Kanafeh

Instagram Post 12/13/2018

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Having recently done a post about a hearty meal we enjoyed in Brooklyn’s Middle Eastern neighborhood, Bay Ridge, I thought it appropriate to follow up with a coda about dessert. We hit two bakeries that day (there are many more), partly in a quest to see who made the better kanafeh.

Kanafeh, also spelled knafeh, kunafa, (there are many more), but always reliably كُنافة, is hypersweet and made with sugar syrup-drenched crisp shredded dough that conceals rich delights like clotted cream or cheese and is often topped with chopped nuts. You’ll recognize it easily: Picture a large pizza positioned on its round aluminum pan; now increase its size by, oh, half again as much; now instead of pizza toppings, picture finely shredded noodle-like dough so orange in hue that it would put a fresh carrot to shame; now forget that I said anything about pizza, it’ll only be confusing, but you’ve got the picture.

At Cedar’s Pastry and Ice Cream Shop, 7204 5th Ave, we tried two different kinds of kanafeh (there are many more), [1] mastic/ashta, the hands down winner by my standards, and [2] cheese.

[3] At Nablus Sweets, 6812 5th Ave, where the pans are square – picture Sicilian pizza, now forget I said that – we chose one with cheese and a different topping (there are many more) but I wish we had plumped for one of the other varieties as well.

Perhaps one day I’ll bring a few friends and we’ll do a proper smackdown of all the varieties because, as you’ve no doubt discerned…there are many more.
 
 

Black Label Donuts

Instagram Post 12/5/2018

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Faced with the question “Donut?”, my response is always “No thanks, I’m good.” The lone exception has been the promise of any Doughnut Plant treat to which my eager response is “Where?” So when Instagram friend @nigelsie invited me to an informal gathering that included @gustasian and @dyske.nyc and an overwhelming assortment of examples from donut luminaries, I reckoned a taste test of tempting toroids in the company of this group of discerning palates would be fun. And fattening.

It was my first taste of Black Label Donuts. You may be aware of this elusive, Sundays-only, Bayside, Queens purveyor of bespoke confections. Richard Eng, the culinary master behind these creations, has come up with a unique cold fermentation process for his dough that makes them a standout even before he applies his delectable toppings and fillings. (Eng survived a tragic personal attack last summer that you can read about on his Instagram page @blacklabeldonuts – look for his black and white photo for more information.)

[1] Black Label’s varieties included (clockwise from top left): rosemary lemon olive oil curd, orange miso pecan sticky bun, funky monkey (peanut butter banana custard), salted espresso milk jam, Meyer lemon poppy seed, calamansi buttermilk lime.

[2] Doughnut Plant – top row: coconut crème (filled), peanut butter blackberry jam (filled); bottom: vanilla blackberry jam dough seed, crème brûlée dough seed, marzipan star.

[3] Dough (clockwise from top left): toasted coconut, salted chocolate caramel, dulce de leche almond, lemon poppy seed.

To my surprise, I learned that it’s actually more about the dough than the toppings or fillings (although those are certainly significant as well) that distinguishes the provenance. Black Label’s is brioche-like and could make a donut lover out of the staunchest naysayer (me). Doughnut Plant’s wares are a little oilier and a lot sweeter – still good, but, yeah. Donuts from Dough are cakey with a tighter crumb, not really my thing, but I know they have their fans. And since it was the first night of Chanukah, traditional jelly donuts (sufganiyot) from Moishe’s had a seat at the table too, but that’s a source of a different cruller.
 
 
Black Label Donuts can be found Sundays at Nippon Cha, 39-34 Bell Blvd in Bayside.
 
 

Happy Diwali!

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Dear Friends,

I can no longer keep this to myself. I am an addict, hooked on mithai. What’s that? You don’t know about mithai? Mithai are Indian sweets and since Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is upon us, I can think of no better time than now to tell you my tale. So gather round your diyas and check out my post “Indian Sweets 101: Meeting Mithai” right here on ethnojunkie.com!
 
 

Putri Mandi

Instagram Post 10/24/2018

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As long as I’m on a sweet roll, here’s one more from the monthly NY Indonesian Food Bazaar at St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens: a thick, creamy cloud of coconut pudding, not too sweet (why does everybody I know insist that’s somehow a good thing?) with a glutinous rice flour pandan-fortified spheroid floating atop.

The second photo shows the bisected ball revealing its grated coconut/palm sugar core. The orb was hard before I warmed it up after which it surrendered into a more palatable chewiness that worked nicely with the bed of coconut fluff.

It’s called Putri Mandi which means Bathing Princess.

I didn’t ask.
 
 

A Sweet Reminder

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A quick post about a quick stop I made in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa at Malyutka Bakery & Café, 231 Brighton Beach Ave, a new addition to the scene after a few neighboring bakeries got shuffled around.

Somewhere between a cookie and a scone, it hit the spot as I was checking out venues for my forthcoming ethnojunket along Brighton Beach Avenue on Saturday, October 20. Want to taste delicious Russian and Former Soviet Union food like this? Maybe we’ll even find a bench along the boardwalk and do a mini-picnic, weather permitting. Join me on the adventure! For more information and to sign up, click here. Hope to see you then!
 
 

Purple Dough – Ube Leche Flan

Instagram Post 10/3/2018

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Another purple treat from Purple Dough, 38-05 69th St in Woodside, Queens. This time, the new bakery presents ube leche flan – dense flan lounging atop ube (purple yam) cake. Surprisingly, this beautiful dessert isn’t overly sweet, so a dollop of whipped cream wouldn’t hurt if you want to dress it up a little – if you can wait to get it home!
 
 

Pecel Ndeso’s Indonesian Kue

Instagram Post 9/29/2018

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Here’s the first in a series from another visit to the monthly NY Indonesian Food Bazaar at St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. These are kue (diminutive Indonesian sweets/snacks) from Pecel Ndeso’s booth; the disk-shaped twosome are serabi solo. There are many regional variants on serabi; most are made with rice flour but some use wheat flour, and most call for coconut milk. Green almost always implies pandan flavor, while brown indicates palm sugar. The cutaway view reveals the puffy, airy interior.

One of my all-time favorite snacks is anything that involves sticky rice pressed and sweetened with coconut milk. The Indonesian fulfillment of this wish is wajik, which I posted about on 8/16. Usually diamond-shaped (wajik is the Indonesian word that describes a diamond or rhombus shape), this sweet, green blocky rendition is infused with pandan and contains bits of jackfruit, another weakness of mine.

More to come from the bazaar….
 
 

Snowy and Icy Mooncakes

Instagram Post 9/24/2018

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Today’s the day! In addition to the traditional mooncakes that abound in almost every Chinatown bakery for Mid-Autumn Festival, you might see these trendy versions that hail from Hong Kong. Think mooncake meets mochi: rather than dough-based and baked, the skins are almost like the sweet Japanese glutinous rice cake, but not quite as chewy. These snowy and icy mooncakes must be kept chilled. Here are four of the many delicious varieties.

The snowy flavors are contemporary: strawberry, mango, orange, pineapple, honeydew, peach, peanut, taro, chestnut, green tea and red bean; one version featured durian flavored sweet bean paste with bits of the fruit, enveloped by a skin of almost almond paste texture and flavor. Icy mooncakes come two to a box with imaginative flavors like pandan bean paste with chocolate pearls (tiny crispy, candy bits, crunchy like malted milk balls, but probably puffed rice), dark chocolate bean paste (the skin is like mochi with chocolatey paste on the inside and a piece of dark chocolate or a bit of cream cheese nestled within), durian, mango, blueberry, custard, chestnut, black sesame, strawberry, and cherry.

To learn more about the holiday and these delicious treats, please check out my Chinese Mooncakes Demystified post.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! 中秋节快乐!
 
 

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival – 2018

Instagram Post 9/21/2018

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A visit to any Chinatown bakery this time of year will reveal a spectacular assemblage of mooncakes (月餅, yue bing) in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes, sizes, ornamentation, and fillings, all begging to be enjoyed in observance of the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated this year on September 24th. Here are two pandan mooncakes, one with preserved egg yolk and a mini version without, from Fay Da Bakery at 83 Mott Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

To learn more about the holiday and these delicious treats, please check out my Chinese Mooncakes Demystified post detailing their similarities and differences in an attempt to shed some light (moonlight, of course) on their intricacies.
中秋节快乐!
 
 

Purple Dough – Cookies

Instagram Post 9/18/2018

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Purple Dough is the name, but green dough is in evidence as well. Located at 38-05 69th St in Woodside, Queens, this new bakery has a Filipino perspective on creative custom baked goods. Shown here are ube and coconut-pandan cookies: soft, chewy and sweet, they were the most modest items in the case and were absolutely delicious.