Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Paris Baguette

This new addition to the category of sweets I've dubbed "performance confectionery" comes courtesy of my former colleague Candace, now a teacher (and Sweet Travel corespondent) in South Korea.

Inside a primly-wrapped package from Paris Baguette (a popular chain of bakeries found throughout Korea) were 16 nuggets of yeot, a quintessentially Korean sweet. This stiff grain-based taffy can be made from rice, wheat, sorghum, or corn, to which may be added various nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and spices. My best guess as to the flavors pictured above (top to bottom): molasses with pine nuts and sesame seeds, toasted soybean flour, peanuts, and ginger.

Yeot is such a complex tradition that specific words differentiate different consistencies and ingredients, including the famed regional variations of various provinces (eg maize or radish). The harder versions are eaten as candy, while softer yeot mixed with therapeutic herbs offers relief from colds and sore throats.

While Paris Baguette is a high-end treat boutique, yeot is more commonly sold by street vendors working from small stalls or carts. In order to attract attention and customers, these vendors take advantage of yeot's Silly Putty-esque properties; although chewy, yeot will shatter like safety glass if hit correctly. Many YouTube videos show vendors cutting a slab of fresh yeot into bite-size pieces by striking a chisel with a huge pair of rattling metal scissors, keeping up a syncopated racket as cut candy shoots into a growing pile. It's a mesmerizing performance, but leaves me wondering if yeot is also a cure for headaches.

Hankering for more? Check out other travel-related food posts at Wanderfood Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kumquats in Syrup

Kumquats in Syrup

Like baby corn, Vienna sausages, and mini donuts, a kumquat's appeal is due, in part, to its infantile charm. But while the fruit might look like a prepubescent orange, it offers a mindbendingly different taste sensation. A fresh kumquat is entirely edible (although some have large seeds), with a sweet rind and contrastingly sour flesh.

You could call kumquats the weird cousins of the citrus family, but the jury's still out; some botanists think kumquats belong to their very own genus, Fortunella. The fruit originated in China and the name translates as "golden orange". The association of kumquats with gold and good fortune is widespread throughout Asia, making the fruit a popular motif during Lunar New Year.

Like good fortune, kumquats can slip away all too easily. In most regions the harvest season is relatively short, and the fresh fruits don't last long. In Asia it's common practice to preserve the wealth of a good kumquat harvest by salt-curing or candying the fruit.

Of the two most common varieties found in the US, the oval-shaped Nagami kumquats I found at Trader Joes are tarter than the rounder, sweeter Marumis, and therefore perfect candidates for candying. I followed the recipe on the Put Up or Shut Up blog, omitting the ginger. I also elected not to remove the seeds, even though they're big; I figured I'd rather spend seconds spitting them out than hours deseeding dozens of tiny fruit (I just have to remember to pass that along to anyone I share the kumquats with...).

Both the fruit and syrup are absolutely delicious--bright and lively and almost overwhelmingly flavorful. I can see kumquats earning a permanent spot in my pantry of grey-day antidotes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Taro Dumplings

Taro Dumplings
Din Tai Fung

The 2010 census shows that Washington state's Asian population has grown by 49.2% in the last decade, with gains distributed unevenly. Statewide, Asians make up 7.6% of the population; in Seattle, 13.8%; and in Bellevue, the upstart tech town just across Lake Washington, the population is 27.6% Asian.

Which might explain why famed Hong Kong dumpling purveyors Din Tai Fung would choose to locate their "Seattle" branch in Bellevue. Although DTF is best known for broth-filled soup dumplings, the white-clad prestidigitators in the glass-walled kitchen also make a range of desserts. Their taro dumplings are succulent rosettes of steamed dough filled with a fluffy, barely sweet, and pale purple paste made from the exotic tuber.
700 Bellevue Way NE #280
Bellevue, WA

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mango Chile Paletas

Mango Chile Paletas

It was meant to be: the day after I spotted a recipe for Mexican-style mango chile paletas in my public library copy of Saveur magazine, I noticed mangoes on sale at the grocery store. These easy-to-make pops are a perfect match for Seattle's dim and blustery spring, with the mango standing in for sunshine and enough red chili to chase off the chill.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bakery Verbena

Cinnamon Twist
Bakery Verbena , $1.75/each

Treat-seekers in Seattle's University District have a new destination: just four months old, Bakery Verbena has firmly taken root in a north Ave house formerly occupied by Blue Dog and the late, lamented, Curio Confections.

Verbena owner Jan Sailus learned the baking trade back in Pennsylvania. After several attempts to talk her way into an apprenticeship, Sailus finally found a baker willing to take her on--on the condition that she agree to take over the business. Under Sailus, that bakery not only thrived, but expanded into a sit-down eatery.

Sailus is at Verbena early each morning, baking a wide variety of sweet and savory pastries. Most of her products are familiar classics done extraordinarily well, with balanced flavors and ideal textures. The cinnamon twist is flaky and tender, rich but light, spicy but not too sweet; it's a luxurious snack that you can polish off without a regrettable sugar hangover.

In order to both minimize waste and connect with the community, any of the bakery's day-olds are donated to Teen Feed, a Seattle organization that assists homeless and hungry youth.
Verbena also has a spot the in the P-Patch community garden across the street; look for uber-local herbs and veggies to show up in baked goods later this summer.

Bakery Verbena

5509 University Way NE
Seattle, WA
(206) 257-4798

Bakery Verbena on Urbanspoon