Friday, December 28, 2012

Medovik Torte

Medovik Torte
European Foods, $7.49/lb

Although honey, sugar, and "sweetener" sit side-by-side on most coffee shop counters, each flavor represents such a different stage of human history that a book I'm reading distinguishes between the Ages of Honey, Sugar, and Science. 

The use of honey predates written history, and versions of honey cake are known from ancient Greece and Egypt.  In many parts of Europe, the baking of honey-rich breads and cakes was first associated with religious communities and then with regulated guilds.  In the middle ages in Slovenia, artisan bakers specialized in honey cake, and their daughters' dowries were barrels of cake dough with a 30-year shelf life.  

With the arrival of industrialization, sugar took a big slice out of honey's market share, but areas of eastern Europe have seen a recent revival of honey-infused foods.  The Czech or Slovakian medovnik is a decorated sweet bread, often heart-shaped and given as a sentimental gift.  The Polish miodownik or Russian medovik torte is sophisticated party fare; thin cakes of honey sponge spackled together with creamy caramel frosting and flocked with a fuzzy layer of its own crumbs.  

What these cakes have in common with each other and with those barrels of Slovenian dough is a remarkable longevity, thanks to honey's humectant and anti-bacterial properties.  Decorated medovnik bread harden into long-lasting decorations while mature medovik torte develops a richer flavor and more delicate texture--allowing Seattle's European Foods to import perfectly edible cake all the way from an East Coast bakery. 

European Foods
13520 Aurora Ave N
Seattle WA
206 / 361-2583

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vietnamese Almond cookies

Almond Cookies 
Huong Binh, $4/bag

Huong Binh's housemade almond tuiles are like fortune cookies let off the leash:  free-form pools of delicately flavored batter, topped with a pinch of sliced almonds, and griddled until perfectly golden and crisp. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Almond Horn

Almond Horn
P.S. Suisse, $2.85

Langley, Washington is not so much small as concentrated:  you could drive in one end and out the other in about 45 seconds, or you could pull over and spend all day exploring bookshops, cafes, spas, boutiques, the world's best-organized thrift store, and, at the far end of a tiny pedestrian mall, the P.S. Suisse bakery.  

Originally from Ligerz in western Switzerland, Peter Boden served a 3-year apprenticeship in Davos then worked as a confectioner and pastry chef in hotels and restaurants around Europe.  After moving to America, he first worked in Illinois, then Michigan, then relocated again to Colorado--as much for the skiing as for the kitchensSome of the framed memorabilia on the walls at P.S. Suisse comes from this period, including a feature story on the Vail Grand Marnier Chef's ski race, with a picture of Peter schussing down a slopes in apron and toque 

After several years as the co-owner of Vail's Alpenrose restaurant (est. 1975), Peter took some time off to concentrate on producing his sought-after chocolate sculptures and paintings...and somehow ended up in Langley, WA, in a tiny shop at the end of a small mall.  I would've liked to ask about that, but the lunch rush crowding the bakery's few tables put a damper on investigation.  

Peter's wife Sandra covers the front of the house, hustling plates and extracting pastries from the crowded cases.  The cookie choices include spitzbuben (or "rascals," two-layer sandwiches with jam filling peeking out through holes in the upper cookie), linzer (similar to spitzbuben but made with hazelnut dough), shortbread Orcas painted with milk or dark chocolate, and almond horns (above) wrought from mildly sweet marzipan dough, dark chocolate, and a glassy sugar-egg-almond glazeThere are also strudels, tarts, danishes, Napoleons, croissants, and a shelf full of breads.  

As the shop's sole baker and cook, Peter has plenty to do in back.  In addition to keeping the cases and bread rack full and whipping up lunch plates, there are the seasonal specials.  During my visit Peter was hard at work filling orders for Engadin nusstorte, a shortcrust pastry stuffed with walnuts, honey, and cream. A traditional holiday-time treat, the Engadin is named for the valley surrounding St. Moritz and is a soft-spoken reminder of the poverty endured by generations of Swiss villagers; the Engadin recipe probably spread as bakers went further and further afield in search of work.  
P.S. Suisse
221 2nd St #12A
Langley, WA


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Passports with Purpose Sweepstakes

Passports with Purpose is a group of travel bloggers who band together each year to raise money for an overseas development project.  In 2010, they raised more than $60,000 to support village construction in India; in 2011, PwP raised $90,000 towards building two libraries in Zambia.  

This year's project focuses on supplying clean water to communities in rural Haiti in partnership with  I'm thrilled to be taking part!
How it works:  
All of us participating bloggers have pledged awesome items for the PwP Sweepstakes.  Between now and December 11th, visit
to check out the prizes on offer.  Each $10 donation will support the project AND enter you in the drawing for whatever prize catches your eye.  

My prize:
When I'm not busy researching and writing about sweets, I make jewelry.  While the two pursuits might seem very different, they appeal to me for many of the same reasons:  craftsmanship, nostalgia, and the opportunity to see more clearly what people value and how they express their feelings for one another. 

My double-sided vitrine lockets were inspired by Victorian lockets designed for holding fragile treasures such as miniature paintings, butterfly wings, fabric, or locks of hair.   I loved the idea so much, I spent more than a year just figuring out how to make them!  

Each vitrine is made up of two curved lenses held together in a sterling silver frame.  To customize a vitrine, just unscrew the the loop at the top to open the frame; put paper, pictures, or small objects between the lenses, and screw the frame closed again. 

I make each locket myself using watch crystals and sterling silver.  They're available in S (25mm), M (35mm), and L (45mm).  Each one comes with a hand-finished sterling chain that adjusts to three different lengths, and travels in a sturdy steel tin.  

For the PwP Sweepstakes, I'm offering a vitrine in your choice of size, PLUS, if you would prefer not to fill your vitrine yourself, I'll provide a custom design service.  Just send me the small items of your choice; I'll arrange them in the appropriate vitrine and send it right back to you.* 

Heading out on a journey?  This is the perfect accessory:  since you can change the contents every day, it'll go with everything!

Or just getting home?  Make a meaningful memento by filling a vitrine with a ticket stub, some beach sand, a dried leaf, or other small souvenir. 

*Here's my fine print: 
It is the winner's responsibility to send me any items for inclusion in the vitrine pendant.  l will contact the winner for approval before any irreversible alterations (eg, cutting, gluing) are made to the items.  The prize must be redeemed by June 30, 2013. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tarte Nouveau

Cherry Almond Tart
Tarte Nouvean, $4.50

No wheat?  So what!  Shelley Baumgarten whips up combinations of tapioca, rice and other flours for crusts so toothsome you won't even miss the old amber waves.  Her Tarte Nouveau baked goods are certified gluten-free and celiac safe.  The rotating menu features seasonal specials like this cherry almond tart and luxurious year-round favorite flavors such as chocolate, marzipan and mousse.  Order online for free delivery within Seattle or find Tarte Nouveau in booth 23 at the Fremont Street Market, Sundays 10am-5pm.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Amaretti Morbidi

Amaretti Morbidi
World Market, $3.99/box

Amaretti morbidi:  what a great expression!  Alas, instead of being death-obsessed little goth biscuits, these are soft-textured versions of the classic Italian cookie.  

Although almonds are often substituted, the primary ingredient in old-fashioned amaretti is apricot kernels; "amaretti" refers to a slight bitterness that comes from the kernels' natural cyanide content.  

Legend has it that when the Cardinal of Milan made an unexpected stop in the town of Saronno in the early 18th century, one devout young couple whipped up these cookies with the only ingredients they happened to have on hand:  apricot kernels, sugar, and egg whites (one wonders what they were planning to have for dinner...?).  Presented in colorful paper twists, the cookies were a hit and the couple's descendants have been making them ever since; their company, Chiostro di Saronno, is still based in the cloisters of a former monastery in central Saronno.  

Other competitors have been producing amaretti for nearly as long, with Lazzaroni being perhaps the best known internationally.  Lazzaroni has been a pioneer in both manufacturing and marketing, industrializing the production of its cookies in the 1800s and shipping its products in eye-catching packages since 1888.   

Most amaretti are hard enough to shatter when bitten, unless dunked first into tea or coffee.  The amaretti morbidi is a relatively new innovation.  Although its surprisingly chewy texture calls to mind the chemical laced "Soft Batch" cookies of the 1980s, there are no surprises on the ingredients list: 48% apricot kernels and 2% almonds plus sugar and egg whites.  Perhaps the heavy airtight plastic wrapper inside the paper twist is the real secret ingredient. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Behind the Museum Cafe

Behind the Museum Cafe, $2.75

Certain things about the Pacific Northwest have helped generations of homesick Japanese visitors and settlers to feel more at home:  the stands of tall, dark cedars, the intricate coastlines with little islands emerging from blankets of haze, the familiar grandeur of Mt. Rainier or Mt. Hood.  

Now add to that Portland's Behind the Museum Café. 

In the neighborhoods where I lived and worked in Tokyo there was almost always at least one gem of a coffeeshop.  While they varied wildly in style and size, all tended to be tricky to find and strongly atmospheric, with an unusual selection of carefully prepared drinks and food. 

Behind the Museum fits that description--except for it's relatively prominent location in back of the Portland Art Museum.  It's a narrow, high-ceilinged room in a modern glass highrise; a selection of Japanese antiques and contemporary crafts adds warmth to all that chrome. 

Owner Tomoe Horibuchi was a cafe manager and culinary instructor in San Francisco before feeling the pull of the Pacific Northwest.  She's dedicated to cultivating a space that's more than just a cafe, offering exhibition opportunities to artists, tables large enough to accommodate small group meetings, and regular demonstrations of Japanese traditions such as the incense ceremony and calligraphy.  

The cafe serves tea, locally-roasted coffee, Japanese beer and sake.  Appetizers and small meals are made in house, with organic ingredients wherever possible.  In addition to cookies and pastries, Horibuchi handmakes fresh Japanese confections such as the manju of the day above:  a small, soft bird filled with smooth red bean paste and flavored with toasted soybean powder.  

Behind the Museum Cafe 
1229 SW 10th Ave
Portland, OR

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Peach Pickles

Peach Pickles

Writing in The Flavor Thesaurus, Niki Segnit observes that, "As a society lady at the turn of the twentieth century, you were nobody until you'd had a peach-based dessert named after you."  She cites Sarah Bernhardt's peches aiglon, singer Blanche d'Antigny's coupe d'Antigny, and the peaches-and-kirsch concoction known as "Princess Alexandra".  

Around the same time but a world away, the women who settled the Pacific Northwest were also intent on peaches and posterity, making summer's bounty last a little longer with the help of peach pickles. Jacqueline B. Williams includes one 19th century recipe in The Way We Ate: Pacific Northwest Cooking, 1843-1900; since it called for nine pounds of peaches and some spices that I don't keep in the pantry, I made a few adjustments.

Peach Pickles

-Wash and dry 1 1/2 lbs of ripe but firm peaches; halve them and remove the pits. 
-Combine 1/2 lb sugar, 1/2c white vinegar, 2 sticks cinnamon, 12 cloves, and 1 Tbs cardamom seeds; bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and reduce the liquid to a syrup.  
-Remove the syrup from the heat and gently add the fruit, stirring to coat. 
-Follow your usual canning procedure or pack the cooled fruit and syrup in a jar and store in the fridge.  
-Eat as-is or with vanilla ice cream, and use the delicious syrup as a dessert topping or drink flavoring.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

St Demetrios Greek Festival

St Demetrios Greek Festival, $5

The organizers of the annual Greek Festival at Seattle's St Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church have clearly learned a few things since the festival was first held in 1960.  After fifty-two years, they have celebrating down to a science.  

Entering the festival is like arriving in a foreign country:  exchange some cash for festival tokens and pick up a helpful map.  Get the lay of the land by attending an informative sanctuary tour, then pick up some souvenirs at one of the shops or bookstores.  Having worked up an appetite, chose from sit-down meals in the dining room, beer and snacks at the adults-only tavernas, or coffee and sweets--available by the box from the Agora market or by the piece from the Kafenion

The bougatsa (above) is served warm from the oven, highlighting its great interplay of textures:  crinkly phyllo pastry, creamy custard, and crunchy walnuts.  Also available: 

Baklava:  a sweet sandwich of walnuts, cinnamon, and buttered phyllo, soaked in syrup
Bakalava sundae: a new spin on the old favorite, chopped baklava pastry with espresso, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream
Kourambiethes:  butter cookies coated in compacted powdered sugar
Kataifi:  shredded phyllo pastry with walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar
Pasteli: candy made from sesame seeds and honey
Galaktoboureko: semolina custard with crispy buttered phyllo, soaked in orange blossom syrup
Koulouraki: pretty braided butter cookies
Melomakarona:  olive oil cookies flavored with orange, brandy, honey, and walnuts
Loukoumades:  doughnuts with honey and cinnamon

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cherry Shrub and Shrubet


Acetic acid is powerful stuff, capable of clearing your sinuses, cleaning your bathroom, or transforming bland and perishable cucumbers into zingy pickles with a near-infinite shelf life.   

Along with water, acetic acid is the essential ingredient in vinegar--but it need not be the dominant flavor.  Brewing vinegar directly from tasty ingredients such as fruits and grains ("pure vinegars") or adding these ingredients to vinegar prior to a second, shorter fermentation process ("compound vinegars") can result in something more like a liqueur:  smooth, intense, aromatic, and even drinkable, usually as an apertif, digestif, or diluted into a kind of spritzer.  In many places, that mixture of fruit vinegar and water or soda water is known as "shrub". 

Home-brewed compound vinegars have a long history and after a quiet spell have seen a recent bump in prominence.   Making your own is easy (shrub is the jam of lazy DIYers) and relatively cheap if you use the fecund-est local fruit of the moment (in my case, cherries).  

Cherry Shrub

4 lbs cherries, washed, sorted, stemmed, and pitted
4 c vinegar (I used Bragg's apple cider; depending on your fruit you could use white, balsamic...)
1/2 c sugar (to taste)

-Put the fruit in a large non-reactive pot or several glass jars and add enough vinegar to cover.  
-Let the fruit sit, covered, at room temperature temperature for a week, stirring well each day. 
-On Day 7 or 8, stir in the sugar and heat the fruit to a low boil for about an hour.  
-Remove from the heat and when the mix is cool enough to handle, strain the liquid into clean jars.  Reserve the fruit solids (see below). 
-Mix chilled shrub with water or soda water to taste, or sip straight.  


Bonus:  Shrub-et!

Why waste all that yummy fruit mush?  If shrub makes for a refreshing drink, it's off-the-charts invigorating as a frozen treat.  

leftover shrub fruit (of course this is best done with fruits such as pitted cherries that are entirely edible)
sugar to taste
spices and flavorings to taste
approx. 2 T vodka (depending on the volume of fruit)

-If your fruit is chunkier that you like in a frozen dessert, whizz it in a food processor.  
-Add just enough water to dissolve about 1/2 c of sugar; stir, shake in a jar, or heat gently until the sugar grains completely melt.  
-Mix the fruit and syrup.  
-Add any desired spices or flavorings (to my cherry mush I added a little cinnamon, ground cardamom, and black pepper, plus about 1 T of almond extract).  
-Stir in a little neutrally-flavored alcohol to keep the mush from freezing rock-solid. 
-Pour into a plastic tub or bowl and place in the freezer.  To create a softer texture, break up the ice crystals by raking the shrubet with a fork every hour or so as it freezes, then give it a final fluff about 15 minutes before serving. 

For more on shrub's history and resurgence in popularity, check out this NYT article

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Festival of Fruit


Apple Pie
Tillie's Cafe, $3

A local politician, newspaper cartoonist, and professional baker, Andrew "A.W." Piper sounds like the kind of guy I'd welcome getting stuck next to on a long flight.  In 1889 the "Great Fire" that destroyed much of Seattle leveled his bakery.  The Piper family moved further out of town, to a small group of abandoned loggers' cabins, where they planted a large garden and a fruit orchard.  Piper's heirs later sold the land to the Carkeek family, who donated the area now known as Carkeek Park to the city of Seattle in 1927.  

In 1983 the remains of the overgrown orchard were identified on a slope running along Piper's creek.  A team of volunteers have slowly coaxed the apple, quince, and nut trees back to productivity, preserving a juicy slice of Seattle's horticultural past.  

The park now hosts a "Festival of Fruit" each fall, featuring live music, a cider press, fruit tasting and identification, expert lectures, and an apple pie contest.  Additional apple pies are available by the slice from "Tillie's Cafe", a folding table named in honor of the Pipers' daughter.  The Festival also offers the perfect opportunity to walk off some of that pie; hike around the steep slopes of the Pipers' verdant orchard, take in the boozy perfume of the windfall apples, and think about how much has changed in the last 100 years--and how much hasn't. 


Friday, September 7, 2012

Port Gamble Tea Room

Kahlua truffle
For the Love of Chocolate, $2.60

Port Gamble is a 19th century company town that grew up to house and serve the employees of a single dominant industry, the local sawmill.  When that mill finally closed in 1995, after 142 years of continuous operation, the town was able to capitalize on its "frozen in time" appeal.  Although there are less that a thousand full-time residents, tourists regularly fill the parking areas and swarm the sidewalks for special events or fairs, or just for the pleasure of visiting the little shops and restaurants that now occupy the preserved wooden buildings.  

Taste Port Gamble is the superhero of these businesses, a single tidy front that conceals three distinct identities.  By day it's the Tea Room at Port Gamble, offering English-style formal tea options, including chocolate high tea, cream tea, and tea sandwiches; loaner picture hats and feather boas are available for any guests who arrive under-accessorized.  On Friday and Saturday evenings it transforms into Bistro by Night, featuring tapas, schnitzel, salmon, and stroganoff.  And night or day, guests can choose from a variety of flavorful chocolate truffles, made in-house under the For the Love of Chocolate label

Taste Port Gamble
32279 Rainier Street 
Port Gamble WA 
360 / 297-4225

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blackberry Cafe


Wild Blackberry Crumble
Blackberry Cafe, $6.95

Joyce is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it highway town with one attraction that tempts travelers to pull over:  the deliciously invasivore Blackberry Cafe. 

Although Washington state does have indigenous blackberries, those timid natives faded into the background with the introduction of Himalayan and Evergreen varieties in the late 19th century.  The aggressive interlopers were first grown as food crops, but quickly jumped the fence to spread unchecked across the state.  

There are ongoing efforts to eradicate invasive blackberries, but in the meantime they're a dependable source of fat, juicy fruit for the Blackberry Cafe.  The Cafe buys blackberries from the local foragers throughout the summer, stockpiling enough to make it through the winter. 

4-year-old establishment isn't shy about its specialty.  The menu features blackberry BBQ sauce, blackberry salad, blackberry vinagrette, blackberry shakes, blackberry lemonade,  and blackberry creme crepes (reminding me of that scene in "Better Off Dead" when the host mother reels of the menu for her French-themed feast:  "French fries, French toast, French dressing...").  The "Fresh from the Oven" baked goods aren't even on the menu; look instead for an up-to-the-minute white board. 

With summer edging into fall, the blackberry crumble is a perfect match for the transitional weather:  warm berries oozing juice as if they'd just come in from the sun, blanketed with comfortingly crispy, buttery oats. 

Blackberry Cafe
50530 Hwy 112 W
Joyce, WA
360 / 928-0141

Friday, August 31, 2012

Warabi Mochi

Warabi Mochi
Tokara, $4

Mochi is one of Japan's staple foods, a rice-based dough that can be eaten sweet or savory.  While most mochi is made from mochigome, a short-grained glutinous rice, other foods that share mochi's characteristic chewiness are sometimes also known as "mochi".  Warabi mochi gets its springy texture not from rice, but from the starch of bracken ferns.  Translucent and slightly slippery, warabi mochi is a classic Japanese summer sweet, the mere sight of which gives some relief from heat and humidity.  Tokara's version is served with molasses syrup and a dusting of kinako, a powder made from toasted soybeans. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shave Ice

Shave Ice
Shabu Chic, $3

Come summer, communities throughout Asia and the Asian diaspora keep their cool by eating man-made snow piled with with their favorite toppings.  In Hawaii, "shave ice" is drenched in neon-colored syrups, while the Japanese cover their kakigori with stewed fruit, rice dumplings, beans, or green tea, the Chinese eat their baobing snowballs with "eight treasures" such as grass jelly or peanuts, and Filipino halo-halo features bright purple ube and decadent flan.  In almost every case, condensed milk is the favored final touch.  

At Seattle's Little Saigon Fest, restaurant Shabu Chic was offering its own take on the pan-Asian treat:  shaved green tea ice with strawberries, mango, and red beans, glazed with a touch of the ubiquitous condensed milk. 

Viking Days

Danish Hearth, $3

As populations shift and tastes change, the mark of the Scandinavian cultures that shaped many of neighborhoods on Seattle's north side seems to be fading:  the Van de Kamp's windmill in lower Queen Anne is a distant memory, the Scandinavian Bakery building is now a Thai restaurant, and Scandinavian Specialties is Ballard's last remaining source for Nordic imports

But the frenzy of the Nordic Heritage Museum's " Viking Days" celebration suggested that while those cultures may be less obvious today, they are neither gone nor forgotten.  The Museum's parking lot was crowded with Viking reenactments and historical displays, demonstrations of traditional crafts, retail stalls, and plenty of food.  In addition to the usual beer and grill tents, there were regional "hearths," booths dedicated to the foods of a particular country. 

The Danish Hearth's line was longest and slowest, but it gave customers a front row seat as expert volunteers cranked out the only item on the menu:  æbleskiver.  Cooked in special cast iron skillets with dome-shaped indentations, these spherical pancakes are served with jam and a sprinkling of powdered sugar (above).

One volunteer worked non-stop to meet the demand for fresh batter (left), which was then passed down the line to the cooks stationed at portable stoves (right).  

Each new batch started with a hemisphere's worth of batter (left).  As the underside of the batter skinned over, the cook used a skewer to lift the cooked section partway out of the pan, allowing more of the uncooked batter to contact the skillet. 


Little by little, the hemispheres became bowls, then Pac-Men (left), then spherical golden-brown æbleskiver.

At the Icelandic Hearth, there were thin slices of vínarterta ($1), sawed off of a towering stack of cardamom shortcake layered with spicy prune jam.  The recipe for "Vienna cake" dates back to at least the mid-19th century, when European pastry chefs began to have access to refined white "Vienna flour."  It's been a popular cake for Icelandic celebrations ever since, with even fancier rainbow-striped versions made by using a variety of different jams.  After the cake is baked and constructed it is wrapped tightly, then set aside to age for up to two months.  

 After running out of Finnish rice pudding early on, the Finnish Hearth substituted a Norwegian almond cake ($1), as moist and rich as slightly aerated marzipan.