Over the past five days, the entire Eater Universe paid a great, big coast-to-coast salute to all things dessert with Sweets Week. Candies were mapped, bakeries photographed, and a whole lot of excellent stories were shared both from our 23 cities and Eater National. Below are some of the best — the stories that caught our editors’ attentions and spurred conversations.
Our New Orleans editor unraveled the history of pralines, while in Dallas the myth of the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe was dispelled. In Boston, one writer turned the spotlight on a local erotic bakery, which is as fun to look at as it is to read. Find too, several essential guides to everything from ice cream terms to Indian desserts and an illustrated journey through Seattle’s Asian sweets scene. Don’t forget to feast your eyes on Eater critic Bill Addison’s favorite desserts. Here, now, are 11 of the top long form stories from Eater Sweets Week.
It was a trip to New York to visit her sister that sealed Novak’s fate: Her sister was bringing dirty cakes to work — in those days, you could get away with that, recalls Novak — but the cakes, which were very expensive, tasted like cardboard. Novak, who had no baking experience, thought she could bring the concept of erotic baked goods back to Boston but do a better job than that New York purveyor of mediocre penis cakes. With Boston’s large student population and gay community, she saw a promising niche. She took some baking classes but mostly learned as she went, and she also got some help from her father, who had been in the restaurant business.
Fertel believes that vendors began selling pralines on the city's streets as early as the 1860s. It was common then to see Black women selling wares in the French Quarter — coffee and calas (Creole rice fritters that are pretty difficult to find these days), waffles and pies. Praline vendors were likely regarded as fixtures by the 1880s, when New Orleans was entering a booming new era. The World Cotton Centennial (aka the World's Fair) would've been underway. The city was emerging as a popular dining destination, and as tourists disembarked from trains in the heart of the Quarter, exiting near the French Market, they would encounter numerous stalls overflowing with food, meat, and produce. It's here that many pralinieres likely walked up and down the market with their baskets, singing songs about their homemade candy to lure in potential customers.
At the first place, there were six mini eclairs, a candle tucked into each one by a friend. The second restaurant served a gigantic baked Alaska, properly set aflame. I also ordered a molten chocolate cake, a steamed lemon pudding, a slice of apple-cranberry pie, an ice cream sundae with extra cherries, and a plate of cookies and milk. At the final spot there was crème caramel, tarte tatin, chocolate soufflé with vanilla bean crème anglaise, a perfect rectangle of opera cake, a slice of almond-pear tart, profiteroles filled with strawberry ice cream, and a bowl of chocolate mousse studded with bits of candied orange. You could say that the six eclairs were a cheat, but that’s beside the point. Ever since, I’ve been convinced that everyone should order dessert — every dessert — after every meal.
There are countless versions of the Neiman Marcus cookie myth, but the basic story is as follows: A woman visited "Neiman-Marcus Cafe" in Dallas and ordered a dessert after her dinner — the Neiman Marcus cookie. The woman was so enthralled by the delicious cookie that she asked an employee at the cafe if she could have the recipe. When the employee declined, the woman asked to purchase the recipe, and was told that it would cost her "two-fifty." When the woman received her VISA statement a month later, she’d been charged $285 — $10 each for two salads, $20 for a scarf, and $250 for the famous cookie recipe.
But what is ice cream, as its most basic? American-style ice cream is a base of cream, milk, sugar, and often eggs that is cooked, cooled, and then churned in a frozen container until it partially freezes while air is incorporated, yielding a frozen but creamy treat. The ratio of dairy fat to sugar is crucial to the product’s final texture. Flavorings like vanilla and chocolate are usually added before the ice cream base is churned. Philadelphia-style ice cream does not contain eggs and is usually sweeter. Milk ice is made without cream; French-style ice cream is always made with cream and eggs; Italian gelato is made with more milk than cream and does not always contain eggs.
When it comes to selecting an Indian restaurant, most people choose the spot that creates the best chicken tikka masala or palak paneer. Dessert is often an afterthought and the less knowledgeable diner might just stick with the basics, from the ubiquitous Indian donut hole, known as gulab jamun, to the spongy ricotta cheese balls, rasgulla.
But diners with a sweet tooth should consider a variety of other options, including Indian ice cream kulfi, sweetened yogurt srikhand and carrot halwa.
The only food trends that make me nervous are the nutrition-based ones, where the atmosphere can shift from a unified celebration of something delicious to a paranoid witch hunt. Remember the ‘90s? We went so far down the fat-free rabbit hole that fettuccine alfredo became a saucy Freddy Krueger that could sneak into your dreams and kill you if you weren’t vigilant. After fat, carbs took over as the food version of that video from The Ring, and everyone started expecting to drop dead seven days after eating a hamburger bun.
Now sugar is the bogeyman, and people are treating cans of soda like they're demonic clowns, ready to pop out at any second. That’s a huge buzzkill, and I’m here to make a case for sugar before we all start trading dried stevia leaves as currency.
Tiramisu — that slice of cake or cup layered with mascarpone, sponge cake, savoiardi (also known as ladyfingers, those sponge cake biscuits shaped like thick digits), drizzled with espresso and dusted with cocoa powder — is another story. Unlike sfogliatelle or the cannoli,tiramisu doesn’t fall among the OGs of Italian desserts, and it didn’t earn a proper introduction into America’s restaurant world until the 1980s. But it has never gone away: Today, you’d be hard pressed to visit a red sauce joint or regional Italian spot and not find it; as its name "tiramisu"points out, the sugar-, coffee-, and sometimes booze-laced treat garnered a rabid following thanks to its ability to act as as a "pick me up."
Grasping the foundations of baking served me well when I became a writer: The same guidelines of structure and freedom apply. My time in restaurants also imbued in me some particularly strong opinions about sweets, opinions I carry over into my work as a food critic. I most admire pastry chefs who value simplicity and clarity. I loathe over-wrought desserts that favor intellectualism over deliciousness; plates painted with saucy drips and drabs are often distractions from dry pieces of torn cake or adamantine sorbets. I believe the finale of a meal should send you out into the world again feeling delighted and comforted, a lullaby rather than a heavy metal anthem.
Crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside — the opening refrain for many a delectable treat. The sweet potato mochi donuts at Revel are no exception, delivering the subtle and satisfying taste of sweet potato with a sweet and buttery caramel sauce and garam masala-spiced pecans. Perfect for fall, and even more so with a cup of coffee at brunch.
Sadly, they are no longer personally baked by the Girl Scouts themselves. Every Girl Scout Cookie sold in America is produced by one of two big bakeries: Little Brownie Bakers (which is actually a subsidiary of Keebler), or ABC Smart Cookies. Troops choose which baker they purchase from, and each baker makes them using slightly different recipes and different names. That’s right, Peanut Butter Patties and Tagalongs are basically the same thing from different companies, as are Caramel DeLites and Samoas, and Peanut Butter Sandwiches and Do-Si-Dos. (Thin Mints are Thin Mints no matter where you are in the country, though.)
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