Saturday, March 30, 2013

Honey Coconut Marshmallows

Honey Coconut Marshmallows
Sweet Coconut Bakery, $7.75/bag

A single bag of fresh honey coconut marshmallows from Hazel Lao's Sweet Coconut Bakery can cancel out a lifetime's reluctant memories of stale, chalky Stay Pufts.  Hazel uses honey instead of corn syrup, and dusts her marshmallows with velvety shredded coconut instead of cottonmouth-inducing starch.  The plus-sized squares are as plump as a toddler's tummy, meaning that you don't have to dissolve them in cocoa or melt them over a fire to render them edible. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Abu Afif Sweets

Assorted nougat
Abu Afif Sweets

Established in Baghdad in 1973, Abu Afif Sweets makes a wide range of traditional Arabic pastries and candy.  The descendants of founder Mounir Jamal's have continued to expand into new markets, adding more modern sweets such as chocolate to their offerings at a growing number of retail stores. 

Luckily at least a few of Abu Afif's fresh sweets travel well, making plastic-wrapped bites like those pictured a great souvenir of the region.  On the top left is a square of something that may be called helawa (I'm guessing--it's not identified by name on the Abu Afif website), pistachios held together by a dense, chewy, slightly sticky, and translucent brown gel.  To the right, the same helawa is surrounded by milky nougat and a strip of qarmar-el-deen, a tart apricot fruit leather.  On the bottom is a ball of the same nougat simply caked in pistachios. 

Versions of nougat have been made and enjoyed throughout the Arab world for centuries.  In Iraq it's known at min el sama (or mann al-sama, etc.).  In Iran, it's gaz, derived from from gaz-angebin, a reference to an indigenous tree.  White, nut-studded panish turrón was probably the product of long-ago Moorish settlement, and it likely influenced the development of Italian torrone

Since nougat is such a tradition in the Middle East, I wondered why all of the recipes I found online called for corn syrup, a relatively modern ingredient.  Wikipedia to the rescue!  The sap that gives gaz its name is found on the plant but doesn't come from it:  "The sticky white substance, exuded from the anus of the last instar nymph of a small insect which lives on the plant, is collected annually and is combined with other ingredients including pistachio or almond kernels, rosewater and egg white."  Corn syrup is a modern substitute for the insect excretion. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Norwegian Heritage Day

Leif Erikson Hall, $4

Although the programming at the annual Norwegian Heritage Day at Seattle's Leif Erikson Hall focused on parades, prizes, dances, and speeches, it was sometimes be hard to hear what was happening over the sounds of crispbreads being crunched, lutefisk being sampled, and spoons scraping the bottom of bowls. 

Visitors to the upstairs lunch buffet could cap off a light meal of soup and open-faced sandwiches with one of the most stupefying desserts ever created.  Rømmegrøt is literally "sour cream porridge," a soup of sour cream, whole milk, and butter thickened with flour, seasoned with salt, and dressed for the table with melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon.  It's an historic and traditional Norwegian dish, eat both as a meal in itself, and as a special occasion dessert.  

I could barely keep my eyes open after finishing my bowl, an one woman I spoke with suggested that might have been part of the point.  During Norway's short but glorious summers it was common practice to send young people out to country to keep an eye on the grazing herds.  Back in their camps for the evening, a bowl of sleep-inducing rømmegrøt served as dessert might have helped to discourage the young people from engaging in any late-night hanky panky. 

At the Kaffestua downstairs, a busy team of volunteers offered made-to-order Norwegian treats.  Lacy krumkake wafers ($.50/each) were cooked in a special iron, then wrapped around conical wooden forms while still warm and pliable. 

Another specialty iron produced Norwegian waffles ($.50/section or $2/whole) with a distinctive heart shape.  

Over at the lefse station, rounds of dough were rolled out paper-thin, griddled until puffy and covered in brown patches, then covered in butter, sugar, and cinnamon and rolled into tubes for convenient snacking.  

The volunteer pictured made it look so easy that I imagined she must have been making lefse since infancy--but not so.  She explained that rolling out the dough was considered by her family to be such an important task, it was only entrusted to the most mature and responsible women.  Her own grandmother refused to teach her the secrets of the rolling pin until she was married with children of her own. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cakes of Paradise

Rainbow Cake
Cakes of Paradise, $3.95/slice

Sink your fork into a little Aloha at either of Cakes of Paradise's two area locations.  Hawaiian baker Mary Buza-Sims' personal recipes were the starting point for this family business now run by her nephew and two sons.  The light, flavorful cakes feature tropical flavors like pineapple, passion fruit, and coconut.  Three-layer Rainbow Cake combines strawberry, lime, and orange cake, with guava, lime, and passion fruit topping.  You can pick up a slice or order a full sheet, which comes decorated with a fresh orchid. 

Cakes of Paradise 
6322 6th Ave S
Seattle, WA

East Valley Business Park
281 SW 41st Street
Bldg # 13 East
Renton, WA

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Survival Crackers and Shelter Candy

Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum

Built in 1902, Fort Worden is one of three bases that make up the Northwest's "Triangle of Fire," an interconnected artillery system designed to repel any attempts at a sea invasion of the Puget Sound.  Although the Fort was decommissioned in 1953 without a single aggressive shot ever having been fired, today's Fort Worden State Park and museums contain countless reminders of just how tense times could get for the hundreds of men once stationed in the Fort's damp concrete bunkers. 

While sweets can often appear frivolous, a couple of displays at the Coastal Artillery Museum remind us that as sources of quick, comforting energy, sweets are ideal to have around when the s**t hits the fan.  The Museum's mock fallout shelter is stocked with 31.5-pound tins (photo above) of 756 long-lasting "Bulgur Type" survival wafers; they're made from wheat, shortening, and salt--with a generous amount of corn syrup to make them more palatable. 
The Museum also displays small cubic "Carbohydrate Supplements" (photo below):  "In addition to the three types of survival crackers there was also a Carbohydrate Supplement which became known as 'Shelter Candy' and is shown above.  This came in two flavors, Cherry and Pineapple, and was basically hard sugar. "

Other displays reveal that even everyday life at Fort Worden had its sweet side.  One case contains illustrated cookbooks designed for military mess halls; the books are opened to recipes for cinnamon rolls and "sugared snails."  A collection of souvenir menus testify to the lavish nature of the Fort's annual Christmas feast;  the dessert section of each menu features up to a dozen different cakes and pies--along with fruit and cigarettes. 

Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum 
Fort Worden Building 201
200 Battery Way
Port Townsend, WA 


Friday, March 15, 2013

Pippa's Real Tea

Scone and clotted cream
Pippa's Real Tea, $2

In the ranks of things that taste better than they sound, clotted cream is right up there with fish fingers.  Thick and insanely rich, this luxurious spread is a staple treat in Britain's dairy-farming regions. 

There are a couple of ways of making clotted cream, the easiest being to slowly reduce cream until it's as thick as spackle.  A friend's grandmother used to make a new batch nightly, setting the saucepan of cream in a bain marie over low heat before going to bed; she woke each morning to find the perfectly thickened cream topped with a golden crust of crystallized milkfat--as cheerful and more reliable than the morning sun!

There are even more ways of enjoying clotted cream, in or on baked goods or ice cream, in fudge, on fruit...An Afghan version is mixed with tea and aerated to yield a fuschia beverage enjoyed on special occasions. 

At Pippa's Real Tea in Port Townsend, a container of clotted cream accompanies small, fresh scones and strawberry jam.  You can also order a pot of one of Pippa's dozens of loose-leaf teas to create the classic mid-afternoon snack known in England as a "cream tea."   The farther you get from Devon and Cornwall, the greater your risk that the "cream" component of a cream tea will whipped rather than clotted--but Pippa's doesn't disappoint!

Pippa's Real Tea
636 Water St
Port Townsend, WA

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pastry by Anca

Pastry Design by Anca, $4.75/bag

Anca Hasson has been making Port Townsend a sweeter place since first starting to sell her pastries at the local farmers market in 2007.   As a child in Romania, Anca entertained herself by making desserts out of the limited ingredients available under rationing; as a young adult she was studying nursing in Alaska when a part-time job at a bakery reignited her childhood passion. 

Today Anca's products are available from many Olympic Peninsula outlets, including the Chimacum Corner Farmstand, Port Townsend's Co-op and Farmers Market, and the Tyler Street Cafe, a downtown PT restaurant owned by Anca's husband, John.

Her massive, tender shortbread cookies (above) come in a range of flavors, including espresso-pecan, and lemon with cornmeal. 

 The chocolate ganache cookie ($2.50 at Tyler Street) has a delicate crust, a gooey chocolate core, and a belt of buttery chopped pistachios. 

The pine nut cookies ($5.25/bag at Chimacum Corner) are perfumed pillows of egg white and almond flour studded with extravagant quantities of toasted kernels. 

Pastry Design by Anca
40-C Seton Rd
Port Townsend, WA

(360) 440-7534