Chocolate

Chocolate, Cheesecake, and Hanson: Tulsa Has It All

“You’re going where? For what?”

That’s the reaction that almost everyone had when I said I was going to Tulsa in May for Hanson Day. Because we’re in California, and vacationing in Oklahoma (which has tornadoes), when you’re already in a beautiful place (that doesn’t have tornadoes) seems silly. And Hanson? Are those guys still around?

Yes. Yes, they are.

First stop: 3CG, Hanson's independent music studio in the middle of Main Street.

First stop: 3CG, Hanson’s independent music studio in the middle of Main Street.

This was my first Hanson Day (an annual event held by Hanson in their home town) and my first time in Oklahoma. Other than imagining scenes from “The Grapes of Wrath” I didn’t know what to expect from Tulsa, and maybe that’s why I was so pleasantly surprised.

Tulsa is cute. It has some fun little neighborhoods, like the Blue Dome District. They were having a festival the same weekend as Hanson Day and so after the bowling tournament (because of course there’s a Hanson bowling tournament) a few of us walked around to explore.

The most delicious thing at the bowling alley? Zac Hanson. Obviously.

The most delicious thing at the bowling alley? Zac Hanson. Obviously.

We stopped into Dwelling Spaces, a shop/cafe that had the brilliant idea to make Hanson lattes and hot chocolates. It was warm and humid outside, but of course we all had to get one.

And that's how you make a Hanson hot chocolate.

And that’s how you make a Hanson hot chocolate.

In another part of town the store Ida Red was also in on the Hanson party and figured that the best way to sell candy bars would be to put pictures of the Hanson men on them.

ida-red-zac-hanson-candy

It’s just a shame they used a picture of Zac from the photo shoot where he looks like Ally Sheedy. Don’t believe me? Here:

Don't you forget about Ally Sheedy.

Don’t you forget about Ally Sheedy.

Closer to Hanson territory are a few restaurants in the Brady Arts District. They had two fan club dinners there for us and excellent signage for both. Caz’s Chowhouse was a favorite and I went back there for lunch with a couple of friends. Everything was tasty, their ice cream floats really hit the spot on a hot day, and the little cheesecakes weren’t bad (although they weren’t the quality of Junior’s in New York, but that’s hard to top).

I'm a big fan of signage, and these table toppers were a lovely touch.

I’m a big fan of signage, and these table toppers were a lovely touch.

Right next to 3CG is a wood-paneled cozy place called the Tavern. A few of us shared the Bacon Popcorn appetizer at the recommendation of Zac Hanson, and it was good. Difficult to eat, but tasty. The Angry Mac & Cheese got good reviews from our group, and if you don’t like spicy then you can ask for it to just be Grumpy or Mildly Annoyed.

tulsa-tavern-bacon-popcorn

Just don’t bring any vegetarians with you.

In exploring slightly further away I was shocked – SHOCKED – to find the Philbrook Museum. It’s like someone scooped up a little piece of Italy and dropped it in Tulsa. The grounds are beautiful, the art collection is diverse, and it looked like they did a really nice Sunday brunch, although I was saving my appetite for the Hop Jam that afternoon.

This is Tulsa? Who knew!?

This is Tulsa? Who knew!?

What’s the Hop Jam? Oh, just a little beer and music festival that Hanson started in 2014. It’s free to the public (although you need to buy tickets to sample the beer – $2 each) and several bands played over the course of the afternoon, with Hanson as the headliner for a crowd of about 30,000 people.

There were also lots of food trucks offering Chinese Nachos and lots of other delicious things, including grilled cheese made with donuts.

I did not eat this, but I wanted you to know that it exists.

I did not eat this, but I wanted you to know that it exists.

I stuck with a pulled pork sandwich. Seemed less diabetes-inducing.

And if you hadn’t heard, the reason Hanson started a beer festival is because they also started a beer company. You can get your MMMHops right here.

Next I want them to make a soda called MMMPop.

Next I want them to make a soda called MMMPop.

Other delicious things at the Hop Fest included Isaac Hanson and his special Hop Jam guitar. This man is aging incredibly well.

Old Man Hanson is a refreshing site on a hot and muggy Tulsa day.

Old Man Hanson is a refreshing site on a hot and muggy Tulsa day.

And despite the gross hot weather, I had to peek into Glacier Confections, just around the corner from 3CG. They do beautiful truffles in some unique flavor combinations. (The Elvis is peanut butter, banana, and bacon. Not my favorite, but something you should try at least once.) They even had a Hop Jam truffle, which I’m sorry to say I didn’t try because the one thing I learned at the Hop Jam is that I really don’t like beer. I really tried to, but it’s just not happening.

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

The caramel truffles were fantastic though, as long as you ate them while inside the store, before they could turn into puddles outside. You can also order from them online.

And speaking of turning into puddles, even a hungover Taylor Hanson seemed to have that effect on some people. Seriously, whose hair looks that good all the time?

Out drinking until 1a.m. and then ready for work by 9a.m. That's called being a professional.

Out drinking until 1a.m. and then ready for work by 9a.m. That’s called being a professional.

My verdict on Tulsa is that it’s a fun place to spend a few days, and I didn’t even see everything I wanted to. Next year I need to go to the Guthrie Center and the Riverwalk, and maybe try that donut grilled cheese thing. Just for blogging purposes, of course.

And here’s one last photo of Zac from the Hop Jam, just because.

Delicious.

Rock on, your Royal Zacness. Rock on.

Where’s the love?
Lisa

Categories: Cheesecake, Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Best Chocolate and Desserts in Vienna

Get yourself to Vienna. It’s beautiful and full of art and music and culture, but more importantly it’s overrun with really, really good chocolate and desserts.

Vienna is beautiful, and full of statues.

Vienna is beautiful, and full of statues.

I arrived there on a cold, rainy morning with friends and insisted that our first stop be breakfast at Cafe Mozart. I felt a little under dressed and soggy walking into this lovely cafe, but the staff must be used to dealing with tourists and they provided us with friendly service even though we looked ragged.

My friends went for full meals and said the eggs, croissants and bacon were delicious, but I had my eye on just one thing: the hot chocolate. It was served with the melted chocolate and hot milk in different vessels so I could mix it myself, which I always take as a sign of quality.

I still remember the first time I ever had a hot chocolate served this way, somewhere on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris. I was in my early 20s and my experience with hot chocolate up until then revolved around packets of powder, sometimes with dry, shriveled marshmallows. The idea that I could drink actual melted chocolate, with as much or as little milk as I wanted, blew my mind. It changed the way I looked at hot chocolate and probably drove me even more quickly into my chocolate obsession.

vienna-cafe-mozart

After dining at Cafe Mozart I might start insisting that all my beverages come in silver and gold serving pots.

The hot chocolate at Cafe Mozart did not disappoint. It was rich and creamy and even in my dripping clothes I felt classy sipping it from the gold-handled china cup. I wish I’d made it back here for another cup, but there was just too much more to see and eat.

For an afternoon treat we made the pilgrimage to Demel. This place is historic and completely worth all the hype. You might have to wait a while for a table, but it’s worth it. Use that time to go inside and look over all the cakes so you’re ready for the strange and confusing ordering process.

Once we had a table we were told to go in and tell the woman at the counter what we wanted. It took a while to get help, but once we pointed out the cakes we wanted (three slices for two people isn’t too crazy, is it?) the woman then gave us a ticket to take back to the table. Then the server came and filled the order. I assume they do it this way because the cakes they have change often (or sell out) and this is the only way customers can pick from what’s available right then.

vienna-demel-cakes

Oh, passionfruit cake (on the right). I love you and want to learn to make you so I can have you all to myself.

The chocolate and caramel cakes were really good, but the passionfruit cake was so fresh and flavorful and sweet I never wanted to leave. I’m sure people have moved to Vienna just to be able to eat here. Well, maybe.

vienna-demel

The hot chocolate here was also good, although not as rich as the cup I had at Cafe Mozart. And really, the cakes were all so sweet that the hot chocolate was overkill, but I just couldn’t leave without trying it.

When you’re done eating, wander to the back of Demel to have a look inside their kitchen. There’s a glass wall so you can watch them make and decorate all the treats.

You can watch the magic happen at Demel.

You can watch the magic happen at Demel.

There’s also a shop up front where you can buy chocolates to take home. I couldn’t resist the vintage packaging and bought several chocolate bars, most of which made it home without being eaten.

See? I didn't eat *all* of it on the flight home.

See? I didn’t eat *all* of it on the flight home.

Finally, after a night at the Vienna Mozart Orchestra (very cool) my friends and I went for what we thought would be the best of the best desserts in Vienna: The Sacher-Torte at the Hotel Sacher. This cake has been around since 1832 and the unofficial versions I’ve had before were moist, a little fruity from the apricot jam, and very chocolatey. What came to our table though was dry, dull, and very disappointing. Between three of us we didn’t even finish one slice. I was a little bit crushed to find that something I’d heard so much about and built up in my mind to be spectacular was really very ordinary.

 

vienna-hotel-sacher

Why, Sacher-Torte? Why did you have to make my heart crumble just like your dry, blah insides?

Maybe we caught them on a bad night. Maybe someone left the cake uncovered for too long. Maybe they know they’ll sell a ton of the stuff just on reputation so they’re slacking off on quality. I don’t know what the reason was, I just know you shouldn’t bother to go there. You can make a better Sacher-Torte at home, or just go back to Demel to try more of their fantastic goods.

One more cafe I would recommend is the bistro inside the upper part of Belvedere Palace. I don’t usually bother with museum cafes, but it was a rainy day and we needed to get off our feet for a while between the Klimt and the Schiele so we stopped in here for a drink and snack. It’s a really cute little room and the cakes were delicious. It’s a perfect place to stop and write some postcards, or just pretend that you’ve traveled back in time to take tea with royalty.

The Belvedere palace and museum is beautiful outside and in.

The Belvedere palace and museum is beautiful outside and in.

And other than that, eat what looks and smells good. We had delicious sausages and currywurst from a kiosk downtown. There were a lot of local businessmen in line there so we figured it had to be good. And get yourself at least one big schnitzel.

Happy, tasty travels!
Lisa

Categories: Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Best Chocolate in Prague

If you’ve come to this post because you’re planning a trip to Prague, then first of all let me say “Congratulations”.

Prague is gorgeous and friendly and you’re going to love it. And if you have a sweet tooth then you’ll love it even more.

All of Prague looks like it's posing for you, ready for its close-up, including the swans.

All of Prague looks like it’s posing for you, ready for its close-up, including the swans.

Before heading to Prague I did my research on where to get the best hot chocolate and other desserts. They have a Chocolate Museum, which seems to be a common thing in Europe, but it’s mostly a chocolate store selling touristy chocolate, like bars in the shape of Prague Castle.

For the quality stuff you only have to look a little harder because Prague is a city that loves its sweets.

prague-castle-cart

Seeing Prague Castle is a must (very historical, great views from the top). And lucky for us, inside the walls of the castle in a little courtyard there’s a little stand that sells hot and cold chocolate drinks. It’s not a shop, just a little cart called Kralovska Cokolada. It makes a deliciously thick and creamy hot chocolate and was my biggest, happiest surprise in Prague. The cart is very low key, so keep an eye out for it.

prague-castle-chocolate

prague-cokolada

In the old town area there are two really good chocolate places. Cacao (V Celnici 1031/4) is a little more upscale, although not expensive, and they do drinks plus huge ice cream sundaes that are perfect on a warm day.

prague-cacao

I got a little experimental and tried an ice cream with pineapple in it. It was good, but I wish I’d had time to go back and try some of the extra chocolatey ice cream offerings as well.

prague-cacao-ice-cream

There are also plenty of other desserts and cakes if it’s too chilly for ice cream. You should maybe just have dessert here every day, after a dinner of goulash and dumplings in the main square.

prague-cacao-menu

Choco Cafe (Liliová 250/4) was a little harder for me to find on my map, but very worth it. They do a really thick chocolate that you can have with fruit, or as a drink.

prague-choco-cafe

They also have cakes and pastries. I went there for breakfast on my last day and liked it so much I went back in the evening so that I could try something else from the huge menu.

prague-choco-cafe-cake

For drinks, I sampled the Michel Cluizel Mangaro 50% Madagascar milk chocolate, and the Valrhona Caramelia 40% and was very happy with both. As you can see from the photo, it was think enough to eat with a spoon.

prague-choco-inside

And the place is super cute, so you can look forward to spending an afternoon here, resting your feet and writing postcards or updating your travel journal.

One other thing I saw in Prague that you might want to try is Trdlo. No, I have no idea how to pronounce it. I first saw these things at the London Christmas markets a couple of years ago and they were called Chimney Cakes, which is much easier to say. They’re dough wrapped around these wooden things that look like rolling pins and then baked rotisserie style. It’s rotisserie cake! Once they’re done you can sprinkle cinnamon on them or cover them with Nutella or frosting.

Trdlo is very delicious, and perfect for sharing since you can unwind a little bite and then pass it on.

prague-chimney-cake

I saw one stand for these on a street in the old town, but there was another one up at the castle, so you’ll probably bump into some Trdlo eventually.

 

 

 

prague-trdlo

If you’re spending some time outside of Prague then consider a day trip to Cesky Krumlov. It’s a medieval village that turns up a lot on Pinterest as a must-see in the Czech Republic because of its picturesque red roofs and winding streets. It’s easy to hop on a tour there for a day, and along with the historical things to see and learn, there’s also plenty to eat.

cesky-krumlov-chocolate

So go for the educational bits but stay for the chocolates, shortbread and ice cream.

cesky-krumlov-red-rooftops

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment below to let me know

Have a great time in Prague!
Lisa

Categories: Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Best Desserts I Ate in New York

I quit my job earlier this year to take some time of and travel. My first stop was New York, and my friends and I picked the coldest possible time to go. On the plus side, that meant we were all happy to go from cafe to restaurant to bar, because a walk in Central Park would have resulted in frostbite.

I’m sure I could live in New York for years and not try all the best desserts the city has to offer, but I had some very delicious things, so consider this a starting point for any food crawl you want to do.

nutella-before

Fried dough + Nutella = Put it in your face right now.

1. Don Antonio (309 W. 50th Street)
This dessert was an accidental find. We were in Times Square and one of our group who makes frequent visits to the city recommended we go to Don Antonio, a pizza place a few blocks away. The pizza was good, but as we ate we watched as the table next to us got a plate full of these little fried dough bits covered in what looked like chocolate and turned out to be Nutella. This would have been the time to tell the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having,” but I think we just pointed and grunted.

As you can see from the “after” picture, we made quick work of the whole thing.

There may have been some licking of the plate.

There may have been some licking of the plate.

2. Sugar & Plumm
I don’t know how this place wasn’t on my list before I got to New York. I found it because we were going to the Natural History Museum so I looked up “desserts” on the Yelp map to see if there was anything near by, and just as if it had sprung out of my imagination and into the real world, there was the chocolate haven of Sugar & Plumm.

If you like your dessert served with whimsy, Sugar & Plumm is the place for you.

If you like your dessert served with whimsy, Sugar & Plumm is the place for you.

I wish I’d had a whole week more in New York so that I could have gone back every day to try something different on the menu. They have cakes and ice creams, macarons, chocolates, pastries, plus real food. It seems mostly like a place where stay-at-home moms on the Upper West Side meet their friends and bring their daughters for brunch/lunch. And what a beautiful brunch/lunch it is!

French Toast has never been crunchier or sweeter.

French Toast has never been crunchier or sweeter.

Not many couples and very few men here, probably because the Willy Wonka/Disney princess decor doesn’t work for business meetings. But that just means more hot chocolate for you.

Take some Sugar home with you!

Take some Sugar home with you!

There’s also a store here so you can take lots of treats home for later.

3.Baked (Tribeca and Brooklyn)
When I first set out for New York I had one goal: to eat at Baked. I’m a big fan of their cookbooks and blog and was very excited to try a Brookster fresh from the oven. I made it to Baked’s new Tribeca location twice but would have happily gone every day if it had been closer to the part of town where we were staying. I’d also like to make the trek to Brooklyn to visit their first shop.

Look, Ma! I'm at Baked!

Look, Ma! I’m at Baked!

On my first trip I got a slice of the Candy Bar Tart and a hot chocolate, with a Brookster to go. It was all heaven.

Want a cookie? Need a brownie? You can have them both in a Brookster.

Want a cookie? Need a brownie? You can have them both in a Brookster.

The tart was sweet and a little salty with a thick crust and completely perfect caramel holding it all together. I ate it in very small bites so that it would last longer. When I got home I pulled out my Baked “Elements” book and made the tart myself, and then I ate it in very large bites, because no one was watching.

Candy. Bar. Tart. The best part is that the recipe in their book makes it easy to replicate at home. I tried it and it's my new favorite thing to make.

Candy. Bar. Tart. The best part is that the recipe in their book makes it easy to replicate at home. I tried it and it’s my new favorite thing to make.

On my next visit my friend and I split a slice of passion fruit cake and it was… ok. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that having the cake near the door that kept letting in freezing wind somewhat compromised the freshness of the cake, making it a little dry and blah.

See? A little crumbly, but I would happily try it again because the passion fruit filling had a nice, fresh flavor.

See? A little crumbly, but I would happily try it again because the passion fruit filling had a nice, fresh flavor.

But we also split a cupcake and that was fantastic. On this visit I also saw Baked co-founder Renato Poliafito. I came very close to saying “hello” and asking for a photo with him but then I got too nervous, because he’s a baking superstar and I’m a big nerd.

There's just too much Baked goodness to choose from.

There’s just too much Baked goodness to choose from.

4. Chelsea Market (75 Ninth Ave.)
Freezing weather makes Chelsea Market the perfect place to go on a hunt for nibbles. There are so many bakeries, chocolate shops and ice creameries in this place that you have to pace yourself. Also, take friends so that you can share what you buy and not fill up too quickly.

He's really delicious.

He’s really delicious.

We were there around Oscar time so at Eleni’s bakery the cookies and cupcakes were all Hollywood themed, including a Benedict Cumbercookie. Well, that’s what I called it.

Inside sparkly Chelsea Market.

Inside sparkly Chelsea Market.

Fat Witch has all the rich, fudgey brownies you can handle. I picked out two to eat on the plane ride home and loved them so much I ordered their cookbook as soon as I got home. And I already have a few mind-blowing brownie recipes, so you know they must have impressed me.

Sarabeth’s bakery has a nice selection of cakes and sweets and they do a decent hot chocolate. And if it’s early in the day you can head to the Doughnuttery for fresh donut holes you can customize with the flavored sugar of your choice. If you want a little something to take on a walk around the High Line, stop at Liddabit Sweets for one of their homemade candy bars. I really like The S’more bar.

There are also a couple of really good kitchen stores in the market if you’re looking for just the right tart pan or a nifty gadget you don’t really need but know would look nice in a drawer at home.

5. Schmackary’s (362 W 45th St.)
This was another Yelp find when my friend and I wanted a snack after seeing a Broadway show. Schmackary’s offers something like 40 different flavors of cookie and I wanted to try them all. Unfortunately, we got there so late that some of the flavors were sold out, but on impulse, and because our brains had partially frozen on the way there, we got a box of 12 to take back to our hotel so that we could sample a bunch of flavors. We didn’t finish them because we did have some small amount of impulse control left, but we had bites of all of them and they were all really tasty, even for breakfast the next day.

Just get one of each. It's the only way to go.

Just get one of each. It’s the only way to go.

6. Eataly (200 Fifth Ave.)
Eataly is more savory than sweet. It’s one large food hall with several Italian restaurants inside of it, but also shops of imported goods. You can get Italian cookies, pastries, and gelato here, if you have any room after dinner.

This will tide you over until you make a trip to Italy.

This will tide you over until you make a trip to Italy.

7. LA Burdick (5 East 20th Street)
LA Burdick in Boston is one of my favorite chocolate places in the world, so I was delighted to be able to try the one in New York. It’s just as good, the Madagascar hot chocolate is still one of my top 5 ever (a little citrus-y while still thick and rich), and it’s right near the Flatiron Building, so you can pop in for a drink after you snap a few photos.

Good to know I can get my Burdick fix outside of Boston.

Good to know I can get my Burdick fix outside of Boston.

8. Junior’s (West 45th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave.)
My friend who was visiting from the U.K. wanted to make sure she got some real New York cheesecake. Everything I read said that even though it’s popular with tourists, Junior’s is one of the best places to get it. It’s also located right next to Times Square, and since we went to Broadway shows on two nights, we found ourselves at Junior’s more than once. (It was so nice and warm inside!)

One slice is big enough to share, but you might not want to.

One slice is big enough to share, but you might not want to.

The menu is huge, the portions are enormous, and the cheesecake is as good as I’ve ever had.

9. Magnolia Bakery (1240 Avenue of the Americas at 49th Street)
Over and over again in articles about food in New York I read about the bread pudding at Magnolia Bakery. It sounded almost mythical. They have a few locations around New York, including one next to Radio City Music Hall. Since I was doing the behind the scenes tour there (which is very interesting) I stopped in and got a small banana pudding. It really was fantastic, but I wish I’d been hungry enough (or had someone else with me) to also try one of their pies or cakes. It all looked pretty good.

Eating the banana pudding is like taking a quick trip to the South without ever leaving New York.

Eating the banana pudding is like taking a quick trip to the South without ever leaving New York.

10. Serendipity 3 (225 E 60th St.)
Serendipity is one of the only places I went that I knew much about beforehand. It’s been in movies, it makes all the top ten lists for chocolate, and its frozen hot chocolate is legendary. And yet, I was not impressed. Much like the Sacher-Torte in Vienna, maybe my expectations were just too high, but I don’t really get why people love this place.

Just a big bowl of blah.

Frozen hot chocolate: Just a big cup of blah.

First, the frozen hot chocolate is just sort of chocolate slush. There’s not a lot of flavor, it’s not rich or creamy, it’s just wet and has a vague chocolate flavor. For the price I’d rather go back to Baked and get two Brooksters and a cookie. I’ll stick to my liquid hot chocolate from now on.

The French Toast was good, but not waiting-in-line-an-hour good.

The French Toast was good, but not waiting-in-line-an-hour good.

The food I had was good and the portions are large, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth the hour-long wait. Sugar & Plumm was far better and had no wait time. If you’re crunched for time in New York then I’d say this is the place you can skip altogether.

As you can see I consumed about 12,374 calories a day in New York and I still didn’t make it to Dominique Ansel for a cronut. I suppose there’s always next time.

Start spreading the news,
Lisa

Categories: Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Best Chocolate (and Treats) in Portland, Oregon

Summer is a bad time for baking in a house without air conditioning, but it’s a great time to travel around and see what kind of sweet things other people have to offer. With that in mind I agreed to spend a girls weekend in Portland with my friend, Eleanor.

Long before I went I knew I wanted to visit Moonstruck Chocolate. They had a shop in the San Francisco area years ago that I loved, but it closed after maybe a year. I knew they were based in Portland, and maybe that’s why I’ve had this desire to go there.

Moonstruck was our very first stop after checking in at the hotel, but Portland wasn’t cooperating with my chocolate tourism plans. While I had envisioned escaping the California heat to enjoy the mild warmth of Oregon, what actually happened is that Eleanor and I arrived to find that Portland was in the middle of a heat wave. Like, sweat-dripping-down-our-faces-and-our-backs-and-into-our-shoes style heatwave.

We spent the afternoon, and most of the weekend, looking for shade and iced drinks, so I got to Moonstruck excited to try something new, but also thinking that chocolate sounded way too heavy. I got two truffles but passed on the hot chocolate. It smelled divine, but I just couldn’t take the heat.

There are five Moonstruck locations around Portland, so you're bound to run into one of them.

There are five Moonstruck locations around Portland, so you’re bound to run into one of them.

After dinner at some of Portland’s diverse food trucks the weather started to cool off, so we made our way to Cacao. If you want a cozy place to drink chocolate, eat chocolate and buy lots of chocolate to take home, this is the place.

The two guys working there were super friendly and cute and Eleanor and I both enjoyed the rich and creamy hot chocolate. This isn’t the kind where they dump a little chocolate into some hot milk. You can see the chocolate being churned in containers and they pour that right into your cup. It’s the good stuff.

By the evening it seemed safe to buy some fancy chocolates without having to make a mad dash for the hotel, and just look at the assortment they have at Cacao:

cacao-portland
They carry several Portland-area chocolates, including Woodblock and Cocanu, which I’d never heard of before. I love the little square packages with the fancy sealing wax:

cacao-chocolate-portland

They also have plenty of chocolates from the rest of the country, including Askinosie, from Missouri. I first heard of Askinosie at a tasting held at Bittersweet Chocolate here in the Bay Area where they were held up as an example of sustainable, fair trade chocolate. Mostly though I remember that their white chocolate is made with goat’s milk. It’s not a taste you easily forget.

cacao-askinosie

Our destination on day two was Voodoo Doughnut. You can’t go to Portland without visiting Voodoo, if only to say you’ve been there. It’s located right next to the Portland Saturday Market (which also has all kinds of foods and sweets), but when we went by the line was really long. We did some more sightseeing, going up to the International Rose Garden and Japanese Garden (both lovely) and came back later in the afternoon… when the line was just as long.

Waiting 45 minutes for donuts sounds crazy, but it’s the kind of crazy thing you do on vacation. And I’ve been to Comic Con, so put into that context, this line was pleasantly brisk. It was still about 132 degrees outside though, and by the time we got inside the shop I think we were far more thirsty and sunburned than we were hungry.

portland-voodoo-sign

Caught up in the thrill of finally getting to the counter, Eleanor briefly entertained the idea of getting a dozen donuts, but we agreed that three each would be more than enough. The Mango Tango was fantastic, and the other donuts were good, if not spectacular. I don’t think the heat helped them any, and the ones we saved for breakfast the next morning were a bit limp. I think I would have enjoyed them a lot more if I hadn’t waited outside in the blistering sun for almost an hour to get them.

voodoo-doughnut-portland

That night we decided to get some more walking in and have dinner in the Nob Hill area. Well, we decided to have ice cream at Salt & Straw, but figured we should eat some real, non-donut food before that. While walking down NW 23rd Street to find a good restaurant I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw The Meadow.

I guess I didn’t Google or Pinterest hard enough before my trip, because this place should have come up in any kind of search for chocolate in Portland. The whole length of the shop is shelves and shelves of chocolate from all over the world, and the back of the shop is filled with jars and slabs of more kinds of salts than I even knew existed.

The Meadow is like a chocolate library, with shelves full of tempting goodies.

The Meadow is like a chocolate library, with shelves full of tempting goodies.

I’ve seen shops that sell wine and chocolate, but this was my first salt and chocolate store. I walked out with a bag of chocolate bars to try and Eleanor left with a bag of salt rubs. We paid for them first, of course. We would never just *walk out* with stuff. That would be wrong.

Salt, salt and more salt.

Salt, salt and more salt.

Finally, after a long, hot weekend of food and lines, we made it to Salt & Straw. Where there was a line. And it was still kind of hot. At 9:30 at night. It was only about a 20 minute line though, so not nearly as bad as the one at Voodoo. And this one was more worth it. I got the salted caramel ice cream and it was incredible.

Delicious ice cream and the portions are huge.

Delicious ice cream and the portions are huge.

I’ve had other salted caramel ice cream and gelato before, but usually the whole thing is caramel flavored with a slight salt taste. This was super fresh and creamy vanilla ice cream with a ribbon of smooth salted caramel running through it. It was vibrant and intense and absolutely perfect. I’d wait in that line again in a heartbeat.

On our last day we made a second trip to Powell’s Books (because once is not enough) and about a block away from there I saw a sign for Little T Baker. I’d just read about them on some travel blog so I popped in to see what the fuss was about.

The cookies at Little T Baker. Meh.

The cookies at Little T Baker. Meh.

The first thing I noticed was how many little black gnats and other flying things were landing on the food. I’m not sure why a bakery would ever leave their door open, especially when their baked goods are just sitting out on a counter and not in a case, but it didn’t get my appetite going. Still, I was there so I bought three different cookies to try. They were ok, kind of dry and crumbly. I wouldn’t go back, but maybe their breads are better than their sweets.

Right in the same little shopping complex, just a few feet away is Quin, a handcrafted candy shop that sells fancy caramels and other things that will travel well if you need to take something back for your coworkers. I got a small bag of salted caramels and another of chocolate caramels. They were tasty, but very pricey.

The selection at Quin.

The selection at Quin.

At this point, Eleanor and I swore we would never eat again. We were beyond stuffed. We’d broken every healthy eating rule either of us had every tried to follow. We were done.

The we realized we were just around the corner from Blue Star Donuts.

Well, as long as we were right there…

Blue Star: Donuts for grownups.

Blue Star: Donuts for grownups.

Blue Star is donuts for adults. The line here was far more manageable, maybe a 5-7 minute wait. Most people we talked to around town told us that while Voodoo is the fun place for tourists to go, Blue Star is where the locals and anyone serious about pastries goes. And they were all right. The donuts here were lighter and far more flavorful, and while the selection included standard chocolate and powdered options, they also have Blueberry Bourbon Basil and Dulce de Leche.

Just buy one of each.

Just buy one of each.

If you go, don’t leave without trying the Passion Fruit Cocoa Nib. I still have dreams about it. Another coworker was there the week after me and brought me one back. Even a day old it was still mouth-wateringly delicious, and he is now my favorite person in the office. Yes, I’m that fickle.

portland-blue-star-valrhona

I went home from Portland with a bit of a tummy ache, but it was worth it. All 12,837 calories of it.

Fried and battered,
Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Chocolate, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Baking for a Holiday Everyone Else Gets: Chocolate Caramel Nut Bars

A lot of people are enjoying a three-day weekend right now, but my office is open for business. And if you have to be at work reading through all your friends’ Facebook posts about what an awesome weekend they’re still having, then there better damn well be snacks.

So after giving my coworkers two weeks to stick to their healthy New Year’s resolutions, today I’m back with Chocolate Caramel Nut Bars. Sticking to my own resolution of using up the odds and ends in my kitchen, I chose this recipe as a way to use up a bag of caramels that I picked up around Halloween (I think for a cheesecake I never made).

It calls for a box of German chocolate cake mix, but keeping in the spirit of using up what I already had I used a Devil’s Food mix instead. They came out delicious so feel free to improvise with whatever box mix you have on hand.

When I put all the bars together they looked like an alien landscape. So naturally, Daleks and Weeping Angels invaded.

When I put all the bars together they looked like an alien landscape. So naturally, Daleks and Weeping Angels invaded.

Chocolate Caramel Nut Bars

1 bag (14oz) caramels
1 can (5oz) evaporated milk
1 two-layer chocolate cake mix (German chocolate or other)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt caramels with 1/3 cup evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth. Set aside.

Mix together the rest of the milk, cake mix and butter in a large bowl. Press HALF of the cake mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13×9 pan. Bake 8 minutes.

Sprinkle chocolate chips and 1 cup of the walnuts over the crust. Pour on the caramel mixture and spread it out a little. Top with the rest of the cake mixture and sprinkle with the rest of the walnuts.

Bake 15-18 minutes, Let cool and cut into bars.

The hardest part of the whole process is unwrapping all of these caramels. So tedious.

The hardest part of the whole process is unwrapping all of these caramels. So tedious.

But look how gorgeous they all are when they melt!

But look how gorgeous they all are when they melt!

Pat half of the cake mixture into the bottom of the pan. It will be thin, but work it out to the edges with the palm of your hand.

Pat half of the cake mixture into the bottom of the pan. It will be thin, but work it out to the edges with the palm of your hand.

I really love walnuts.

I really love walnuts.

After the first 8 minutes in the oven, top with the chocolate chips, walnuts and caramel. Try not to start eating it with a spoon just yet. There's more baking to be done.

After the first 8 minutes in the oven, top with the chocolate chips, walnuts and caramel. Try not to start eating it with a spoon just yet. There’s more baking to be done.

Mmmm. This smells even better than it looks.

Mmmm. This smells even better than it looks.

Happy MLK Day,
Lisa

Categories: Box Mix, Chocolate | Tags: | 3 Comments

The Best Chocolate In London: Chocolate Ecstasy Tour

Before I travel anywhere I spend some time with Google and Trip Advisor looking up the best places to get hot chocolate, truffles, macarons, cupcakes and anything else that sounds tasty.

When I did that for London I came across the Chocolate Ecstasy tour run by Jennifer Earle, one of just seven members of the Grand Jury for the International Chocolate Awards. (That means she knows what she’s talking about.) I did the three-hour walking tour around Chelsea but there are full day options as well.

IMAG1524

You absolutely get your money’s worth of chocolate on the tour. I was up to my eyeballs after just the three hours and might have gone into shock if I’d eaten any more chocolate, and I never thought I would ever be able to say that given my incredibly high chocolate tolerance.

Now, you can go to Harrods and buy a bunch of chocolates or plot your own route from shop to shop, but there are definite advantages to doing the tour.

For one thing, you get lots and lots of samples, and that will encourage you to try flavors you wouldn’t normally buy for yourself.. Tobacco chocolate, anyone? Or a fois gras and chocolate macaron? Go for it!

Now I want to make sparkly macarons.

Now I want to make sparkly macarons.

Having a guide means you get to learn a lot about each of the shops and the chocolatiers and chefs who run them. You’ll also learn about the chocolate making process and how to properly taste chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

IMAG1538

And finally, if you’re travelling, walking tours are a nice way to meet new people and see areas that you might not hit in your normal sightseeing rounds. Just keep your fingers crossed for dry weather.

Liquid caramels,
Lisa

Categories: Chocolate | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Baking for Passover: Chocolate Caramel Matzo

I’ve never celebrated Passover before, but I found myself in possession of three boxes of matzo last week and figured I’d better do something good with them.

Luckily, I found a post on zoebakes.com with a recipe for Chocolate Caramel Matzo and I knew my coworkers would love a sweet, crunchy treat.

Plus, it’s a nice break from the usual cake, cupcake, cake, brownie, cake routine, right? Let’s throw a little crunch into the week.

I followed the directions and it was all really simple.You cook up some caramel, spread it on the matzos and bake them. Having a helper isn’t a bad idea, so one person can pour the caramel over the matzo while the other spreads it out, for a nice, even coating.

They look all golden and delicious when they come out.

They smell even better than they look.

They smell even better than they look.

Then you just throw whatever you want on top of them.

My tip to you for this part is to have all of your toppings out and ready to sprinkle on the matzos once you take them out of the oven. The chocolate that I put on right away melted easily, but after I started to spread it out I decided it was too thin in spots so I added more chips, but the caramel was already cooling off and so they didn’t melt as well.

It's a buffet of delights!

It’s a buffet of delights!

Aside from the delicious taste and aroma, I loved making these because it helped me use up all the odds and ends that were around my kitchen. Half a bag of white chocolate chips, half a bag of butterscotch chips, a little bit of leftover coconut flakes, some graham cracker crumbs, some toasted sliced almonds, just grab whatever you’ve got and make up different flavor combinations.

butterscotch-matzo

choc-almond-matzo

choc-coconut-matzo

white-choc-almond-matzo

Happy Passover!
Lisa

Categories: Chocolate | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Office Birthday: Chocolate Cheesecake, Lego Style

My coworker, Bill, had another birthday this week. They do that every year or so in my office. Maybe in yours, too.

Last year I made Bill this Lego cake, which you can read more about at this Lego Cake post.

It's no Vogon destructor fleet, but it'll do.

It’s no Vogon destructor fleet, but it’ll do.

Cool, right? Well I don’t like to repeat myself with birthday themes, but Bill is still a Lego lover, and I still have the Lego molds I bought for that cake, and I wanted to get some more use out of them. I’ve also been wanting to make a chocolate cheesecake for a few weeks now. So here’s my Lego/cheesecake birthday mashup.

First, I melted some semi-sweet chocolate chips in my little double boiler and poured the beautiful results into the molds. I then held the mold by the edges and tapped it down firmly on the counter at least 20 times to get the air bubbles out. There were lots of them.

chocolate-lego-men

Then I stuck it all in the fridge to set. I didn’t temper this chocolate, so almost as soon as I got the men out of the mold, they started to soften wherever I touched them. So I touched them as little as possible, using a toothpick to poke off the ragged edges, and put them in a container in the fridge.

The filling for this cheesecake was simple enough. Just make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature when you start or you’ll get lumps. Throw the wet ingredients in and mix, then add the chocolate. At that point I was tempted to stop and just have it be a marble cheesecake, because it looked so pretty.

marble-cheesecake

But what to do about the crust. Hmmm. I went to three stores and couldn’t find the plain chocolate wafer cookies the recipe called for. They all had a filling, like Oreos, or a chocolate coating. I had some chocolate graham crackers though, so I crushed those up, and then I saw the green box on my counter.

Well hello there, Girl Scout Thin Mints.

crust-ingredients

The Thin Mints do have a chocolate coating, and I wasn’t sure how that would change the texture of the crust, but I was willing to experiment. Into the little food processor!

thin-mints

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision or something, because whizzing up the Thin Mints seemed to release their magical aroma. I mixed up the crushed grahams, the Thin Mint crumbs and the melted butter, and once it was all pressed into the springform pan it looked like a real enough cheesecake crust. Just make sure you pack it down tight, so that you get a nice, crisp crust, and not just crumbs that fall apart.

chocolate-crust

I poured in the filling and it looked gorgeous and ready for baking.

poured-cheesecake

Coming out of the oven it still looked gorgeous, and I wish I’d taken a photo of it right then. Because when I came back 15 minutes later to start loosening the pan from the edges, there was a crack. Arg!

doctor-who-cheesecake

Supposedly this happens if you don’t grease the pan (because then as it cools it can’t shrink in from the edges because it’s stuck, so it cracks) or because you haven’t used a water bath. I’ve only ever made one other type of cheesecake and I’ve never had a problem with cracking before, but every recipe is different. If I try this one again, I’ll grease *and* bathe the cheesecake, just to be safe.

But now I have a cracked cheesecake. If this was another Doctor Who theme party I’d be fine. Perfect in fact. I’d just say it’s the crack in time that we saw all through Matt Smith’s first season:

tv-doctor-who-crack-in-time-slim-poster-PYRmcpp60182

Since this was supposed to be a grown up Lego cheesecake though, I needed another option. I could cover the crack with chocolate bricks. I could serve it with whipped cream all over the top. Or I could put the chocolate Lego men *in* the crack, like they were being swallowed by a sinkhole. Or maybe like they were in the trenches of a cheesecake turf war. Bill went to West Point, so I figured he’d be happy with either scenario.

Into the crack! (I waited until I got to work the next day and was ready to serve it up before doing this step, to avoid any melting.)

lego-men-cheesecake

And yes, he was happy.

bill-lego-cheesecake

It didn’t turn out to be the loveliest dessert I’ve ever made, but it was super tasty. The Thin Mint crust was mild, but delicious. And when I told people what it was they all seemed to think that made the cheesecake extra decadent. As long as it all disappears into smiling faces, I’m happy.
Chocolate Cheesecake

1 1/2 cups crushed chocolate wafers/cookies
1/3 cup butter
4oz. semisweet chocolate chips
3 8oz. packages cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons flour
3 eggs

Make the crust by combining wafers and melted butter. Press into bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

Melt chocolate over low heat. Once melted, take off of heat to cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat softened cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, and vanilla with a mixer until smooth.

Add flour and mix well. Add the cooled chocolate. Swirl it in if you want a more marbled effect, otherwise mix it in fully. Add all three eggs at once and beat on low speed just until combined.

Pour filling over your crust. Put the pan onto a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet in case it leaks. (Mine always leaks at least a little butter.)

Bake at 375F for 45-50 minutes. It will be jiggly when you take it out but will firm as it cools.

Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge and slowly open and re move the sides of the pan. Cool for another 30 minutes then cover and chill for at least four hours.

Never give up, never surrender!
Lisa

P.S: I can’t think of Bill without getting this stuck in my head. Maybe I’ll play it the next time I bake for him:

Categories: Bake From Scratch, Cheesecake, Chocolate, Office Birthdays | Tags: | 1 Comment

Chocolate Week 2013: Chocolate Kahlua Bread Pudding

I know *last* week was Valentine’s, but I was still in Scotland mode and couldn’t get my head around hearts and cupids.

This week is my birthday though (woo hoo!) so I’ve decided to indulge myself by pulling out some of the most chocolatey recipes in my “Things I Want to Try Making” binder (yes, I really have one of those).

Yesterday I had some leftover French bread around the house and decided it was time to try a Chocolate Bread Pudding. It’s something my grandma used to make when I was little and I haven’t had in at least 20 years, and my mom has been talking about it lately, so I figured I’d give her a treat.

My coworkers don’t have exclusive rights to my baking, you know.

So, cube up some French bread, or challah or other slightly stale loaf. Nothing too fresh or it will just get mushy instead of awesome and yummy.

chocolate-bread-pudding-cubes

Next, melt half your chocolate, then mix it up with everything except the rest of the chocolate.

chocolate-bread-pudding-custard

Pour it over the bread and stir it a bit to make sure all the bread is coated. Leave it for 30 minutes, but stir it a few times within that 30 minutes to get the bread evenly coated.

chocolate-bread-pudding-pouring

Put half of the mixture in your bread pan, then sprinkle some of the chocolate chips on top. I also added walnuts, because I like a good crunch. If you want to go crazy, you could throw in caramels, mini peanut butter cups, chopped up Snickers or anything else that sounds gooey and fun.

chocolate-bread-pudding-layer

Add the rest of the bread and top with the remaining chocolate chips, walnuts and whatever. Bake for 50-60 minutes. 50 if you want it a little softer and more custard-like, 60 if you like it a little more crispy on top. I like crispy.

chocolate-bread-pudding-oven

I served it up in bowls with some sliced banana on top (so that it gives the illusion of being a healthy dessert) and a little whipped cream.

bread-pudding-bowl

And it was fantastic! Very chocolatey, warm and gooey, perfect for a cold winter night. Ok, it was about 60 in my area of California yesterday evening, but I saw pictures of other parts of the country on the news and some people looked very cold. So I ate it for them.

Chocolate Kahlua Bread Pudding

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I only had dark chocolate chips at home, and they worked fine)4 eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Kahlua (or the booze of your choice)
2 cups milk
4 cups cubed, stale French bread
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Grease a 9×5 loaf pan.

Melt 1 cup of the chocolate chips and set aside. (If you add it to the eggs right away you’ll wind up with cooked, scrambled eggs)

Whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Add the cooled chocolate. Once you have it whisked smooth, add the milk and keep whisking until blended. Pour over the bread and leave it to absorb the liquid for 30 minutes. Gently stir it a few times as it sits to evenly coat the bread.

Put half the bread mixture in the pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Bake at 350F for 50-60 minutes.

Serve warm with whipped cream, or go crazy and top with chocolate syrup or caramel sauce.

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Charles M. Schulz

Categories: Bake From Scratch, Chocolate | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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