The Best Things I Ever Ate: Sweets

4 11 2009

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It might seem odd for someone who’s trying to improve the quality of her food choices to dwell on past indulgences. But I have found that one of the very best ways to curb cravings, and revel in successes is to identify and celebrate those truly extraordinary foods that stand, unrivaled, in my sordid dietary past.

Nothing turns me off of that dry, flavorless piece of birthday cake I’m offered like the thought of my first taste of Sweet Streets’ Choc’late Lovin’ Spoon Cake. And I find it much easier to conserve calories throughout the day when the prize that awaits me is the well-preserved perfectly-creamy second half of Lambert’s individual coconut creme pie.

Allowing myself to eat whatever I want proves a fruitful strategy when I often ask the question, “…but is it the best I could have?”

So here I will capture some of those bests, and I encourage you to add your personal favorites, too!

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Cake: Choc’late Lovin’ Spoon Cake, Sweet Streets Desserts, based in Reading PA

spooncake“Cake” is such a broad term, really.  In this application, I’m convinced it’s a cleverly-devised misnomer that gives the diner permission to eat a giant wedge of ganachey goodness.  And yes, a spoon really is the proper utensil.

Pastry: Cherry Cheese Danish, Pearl Bakery, Portland OR

Let me start by saying that I really don’t generally like pastry in any form.  It’s always too dry or too flaky.  But this danish is moist and doughy inside, while still crunchy and sugary outside.  The filling is a mix of tangy, local cherries and an unexpectedly crumbly, rich farmer’s cheese.  Despite my plans to experience the variety of foods Portland had to offer while on my visit, I found myself tethered like a yo-yo back to Pearl Street every morning to experience its perfection just one more time.

Cheesecake: Original Cheesecake, Carnegie Deli, New York NY

carnegieYou know how a young brie has that oozy layer in the center?  If you throw caution to the wind and leave this cheesecake out of the fridge just a bit before eating, its middle also oozes in the most delightful way.  So you have a giant, singular, oozy cream cheese bomb on top of a firm, immensely buttery crust—enough said.

Fruity Item: Apple Crumble, Tea and Sympathy, New York NY

This dessert is as much about the ambiance of the place as the dish itself.  Tea and Sympathy is a tiny teahouse on Greenwich Ave. that usually sports a long line of patrons waiting for a spot at one of its limited, cozy tables.  Loose leaf tea (they have countless varieties) is served in individual pots with all the traditional trimmings.

Save room for dessert, or skip the rest altogether.  The crumble itself is bright and clean, with a lovely crust to fruit ratio, but the real gem is the custard.  Rich and warm, it pools into wells of vanilla bliss amidst the crisp crumb boulders.

Pancakes: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, The Bongo Room, Chicago IL

ricottaWhile technically a breakfast food, these particular pancakes defy classification.  Flecked with lemon zest and ricotta bits, they most clearly illustrate the cakey origins of the flat discs we usually drown in syrup.  They are savory, rich and satisfying, and accompanied by crushed gingersnaps and smooth brown sugar butter.

Chocolate: Barcelona Bar, Vosges Chocolates, based in Chicago IL

I am a sucker for chocolate in all forms, so picking a favorite was a great challenge.  Lately, Vosges has opened my eyes to a world of new flavor combinations, the most successful of which is the Barcelona bar.  The pairing of deep milk chocolate with crunchy almonds and sea salt may seem pedestrian to those who have long touted the virtues of salted confections, but it totally rocked my budding foodie palate.

Cupcakes: Black and Tan, Sugar Mama’s, Austin TX

blackandtanWhile most seem to value light and super-sugary cake, I prefer quite the opposite.  This is the black hole of cupcakes.  Tart gobs of thick, Irish Creme and cream cheese icing crown a rich, dense cake laced with deep cocoa and malty Guinness stout.

Pie: Coconut Cream Pie, Lambert’s Barbecue, Austin TX

I first tried this pie by complete chance.  My family and I had just finished a meal of perfectly-barked brisket, sweet corn muffins and lemony, wilted spinach at Austin’s then new upmarket barbecue sensation.  When we—quite completely sated—refused dessert, the server offered us his complementary dessert of the evening.  “You must try this pie,” he said.

And now, I pass that advice on.  You simply must try this pie.

The ice-cold, lightly-sweetened filling is worlds away from the gelatinous goop one usually finds in this type of pie.  And the crust—oh the crust!  The texture resembles a cannoli shell, complete with a thin layer of impossibly dark chocolate protecting it from ever suffering a moment’s softening.

Ice Cream: Pumpkin with gingersnaps crushed in, Amy’s Ice Cream, Austin TX

amysSome mark fall by the changing leaves, but for me, Autumn is truly heralded by the appearance of the pumpkin flavor on Amy’s menu.  As with all of their freshly-churned wonders, the best aspect of this ice cream is the texture.  The pumpkin reaches a special viscosity only achieved with this magical proportion of pure, indulgent milk fat and dense, spicy pumpkin.  It’s almost chewy—in a totally great way.  Crush in some gingersnaps and it’s all the best parts of pumpkin pie.

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