonable amount), telling myself to save the rest for later, but the second half only lasted an hour's break from eating the first...which I suppose does classify as "later."

Mango Mousse Cake - Triple mango! Mango cake with mango cream and bits of mango. Also available as a cupcake, the lightness of cake is better suited to this particular flavor. But don't take my word for it; try both!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Cafe Valley's Dr. Pepper Cake

Occasionally, as a dessert blogger, I get sent free stuff. What usually happens is I receive an email inquiring whether or not I'd like to try a product. Scratch that. What usually happens is I receive press releases that look like spam emails on topics only tangentially related to food, subject matter that tells me the people who are paid to send out these emails rarely pay any attention to where they scatter their PR seed. But sometimes--very rarely--I am offered to sample something. And when this happens, they want a review.

I've tried to keep this blog positive over the years, only reviewing things I enjoy. My mother taught me that if you don't have anything nice to say to not say anything at all. But damned if the folks at Cafe Valley don't want a review. I can think of no better reason for the ol' dessert blog to come out of dormancy, so here goes:

Cafe Valley makes grocery store cakes. You know the type. They cost $5 and sound like a deal until you taste them. Then you realize you've spent that money on the one piece you'll reticently finish, wishing the whole time that you'd cut a thinner slice. The rest of the cake will be set out for your roommates with a "Hey, I bought this to share" sign AKA a thinly veiled attempt to get rid of an unwanted thing. Most self-respecting adults only purchase a cake like this once in their lives, usually on a whim because the flavor in question is a personal favorite. Fans of Dr. Pepper: don't buy this cake. Go drink some Dr. Pepper instead. Even if you're "just curious," don't buy this cake. You can have the patience to wait until some cheap friend brings it to a pot luck, putting it on the table to be ignored by all except one self-sacrificing person who takes a piece of the grocery store cake just to be nice. Watch how the cheap friend acts as though their woeful offering earns them the right to eat at the pot luck. "Hey, I brought something!" Watch as they gorge themselves on real food when they themselves will only spend $5 and a minute in the check-out line. That cheap friend thinks they are the smartest one in the room, bringing a grocery store cake while everyone else has cooked. Don't be that cheap friend. And don't let them live the illusion that they've pulled the wool over everyone's eyes with a grocery store cake. Yes, even if it's free, don't eat this cake.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Dole Whip at Disney's Adventureland

After a sweltering and unexpectedly life-threatening Jungle Cruise in Disneyland's Adventureland, nothing cools you down better than pineapple on pineapple. The place to sate yourself is none other than the Tiki Juice Bar (or at Aloha Isle at the Magic Kingdom) where they serve up the Dole Whip float, a dish of pineapple soft serve filled with pineapple juice. The line for this refreshing treat is never short as it has become a bit of a cult classic. Simple in concept but rarely seen elsewhere, it is worth the hype.

Don't be fooled by the lack of line -- it was closing time.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Top 5 Cookies-n-Cream Ice Creams

1.) Kopp’s Frozen Custard (Greater Milwaukee, WI) – Cookies-n-Cream
One day I will do a full post on the wonder that is Kopp’s Frozen Custard. In the meantime, the teaser is that theirs is the best Cookies-n-Cream I’ve had in my life. The bad news is, like most frozen custard places, they only do vanilla, chocolate and their flavors of the day. So Cookies-n-Cream is only available when it is one of their two special flavors of the day. I recall going to Kopp’s with my family and my aunt’s family in my youth , persuading my parents to let me order a triple scoop, finding chunks of whole Oreos within and my Dad and I being unable to finish it.

2.) Gelati Celesti (Richmond, VA) – Oreo
The bases of cookies and cream ice creams are either white (playing up the “cream” part of the name) or speckled with black cookie dust. Not this flavor, which is pure grey. The reason? The Oreos are blended completely into the base, not simply mixed in to a sweet cream base. Translation: the base tastes like Oreos, not cookies “in” cream. This explains why the flavor isn’t named Cookies-n-Cream…because it’s straight, undiluted Oreo. Gelati Celesti aren't the only ones to have this idea, but they perfected it.

3.) Golden Cow Creamery (Charlotte, NC) – Salted Oreo
I may be a foodie, but I generally find the trend of adding salt to desserts that never needed it before to be bougie nonsense. Sure, a little bit is science, but a lot bit is superfluous. But this flavor, Salted Oreo, made me eat my words and then lick the bowl. Adding salt to this Oreo ice cream created a completely new flavor, one I loved. When I ate at this spot in fall of last year, they had only been open a couple months and didn’t have enough flavors to fill their freezer yet. Once operating at full freezer capacity, I have no doubt, based on this and the others I tried, that their place on the Charlotte foodie map will be staked.

4.) Turkey Hill (grocery store) – Double Dunker
This paragraph previously appeared in “Top 5 Cookie Dough Ice Cream”
Years back, Ben & Jerry’s created Milk & Cookies, a mash-up of Cookies-n-Cream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. It was simple and brilliant, but a combination not represented in grocery stores before then. Turkey Hill came up with their own twist on the idea (“Mocha ice cream swirled with chewy cookie dough and crunchy chocolate cookie swirl”) and created a superior product, which was no small effort given that Milk & Cookies ranks among one of the last of Ben & Jerry’s best flavors of recent years. Suffice to say, when a half gallon of Double Dunker is in the house it isn’t there for long. I consider it one of my Freezer Favorites.

5.) Josh & John’s (Colorado Springs, CO) - Colorado Cookies-n-Cream
A scoop shop of personal legend, I recall eating a Josh & John’s on a snowy winter day in the early 2000’s, marveling at how ice cream is good no matter the temperature and drawing in the snow on the outdoor picnic tables after. But mostly I recall their twist on Cookies-n-Cream. It was the first time I saw the base for a Cookies-n-Cream ice cream be chocolate. And, really, since the base is always ice cream, the “cream” part of cookies-n-cream is up for wider interpretation. The answer was there all along, waiting to be found. I doubt anywhere else refers to Cookies-n-Cream with a chocolate base “Colorado Cookies-n-Cream,” but I did for years because Josh & John’s was so tasty.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Top 5 Cookie Dough Ice Creams

1.) Thomas Sweet (Washington, D.C. and New Jersey) - Chocolate Chip Cookie
The best twist on Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough I’ve encountered, so good it overtakes the original. A wholly unique flavor that I have yet to see anywhere else, this ice cream base tastes like cookie dough. That’s right: unlike other cookie dough flavors, this one contains no hunks of cookie dough because the flavor is in the ice cream itself. It’s so good that I’ve blogged about it twice before. It’s like eating the dough right out of the mixing bowl, complete with a mouthful of mini-chocolate chips in each bite.

2.) Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream (Madison, WI) – Snap O’ Lantern
Much of this paragraph previously appeared in in the autumnal entry “Snap-O-Lantern & Other Pumpkin Ice Creams.”
A perennial favorite in my annual autumnal challenge to consume as many varieties of pumpkin foods as possible. The addition of gingerbread cookie dough isn’t the only reason Snap-o-Lantern tops the list. The ice cream reminds me of my first memories of pumpkin ice cream at the Hilton Village Parlor Restaurant back home: sweet in front, pumpkin in the back, creamy all the way around. I attribute this to the gingerbread cookie dough, which excuses the ice cream from having to be all spices at once and instead to focus on being pumpkin.

3.) Oberweis (Midwest grocers/parlors)–Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
This paragraph appeared in the ongoing Freezer Favorites series.
It may seem strange that I lean on Oberweiss for my grocery-store Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cravings since Ben & Jerry's are the ones who put the flavor on the map. But I'm going to commit foodie-sacrilege here: Such a heavy mix-in as cookie dough bites demands a lighter ice cream. Oberweiss is a super-premium brand that makes a product that manages to be flavorful without being heavy. Creamy and light, their Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough isn't overloaded with mix-ins, but doesn't skimp either. Most bites have some cookie dough with only a few containing chocolate chips, that perfect touch of chocolate to leave semisweet lingering on the tongue after the ice cream melts away.

4.) Turkey Hill (grocery store) – Double Dunker
Years back, Ben & Jerry’s created Milk & Cookies, a mash-up of Cookies-n-Cream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. It was simple and brilliant, but a combination not represented in grocery stores before then. Turkey Hill came up with their own twist on the idea (“Mocha ice cream swirled with chewy cookie dough and crunchy chocolate cookie swirl”) and created a superior product, which was no small effort given that Milk & Cookies ranks among one of the last of Ben & Jerry’s best flavors of recent years. Suffice to say, when a half gallon of Double Dunker is in the house it isn’t there for long. I consider it one of my Freezer Favorites.

5.) Ben & Jerry’s (RIP) – Oatmeal Cookie Chunk
Once Ben & Jerry’s discontinues a flavor, it is rare for them to bring it back. Oatmeal Cookie Chunk was actually the first occasion where I heard of such a thing happening. Like a cult TV show, when this flavor was discontinued, there was fan outcry, letter writing and pleading via Ben & Jerry’s online form to resurrect the dearly departed laid to rest in their Flavor Graveyard. (My girlfriend at the time was among the grieving, it having been her favorite flavor.) It had a rough-textured (oat-y?) base with chunky cookie dough and the perfect amount of fudge chunks to suggest chocolate without overwhelming the flavor. The flavor may not have lasted the second time around, but Ben & Jerry’s did drop a similar flavor is 2017: Oat of This Swirled. It's the next best thing.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Kirchhoff's Bakery in Paducah, KY

While some parts of small town America are becoming homogenized and others are dying out, some seem to thriving. The secret seems to be small business, whether breweries, an arts scene, breweries, dining foodies can appreciate, or breweries. I can only speak from a single afternoon as a tourist, but it seemed Paducah, Kentucky is one if those small towns finding its place in contemporary times. The true measure for me, of course, is the dessert scene.

Wandering Paducah’s easily walkable downtown, we passed a homemade ice cream shop, a soon-to-be-open rolled ice cream purveyor and a bakery. But Kirchhoff’s Bakery & Deli is not one of those “iced brownie with your white bread sandwich” places; it is an institution bubbling over with superior offerings, crowded with folks there for a quality lunch and delectable sweets at shockingly low prices. The only thing I didn’t like about the place was how I could never try it all in such a short trip…which, among problems, is a good one to have.

Looking in the display case, it is awfully tough to make a decision. I always like to ask the workers, who are often local authorities on what is best vs. merely popular. I was directed to the very item that had caught my eye, the Chocolate Chip Cheesecake bar, my favorite of the four desserts I purchased. The bar was a unique take on the more common cheesecake brownie, swapping in cookie bars for the brownie. Pairing of cheesecake with cookies? Of course it’s good! I started nibbling it while my friends were getting coffee and, even though I tried to pace myself, discovered the futility of trying to do so with such a delicious treat; I had scarfed it in full before my friends made it to the café table. The turkey pesto sandwich on homemade ciabatta with a cup of chili was also excellent and the price a steal. I ate my half of that before moving on to the next dessert. Additionally, we brought back two mini pies (a mere $3.50 each) which made our evening so much more delicious.

So if you find yourself in Paducah, or just passing by on I-24, stop in at Kirchhoff’s and treat yourself. You can enjoy your items there, sitting at one of the café tables out front on the market street, or you can take it with you on a walk over to the river front, enjoying the flood wall’s many historic murals. Perhaps you’ll wander over to Allen’s Music to play some of their unique and vintage stringed instruments. Or visit the National Quilt Museum, where arts and crafts are synonymous. Just know that Kirchhoff’s isn’t the only reason to stop in Paducah; the still ticking heart of small town America is there, waiting to be heard.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gone But Not Forgotten: Endgrain in Chicago

While going through old blog posts, I happened upon a draft of a post about Endgrain, a restaurant opened by the man some credited with launching the doughnut craze in Chicago. Endgrain was my obsession for a while, even if inconvenient for carless Chicagoans not on the Brown Line. I was saddened a couple years ago when it shuttered.

Endgrain founder Enoch Simpson was more than serious; he wanted people to give doughnuts the respect they deserve. Simpson talked the talk in a Guide to Doughnut Tasting, which, excepting the two bizarre and confusing opening sentences, offers some doughy insight into Chicago's grease-gone-gourmet obsession. Simpson also walked the walk, making the best overall textured doughnut menu in the city.

At the start, there were a mere four doughnut options for customers to choose from: the Butterscotch Bacon—their one constant—and three rotating selections. On most days, there was a jelly doughnut, a chocolate doughnut and a traditional doughnut with a unique glaze, what my waitress called a "vanilla doughnut" and what I'm calling a "rogue doughnut."

The Doughscuit.
After some time, Simpson decided that, rather than jumping on the cronut bandwagon, he’d make his own doughnut hybrid: the Doughscuit, a doughnut-come-biscuit filled with crème frache. It was buttery, sweet and creamy. This was followed by an alternative takes on his creation, including the German Chocolate Doughscuit. The original Doughscuit would go on to win the FirstAnnual DonutFest in Chicago, though I personally preferred the German Chocolate variety.

Despite the Doughscuit’s accolades, I always felt the crown jewel at Simpson’s Endgrain were the jelly doughnuts, which I wrote about in my review of the best of Chicago doughnuts. Put simply, it was the perfect jelly doughnut. And now, sadly, it is gone. My second favorite doughnut at Endgrain was the Butterscotch Bacon, a rare beacon of light in the bacon-doughnut craze. Their version had a gooey butterscotch coating, topped with crispy bacon. In my visits, I also tried Mochanut, Blackberry Peppercorn, Peaches 'n Cream, Nutella Milkstout, Chocolate Turtle and Salted Caramel.

Endgrain, you are gone, but not forgotten!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Marry, Boff, Kill: Doughnuts in Austin, TX

While in Austin, a small group of people with diverse genders and sexual orientations played the game "Marry, Boff, Kill." In this game, three subjects (usually people) are chosen within a particular category and then you pass judgment on which of these three you would marry if given the option, then whom you would boff, and finally which you would be sentence to death. For example, in my previous entry about Austin ice cream, it's clear I'd "marry" Dolce Neve; I'd also "boff" Lick Honest Ice Creams and "kill" Amy's.

Got the game down? Good! Because it's time for "Marry, Boff, Kill: Austin Doughnut Edition"!

Though billed as a hybrid of a croissant and a brioche, La Patisserie's CroBrio felt more to be like a doughnut/brioche mixture. The flaky layers one associates with a croissant weren't present, though nothing was lacking in my enjoyment. It was buttery, doughy, chewy and delicious. The chocolate on top was deep like a ganache. The cream (though billed as being a peanut butter cream) was a light vanilla bean delight. The type of CroBrio being offered changes, but I doubt my extreme desire for the product would. 'Til death do us part.

I couldn't resist the urge to try the over the top options at Gourdough's--pronounced like "gordo," the Spanish word for fat--ultimately settling on the Squealing Pig. It was a doughnut piled high with strawberry jalapeno jelly, candied jalapenos, bacon and cream cheese icing. The entire experience was messy, not to mention too sweet. (The cream cheese icing was far more icing than cream cheese.) I felt gross after eating Gourdough's, but I still feel some guilty desire to try a few more of their flavors on the side, even if my heart belonged to La Patisserie.

Though the hours make this traditional doughnut shop intriguing (7:30pm-noon), the product was not memorable. It appears on most lists of "Austin's must-try doughnuts," but I failed to see why. I love a good spot for traditional doughnuts and, while this one was passable, it wasn't notable nor a must-try, especially for a visitor with limited time on their hands.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dolce Neve in Austin (and Houston), TX

Off the tourist-beaten path of Austin's South Congress Avenue and tucked amongst the foliage of South 1st is a cozy gelato shop called Dolce Neve. Translated as "sweet snow," Dolce Neve finds the happy medium of traditional gelato's simplicity (scoops that emphasize a single flavor) and contemporary gelato's complexity (which combines many flavors and/or mix-ins, eliminating any subtlety). They do this by exploring lighter flavor agents, finding ways to make them shine in a new context, rather than simply recreating members of the ice cream canon in gelato form. And they are good--so good--at what they do. For example:

Pear and Chocolate Chip Sorbet - This sorbet somehow has the mouthfeel of an actual pear. And the chocolate chips, which sounded out of place to my brain, are a nice kiss of sweet to make this flavor a little more dessert-y than it would otherwise be. Refreshing, both in flavor and concept.

Pecan Honey - Nuts (hazelnuts, chestnuts pine nuts) and edible seeds (almonds, pistachios, coconut) have made for winning gelato flavors. Still, others in this group (cashews, walnuts, macadamia, pecans) are regularly ignored by gelato, while commonly being used as mix-ins to ice cream, rarely being given their own flavor. Sit back and let this flavor make right this longstanding gaffe.

Chocolate and Candied Orange Peel - Mixing in other ingredients to an intense chocolate gelato usually results taking away some of the flavor's intensity. The orange peel here adds a new level. It isn't quite a chocolate orange, but has a burst of sweet that enhances the richness of the chocolate.

I had other notable flavors in addition to the above--Frommage Blanc with Apple Curd, Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt, and Ricotta, Pistachio & Honey--but no need to worry if the ever-rotating menu doesn't include any of these I've mentioned. Each visit to Dolce Neve will offer a new opportunity for exploration. Who knows what you'll find when you stop in?


Go and taste the "sweet snow."

- - -

I would be remiss to not mention about the elephant in the room: When one hears about Austin ice cream, usually they hear about Amy's, a local made-to-order model a la Cold Stone which emphasizes mix-ins over its mediocre ice cream. All this praise for Amy's is like saying an entire salad is excellent because of the homemade croutons when its main ingredient is leftover iceberg lettuce that fell off McFish sandwiches. If you only eat ice cream once in Austin, do not be pulled into this moth-to-flame tractor beam. Dolce Neve is the much better bet.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Rise Biscuits and Donuts in North Carolina

Rise Biscuits and Donuts was born in Durham in 2012, eventually opening other locations around North Carolina and even one in Texas. All told, they make a good product on both the savory side of their menu and the sweet. But this is a sugar blog not a biscuit blog, so...onto the last word of the business' name.

Their doughnuts are divided into Old School (traditional doughnuts), New School (fancy doughnuts) and Our School (differs per location, may change). It's not every purveyor of fried dough that offers a simple Cinnamon Twist alongside fad doughnuts (Maple Bacon, Crème Brûlée), regionally specific treats (Cheerwine Icing) and originality (Banana Cake with Nutella). One would expect them to have an endlessly long menu, but they manage such a impressive range with a mere 15 doughnuts to choose from! It's a good problem to have, but deciding can be difficult at Rise. Allow me to introduce the crown jewel of their menu, the Pineapple Basil doughnut.

Incredibly tasty, this doughnut is unlike any I've ever encountered. The pineapple is sharp and tangy, the flavor lasting longer than most glazes. The cream filling offers a counterweight of sweetness, one that doesn't mellow the overall tartness but rather produces another note in the chord. It's all delivered in a delicious doughnut that's topped with pistachios for texture and, along with the basil, adds a light touch of savory. One bite of this doughnut and I knew it was one I would remember. An instant classic.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Innovations in Dessert Delivery

Recently, groups of protesters marched in streets across the nation on behalf of science. And, as many of them know, standing up for a cause must never stop at a march or a Facebook update or a post to one’s ice cream blog. We must champion scientific innovation and vote with our dollars. For that reason, I present to you a an adaptation of a Powerpoint report I did at work on the Innovations in Dessert Delivery, some of the most important scientific studies being done today in service to humanity.

• • •

Trends come and go in the world of sweets: cupcakes are not as hot as maple bacon doughnuts are not as hot as cronuts. But sometimes innovative product delivery can be just as effective for boosting sales as innovative products.

Once upon a time, someone (possibly Albert Doumar) imagined a method of eating ice cream that eliminated waste and was good for on-the-go. Over a century later, the ice cream cone is part of ice cream culture both domestically and internationally.

Here are some of the interesting trends in how dessert is delivered to the consumer. Some still involve a customer service medium:

Made-to-order: This in-store trend has been big for a decade now, whether regional doughnut chains like Duck Donuts and Fractured Prune, a global chain like Cold Stone mixing whatever you like into the ice cream flavor of your choice or an Asian cream puff chain that focuses on natural ingredients. spreading to America, Beard Papa's.

Serve yourself: Taking a page from those tasteful soft-serve sundae bars at buffets, frozen yogurt chains are letting customers choose how much froyo and toppings they want, combining as many flavors as they want. All the people behind the counter have to do is weigh the customer's custom sundae and collect their money...and clean up the mess that soccer team made of the birthday cake/cotton candy twist machine.

Delivered to your home: Cookies straight to your door, for those late night, um, studying sessions. Originally founded with college campuses in mind, working adults can see the benefits of Insomnia Cookies' late-night delivery, too.

Others eliminate customer service altogether:

Vending machine: Ice cream vending machines have been casting their glow on airport breezeways for years now, but now regional chains are entering the market. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams now has an ice cream vending machine in the Columbus, Ohio airport and Ted Drewe's has one in the St. Louis airport.

ATM: Just as cupcakes are a cutesy dessert that has cashed in on style-before-substance nostalgia, the Sprinkles' Cupcake ATM seems a perfect method for a not-quite-adult to delight in their empty calories while getting their dessert in a method that's like Fisher Price Talking Elmo ATM meets Easy-Bake oven, all so willing consumers can stand in line to be treated like the insipid children that they are. The ATM is even bright pink!

Gumball machine: Playing the nostalgia card in a different way, New York's Baked by Melissa created cupcake gumball machine for events rental.

One has to wonder the next innovation to be imagined and made real by dessert scientists. What do you think it will be?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

3 Floyds Brewpub in Munster, IN

My brother (middle), who is not one of the eponymous Floyds.
When my craft beer aficionado brother suggests a road trip to a brewery to me, his sober brother, the appeal doesn't always immediately present itself. It helps when these spots also make craft soda (because they damn well should do that, too) or have a menu that shows a little effort (not just lazy, paint-by-number pub fare) or, even better, a dessert menu with a personal touch. When the most recent trek involved crossing a state line, I hoped against hope that the menu would be something special. I never expected the blog-worthy treat we found at 3 Floyds in Munster, IN: beignets with chocolate dipping sauce.

Before I continue, it is worthy of note how rarely beignets are a success. One cannot even hear the word "beignet" in America without thinking of Cafe Du Monde in the New Orleans French Market, a deserving staple for every tourist. Yet, even with this knowledge of the beignet benchmark in everyone's minds, so often menus fall miles and miles. The so-called "beignets" one usually orders are often nothing more than an oily, yet fancily-named grease bomb of a doughnut, or a flat rectangle of fried dough, or something else that's totally disappointing. This is not the case at 3 Floyds Brew Pub.

Moments before the
beignet massacre.
← ← ← I mean, just look at them. Puffy, light, chewy. Everything a beignet ought to be. And 3 Floyds doesn't skimp on the portions; none of this "three per plate" nonsense, a peeve of mine since most tables are parties of two. Much to my surprise, the chocolate sauce was even better than the pastry. I don't know what brand of chocolate they melt down (and neither did our server) but I'd gladly buy a bar of this. It was rich, of course, but also had numerous flavor notes--the beginning, middle and end that signify quality chocolate.

Craft beer enthusiasts, when you make the pilgrimmage to 3 Floyds, make time for the Brew Pub and do yourselves a favor by ordering the beignets. They may even be better than the ones you tried in New Orleans.