Lucky Pickle Dumpling Co.

Instagram Post 6/18/2018

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Yes, Lucky Pickle Dumpling Co. at 513 Amsterdam Ave in Manhattan has dumplings and noodles too, but the attraction for us was the soft serve ice cream available in two flavors, matcha and pickle; of course we went for the pickle since that’s their claim to fame. Perusing my mental catalog of pickle families, I was hard pressed at first to identify its tribe other than cucumber-based. Sour pickle? Not even close. Kosher dill? Nope, no garlic (thank goodness). Then I finally hit upon it: bread and butter pickles! The sweetest in the clan and always welcome at the table. I mean, how else could you get down to the bottom of that cup and not wonder if it would have made a good sundae with a little pastrami topping?

(Remember when a craving for pickles and ice cream was considered a litmus test for pregnancy?)
 
 

Qada

Instagram Post 6/11/2018

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Somewhere between a cookie and a pastry, Qada, one of my favorite treats, is always rewarding, especially with a cup of tea. This one came from Georgian Deli & Bakery, 2270 86th Street in Gravesend near the border of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where they execute a particularly appealing version of this Georgian delight.

Qada (pronounce the Q like a K but in the back of your throat – uvular as opposed to velar for you linguistics aficionados) can be found in two forms, savory or sweet like this one with raisins. The dough is cut, rolled, and glazed with a shiny egg wash then baked to GBD* perfection. Dense, soft, a little crumbly, sweet but not cloying, buttery but not unctuous, it was the perfect culmination of that day’s quest for something to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Second photo: what it looked like during the few seconds after I bought it and before I cut into it.

*Golden Brown and Delicious
 
 

New Flushing Bakery

Instagram Post 6/2/2018

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Chinese Egg Custard Tarts (dan tat, 蛋挞) are ubiquitous in Chinatown, on display in just about every Chinese bakery case and riding on dim sum trolleys threading their way through restaurants at lunchtime. They found their way to China and Hong Kong decades ago by way of Portuguese pastéis de nata and English custard tarts and are available these days in a wide variety of styles: the basic (plain bright yellow surface), brûléed (Portuguese influence), egg white, coconut, green tea, even strawberry, almond, papaya, and the list goes on. Some time ago, there was a bakery on Mott Street that touted dozens of flavors; alas, they’ve since closed, but it appears that New Flushing Bakery has taken up their mantle.

Here’s a sample of their wares: clockwise from upper right, Strawberry Milk Custard, Lemon Egg Custard, Mango Egg Custard (with tapioca balls), and Purple Potato Custard.

Cutaway views reveal purple potato lurking within one and a strawberry layer at the bottom of another.

New Flushing Bakery is located at 135-45 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, Queens.
 
 

Macaroons and Macarons: So Close and Yet So Far

The following post is presented as a public service. 😉

There seems to be some confusion regarding these two very dissimilar cookies with very similar names, but oh, what a difference an O makes. Let’s get the pronunciations out of the way first: macaroon rhymes with “black balloon” and if you honk the final syllable of macaron through your nez, you’ll nail the proper French pronunciation of that one.

Were the two cookies once a single biscuit that bifurcated due to some culinary tectonic shift? In search of the proto-macaroon, I consulted my copy of Larousse Gastronomique. There was a macaroon (their spelling) based on almond meal that has been made in a French monastery in Cormery since 791 (no, that’s not a typo) that’s not too different from one half of today’s macaron. I say half because the definition of a French macaron is that it comprises two almond flour cookies joined back to back by a sticky filling like jam or ganache. The seemingly infinite variety of flavors (more about that later) derives from the filling alone, and the coloring is just that: coloring. In my experience, they require the patience of a saint (or perhaps a monk) to produce competently.

Macaroons, in contrast, are quintessentially American; a mounded cookie consisting of shredded coconut, sugar, egg whites and sometimes sweetened condensed milk that in its rudimentary form is so uncomplicated as to make it a good candidate for a child’s first baking experience.

Etymologically, the word “macaron” makes a brief appearance in the writing of Rabelais in 1552. It stems from the Italian word “maccherone” meaning a “fine paste” (consider how the combined ingredients appear before baking) and yes, the word macaroni shares the same root (consider pasta/paste while you’re at it). Subsequently, it shows up in an English language recipe from 1611 that spells it “macaroon” and identifies the word as having been derived from the French “macaron”. So the words diverge centuries before the cookies do and the conflation conflagration begins.

The Renaissance version of the cookie itself was pretty well defined as a “small, round cookie, crunchy outside and soft inside, made with ground almonds, sugar and beaten egg whites” folded together, essentially what we think of as Italian amaretti. And so these macarons/macaroons prevailed for many years – there’s a recipe in Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery – until just before the 20th century when two events occurred that altered the course of cookie history.

At that time, coconut palms were introduced to and cultivated in Florida and their fruit became the darling of the American kitchen. In 1871, Esther Levy published the first Jewish cookbook; it featured a recipe for macaroons in which grated coconut replaced the traditional almond flour. Because the dietary restrictions of the Jewish holiday Passover prohibit the consumption of leavened baked goods, coconut macaroons handily filled the dessert bill and they caught on.

A few years later, the Parisian bakery and tea salon, Ladurée, began selling almond flour macarons in pairs, flat sides back to back, with sweet fillings like ganache to hold them together. So at that juncture, we formally have two different cookies, each with its own proper name.

These days, French style macarons are quite trendy and can be found everywhere from fancy pâtisseries to bakery chains in Chinatown, although obviously the quality varies from venue to venue. This cutaway view shows the fillings inside a couple of macarons and the lack thereof in the standard issue macaroon. (The photo also serves to illustrate the way the cookie crumbles.)

Macarons come in several sizes but are always paired and share the classical puck-like shape. The sheer number of flavors to be found borders on the ridiculous and precludes any attempt at a comprehensive list, but you’ll see fruit flavors like cherry, banana, peach, pineapple, pomegranate, honeydew, coconut, papaya, passionfruit – actually pretty much every fruit you can name; what I’ll call “roasted bean” like coffee, latte, mocha, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate; nuts like walnut, almond, pistachio; boozy specimens like Grand Marnier, Jack Daniels, Baileys Irish Cream, mojito; other dessert interlopers like crème brûlée, salted caramel, praline, Nutella, cotton candy, Oreo cookie (a cookie that’s designed to taste like another cookie?); Asian influences like pandan, durian, candied ginger, thai tea, red bean, mung bean, matcha tea, taro; floral/herbal flavors like lavender, mint, rose; and just plain brazen contenders like fois gras, wasabi, maple syrup & bacon, cheeseburger, bubblegum, Cheetos, and Vegemite. Mon dieu!

Then there are the double combinations like raspberry almond, blueberry cheesecake, lavender honey, white chocolate mint, strawberry kiwi, rhubarb cilantro and the like, not to mention triples like s’mores – you mathletes out there could calculate the permutations and combinations if only the flavor list weren’t infinitely long.

Not to be left out, popular brands of Passover macaroons including Manischewitz, Streit’s and Gefen have entered the fray but with somewhat less rebellious flavors like almond, chocolate chip hazelnut, red velvet, cookies & creme, pistachio orange, carrot cake, cappuccino, toffee crunch, chocolate mint, and purely coconut – again, a list that’s far from exhaustive.

I kind of like the fact that you can get almond macaroons and coconut macarons. Seems right somehow.

Beyond the popular brands of macaroons often sold in cans, I’m also seeing some serious bespoke examples at upscale bakeries. These second generation macaroons, if you will, turned up at April’s incredible World’s Fare in Queens and were crafted by Danny Macaroons: original coconut, peanut butter chocolate, salted caramel, and pineapple-guava filled.

Dedicated holidays cement the distinction: National Macaroon Day is celebrated on May 31; International Macaron Day appears to be tied to the first day of spring, around March 20. (There’s even a Chocolate Macaroon Day on June 3rd but it seems to embrace both macaroons and macarons.)

So armed with this fresh batch of information about the difference between macarons and macaroons, you can officially consider yourself one smart cookie. If you’re anything like me, you’re a fan of both!
 
 

Alimama Tea

Instagram Post 5/30/2018

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Ready for something unusual? Check out recently opened Alimama Tea, 89A Bayard St, Manhattan, and their unique assortment of mochi doughnuts and Asian inflected cream puffs. The donuts don’t look remarkable but they’re actually based on mochi, the sweet Japanese rice cake, and as soon as you take one chewy bite, you’ll get the picture. I chose the most straightforward in appearance in order to get to the heart of the issue, Brûlée with a crisp, burnt caramelized sugar glaze, but there are more fanciful flavors like Salted Caramel Nutella, Coconut Dark Chocolate, Cereal, Matcha, and Onyx, each topped with a harmonious glaze.

Cream puffs have a place of honor here as well and are available in yuzu, matcha, and ube (shown here, intact and hacked), light and not overpoweringly sweet.

Naturally, since it’s a tea shop, the cold brew tea list is extensive. Here’s Floral, described as butterfly pea tea, rose, and chrysanthemum with tapioca balls; both cold and hot drinks are available. There’s an emphasis on organics and health including vegan and gluten-free options, but that didn’t deter my (well-satisfied) quest for sweets!
 
 

Little House – Taro Cake

Instagram Post 5/24/2018

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A place of many delicious wonders, I am compelled to return to Little House Café, 90-19 Corona Ave in Elmhurst, Queens as soon as possible. It’s an Asian fusion counter service venue with a few tables and remarkable food; in addition to having the best Curry Mee with Young Tao Fu I’ve ever tasted, the sweets and desserts were a cut above as well. One of the most dramatic was this layered taro cake: gelatin, custard, taro, cake. Each layer brought something unique to the party: sweet, creamy, textured, fluffy. Remarkably, I was able to polish off the whole thing in one sitting because it wasn’t too sweet.

Yeah, that must’ve been why. 🐷

…and the cutaway stepped view.
 
 

Dominique Ansel Kitchen – Kouign Amann

Instagram Post 5/21/2018

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Dominique Ansel’s novel spin on his recipe for kouign-amann (“queen-ah-mahn”, easier to say than it is to spell), is the Brown Sugar even-easier-to-say DKA (the initials of “Dominque’s Kouign-Amann”). Native to the French 🇫🇷 region of Brittany, in the Breton language kouign = cake and amann = butter and it is as impossibly rich as it is challenging to make well. It’s a cousin to the croissant 🥐 – puffy, layered, buttery, and most important, sporting a sweet, crackly exterior of caramelized sugar. It’s the contrast between that crisp crust and the pillowy, yielding interior that makes it fit for a queen, if you will.

Photo 2:
As if to gild an already perfect lily, this adaptation delivers a chewy, gooey sweetness bomb at its heart.

Photo 3:
Kouign-amann can appear in two forms, that of a large cake to be sliced into individual servings, and this version, with a ring formed base – sometimes a muffin tin or cupcake pan is used – that barely supports the fluffy cloud above. This rendition is gets its color and deep flavor from the untraditional addition of brown sugar to the dough. Not to be consumed hastily, I suggest that you do what I did: relax with a cup of your favorite coffee, and focus on each gossamer bite.

Dominique Ansel Kitchen is located at 137 Seventh Avenue South, New York, NY 10014
 
 

Bappy Sweets – Mishti Doi

Instagram Post 5/18/2018

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I sing the praises of this humble dessert and I freely admit that it is a much beloved comfort food for me. No, I do not hail from 🇮🇳 West Bengal or 🇧🇩 Bangladesh, but this delicious treat does. Essentially, mishti doi is similar to a sweetened, thick yogurt – almost the texture of a custard or pudding – but is distinguished by the way in which it is made. From Wikipedia: “Mishti doi is prepared by boiling milk until it is slightly thickened, sweetening it with sugar, either gura (brown sugar) or khejur gura (date molasses), and allowing the milk to ferment overnight.” Sometimes a touch of cardamom is added for flavor and aroma. You can usually identify it by its pale orange color, but I’ve seen it nearly white as well; there’s also a variation called “bhapa doi” that’s made with sweetened condensed milk that sets up more reliably if you’re making it yourself and I understand there are fruit variants like mango as well.

This batch came from Bappy Sweets, 85-07 Whitney Ave in Elmhurst, Queens. Whenever I take folks through the neighborhood on a food tour (“ethnojunkets” I call them), Bappy is an essential stop; everyone I have introduced this delight to has absolutely loved it and it always disappears in a trice. Bappy makes and sells other mithai (Indian sweets) but I recently learned that their claim to fame and best seller is their mishti doi. I’m not surprised.
🧡
And if you have trouble remembering its name, here’s a mnemonic I came up with for this magical comfort food: “Sometimes Mishti Doi is the only thing that can make you feel better on a Misty Day.”
🧡
 
 

The Equal Opportunity Celebrant – Part 4

Daylight Saving Time, my second favorite holiday after Christmas and the undisputed harbinger of Spring as long as you don’t look out your window, has at long last arrived. Two notable celebrations of the season, Easter and Passover, are concomitant this year, so this post is a nod to both. I haven’t forgotten Nowruz, of course, the Iranian (or Persian) New Year that occurs on the vernal equinox, but I feel that it deserves a post of its own accompanied by photos of delicious traditional foods which, with some luck, I’ll be able to provide.

It’s no coincidence that the Italian word for Easter (pasqua) and the Hebrew word for Passover (pesach) are closely related, although culinarily the holidays couldn’t be more disparate. During this time of year, Jewish families are expunging their homes of even the most minuscule crumb of anything leavened, and Italians are baking Easter breads like they’re going out of style.

Italy’s traditional seasonal bread is La Colomba di Pasqua (“The Easter Dove”), and it is essentially Lombardy’s Eastertime answer to Milan’s Christmastime panettone. These deliciously sweet, cakey breads, in some ways Italy’s gift to coffeecake but so much better, are fundamentally the same except for two significant distinctions: the colomba is baked in the shape of the iconic dove that symbolizes both the resurrection and peace, and the recipes diverge with the colomba’s dense topping of almonds and crunchy pearl sugar glaze. Traditionally, a colomba lacks raisins, favoring only candied orange or citron peel, but as with panettone, fanciful flavors (including some with raisins) proliferate. And also as with panettone, charming but somewhat specious tales of its origin abound. (If you haven’t already, please read my passionate paean to panettone for more information and folklore about this extraordinary contribution to the culinary arts.)

(Click any photo to see it in high resolution.)

The first photo shows a colomba in all its avian splendor. Frankly, I think it’s a leap of faith to discern a dove in there, but if you can detect one, you may have just performed your own miracle.

Hard pressed to see the dove? Fret not, for the second photo has the cake turned upside down so the columbine form is somewhat more evident.

The third photo depicts a version that features bits of chocolate and dried peaches within and crunchy crushed amaretto cookies atop.

Just wondering: There’s no debate that American kids bite the ears off their chocolate Easter bunnies first. Do you suppose that Italian children start with the head, tail, or wings of the colomba?

On to Passover. Previously on ethnojunkie.com, I did a springtime post that included a story about someone who dared me to come up with an ethnic fusion Passover menu. I wrote:

“Well, far be it from me to dodge a culinary challenge! So although obviously inauthentic, but certainly fun and yummy, here’s to a Sazón Pesach!

Picante Gefilte Pescado
Masa Ball Posole
Brisket Mole
Poblano Potato Kugel
Maple Chipotle Carrot Tzimmes
Guacamole spiked with Horseradish
Charoset with Pepitas and Tamarindo

And, of course, the ever popular Manischewitz Sangria!”

It was all in good fun, of course, but it got me thinking about actually creating a Jewish-Mexican fusion recipe. It isn’t strictly Kosher for Passover, of course, but I thought the concept was worth a try. So here is my latest crack at cross cultural cooking: Masa Brei!

Now you might know that Matzo Brei (literally “fried matzo”) is a truly tasty dish consisting of matzos broken into pieces that are soaked briefly in warm milk (some folks use water), drained, soaked in beaten eggs until soft, then fried in copious quantities of butter. Typically served with sour cream and applesauce, it’s heimische cooking at its finest, Jewish soul food, and it’s easy to do.

So I thought it might be worth a try to swap out the matzos for tostadas, the milk for horchata, the sour cream for crema, and the applesauce for homemade pineapple-jalapeño salsa. A sprinkle of tajín, a scatter of chopped cilantro – and it actually worked! Here’s the finished product:

And no matter which one you’re celebrating (or perhaps all of them like me) – Happy Holidays!
 
 

BonBon

Instagram Post 4/11/2018

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Imagine if the Beatles’ “Savoy Truffle” had been a Swedish song: as opposed to names of candies like Creme Tangerine, Montelimar, and Ginger Sling, they would have sung about Gott Och Blandat, Chokladhjärta, and Häxvrål. Those are just some of what you’ll find at BonBon, 130 Allen Street in Manhattan. Fortunately, it wasn’t a northern song and there are English signs here, there, and everywhere to hold your hand if you’ve got a feeling that it’s all too much, because there are over 150 kinds of Swedish candy on display. But I did see Finnish Sweet Licorice Pieces and I wonder if something Norwegian would help! 😜
🐷 🐷 🐷
But seriously, BonBon is a Swedish 🇸🇪 candy company that’s a newcomer to the Lower East Side. In addition to sweet treats in a rainbow array of colors, flavors, and textures, they sell world famous Swedish salty licorice as well as the sweetish kind. Curiously, the unique taste comes not from sodium chloride (NaCl, table salt) but rather from ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) so it’s really more astringent than salty. I recommend Tyrkisk Peber (Turkish pepper) – that’s the hard stuff, literally – although they do have a number of gateway salty licorices to choose from like chewy filled Sweet & Salty Licorice Logs, Licorice Chalks in a variety of flavors, Licorice Screws and Licorice Carpets. Other favorites included Tivoli Mix, Lemon Rhubarb Logs, and ridged, red and white, flowery-edged Vanilla Marshmallow candies. For traditionalists, they also offer delicious Swedish chocolates including Daim, the milk chocolate covered crunchy almond caramel candy bar. Try it; you’ll definitely dig it.

All together now: The End!

#thereAre15 #didYouFindThemAll