Pilar Cuban Bakery

Instagram Post 2/17/2019

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Pilar Cuban Bakery, 397 Greene Ave in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, is the recently opened extension of Pilar Cuban Eatery, their restaurant next door. A handful of tables entices you to taste the authentic baked goods on the spot in case you can’t wait to get your goodies home, and trust me, one bite and delayed gratification goes out the window.

[1] This picadillo empanada was stuffed with ground beef seasoned with a unique sofrito that set it apart from others I’ve tried; the breakfast empanada was brimming with eggs, cheese and plantain (it’s also available with house-made chorizo).

[2] The roast pork tamal was flavorful as well.

[3] Simply put, the flaky crusted guava and cheese pie killed. Remember that you’re enjoying Cuban cuisine, so if you’re accustomed to a Mexican guayaba y queso pan dulce (not to take anything away from them) this will be a different, delicious experience and worth every calorie.
 
 

Matsuya Stick Cookies

Instagram Post 2/2/2019

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Since we’re on the topic of Asian cookies, you might want to give these Stick Biscuits a try if you see them in a Japanese or Chinese market. For the language nerds reading this, the Japanese katakana on the label, スティック ビスケット, written vertically in the two columns on the left reads “sutikku bisuketto” (drop the silent letter U’s and you’ll hear “stick biscuit”) and the larger kanji 牛乳 on the right means cow’s milk. They are indeed made with milk or perhaps it means they’re destined to be enjoyed with milk, but that’s as far as my language skills can carry me. They appear to be manufactured in Taiwan by Matsuya.

I’ve seen four kinds: brown sugar, cocoa, sesame, and milk. All are good, not too sweet (there’s that phrase again) and rather addictive as much for the taste as the crunchy texture which is about as hard as a cookie can be and still not effect an emergency visit to the dentist. The rigidity adds to the fun, however: my first thought was to plunge them into something harmonious – use the cocoa version to scoop up some peanut butter or dunk the milk variety in Nutella; any dip of similar consistency and yumminess would suffice. There’s a Greek brand of delicious sweet tahini, one type is flavored with chocolate, another with orange (it might be worthy of a post of its own) that was perfect with the sesame flavor. Sort of like Pocky on steroids.

And if your sugar high flies too far off the charts, they can be repurposed as playthings as well: think Lincoln Logs. Jenga anyone?
 
 

Sweet Osmanthus Cakes

Instagram Post 2/1/2019

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Sweet Osmanthus Cakes (Gui Hua Gao, 桂花糕) are available in many markets throughout New York City’s magnificent Chinatowns. Used throughout Asia, osmanthus shows up in tea and tea blends as well as jams, liquors, and sweet gelatin desserts, often with goji berries embedded in gravity defying suspension. It has a buttery, floral fragrance with a subtle flavor – I’d describe it as somewhere along the apricot-leather continuum, if there were such a thing.

These delicacies are uncharacteristically sweet as Chinese baked goods go and have a coarse, slightly crumbly texture, cakier than a shortbread cookie and cookier than a cake – a biscuit, perhaps? Unsurprisingly, they are more comfortable in the company of tea than coffee (in my opinion, at least).

[2] The inside scoop.

[3] One brand’s packaging so you’ll know what to look for if you’re so inclined. I like ’em.
 
 

Keki Modern Cakes

Instagram Post 1/19/2019

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)


You know the line that formed outside the door the day that Keki Modern Cakes opened at 79 Mott St in Chinatown? I was in it, mainly because they were (unconsciously) utilizing their unusual cakes to demo the mechanics of momentum in the window, and I’m the nerdy type. In case you missed it, Keki makes “Bouncy Cheesecakes” and they do live up to the promise of their name.

[1] On a postprandial visit to their midtown location, 315 Fifth Ave at 32nd St, my lunchmates and I indulged in the ube variety. Light, fluffy, adorably jiggly and not too sweet (it seems to be so important to so many), the flavors of cheese and ube were present but subtle. Pretty good, actually.

[2] Bisected.

[3] They also offer castella sponge cakes, tarts and “pot pies” that look like larger tarts in flavors like blood orange, melon banana, and pumpkin (these may be seasonal), as well as [4] fancy cheese cakes, described on a chalkboard just above the yellow neon imperative, “Let’s Bounce”. Sure, why not?
 
 

La Newyorkina

Instagram Post 12/26/2018

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Carmen Miranda ain’t got nothin’ on her.

Known for their fruitilicious paletas (ice pops), rich Mexican ice cream, and authentic baked goods, La Newyorkina can now be found at North 3rd St Market, 103 North 3rd St in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (along with seasonal popups and brick and mortar locations in the West Village and Red Hook). That’s where we picked up this “little” postprandial treat – strawberry on top, horchata in a supporting role. ¡Que rico!
 
 

Kanafeh

Instagram Post 12/13/2018

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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!

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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!
 
 

Purple Dough – Ube Leche Flan

Instagram Post 10/3/2018

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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!
 
 

Putri Mandi

Instagram Post 10/24/2018

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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.