Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sweet Me Creamery

Jewel-Osco and Mariano’s now carry an ice cream brand they didn’t before, Sweet Me Creamery out of St. Paul, MN. I bought one of the flavors with a smug “ho-ho, try to impress me attitude,” snarfed the whole pint in one sitting and then bought the available product line on my next trip. Here are my notes:

Salted Caramel Brownie – Chewy, fudgy brownies with sweet, runny caramel. (The salt content is thankfully low. Salt should subtly complement, not pull focus.) Usually, my complaint about brownie-based ice cream is that they are in vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate. Not with this flavor. It all comes together to be the best brownie sundae I’ve had, albeit mixed together. This flavor has earned a place among my Freezer Favorites.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler – This flavor was the first I tried from Sweet Me and, while I didn't intend to, I snarfed the whole pint in one sitting. A fruit swirl isn't as nice as actual fruit mixed in to ice cream and the rhubarb flavor didn't register for my tastebuds, but the rest of it was so good, who cares? The vanilla base is excellent, perfectly complementing the crispy cobbler bits.

Creamy Dark Chocolate Mint –  The best mint ice cream is chocolate mint ice cream. This one solidifies that opinion. As I've stated before, chocolate ice cream rarely tastes like actual chocolate; adding mint to it aligns it quickly with Thin mints, the finest of chocolate mint products. Still, this particular chocolate ice cream isn't the best of the Sweet Me Creamery product line. The chocolate chips are thin, offering more crunch than flavor.

Chocolatey Peanut Butter Pretzel – The mention of chocolate in the name is symbolic at best. The flavor is principally peanut butter, though some crunchy bits of peanut add some originality to the mix. Surprisingly, the pretzels stay keep their crunch for the most part. Too much of the peanut butter, not enough of the sweet. But that’s how I feel about most peanut butter desserts...Most remind me too much of elementary school lunch or something.

Maple Toffee Blondie – The maple is strong with this one and the caramel is plentiful enough to push the flavor just over the edge to go from sweet into cloying. The blondies are of a similar texture as the brownies in Sweet Me's other flavors, but less flavorful.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ferrara Bakery's Pastries in Chicago, IL

At Ferrara's, you can't lose.
In operation since 1908*, Ferrara Bakery is one of the few lingering family-owned Italian eateries on Taylor Street, the road to Chicago's "Little Italy." According to their website, they were actually the first pastry shop in the neighborhood! (The same family also went on to found the Ferrara Pan Candy Company, makers of Lemonheads, Red Hots and Atomic Fireballs, among other candies.) Since I've been finding myself in the neighborhood a lot, I've gotten around to tasting some most of their pastries. Here are my top ten:

(1) Tiramisu - The question isn't whether the tiramisu is the best thing at Ferrara's; the question is whether or not theirs is the perfect tiramisu. The dusting of cocoa powder neither overpowers, nor is overpowered by the espresso. The ladyfingers are a springy vessel that neither steals too much focus nor soaks in too much of the main event. And, blessedly, the predominant flavor is the layers of whipped mascarpone which is airy, but never light on flavor. With the balance of flavors in their tiramisu, Ferrara's has accomplished a rare feat, one worth trying for yourself.

(2) Eclair - From the rich chocolate topping to the the eggy pastry shell to the generous amount of custard within, this is an eclair as it is meant to be. Somewhat delicate, somewhat sturdy and all delicious. These remind me of my mom's cream puffs she made at Christmas, only better. (Don't tell Mom!)

(3) Sfogliatella - My favorite pastry from my 4 weeks spent in Italy and a rare find in America. Sometimes called a lobster tail, these pastries should have a little snap to their crust, but mostly be chewy inside. (A bad sfogliatelle is crunchy throughout. Just say no!) They are also filled with a thick custard (thickened by corn starch, maybe?) that is subtly sweet. At Ferrera's, the sweetness comes from the hints of citrus in the custard and the powdered sugar they sprinkle on top. It is a genuine taste of Italy for the curious. Molto bene! 

(4) Monachine - Take a biscuit--think cobbler topping, not something heavily seasoned and translucent with butter--then stuff it full of cannoli cream. Make sure the cannoli cream has a few chocolate chips in it. Then keep adding cannoli cream until it's overflowing. Add a maraschino cherry and you have a monachine. Sacrilege, I know, but even though it's basically a different take on the cannoli, I like it better than Ferrara's cannoli. 

(5) Limoncello Cake - This ever-so-slightly boozy dessert is a light layered cake with limoncello (or limoncello flavoring) used to add a citrusy punch. Mostly good, but one or two bites come on a bit too strong along the way...or maybe I just ate it too fast. 

(6) Ricotta Cheesecake - Cheesecake is usually heavy, but there's something even heavier about using ricotta. Fresh ricotta, though, offers a moist quality that makes each bite feel like a sip of water along the way. Order it and your gut will grow three sizes that day.

(7) Custard Chocolate Horn - Similar to the eclair in structure, but with a different shell. This shell is flakier, yet it crumbles more. Eating this pastry is more labor-intensive, even if the rewards are high. I highly prefer the eclair shell to this one.

(8) Cassata al Forno - A dense layered cake containing cannoli cream. Heavier than it looks, but no trouble to finish on my own. This would make a fine birthday cake with the right ice cream, maybe a small scoop of raspberry. Or maybe just raspberries. It's a good cake and flavor, but would benefit from something punching it up a little. 

(9) Cannoli - It's good, but something is off about the cream. A great cannoli offers a wave of different flavors, while Ferrara's offers only two: the shell and the cream. Still good, like I said, but it isn't even the best cannoli on Taylor Street. 

(10) Pasticiotto - Like a tiny pie crust filled with a thick, lemony custard. The lemon flavor is strong here. The texture of the crust is unlike any other Italian pastry I've eaten. Tasty and fun to try, but not one I'll likely revisit anytime soon.

There ya have it! Ten Italian pastries to choose from next time you find yourself on Taylor Street. Buon appetito! 

 * The infamous year the Cubs last won the World Series...OH, WAIT. THEY WON IN 2016. WORLD CHAMPIONS!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Word About My Hiatus

For 7 years (2008-2015), I consistently wrote 37 blog entries per year. At first, that number occurred by chance when I happened to reach the same number two years in a row. After that it was habitual, giving me a reasonable goal that numerically matched my own personal desire to compose blog entries amongst the many other creative projects I immerse myself in. Some bloggers post daily (or more), while I've always taken the quality of quantity approach. (Zing!)

I began this blog as a way to continue writing after college. No one was asking me to write papers—much less plays—and the bulk of my inspiration jumped tracks from playwriting/directing to songwriting/lyricism. The blog kept me in close touch with words without the constraints of a rhythmic pulse. I am fully capable of rambling on about most anything I know remotely anything about, so I'd likely be able to write at length about any topic; dessert, specifically ice cream, was simply a topic I was consistently asked about. It made sense to write about my niche subject of expertise. Besides, there were enough blogs covering entrees already.

Over the past two years, I’ve been privileged enough to travel all over the continental United States, both for work and for pleasure. In each city, I have done my usual gastronomic exploring, letting my sweet tooth lead the way. In dessert blogging, we call this “research.” (In my career, we call this "expenses.") On these travels, I have been putting in far more time researching than documenting my tasty, tasty findings. hence the decreased regularity of blog posts.

Moving forward, I foresee myself being far less rigid on the frequency of my blogging. But, never fear, friends—it is primarily my existing friends that arrive here—I’m always happy to give a dessert recommendation on anywhere you may be traveling. The search bar is always available here and I’m always good for a text or Facebook exchange.