It is no secret that we love babka, the twisted brioche bread with ribbons of tasty fillings ranging from cinnamon to chocolate and beyond. We have sampled many babkas in the past few years, especially in New York, but were a little disheartened by the lack of exemplary options in Chicago. However, now Chicago has an AMAZING babka purveyor: Masa Madre. Masa Madre is a two-woman babka-making operation in Pilsen that bakes babkas ready-to-order and pick up right from their apartment. Masa Madre is run by Mexico City-born Tamar Fasja Unikel and Elena Vázquez Felgueres, and the babka is inspired by Unikel’s Mexican-Jewish heritage. Some of their special-edition babkas, like the churro or dulce de leche are a fun spin on combining these two cultures. Masa Madre offers chocolate, cinnamon and matcha green tea every week. On holidays, there are even seasonal baked goods like pan de muerto and sufganiyot for Hanukkah. You place an order through their Facebook page a few days in advance and pick up your loaves in Pilsen, which is a small price to pay for the freshest of babka. One loaf is $20, and you can get mini babka muffins for $3.50. Our favorite is definitely the ooey-gooey chocolate – check out those delicious swirls!
Category Archives: Pastry Post-Poc
So we definitely are more familiar with King Cakes and paczkis, but the reach of the Mardi Gras fried doughnut also extends to Germany with Fasnacht. Fasnacht is a type of fried doughnut used to celebrate the holiday of Fasnacht, from where it gets its name. Fasnacht/Fastnacht (as it is called in Germany, Austria and Switzerland) means “Fast Night” and is the day before Ash Wednesday, where the last decadent treats (like the sugar and oil in doughnuts) are supposed to be eaten before the austerity of Lent kicks in. Fasnacht doughnuts may be square-shaped or more round like paczkis. I have never seen Fasnacht for sale, but outside of German-speaking Europe you can find them in small pockets, especially in places with Amish populations! Here are some recipes from All Recipes, Eve of Reduction, and PA Dutch Country (recipe circa 1936).
Remember those cutout paper snowflakes you used to make in grade school? Icelandic Laufabraud is kind of like that – but in bread form! These intricately patterned, paper-thin breads feature intricate geometric designs cut by hand or with special brass rollers. Once designed, the dough is then fried. This bread is said to have originated in northern Iceland in the 18th Century, and was made so thin because grain and provisions at the time were scarce. Even in lean times, the Laufabraud was a special holiday treat, and it is still enjoyed at Christmas now. Check out this lovely version and recipe from Icelandic Knitter. Bakestreet has a recipe and a step-by-step video. Gleðileg jól!
Christmas is almost upon us, which means it is time to get our favorite Christmas dessert, Panettone! Panettone is an Italian yeasted sweet bread/cake that originates in Milan. However, Panettone is now popular worldwide and is seen on Christmas tables throughout Europe, North and South America. In fact, some of the best panettone we ever had was from the Bauducco panettone company’s “Casa Bauducco” company store in São Paulo, Brazil, the chocolate chip version was sold sliced and toasted… nothing better. Panettone is notoriously difficult and time-consuming to make, with several days of raising, resting and baking needed. So, this is one treat that even self-respecting Italian chefs will usually buy from a bakery or store. While the traditional filling of panettone is candied fruit, and chocolate chips have been on the scene for a while, more unique flavors have popped up in recent years including fig, black cherry, pistachio and orange and chocolate (which is what we picked this year).
Though panettone may be more famous, there is actually another Italian Christmas dessert that deserves some of the spotlight: the Pandoro. Pandoro means “golden bread” in Italian, and is native to Verona. Both panettone and pandoro date back to prior to the middle ages, and have been enjoyed as holiday treats ever since. Pandoro is similar to panettone in that it is a sweet, yeasted cake, however it comes in a tall, 8-pointed star shape (said to be reminiscent of the Alps) instead of the cylindrical panettone. There are also typically no fillings or mix-ins of any kind on a pandoro, but it is topped with vanilla powdered sugar. So which one is better? It’s all a matter of personal taste. While panettone adds more variety in terms of filling, there is something to be said for minimalism of the pandoro. You can find a good selection of both panettone and pandoro at Eataly or World Market. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have even gotten in the panettone game in recent years!
We love hearing about treats that are a result of cross-national food pollination. One of the most fascinating examples of this is the Castella cake from Japan aka Kasutera (カステラ). Castella is a simple, light sponge cake often served in rectangular loaves and sweetened with honey. Intriguingly, the history of this simple-seeming cake is a lot more complicated: it actually arrived in Japanese via Portuguese traders in the 1500s! Unlike Macau, I don’t really think of Japan as having a lot of Portuguese influence. However, it turns out the Portuguese were in Japanese port of Nagasaki by the 16th century, and the cake, known by the Portuguese as Pão de Castile (literally “bread from the region of Castile”), was brought on these early ships. This Western-style cake really caught on in Japan, and the rest is history. We have tried Castella cake a few different places – but a good place to get it in the Chicago area is at Handsome Bakery (204 E Golf Rd., Schaumburg, IL). if you are hankering to make your own Castella, check out the instructional video below from Just One Cookbook.
Sorry for the long absence… I meant to post this at the beginning of Ramadan, which was May 15. So, clearly this post is a bit late, but fortunately I managed to write this post before the end of Ramadan, this upcoming Thursday, June 14. One of the most important parts of Ramadan is the nightly Iftar, or breaking of the day’s fast after sunset. We of course have an eye to the sweet, so we decided to share one of our favorite Ramadan desserts, which is enjoyed throughout the former territories of the Ottoman Empire, Tulumba. Tulumba is a fried, extruded churro-like pastry dipped in a sugar syrup. We thought immediately of Indian jalebi when we first had them. A sweet tooth is definitely required for this recipe! You can find Tulumba throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, under a variety of names (it is known in Iran as Zoolbia/Zolobiyah Bamieh, in Egypt as balah ash-sham and in the Middle East as asabe Zainab), though it may be most associated with Turkey. Given the geographical range of Tulumba, you can be sure to find regional variations from country to country. The Spruce has a recipe from Turkey (seen below), and here are other versions from Greece, Egypt, Iran, and the Middle East.
Valentine’s Day is on the horizon, which led me to wondering – other than chocolate – are there really any desserts associated with Valentine’s Day (I couldn’t find any)? This search led me further afield to the intriguingly named “Wife Cake” (aka Sweetheart Cake). Wife cake is a traditional Chinese cake, made with a flaky pastry surrounding a sweet, candied winter melon center. I have seen a ton of different names for this same cake, but according to Wikipedia, the literal translation from the Cantonese lou po beng is “Old lady cake” with “old lady” being used in the sense of “wife” (get it!?). Winter melon (despite the name) is actually a squash and can be prepared in both sweet and savory ways. Candied winter melon alone is a popular snack around Lunar New Year and you should be able to find it in a well-stocked Asian grocery. Since these cake are filled with winter melon, it is no surprise that they are also particularly popular around Lunar New Year – which is coincidentally 2 days after Valentine’s Day in 2018. If you are looking for a treat to celebrate Valentine’s Day OR Lunar New Year, here are recipes for Wife Cake from My Kitchen Snippets, Gwai Shu Shu and More than bread.
Over the years we have discovered that one of the most universally beloved foods is the fried dough ball. In the Netherlands, fried dough balls are a traditional New Year’s food called Oliebollen (which translates to “oil balls” – the singular is oliebol). They have been variously known in the US as “Dutch doughnuts” and are called smoutebollen and croustillons in Belgium. Oliebollen have a long history in the Netherlands and were part of Germanic Yule celebrations, and the first written recipes date from the 1660s. The painting below, “Meid met oliebollen,” by Aelbert Cuyp is from 1652.
The legend behind Oliebollen is actually more morbid than I was expecting. According to Paste Magazine:
Eating oliebollen was considered a surefire way to ward off the whims of a cruel pagan goddess named Perchta. Her Teutonic name meant bright or glorious, but she was not always friendly. During the 12 Days of Christmas the goddess was said to fly around with evil spirits looking for something to eat. In her quest she might even use her sword to slice open the stomachs of those who’d already eaten to get at their food. Tradition said that eating oliebollen protected you because the fat absorbed from the cooking oil made Perchta’s sword slide off of her victims.
Oliebollen doesn’t stick to its fearsome origins anymore, and is mostly sold on the streets, accompanied by fireworks! There are tons of recipes for Oliebollen online including The Dutch Baker’s Daughter, Allrecipes and The Dutch Table.
Can you believe that it is already December 1st? I know I can’t. Today the first of our holiday decorations went up, and I am scheming about which holiday recipes to make first (maybe something with gingerbread?) In conducting a search for holiday recipes, I came across a Christmas classic from the Philippines: Bibingka. Bibingka is a coconut cake made with rice flour and topped with coconut, duck eggs and even cheese. In the Philippines, you will see bibingka sellers peddling these cakes on the street around the holiday season. The traditional way to make bibingka is in a terracotta pot lined with banana leaves, cooked over open coals. However, bibingka has now adapted to the contemporary kitchen, and you can make it in a conventional oven. The following bibingka recipes vary a bit, but the rice flour is a must: Kawaling Pinoy Recipe, Panlasang Pinoy Recipe, New York Times Recipe, Zestuous Recipe. Asian in America Mag has a version of mini bibingka that are cooked in muffin tins with banana leaf “liners.”
There is a new show streaming on Netflix called “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” which is a Cupcake Wars/Top Chef-esque cooking competition focused on – as you may have guessed – desserts. In one of the episodes the hosts mentioned Pikelets – and we had never heard that word before! It turns out that Pikelets are a type of mini, thick pancake found in Australia and New Zealand. These are based off of the English Pikelet, which is similar to a crumpet (A crumpet in the US is known as English muffin). The main difference between the two is that Pikelets are free-form, while crumpets are baked in a ring, making them perfectly circular. It seems like there is some debate as to whether UK and Australian Pikelets are one and the same. In each case, the recipe seems akin to a simple pancake batter. You can try your hand at Pikelets with recipes from Taste.Au, Genius Kitchen and Sweetest Kitchen in plain and chocolate chip varieties (seen below).
Our sister in law is Latvian – so we have been becoming more familiar with Latvian recipes recently. As we have discovered when jumping in to new cuisines, desserts are usually a good place to start. November 18 is Latvian Independence Day, so it only makes sense to celebrate with the national dessert of Latvia – Rupjmaizes kārtojums . This dessert is a kind of trifle made with iconic Latvian rye bread instead of cake. Rye bread crumbs are layered with cream and fruit – which sounds both simple and delicious. Nami Nami and Kitchen Mouse have recipes for the Latvian treat.
Candy corn is one of the most divisive candies on Halloween – one ETW member thinks it was one of the worst candies you could get trick or treating (better than raisins but worse than Tootsie Rolls), while the other member just willingly bought a bag of candy corn to consume by themselves. Whether or not you are pro candy corn or not, it seems like it has been a part of Halloween forever. According to the National Confectioners Association, more than 35 million pounds (or 9 billion pieces) of candy corn will be produced this year. And candy corn HAS been around a long time – it originated in the US sometime in the 1880s, but was first commercially produced by Wunderle company, and production of candy corn was taken up by the Goelitz Candy Company by 1898 (the ancestor of the current Jelly Belly Company). It was originally called “chicken feed,” which appealed to the agrarian sensibilities of America at the time. Candy corn has been popular ever since! Though now automated, the process of making candy corn was originally very time-consuming, and each color was individually poured into molds and had to harden before the next layer was added. if you are really a fan, you can even make your own homemade candy corn!
The Hindi festival of lights – Diwali – is right around the corner on October 19th. The Indian diaspora is found all over the world, meaning that Diwali, and its collection of sweets called mithai, have traveled with them. You can check out our previous coverage of Diwali treats on the blog. Today, we’re celebrating Diwali Trinidad-style with Kurma. Trinidad has a long Indian heritage, so unsurprisingly, Indian treats are a big thing on the island. Kurma are ginger and cinnamon-spiced fried dough sticks in a sweet glaze, and though associated with holidays in Trinidad, they can now be found year-round. You can try your hand at Trinidadian Kurma with recipes from Simply Trini Cooking (seen below) and Trini Gourmet.
When in Portugal we are constantly amazed at all of the different pastries that have emerged from a simple combination of eggs, sugar and flour. Every time we visited a bakery there we were pretty sure to find something new. This next, new pastry intrigued us by its name – “Fofos de Belas” -which literally means “Cute things from Belas.” The fofo consists of two small sponge cake layers filled with a pastry cream, and are often served in miniature sizes. They come from Belas, basically a suburb of Lisbon, but we have now seen them in Lisbon itself at the Sacolinha bakery chain. Apparently, the history of the sweets goes back to 1840, when the predecessor to the current Casa dos Fofos de Belas started making them to sell at fairs and pilgrimages around the Lisbon area. If the name seems a little modern, they were originally known as “Fartos de Creme” meaning “stuffed with cream.” The Sintra area is known for its pastries, and has also given the world travesseiros and queijadas. Unlike many Portuguese pastries, fofos are actually pretty simple to make, and if you know how to make a sponge cake, you’re mostly there. I have only found recipes in Portuguese: here from No conforto da minha cozinha and Receitas da Tia Celeste.
When driving back from Sevilla this summer, we visited a small Portuguese border town in the eastern Alentejo region – Elvas – which turned out to be much more interesting than we were expecting – check out their medieval forts. While there, we decided to get a snack in the town square, and discovered by happenstance another unique Alentjan treat – the Delecia de Bolota. Unlike many other regional sweets that date back centuries, this one was only recently invented [pt link] by a bakery in nearby Alandroal [pt link]. The Delecia de Bolota is a riff off of the well-known Pastel de Nata, but instead of a vanilla and cinnamon custard cream filling, the cream is full of acorns! “Bolota” means acorn in Portuguese – and this tart is indeed made of acorn meal and flour. Though these bolota acorns from the Emory Oak are now uncommon as food in the US, they were formerly eaten by Native Americans in the Southwest. The flavor of these acorns is nutty and rich, and not as sweet as hazelnuts or almonds. It is also worth noting that this is the same type of acorn (“Bellota” in Spanish) that is fed to the famous Iberico pigs of Spain, a fact that was particularly salient to M. Though you are unlikely to find these treats outside of this region of Portugal, you can see them being made here (video in Portuguese).
When we first happened upon a picture of this cake, we couldn’t believe it was real. Was it a fruit? Gelatin? Turns out that this striking, otherworldly concoction is Vietnamese Pandan Honeycomb cake. Pandan – a flavor not often seen in American baking – is a tropical plant from Southeast Asia with edible leaves that impart the flavor and green color to this unusual cake. You can find pandan extract in many larger SE Asian groceries or online. The main base ingredient of this cake is tapioca flour, which leaves a chewy texture in the middle, much like pão de queijo. Julesfood, Danang Cuisine, and Runaway Rice have similar recipes for Pandan honeycomb cake. The Spice of Life takes it one step further, and uses whole pandan leaves to supplement the flavor of the pandan extract, and while it seems a little difficult, the payoff is big!
At the start of our latest trip we lamented openly the lack of gelato in Lisbon, but little did we know that, since our last trip in 2015, there had been something of a gelato renaissance in Lisbon. We’re talking about Italian-style gelato here, not ice cream (though Lisbon has that too, the most famous ice cream maker being Santini) Now gelato shops seem to be popping up everywhere (especially anywhere tourists happen to be) but most of it is just meh. But never fear, there are now some great places to get gelato in Lisbon, too.
The gelato renaissance all started with Nannarella (Various locations, main location São Bento), which was founded by expats from Rome. One of the original founders of Nannarella, Filippo Licitra, then split off on his own to start rival Gelato Davvero (Various locations, main location Cais de Sodré). We can attest that both of these gelato places are the real deal, after having visited each several times. The locations are pretty much only walk up counters, but fortunately Lisbon is replete with parks and other places to enjoy your cone. So which one do we like better? It’s hard to say…both of these are delicious, but each has their pros and cons. For each of the following categories we have selected a winner.
- Prices – Draw. Prices were comparable for either a cup or cone, for Davvero a Piccolino was €1.75, a Piccolo, €2 (seen above), Medio €3, Grande €4, and Grandissmo €5. Anything above a medium is just huge. You can also get half liters and up of gelato in boxes to take home (1L is €16 at each place). For Nannarella, there are fewer options, a small for €2, medium for €3 and large for €3.50. At the top end Nannarella is a little cheaper, but Davvero lets you get larger sizes.
- Wait time – Davvero. As M can attest, I hate to wait in line. However, I did wait in line 30 minutes for Nannarella (see above, which was just bordering on too much. The waits at Davvero were much shorter, so take that for what you will.
- Ambiance – Draw, slight edge Davvero. Each place has only storefront outlets with nowhere to sit, except the Cais de Sodré location of Davvero that has both indoor and outdoor seating, which is right on the square.
- Extras – Nannarella. You can get whipped cream for free at Nannarella. Maybe they also have it at Davvero, but we have never been offered this topping. At Nannarella you can also get a mini cone to put on top of your cup for 20 cents – a great idea we have never seen before.
- Generosity – Nannarella. For the small cup size, Davvero allows 2 flavors. Nannarella (above) allows unlimited flavors, which basically means you can get 3 scoops or more, as I did here with chocolate, salted caramel and pistachio. The scoops were overall more generous at Nannarella.
- Taste – Draw. This is a tricky one, and probably relies more on personal preference than anything. The consistency of both gelato is smooth and creamy, and the flavors are delicious, and not artificial at all (we used pistachio as a test for this). Neither of the pistachio gelatos are bright green, and both taste delicious and natural. At both stores you can get classic flavors like strawberry, coffee, hazelnut, chocolate chip and vanilla. However, we liked the salted caramel more at Nannarella, though Davvero’s sour cherry was the fast favorite of our travel buddies. Each location has special flavors of the day, and there are even some more unique flavors like basil (Nannarella) and cheesecake (Davvero).
Overall, Nannarella, the original may have a slight edge over Davvero, though we wouldn’t turn up our noses at either. We are just grateful that Lisbon is experiencing a boom in gelato!
I have been diligently eating my way through the sweets of Portugal and Spain, but haven’t got around to posting much, so as a result, I have a huge backlog of sweets to share with you. When in Lisbon previously, I had been concentrating on some of the more iconic sweets available in the city’s myriad bakeries. This go around, however, especially as we have seen more of the country, I have branched out into some more specialized local treats. While in Évora, a picturesque, architecturally-interesting (even including a Roman temple) town located east of Lisbon, the key place to sample regional or convent sweets (doces regionais or conventuais) is the Pastelaria Conventual Pão De Rala (Rua do Cicioso 47, 7000-658 Évora).
Queijinho do Céu (pictured below – recipe in Portuguese)– This name translates as “little cheese from heaven,” a name given to the sweet by the Clarissian nuns that invented it. Queijinho do Céu is basically an almond, marzipan-like paste that is super dense and fudgy, formed into small, flattened rounds, filled with egg yolk cream. There is also a treat with the same name from another region that does not contain almonds.
Cericá / Sericaia (recipe in English) – This sweet takes more of a basic cake form, with a fluffy souffle-like texture, lightly flavored with citrus. We have seen this cake dusted with cinnamon, but this version was not. This version was also served with a fig drenched in syrup – there is nothing quite like fresh Iberian figs!
Pão de Rala (recipe in Portuguese)- The Pão de Rala, from which the bakery gets its name, is a brioche-like sweet made from eggs, sugar, lemon, almonds and filled with its most unique ingredient – gila – or squash, with a spaghetti-like texture. Sweetened squash fillings are surprisingly common in Portugal, and are found in a variety of treats throughout the country. I have even seen the squash filling for sale alone in small cups, or in jam form.
If you can’t get to the Alentejo, in Lisbon there is a place to sample some of the convent sweets and other rare regional desserts from around Portugal: Pastelaria Alcôa (R. Garrett 37, 1200-309 Lisboa) in the heart of the bustling Chiado district. Alcôa has some treats from the Alentejo including the egg custard Encharcada (recipe in English) and Torrão Real (recipe in Portuguese). Torrão Real is a concoction of egg yolks, sugar and almond, that is almost pudding-y in consistency. The Torrão Real we got at Alcôa was cut into neat squares and topped with a fancy burnt sugar decoration. However, it was basically impossible to eat a without a spoon – so it makes a bit more sense that it usually served in a bowl or a deep plate with utensils.
This is only scratching the surface of the sweets of the Alentejo – we are constantly surprised just how many permutations of egg yolks, flour and sugar the nuns in Portugal were able to come up with. I am sure there are still hundreds we have not tried. Which of these sweets would you most like to sample?
On our recent visit we stayed in the charming Barcelona neighborhood of Gràcia, and after dinner one night we decided to explore dessert options around the main square. While there were a smattering of typical gelato places, we were most interested to see a Japanese shaved ice shop on the corner: Mr. Kakigori (Pl. de la Vila de Gràcia 3, Barcelona, 08012)! Kakigori is a traditional Japanese shaved ice, flavored with syrup, and it is currently making a comeback in Tokyo (and apparently making inroads in Europe as well).
True to Japanese Kakigori style, the ice was shaved off a rotating cylinder by hand – check out the ice in action. You can choose from 2 sweet syrup flavors for each size, ranging from strawberry to mango to coconut, with additional toppings like condensed milk and fresh fruit. We ordered a small – which turned out to be huge – with passion fruit and green tea flavors. Along with the shaved ice, you can also get Japanese pancakes called doriyaki, with savory fillings like tuna, or sweet fillings like red bean paste and Nutella. The kakigori is was perfect for a hot night, and we loved the refreshing change of pace!
When we went to Spain we were expecting to get our fill of tapas, but one thing we were not expecting were the proliferation of tea salons! We are major tea lovers here at ETW, so we were delighted to learn about a genre of tea rooms found only in Andalusia: teterias. These are Moroccan-style tearooms influenced by the many centuries of Islamic rule when Spain was known as Al-Andalus. Teterias are found throughout Andalusia, and we were lucky enough to try them in both Cordoba and Granada. In Cordoba we visited the Salon de Té (Calle Buen Pastor, 13, 14003 Córdoba, Spain), a stone’s throw from the Mezquita. In Granada we stopped at La Teteria Del Banuelo (Calle Banuelo 5, 18010 Granada, Spain), in the shadow of the Alhambra.
The inside of a teteria is typically done in a Moroccan style, with an atmospheric courtyard filled with North African-style furnishings and pillows. Mint tea is always a good bet at the teteria, though the tea offerings are usually much more extensive; at some places you can even get smoothies and Mediterranean munchies. Another great aspect of the teteria are the little Moroccan pastries on offer, which transported us to the Djemaa al Fna.
I was impressed by the tea selections at the Salon de Té, with pages and pages of both hot and cold varieties. M got an almond shake, while I sampled an iced rooibos tea with berries. Our friend K fought through the heat and got a beautifully-presented mint tea with tons of fresh mint. At the Salon, we sampled baklava, kunefe (birdsnest pastries), tiny turnovers with pistachios, and makrout; you can get savory dishes as well if you are feeling peckish. Banuelo had a smaller selection of teas and savories, but offered sweet crepes along with a similar selection of Moroccan petit fours. Lemonade with mint and an iced coffee was a perfect selection for a particularly hot day at Banuelo, though the mint tea was still beautiful and refreshing. Banuelo also boasted a cute outdoor seating area, though it was too hot to venture outside on the day we visited.
Visiting these teterias was a highlight of our visits to Andalusia, and they definitely transported us to another era of Spain’s history. Whether you are looking to hide out from the punishing sun, or get some munchies, when you are in Andalusia you have to make sure to stop by a teteria for the full experience.