Tag Archives: pastry

Chicago: Day Three

In which reach heaven via homemade tostadas... and then we go home.

Our third day in Chicago was really more of a half day, since we had to drive home in the afternoon. Despite having a whole lot left on our respective to-do lists, we couldn’t shake ourselves out of bed early enough to get in anything besides a decent breakfast. We hopped a train and a bus over to our final eating destination, Handlebar.

I may not be a bicyclist, but I seem to be endlessly fond of their dining establishments. Handlebar shares a lot in common with OTB Bicycle Cafe in South Side, a place I used to frequent when working in the South Side Works a few years ago. The focus of both bars is squarely on the cycling lifestyle, whether it be for intensive sport or for everyday getting around town. Unlike OTB’s biking-themed menu, however, the Handlebar leaves the theme to the decor and general philosophy of the establishment.

Both are exceeding vegetarian and vegan friendly, however, something that appealed to James, especially when Anna Sophia gave us a sterling recommendation of the place.

“Huevos Diablos,” she told us. I took it very, very seriously.

Handlebar on Urbanspoon
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Saturday Morning Sweet Treats from Colangelo’s


One of the best things about talking food with other food enthusiasts (apologies for using that term in overabundance, I just hate the term “foodie”) is the resulting recommendations that come from discussing where you love to eat. There’s a look in the eyes – a widening, a sparkle – that tells you all you need to know.

I get that look about many, many things that I have eaten. After Chicago, I couldn’t talk about the food at Chicago Diner without getting a little misty eyed. I speak in similar ways about the taco stand at Las Palmas, the Shakshuka at Sababa Middle Eastern Grill, the buffalo seitan wings at Spak Brothers.

Sylvia, from Burgh Bits and Bites, had that look when she talked about the meles at Colangelo’s. The question, “Ooh, what’s a mele?” nearly sent her teetering off her chair. Meles, apparently, are one of the most delicious pastries invented by man, and Colangelo’s offers some of the best.

“You must try it.”

I take recommendations fairly seriously, and when it’s a real rave review, I make a point of adding the place or item onto my mental list of things to try. So, on a short trip through the Strip on Saturday, I happened by Colangelo’s and decided to make good on her recommendation and my curiosity.

Sylvia, if you’re reading this: HOLY CRAP! WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING ALL THESE YEARS WITHOUT THESE MELES IN MY LIFE?

I ordered an apricot mele, and hoo boy… I’ve never had a pastry where the least impressive thing about it was the filling. And the apricot filling was very good, just not as spectacular as the pastry. Lightly sugared to give it a sweet crunch, it was still chewy and soft in all the right ways. Despite all the sugar, it wasn’t overpoweringly sweet, like a cheap danish or pastry. It had the slightest essence of vanilla that blended smoothly into the burst of citrus flavor from the apricot preserves.

About the size of my (admittedly small) hand, it was almost too much for me to handle alone. I split it in two and shared with my friend, Mo, whose reaction matched my own. How have we not tried this before? All the time I’ve spent in the Strip District and I never once tried this amazing little treat?


I meant to buy two meles, but the clerk misheard me. Flustered by the noise and crowd building around the counter, but still determined to get two pastries, I asked for something a bit more familiar to me: Sfogiatelle.

The Italian name means “many leaves” or “many layers” so it’s easy to understand how the treat got its name. The shell shaped pastry is comprised of flaky pastry layered one on top of the next. The inside is a slightly creamy, almost cheesy filling, but it’s so subtly worked into the pastry, you barely notice it until after the bite.

Because Colangelo’s was a bit crowded, I took my treats to my favorite eating spot: The walkway outside of the Pittsburgh Public Market. There I enjoyed my pastries, the first cup of coffee of my day, and a nearly perfect sunny Saturday morning.

Colangelo's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Good Morning, Apricot Coffee Cake!

I used to make a killer sour cream coffee cake. The original basis came from AllRecipes.com, but as I returned again and again to the dish, I put my own tweaks on it. I toyed around with extra flavors, zests, extracts, fresh and frozen fruits. I got the cooking time just right. I knew when to use icing and when to use a crumb topping, and I knew exactly how much to use.

And they always came out perfect. Soft, but substantial, sweet but not overpowering, absolutely great for either breakfast or dessert. Provided there were any leftovers, they even stored well and could keep for up to three days if packed properly. I ran through every idea I had and the best turnouts- chocolate chips and cocoa powder, cardamom and orange zest, cream cheese and blueberry preserves – more than made up for the few failures. I never got tired of making them and no one seemed to be tired of eating them.

Then I moved.

The new apartment had a rented stove that was about fifteen years older than the one I had during my coffee cake renaissance. When I cooked my first coffee cake in my new kitchen, I was shocked by the way it had turned out. Where was the fluffy, moist cake? Why was the crumb topping so dry and flavorless? Why was everything so flat? And how did it get burned?!?

I was dispirited. Even my failed experiments had never been this bad. This was barely edible (in fact, after bravely eating a piece, most of the remains did find their way into the trash). I tried to learn from my potential mistakes: I must have been careless about the amounts of flour, baking powder, and sugar. It must have baked too long. I must not have greased the pan enough.

So I tried again. But even with the tweaking of cooking time, the careful attentiveness to ingredients and prep, and a watchful eye while the cake sat in the oven, it still failed. It wasn’t the horror show that the prior failure had been, but it was still a failure. I had to face facts.

The magic was gone.

So, flash forward to the present. Since my coffee cake heartbreak, I have made a total of zero coffee cakes. Like any jilted lover, I moved onto other culinary distractions. I had brief flings with cupcakes, dabbled casually with muffins, and settled into a nice routine with the dependable and delightful cookie, a relationship that satisfies me to this day. But sometimes, when I’m craving something that I can’t quite name, I know what I’m actually yearning for.

I was tempted by the coffee cake recipes in Sarah Kramer’s books, as well as the sure-to-be delicious recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking, but I was always afraid to attempt them. For one, I didn’t want to come back to coffee cake baking after such a long absence just to fail once more. In addition, I had never tried a vegan coffee cake recipe, so I was worried about botching not only my comeback cake, but my first attempt at a vegan one at that.

Sunday, however, after a week that was rich in both pain and healing (a story that I will come back to another time), I was looking for a distraction and picked up my recently purchased copy of Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Mokowitz. Thumbing through the recipes, I was about to try out the tomato-rosemary scones when one last courtesy flip through the pages landed me on her recipe for “East Coast Coffee Cake.” And I thought, well, why the hell not?

For my first time back to coffee cakes, I stayed fairly true to Isa’s recipe, tweaking just a few ingredients to match my own tastes. Her basic recipe does include fruit preserves, but she includes handy directions on including any number of ingredients. The recipe turned out to be a cinch to make, and while the results weren’t perfect, they were far from the disasters of my last coffee cake attempts. I’m not sure we’ll ever be as close as we once were, but it looks like me and coffee cake are on the redemption road to a casual friendship.

Apricot Coffee Cake

Ingredients

For the topping
– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1/4 cup veg oil

For the cake
– 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup veg oil
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 tsp almond extract
– 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp baking pwoder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup apricot jam

– Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8×8 square pan. Add the apple cider vinegar to the milk and set aside to allow for curdling.

– For the topping: Mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the oil by tablespoons, mixing it into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Keep mixing until you’ve got a mixture of large and small crumbs. Set aside.

– For the cake, mix together the milk-vinegar mixture, sugar, vegetable oil, and extracts. Sift in flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until smooth.

– Pour the batter into the pan. Pour the 1/2 cup of apricot jam over the batter, then swirl it with a knife or fork. Sprinkle topping over the batter and lightly pat down.

– Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool, add powdered sugar if desired, then slice and serve!

Good Morning, Salted Caramel Bread Pudding!


Behold last week’s treat from Sugar Cafe. Some people like to get their sweet fix early in the day, some like to get it following dinner. Me, I’ll take my sweet fix any how and any time I can get it, which is how someone like me ends us eating a donut and bread pudding in the same day (and probably some Girl Scout cookies too). It is also how someone like me will never, ever be a super slender person.

Whatever. If you and I were playing a game of “Would You Rather…” and your question was, “Would you rather be super fit and perfect looking but you could never eat any unnecessary calories, meaning no desserts, no snacks, no extras OR would your rather eat anything you like, but have to work out at least four hours a week and maintain a fairly active lifestyle to maintain even the slightest hold over your fitness?”

I’d go for the latter. In a heartbeat. What is the worth of living if I can’t eat something like salted caramel bread pudding? Isn’t this why we make and share and eat these things? Because they, in some way, contain the love that we feel for ourselves, feel for others? If cooking is an act of love that you perform for others, couldn’t eating something purely for taste and desire be considered an act of love for yourself?

Good Morning, Potomac Bakery!

I have yet to have anything from that was less than delicious from Potomac Bakery, but a mix of at-odds schedules and my workplace’s proximity to Graham’s Bakery in Mt. Lebanon has kept me from becoming a frequent customer. I should probably be thankful for this: The last thing I need is more food obsessions to empty my wallet and expand my waistband.

But the occasional  treat is alright by me. I used photographing the Valentine’s displays at Potomac as an excuse to try two delectable little tarts, a cherry pastry tart and a blueberry tart with Linzer torte pastry for the dough. They were the perfect pre-V-Day sweet treat, and at a $1.50 for the pair, well worth the money. Heart-shaped cakes and cookies and cupcakes with mountains of frosting and sprinkles are all well and good, but I like to keep my baked goods simply and classy. (Cause Classy is my middle name…. Immediately following “Not Remotely,” of course…)

In regards to the picture, tea and pastries has become my absolute favorite thing to come home to after a long workday. I’ve always been a fan of the British scheduled tea-time, as it helps break up the day without making too much of an interruption in the middle of a work flow. Not to mention it’s a great excuse to drink a hot beverage and snack on something tasty.

Were I able to, I would have a private ten-minute tea time every day, just around four, when my energy was getting supremely low and I needed something to push me through the last hour. Instead, I’ve taken to coming home from work, making a pot of coffee in the French Press or warming up a mug water in the microwave for tea, finding something on the sweet side to indulge in and just sitting down at my kitchen table to enjoy a few minutes of solitude, quiet, and light snacking.

Perhaps with that post-work dream state in mind, I will be making more stops in at Potomac Bakery in the future. I’ve already got a plan for a few preserves-stuffed, sugar-dusted cookies I spied the other day while in the shop.

This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Neighborhood Options for Local Sweethearts on Valentine’s Day

I really need to get out of the habit of writing event or holiday – specific posts, but this week’s article on the Dormont-Brookline Patch focuses on neighborhood establishments that are offering a little something special for Valentine’s Day. If you live in the South Hills area and need a place to take your loved one on February 14th, definitely check out my article. It could be the difference between life AND death. Or, you know, it could just steer you to my favorite gyro restaurant in town, It’s Greek to Me on Brookline Boulevard. Either way…

As for my V-Day plans, I’ll be hanging with my partner and all will be swell. I don’t really go in for Valentine’s Day. It’s not a single-person bitterness thing, cause I’ve had plenty of relationships during the “holiday,” it’s just a sense of pointlessness that is too overpowering for me to enjoy the manufactured nature of the celebrations. Say what you will about the “commercialism” of Christmas, that time of year still seems to mean something more than what is given and received. That time of year has so much meaning to so many different people of the world, it seems ridiculous to dismiss it based off of American capitalist tendencies.

Whereas Valentine’s Day, although it is sweet that we have a day dedicated to the celebration of courtly love, is not even a traditional Christian holiday anymore. Why? Cause in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church presented the question: Who was St. Valentine, and why do we have a big ass holiday to honor him? And when they couldn’t come up with a good enough response (“…. he was… a martyr…?”), they decided that while it was all well and good that people were going to continue to celebrate the holiday, they would no longer honor it as an official church-sanctioned occasion. Good riddance, I say.

Still, I find the holiday a little unsettling in how it encourages people to save open expressions of love for a specific day of the year. Not that all who celebrate V-Day do that. As a matter of fact, most of the couples I know who do something special on February 14th are the kind of couples who are openly and expressively in love with one another. They don’t need the day to tell them to appreciate and celebrate their love, but they take it anyway, cause why the hell not?

But a holiday that at best is unnecessary and at worst a commercial waste of time, money, and intellect is not a holiday for me. Maybe I’m completely missing the full picture.

Anyone out there doing something special for Valentine’s Day?

Good Morning, Muffin Mania!

All this muffin talking the past few days has got me curious about the latest and greatest in food-blogger muffin recipes. If I’m going to go through a crisis of muffin preference, I might as well travel the road to an answer that is paved in possibilities. Maybe I’ll start with these recipes:

– I don’t know if English muffins count in this discussion, but how can I deny this tasty-looking offering from This Wisconsin Life? A little time-intensive, maybe, what with yeast being involved and all, but the sound of a homemade English muffin toasted with a poached egg… I mean, just LOOK at those… Maybe this muffin road is the way to go.

Zucchini-Carrot Muffins from We Be Running

– Ah, the zucchini muffin. Poor neglected thing. Usually smaller than other muffins (and mostly devoid of the famed “muffin top”) and not as showy, it gets passed up for its flashier, sweeter brethren in the bakery case. I love making and eating zucchini bread, but have never made zucchini muffins. I think I’ll start with these recipes, the sturdy and slightly intimidating Green and Mean Zucchini Muffins from Baking’n’Books and the dainty, ugly-cute Zucchini and Carrot Muffins from We Be Running. On behalf of the zucchini muffins, I say sincere thanks to these blogs. To the zucchini muffins, I say, “Suffer in silence no more, my slightly sweet, slightly veggie friends!”

– If I could swing it, I’d put coffee in ALL of my food. Whitney in Chicago has taken an ordinary banana nut muffin and made it all the better with a tablespoon of fine-ground espresso. So you get the protein, the potassium, and the full POWER OF CAFFEINE! And do you know what she drank to wash down these powerhouses? A big ol’ mug of Intelligentsia coffee. Damn, straight, Whitney. You are my kind of person.

– I completely forgot how awesome Isa Chandra Moskowitz is at muffin recipes. Thankfully, E.T.F.C has reminded me of the fantastic Cherry Almond muffins from Vegan with a Vengeance. So what if she had a little problem removing the muffins from the tin? Her almond-placement on top of the muffins is nothing short of perfection. (By the by, love E.T.F.C’s elegant minimalist presentation. There’s something so appealing about a vegan-focused blog that doesn’t overly cutefy. Nothing against the sweethearts and kitsch-queens of the vegan blogging scene, but it’s refreshing to have something simple and quick and appealing to look at.)

– Lemon poppy seed muffins. Been there done that. But The Working Wok has baked up a special twist: Lemon Poppy Seed Yogurt Muffins. Desiree even includes a helpful reminder: “Be sure not to let these muffins make you fail your drug test.” Honestly, Desiree, drug test shmug test, I’m going to eat as many of these as I please. Consequences be dammed, I’m in a Muffin Renaissance!