Sunday, January 15, 2017

NYC: Bakery Review - Two Little Red Hens

Two Little Red Hens Bakery - visited November 19, 2016
After my sojourn to Laduree on Madison Ave, I still had time before I went to meet Shawn for brunch to check out another bakery. I mapped myself over to Two Little Red Hens which was only a mile or so away from Laduree and (sort of) on the way to Tavern on the Green which is where we'd decided to have brunch. Have shoes, legs and feet, will walk miles for baked goods.
I can't remember what made me choose Two Little Red Hens as opposed to the other bakeries in Manhattan. It was probably location since I was already going to be headed to that part of Manhattan. Or it could've been a random yelp review. Or someone mentioning their cupcakes were good. It didn't matter because as soon as I stepped in, I was glad I came.
This is exactly the kind of bakery I like to try out. Lots of beautiful desserts in the display cases, small-ish space, kitchen on premise, friendly counter staff. I think I'd come with the intent of trying out a cupcake but they said they didn't make their cupcakes until the afternoon. I was there in the morning before 10 am. Bummer.
Undeterred and still having red velvet on the brain, I opted to get the 5" cute little red velvet cake instead. I did blink a little at the $15 price tag for such a small cake but when in New York.... Yes, it went into a bakery box and bag and I carted it several more miles to Central Park. I wandered around killing time before I met Shawn, GPS'd my way to what Google maps claimed was Tavern on the Green only to discover it erroneously led me to a museum 1.5 miles away. Ugh.

I redirected the GPS to tell me where I was really supposed to go - no, really, somewhere in Central Park, not the outskirts, and hustled my way to arrive 20 minutes late. More on that in the Tavern on the Green post coming up.

But in happier news, later that day, I cut into the little cake and let me tell you, it was worth every step of the 13-ish miles I had walked that day.

It wasn't just the flavor of the red velvet cake which in itself was pretty good, not quite chocolate but not just a red-colored cake either. But the cake texture was everything. Fluffy but not light-cakey. Not pound-cake-texture heavy either. But, like the Crumbs dulce de leche cupcake, it was just right.
I wish I could make cakes like this, I really do. I make decent cakes but so far I haven't cracked the code on making cakes with this kind of texture. It wasn't too soft, it wasn't too dense and it wasn't too airy but just right. Fluffy is the only way I can think to describe it although not as fluffy as my beloved banana cake from Icing on the Cake. But still a good fluffy.
That $15 for a little cake? Worth every penny. I want to learn how to make cakes with this kind of texture. I suspect cake flour for some of the flour, hence the softness of the crumb. But not all cake flour or else the texture would be too soft. I need to experiment.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

NYC Bakery Review - Laduree Madison

Laduree Madison - visited November 19, 2016
I first visited Laduree in its home city of Paris, France. It was there on the Champs Elysee, I was there, there was a line outside before the mecca for macarons had even opened so of course I got in line.
You might remember that I don't really care for macarons (too sweet) and the only one I've actually liked was Laduree's salted caramel macaron. And even then, I wouldn't travel worlds for it. I'm just not a macaron fan.
However, I did become a huge fan of Laduree's plaisir sucre or a hi-falutin' way of calling a tremendous confection of chocolate layered with hazelnut mousse (?) atop a crunchy, airy base. Superb.
I visited a small Laduree when I was in Dublin some months ago but to my disappointment, because the shop was so small, they only sold the famed macarons.
But when I discovered, thanks to another foodie friend, that there was a Laduree in Manhattan, out comes the iphone, I plugged in Laduree and lo and behold, there was one on Madison Avenue. Walking distance from my hotel (again remembering walking distance to me is anywhere in Manhattan, no matter how long the blocks were or what the cross streets are).
And further lo-ing and behold-ing, they were large enough to offer more than just macarons so my beloved plaisir sucre and I were united once more.
Was it as good as I remembered? On the first bite, I wasn't sure. Perhaps my taste buds had gotten spoiled by all the other amazing food I had already consumed from New York's bakeries. Could Paris compete? Then I had to take a second bite to confirm. Okay, yeah, it was still good and worth fondly remembering. The $8.50 price tag might make many people cringe for such a small slice but I'll take quality over quantity and this is definitely quality.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

NYC: Bakery Review - Crumbs Bake Shop

Crumbs Bake Shop - visited on November 18, 2016
Crumbs Bake Shop was also on my NYC foodie bucket list to visit. I've blogged before about my old college roommate Caroline sending me a mail order birthday present from Crumbs. I'd also blogged about making the cupcakes from the Crumbs Bake Shop cupcake mix I found at Target. I liked cupcakes from both sources but you know I had to go visit Crumbs for myself. Nothing like personal research after all.

What I didn't know was Crumbs had declared bankruptcy a few years ago, according to an old grad school classmate, Fran, who I met up with in New York. What?? I was checking all these Crumbs locations and seeing how I could circumnavigate to one but Fran advised me to call first before I used up my shoe leather hiking over in case that location had closed. Eeek.

But my fears (and you know I was afraid - it's me and cupcakes after all) were unfounded. After Shawn and I had lunch at Mama Mia and inhaled the Mississippi Mud Pie at Little Pie Company, we were strolling back to the hotel through Times Squares and, lo and behold, thanks to trusty GPS, yelp and my own unerring instinct when it comes to nosing out bakeries, we did come across a Crumbs Bake Shop in Times Square. Score.

By then though, you can imagine I was quite full of pasta and pie. Which left little room for cupcake. So despite my eyes always being bigger than my stomach - although, honestly, my stomach seemed to be doing its level best to catch up to my gluttony - I only got one cupcake. It was hard to narrow down the choices and I almost got two but sanity and my straining waistband prevailed and I "settled" for the dulce de leche cupcake. Even though the Chocolate Salted Caramel below was looking at me reproachfully for leaving it behind. ("Pick me! Pick me!")

Shawn and I had to wait until later in the day to eat it after we both had some room. All I have to say is the wait was worth it. The cupcake was smaller than I remember my birthday cupcakes being but the dulce de leche was really good. The highest compliment I can give any cupcake is when I eat the frosting (non-frosting person here, remember?). Yep, I ate the frosting too. The cake part of the cupcake was perfectly fluffy and delicious and the frosting complemented it nicely. I'm glad that of the one flavor choice I made, it was the right one. And no lie, I thought about going back later and getting another one. I didn't but yeah, I thought about it. Maybe next time.

Dulce de Leche cupcake
It wasn't just the flavor that made me love the cupcake, although that was certainly no slouch. But the texture is what sold me. This isn't your box-mix cupcake texture. It's like if a box-mix cakey cake texture met a dense pound cake texture and they compromised perfectly to meet right in the middle. Not heavy, not dense, not light or chiffon-y either. But just right, Goldilocks. This is the kind of texture I have yet to achieve in my cupcake and cake-baking efforts. The kind that, if I can't make it myself, I'd spend top dollar to buy it. In other words, this is Icing on the Cake banana cake-worthy. Please stay open, Crumbs Bakeshop. I want to come back.
Best taste and texture ever

Monday, January 9, 2017

NYC: Bakery Review - Little Pie Company

Little Pie Company - visited November 18, 2016
It turns out Mama Mia wasn't that far from the Little Pie Company. We found Little Pie Company by looking on yelp what would be a highly-rated dessert place where we were. Then I saw that Little Pie Company was one of the vendors that sold on Foody Direct, an online food website I've ordered from before. Naturally I wanted to go see it in person and taste their product to assess their viability as a source for online food ordering. If you ever want to support small businesses, particularly those in the food industry, Foody Direct is a great place to find them. It can be a little pricey but I'd rather budget for it and support a small business with a quality product than go mass market for something that isn't as good.
Even if I hadn't had that justification, as the patron at Mama Mia told us, once we got close to the Little Pie Company, we'll "smell something really good". She was not kidding. Wow. Shawn and I were walking down the street, following the GPS directions and we hadn't gone far before we were both assailed with the most marvelous aroma. Not just of baking pies but just marvelous baking goodness. Enough to unspeakably thrill your olfactory senses. No need for GPS once we got within sniffing distance.

As with many "mom and pop" bakery places, space is at a premium. This looked like the kitchen was slightly bigger than the retail space of bakery display counters and a few tables to sit at. Which is always good with me since you want as much room as possible to bake all that pie goodness.
As you can tell from the picture of the display case, they also do little cakes. I really wanted to try one of the cakes but had to succumb that when you go to a place called the Little Pie Company, you should get try their pie.
We decided to try two of the smallest pies - the Mississippi Mud and the Old-Fashioned Apple Pie. They were $8.50 each. Being me, being in New York City, and hey, it's pie, I didn't blink. Sure, $8.50 might seem like a lot for a little pie but it really isn't. Especially not for delicious pies and these were delicious pies.
We decided to get the apple pie boxed up to go and eat the Mississippi Mud Pie at one of the few tables in the retail area. That turned out to be a brilliant decision.
It was brilliant because the very nice lady at the counter heated up the pie for us before serving it on a plate with two forks. OMG. This was the most decadent, most rich, fudgiest "pie" I've ever had. It was more like a cross between a molten fudge brownie and fudge lava. All warm and pure chocolate.
Yes, we were full from the pasta at Mama Mia and no, it didn't matter. Mississippi Mud pies are usually characterized by marshmallows but there wasn't a speck of fluffy white marshmallow in the pie. I suspect they melted it into the chocolate itself and that's what contributed to the moist, fluffy yet dense, smooth richness. I normally don't like marshmallows but if they got melted into this pie to make up its texture, that was all right by me.

mini apple pie wrapped up to go

peeking into the kitchen where pie magic is being made
We didn't have the apple pie until much (much) later. And I have to say, I loved this possibly even more than the Mississippi mud pie. When it comes to pie, I'm all about the crust. The crust on this pie was magnificent. Not too soggy, not overly flaky but just right. I love apple pie and the apples in this pie were firm but not tough and not mushy.
Plus, come on, look at how cute that little pie is. So major thumbs up for the Little Pie Company. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. The locals know what's up as while we were in line to get our mini pies, the guy behind the counter kept regretfully telling customers who asked that they were no longer accepting pre-orders for Thanksgiving pies but that they'd put some out early when they first opened next week. This was the week before Thanksgiving. They sold out! Maybe they're the pie of cronuts. They certainly tasted like it. I will definitely be ordering from The Little Pie Company via Foody Direct for future foodie gifts.
Since writing this, I did order from The Little Pie Company via Foody Direct for a Christmas gift and got their sugarless apple pie for my brother-in-law who's watching his sugar intake. The pie was decent but I have to admit, it needed sugar, haha. Also, because it had been en route for a few days rather than the same-day pie I had in New York, the crust was softer. Not soggy really but definitely not as flaky as the one I ate on premise, so to speak. Next order I'm going to place is for the regular apple pie, same as the mini I ate before to see how it compares and fares in shipping. If you're ever in Manhattan, near Times Square, I'd urge you to try Little Pie Company in the flesh.