Sunday, June 30, 2013

Recipe: Bircher Muesli

I wish I could say that Bircher muesli is a German invention, but - as popular as it is back home - it was actually developed by a Swiss guy, Maximilian Bircher-Brenner. He was a physician and served it to the patients in his hospital, which shows just how healthy it is. You know me, and you know that the food I love is anything but healthy... But this particular breakfast dish is the perfect blend of goodness and yum.

A few years back I worked the breakfast shift in a 5-star hotel restaurant in Germany, and despite the fact that it started at 6 am (meaning I had to wake up at 4:30 am) and I had to deal with a whole bunch of cranky business people in a stressful environment, there was one thing that kept me on top of my game, always: The hope that I would be able to steal some of the leftover Bircher muesli from the kitchen before I went home.

This hotel had the best Bircher muesli I ever tasted, and unfortunately I was way too lazy to inquire about the recipe and make it at home back then. But last weekend, as I toasted my daily pop tart and brewed my daily cup of green tea I wanted to try something new. So I discovered that there are hundreds of variations of Bircher muesli out there. Even when you google "classic Bircher muesli recipe", every single one of those "classic" recipes is different. What's a girl to do? I went ahead and developed my own. And it is oh so good!

For 2 portions, take:

- 1 cup rolled oats
- 2 tbsp almonds
- 1 apple, grated with skin
- 200 ml apple juice
- 1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 strawberries
- honey

Roast the almonds in a dry pan for a few minutes, just so much that they start to brown. Let them cool, then chop.

I didn't have a grater for the apple, so I simply cut it into thin slices and then into long strips, which worked just fine.

Mix together the oats, almonds, grated apple, and apple juice. Leave to soak in the fridge over night.

In the morning, cut the strawberries into eight pieces each. Add the yogurt, cinnamon, some of the strawberry pieces, and a drizzle of honey to the mixture and stir well. Use remaining strawberry pieces to decorate.

Serve in a bowl. Voilá!

Instead of the almonds and strawberries you might want to add raisins, coconut and/or blueberries. Use your creativity, or simply throw in whichever fruit and seeds you have at home. You can't really go wrong. 

The Bircher muesli will keep in the fridge for about a week. 

Now that's a reason to rise and shine!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Silver Spork

The Silver Spork is one of those little gems with real character. A local, independent deli right across from the Eastern Market in the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood, it is a great spot for people watching and good food that won't break the bank. Apart from ready-made sandwiches, salads, soups and bites such as empanadas, the store offers locally roasted Mayorga coffee, gourmet food items to take home, craft beers and wines, and a large selection of bakery / pastry items that made me squeal with joy. 

I stumbled upon this place by coincidence as a friend was eager to introduce me to the second-hand book store next door, Capitol Hill Books (which is really cool and full of narrow passageways, curious titles and that old-book smell... my friend almost lost me in there!). After unsuccessfully browsing its shelves for half an hour, I was ready for a snack at the market, but the Silver Spork's name and logo caught my attention. And in we went. 

I really just wanted to have a look around, but a very sweet lady changed our minds. She might have been the owner, because she approached us as soon as she saw us wandering around inspecting the displays, and asked whether it was our first time in the store. What followed was a very passionate introduction to "All things Silver Spork" that included the endorsement of a bacon-and-nutella sandwich. Not only could I not say no to such a weird combination, but we were also charmed by the excitement and positivity she radiated.

I took some pictures of the pies and cakes they had on offer, but was sold on "that sandwich". The majority of sandwiches at the Silver Spork are made by Broodjes and Bier, a "Dutch inspired" start-up that has only been around since February, when it was funded via Kickstarter. Their mission is to deliver high-quality, fresh broodjes (Dutch for bread, or sandwich) to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and eventually open their own shop.

The first step is a menu of four specialty sandwiches that are sold under the name Broodje Co. at the Silver Spork 6 days a week (don't go on a Tuesday if you want to try them). I can only really talk about the "Paradiso", which consists of salted bacon, nutella, and freshly sliced strawberries on brioche, however the ingredients used in the other sandwiches also sound delicious and very gourmet. 

The "Paradiso" was good. It didn't really live up to its name, but I enjoyed it and would have it again. I guess the fact that I could prepare this at home takes away some of the appeal. Still, having it at the Silver Spork is special because of its location, the staff and the great number of distractions that present themselves while you sit back and relax. It is really busy around that area, especially on weekends, which makes it fun to stick around for a while and maybe sit outside with a glass of wine. 

Back to the sandwich. The three ingredients blend well together, - the saltiness of the bacon, sweetness of the strawberries, and creamy, rich texture of the Nutella. The brioche is soft and fluffy and doesn't weigh you down, making it great for a snack or light lunch. The strawberries play the biggest role here, rendering this sandwich juicy and fresh, and allowing you to tell yourself that you ate something remotely "healthy". As I said: Enjoyable. Interesting. But not outstanding.

Brownie Points for the "Paradiso" sandwich: 1 out of 3

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Occasionally Cake & Lavender Moon Cupcakery

The short trip south to Alexandria might as well come with a guarantee for a good time, because that is what I have been having without exception. The Old Town is just so irresistibly charming and full of life. King Street encourages you to walk and walk and walk in order to explore all the little shops and restaurants and cafés it has lined up, and once you arrive at the water front you can't help but behave like a typical tourist, taking pictures and enjoying the entertainment of various street artists. 

Most importantly, Old Town Alexandria is a dessert-lover's paradise. I shamefully admit that my last visit was in January, when I had not started this blog yet, but of course I began to taste my way through the many bakeries and ice cream shops and was immediately hooked.

The long-awaited Alexandria Food and Wine Festival took place in the Carlyle District today, and since it failed to satisfy my sweet tooth I urged my friends to drive a little further afterwards, to have a bite and a drink by the water. And once there, I just happened to find two cupcakeries in close vicinity to one another that I could check out while the rest went shopping. They were happy, I was happy, everyone was happy. 

Occasionally Cake 

I first went to Occasionally Cake, a bakery that offers "all things cake" including innovations such as cupcake push pops (layers of cake and frosting in a plastic tube that can be pushed out with a stick), cake truffles and mini bundt cakes. Their passion, however, seems to be the design of large cakes for special occasions, photos of which can be found on their website.

The size of their cupcakes are about comparable to Georgetown Cupcake, so rather small (which is good for people like me who are planning to go someplace else afterwards and eat a second one!), and cost $3 including tax. A fair price. They are beautifully arranged on different kinds of cake stands, and this attention to detail is noteworthy because the entire store looks simply adorable. 

The dominant colors are white and pastel, and there are a lot of bows, polka dots,  and cupcake-themed decorations everywhere, many of which can be purchased (including jewellery, plant pots, and cookie jars shaped like cupcakes). The lady working behind the counter was not very outgoing or cheerful, but hey, everyone can have a bad day. Especially if the weather is so beautiful and you are forced to stay inside.  I just decided not to ask her any questions and went straight for the mojito cupcake, a combination of rum cake and mint lime buttercream.  

The verdict? It was very sweet, and even though I could not make out the rum or mint flavors, I clearly tasted a refreshing and summery lime note.  In terms of texture, the cake was more on the dense side, but the fact that there was just as much frosting as cake made up for that. The frosting was thick and kept its shape even after I had had a few bites. Now, I don't know if that is good or bad. 

All in all it reminded me a bit of the cotton candy cupcake at American Cupcake in San Francisco. What a pity that it didn't come closer to a true mojito flavor, but it was nice enough. And you know I love lots and lots of frosting! Looking at the following picture I wonder if that love should have its limits though.

Lavender Moon Cupcakery

Lavender Moon Cupcakery is located just a few steps off King Street, on S Royal Street. It looks very similar to Occasionally Cake from the outside, the main difference being the slightly more colorful signage. Once you enter, you realize that this powerful pink is practically the identity of the store. 

Walls and chairs and boxes and the staircase are painted in either pink, purple or turquoise, and the decoration is all about vintage and whim. Guests first walk through a cozy seating area - which was packed with young families when I arrived - to get to the back room where cupcakes are displayed on a small counter. There is not much else to this room but the counter and a table with informational brochures about Alexandria's attractions and events; everything is kept very simple. The prices and size of the cupcakes are about the same as at Occasionally Cake.

I had a hard time picking a flavor here. The Lavender Moon Cupcakery offers many original creations such as blood orange dreamsicle, tiramisu, or chocolate turtle. I forgot most of the names right away, because there are unfortunately no signs and the poor girl in the store had to go through each and every flavor with explanations of what the cupcakes were filled or decorated with. My brain only really registered about three of the approximately 12 different flavors of the day. And so I chose the peach & basil, one of their summer specials.

What can I say, it was de-lic-ious. I used to know a guy who called everything "superb" and I always found that a little exaggerated. I mean, how often can you call something superb before "superb" becomes the norm? Well, I never really use this word but now I will: This cupcake WAS superb! Back in January I already tried their vanilla with lemon curd filling, which turned out to be so memorable that I almost considered having that one again today. Now I got the confirmation: The Lavender Moon Cupcakery really is one of the very best cupcake places in the DMV. 

The frosting was to-die-for, just so dreamy creamy that it was similar to tasty fresh whipped cream. And there was lots of it. The cake had tiny pieces of basil baked into it and was very fluffy. I have to admit that both the peach and basil aromas were very subtle, I really had to concentrate hard in order to taste them, but the cupcake presented such a lovely balance of sweetness and freshness and homemade goodness overall that I really couldn't care less. 

The definite winner of this Alexandria cupcake battle is therefore the Lavender Moon Cupcakery. - A serious contender for the title of my favorite cupcake place together with Baked & Wired.

Brownie Points for the mojito cupcake at Occasionally Cake: 1 out of 3
Brownie Points for the peach & basil cupcake at Lavender Moon Cupcakery: 3 out of 3

Lavender Moon Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 21, 2013


I don't know what made this city so crazy for Spanish food, but whenever I am out and about and looking for a place to have lunch, chances are there is at least one tapas restaurant in sight. It might all be José Andrés' fault, the celebrity chef who left his mark on DC with a myriad of establishments serving gourmet fare in small portions. Apart from his pricier options, Boqueria in Dupont Circle and La Tasca in Chinatown/Clarendon are just two of many eateries doing a great job at representing Spanish cuisine in the District.

Yesterday I discovered Pepe, a flauta-sandwich-serving food truck, which ranks on #45 on the list of America's 101 best food trucks. I went to check out the farmers market by the White House, and again, as I was feeling hungry, looked around and found what? Spanish food! 

It is probably no surprise that Pepe is managed by José Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup in consideration of its popularity, the high-quality ingredients used, and prices of up to $20 for a sandwich. The long line of patrons waiting in front of the truck attracted a great deal of attention, and I am not sure if Pepe takes part in the market every Thursday, but since it was parked at one of the main "entrance" points it blocked the traffic for the other vendors at the time. Of course I had to make this line even longer and see what all the excitement was about. Luckily Pepe also serves chocolate hazelnut flautas for dessert, so my blog gave me an excuse to go over budget for the day. 

Flautas are sandwiches made with a very thin, long, crispy bread, much like a slim version of a baguette. The dessert adaptation is a small ice cream sandwich with soft chocolate cookies framing velvety hazelnut ice cream, shaped like a flauta. I loved that its size was perfect for a sweet snack following one of their savory sandwiches, as these are rather filling. The chocolate hazelnut flauta doesn't weigh you down, doesn't make a mess when you eat it, and can definitely not be substituted with a store-bought ice cream sandwich; the taste is refined and a good example of how European desserts differ from American ones in terms of sweetness.

The guys and girls working for Pepe are quick and polite and very organized, and everything on the menu sounds amazing. Just in case you are wondering, I had the Jamón y Queso flauta and can absolutely recommend it. This one is a little messy to eat though: I noticed a puddle of olive oil at my feet after I finished, and needed several tissues to get it off my fingers. 

An expansion of their dessert options is unlikely, so Pepe might not count as a dessert food truck, but the one sweet treat they do offer is great.

Follow the truck on twitter (@pepefoodtruck) or facebook.

Brownie Points: 2 out of 3

Pepe Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Sweet Lobby

You just got to love the Sweet Lobby, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. The name: It's quite original considering their location in the nation's capital, with the tag line "The ultimate advocate for your sweet tooth" .

2. The unpretentious appearance: The Sweet Lobby is hard to miss when walking from the Eastern Market metro station down 8th street, and yet unsuspecting passers-by would never imagine the treat they'd be in for upon entering. Only the logo hints at something "sweet", and a sticker in the window proudly proclaims it the winner of Food Network's Cupcake Wars; but there is no decoration, no cutesy pink flowers or other feminine touches as used by most cupcake bakeries in town. This sets it apart and makes it a destination for male dessert-lovers as much as for female ones.

3. The style: The store is as small as - if not smaller than - you'd expect when you see it from the street. It's a boutique in the truest sense of the word. You go in, make your selection, pay and leave, as there is no seating and I imagine it could get quite crammed around the counter at times. The owners seem to really only care about the presentation of their food, which is neat and classy. Walls, furniture, and packaging are color-coordinated in orange and a dark chocolatey brown which, again, is very gender neutral and tones down the color added by the variety of cupcakes and macarons.  

4. The goods: As stated on their website, the Sweet Lobby is a "boutique bakery destination". It doesn't really focus on one specific type of dessert, but made a name for itself selling high quality French treats including madeleines, éclaires, shortbread, and of course macarons. They probably threw cupcakes into the mix because these are so popular in DC and would attract a bigger crowd, which would then be likely to try their other offers as well. The store's signature invention, the so-called Mac Top, is basically a pairing of a cupcake and a macaron (the latter decoratively sits on top of the frosting).

5. The flavor selection: I found some of the most creative cupcake and macaron flavors at the Sweet Lobby, making it difficult to select only a few items. New creations pop up on the menu on a regular basis, and you could find different treats every single day of the week if you wanted to make this your go-to dessert place. Yes, they are well-known for their participation in Cupcake Wars, but I just had to opt for a classic macaron box (six pieces) after reading names such as olive oil walnut pecorino and blackberry cabernet. Now I understand why people would make their way across the city to the Sweet Lobby when they have other bakeries right around their corner. - You just don't get this variety anywhere else!

6. The prices: The $10 we paid for six macarons is more than o.k., and cupcakes go for $2.75 each (compared to prices ranging from $3-4 in most other local bakeries). Considering everything that has been said and will still be said in this post, the value you get for your money is exceptional.

7. The fun factor: Now, in terms of quality the Sweet Lobby has a small weakness. I wish I could say that everything we tried was outstanding, but it was really hit and miss with the macarons. I'd give them 3 brownie points for the flavor creations, as those already got me excited before I even had a taste, but they didn't get the texture quite right. Macaron Bee in Georgetown did a much better job, delivering authentic French macarons that were chewy, crispy and creamy at the same time. These ranged from too crispy or dense to too soft. 

Nevertheless, my friend and I had so much fun with these treats. My favorite was the caramelized pear goat cheese, which seemed to have fruity chunks of pear in it. The flavors were not too obvious but well balanced. The olive oil walnut pecorino was also great and I could clearly taste the olive oil. The fact that these aromas were used in sweet macarons was weird but memorable. After I reveled in the strawberry basil combination (maybe a little overpowering but interesting) I realized that, in general, herbal flavors in desserts are emerging as a trend. Our least favorite one was the Black & White bubbly. It didn't really have a taste or tingle to it, just a bland sweetness.  The guava was fruity and my friend's favorite, a lot more subtle than the other creations. What I liked better compared to Macaron Bee was the hazelnut praline salted caramel. It was very, very salty, but had less of that thick butter-feel to it. 


8. The location: Up until now, I was not aware that the Eastern Market area was so "happening". We walked by so many restaurants, shops and cafés, all busy with cheerful young brunch patrons and all clustered around two streets. The Sweet Lobby sits at the center of the action and can therefore practically not be missed when you make your way back home after a nice meal in one of the neighboring establishments.

9. The hospitality: I will keep this short. - The girl we talked to was friendly and helpful, gave us lots of information about their best-selling treats and neither rushed nor left us when we took our sweet time. Nice. Very nice.

Caramelized pear goat cheese

10. The potential for repeat visits: I can't wait to go back for cupcakes and madeleines and new flavors and maybe a gift box for a friend's birthday now and then. The variety of their treats is so great that one might (and should) never get bored of this place.

Brownie Points: 2 out of 3 overall, due to the inconsistent texture of the macarons

The Sweet Lobby on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 14, 2013

Recipe: Cream Cheese Croissant Squares

Yesterday I was invited to a pot luck. Naturally, I had spent several days thinking about what type of dessert I was going to make, went to the supermarket to buy very specific ingredients, prepared a batch of delicious bites and took them hot and fresh out of the oven in the morning... and ended up not going. 

"Why? What happened?", you might ask.

The weather forecast had been looking grim all day long, with predictions of thunderstorms and minor flooding. So when, from one moment to another, big fat rain drops started smacking against my window, the wind caused several doors in my apartment building to slam shut, and the sky turned a dark grey that was kind of scary, I figured that my pot luck plans were probably cancelled. And I turned to my dessert, which was making eyes at me from the kitchen counter. In my defense, the situation practically called for a warm blanket and some comfort food. So what can I say... I ended up eating almost a quarter of the dessert, which means a quarter of a 13 x 9 inch casserole dish full of croissant dough, cream cheese, sugar, cinnamon, pecan nuts and butter. And yet it hit me by surprise when I suddenly got a horrible stomach ache. That was exactly around the time when the sky began to clear and I could have, theoretically, gone out after all. 

Trying to explain to the host why I could not come to her party - because a large part of the dish I prepared for the occasion had landed in my stomach and was too much for it to handle - did not go down so well. Yet it shows how good this dessert was. 

It's sweet, it's crunchy, it's creamy, and it goes perfectly with a cup of coffee. Moreover, I thought it had to be eaten warm, until I cut it into small squares to share with the people in my Friday night class (6:00 - 9:20 pm, whose idea was that?!) and realized that it's even better when cold.

This is what you'll need:

- 1 casserole dish (13 x 9 inch)
- 3 small bowls or mugs
- 1 spoon
- 2 cans crescent rolls (I used Pillsbury)
- 8 oz cream cheese
- 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
- 3 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup chopped pecan nuts
- 1/2 cup butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Grease the casserole dish and unroll the first can of crescent roll dough, placing it on the bottom of the dish. Seal up the seams of the triangles with your fingers.

Combine the cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl and warm it up in the microwave until soft. This will take about 40 seconds. Mix well and spread out evenly over crescent roll dough.

Unroll the second can of crescent roll dough and place it on top of the cream cheese. Now, combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon in another small bowl and sprinkle on top, followed by the pecan nuts.

The final step involves melting the butter and drizzling it all over. I ended up not needing the full amount, but I think that's because I used a spoon to spread it as evenly and meticulously as possible. I am German after all.

Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Your kitchen will smell so so so good, and it will be hard to control yourself, but remember to let it cool before digging into it. After overeating and ruining my evening I covered the dish and put it in the fridge, where it should keep for a few days until all my friends and doormen and fitness center attendants have had a piece (seriously, I do take my baked goods to the gym).

It is true that I have been spending quite a bit of time in my kitchen lately, but I am not yet at the stage where I experiment and come up with wonderful new desserts all by myself. Apparently, Pillsbury features a similar recipe on its website, but I found this on youtube. In case you need more visuals, here is the video.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cakelove Shirlington

It's around mid-day and DC is preparing for severe thunderstorms that are supposed to last all afternoon and evening. I'm just glad I don't have class on Thursdays and can hide out in my little studio apartment with a movie (yay!), comfort food (double yay!), and some homework (ugh!) In fact, I was going to try out a new recipe since I have been baking quite a lot recently: Muffins, cupcakes, cobblers... It's about time I post a few fool-proof recipes that are sure to make everything in your home smell incredible and give you a reason to get out of bed early in the morning.

Before we get to that, I have a few impressions just waiting to be shared. I visited Shirlington the other day for "Shirlie's Girls Night Out", a monthly event with special offers for ladies in most restaurants and shops along Campbell Avenue. The main reason I went there was a heavily advertised (cook)book signing at Cakelove with owner Warren Brown, along with $1 mini cupcakes and free bubbly. It sounded like the perfect reason to head out on that particular night, even though it meant having to take two different buses and brave a rather heavy downpour.

To start with the positive observations, Cakelove Shirlington finds itself in a very convenient location right around the corner from a theater, the local Harris Teeter, the public library and various dining establishments. It seems to be the perfect spot for a late dessert, as the only other bakery in the neighborhood closes early. The rather small store looks appealing from the outside. It is clearly but tastefully branded, and the large window front allows for a full view of the counter with numerous cupcakes and pastries, a small seating area, as well as part of the kitchen.

We arrived around 7:30 pm, and considering that the event was advertised for 6-9 pm we were surprised to find nothing but three teeny-tiny mini cupcakes displayed in a bell jar and a small group of girls chatting and giggling in one corner. It was an evening like any other. Even though the staff didn't acknowledge our presence when we entered the store and approached the counter, they were friendly once it was our turn. Still, no sign of the owner. And no alcohol. We consequently inquired about the mini cupcakes, which were so mini that I was wondering why I should have to pay even a Dollar for them.

Generally, prices here are quite high in comparison to many similar establishments in the Washington DC area. Regular size cupcakes cost almost 4 Dollars, and they are neither big nor elaborately decorated nor is their selection of flavors anything out of the ordinary. Since I had made it all this way and didn't know when (or whether) I would return, I decided to give Cakelove a try nevertheless. I bought a mini coconut cupcake and a "cake in a jar", one of the store's new inventions, to find out whether these treats were really worthy of their price tag.

The answer is: Yes and no. The coconut cupcake was a complete disappointment, with both the cake and frosting lacking any taste whatsoever. In terms of consistency they were fine, but I have never actually had a cupcake that tasted like nothing. I even licked off a bit of the frosting and concentrated really hard, hoping to find some flavor in it. Instead, I experienced a weird discrepancy between what my brain expected (a hint of coconut or vanilla or even just sweetness), and what my tongue could sense. My friend suggested that they might not have "put as much effort" - or the proper ingredients - into baking the mini cupcakes as they would into baking the regular size ones. But that doesn't make any sense to me, as people should be encouraged to return and buy more after their first small taste. Am I wrong?

Let's move on to the cake in a jar, which was actually really, really good. Again, it looked very small for what it cost, but it was quite filling, packed gooey layers of different kinds of flavors, and I could keep the empty jar for my own baking experiments at home. It was a combination of peanut butter cake, caramel sauce and cream cheese frosting. That sounded and tasted wonderful, and since each spoon I took had several layers in it, there was a consistently perfect cake-to-frosting-to-sauce-ratio. Another plus is that it keeps fresh for a few days and therefore makes a nice gift that can be bought in advance. 

After my experience I went online to check other customers' reviews and found many comments similar to mine, i.e. complaints about the flavor and price of regular cupcakes. So I believe that their cake in a jar concept deserves further consideration and development, as it is (at least) one thing they do well and that could become a unique selling point.

Cakelove has several locations in Washington, DC, Virginia and Maryland. Check their website for more information.

Brownie Points for the coconut cupcake: 0 out of 3
Brownie Points for the peanut butter cake in a jar: 2 out of 3

Cakelove on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Larry's Homemade Ice Cream

I just love those mornings when I wake up and realize that there are no obligations to be met today. I can do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it, with whomever I want to do it. There might be certain limitations, ok I give you that, but it's not like I wake up and think "Let's rob a bank!" or "I wish I could have afternoon tea with Emily Blunt!" Even though I wouldn't mind the latter, especially if she'd bring John Krasinski. 

No, I am fairly easy to please. And the last time I had one of those mornings I decided to meet up with a good friend of mine for ice cream and a movie. In order to include a little bit of movement and start burning calories, we had the ice cream while walking from Clarendon to the theater in Courthouse. Sitting in a big fat reclining leather chair for two hours after that probably didn't help. But I am a firm believer of the theory that your thoughts control what happens to you. So if I don't think about the calories, they won't affect my waistline. Right?

Either way, ice cream on a warm summer day is never a bad idea. Especially if it is Larry's homemade ice cream. This place is conveniently located a few steps away from the Clarendon metro station, opens until late at night, and interestingly also serves Turkish sweets that look mouthwatering. Furthermore, a large section of the café is dedicated to its espresso bar, but everyone who came in while we were there went straight to the ice cream counter. The one guy working behind it was kept consistently busy but never lost his calm, greeting every single customer and offering free samples to the indecisive.

While all flavors are made with 100% natural ingredients, some have very exotic names with no descriptions, which we found a little confusing. What can you expect from an ice cream called "Ecstasy" or "Viagra"? As I said, the guy (Larry? I actually don't think so because he looked like he had a Turkish or Arabic background) had his hands full and it wasn't always easy to get his attention. Nevertheless, after a brief exchange with other customers who seemed to be regulars we made our choice: A scoop each of Cleopatra, oatmeal cinnamon cookie dough, pistachio, and lavender. My friend also took two pieces of baklava to go. 

Our favorite among the flavors was probably the oatmeal cinnamon cookie dough, followed by Cleopatra. The former reminded us of the winter time, with a very strong cinnamon taste that was simply comforting and not too sweet. I immediately thought of the German word "Weihnachtsbäckerei", which means "christmas bakery" and has connotations of warmth, fragrant spices, and revisiting your childhood. This flavor might as well be called "Weihnachtsbäckerei". Nobody would be able to pronounce it, but hey, it would be memorable. The Cleopatra on the other hand tasted like a scoop of summer, with a dominant coconut aroma and hints of dates and rose water adding an Arabic touch. 

A little less exciting but all the same very flavorful was the pistachio ice cream. I'd not hesitate to order this again next time, especially since it works any time of the year. A must for pistachio fans. 
The lavender was great when I tried it in the café, and when my sense of taste had not yet been compromised. Subtle but distinct, and definitely memorable. However, the scoop was at the bottom of my cup and had partially melted and combined with the other flavors by the time I got to it. As a result, I have to admit that it was a little underwhelming. Lesson learned: Don't combine floral-based ice cream with other, stronger flavors.

Later that day I stumbled upon a Travel + Leisure article about the world's strangest ice cream flavors. According to an executive from Ben & Jerry's, lavender and rose ice cream will never make it big in the U.S., even though there is a trend towards such floral flavors in Europe. Americans generally want their ice cream to be very sweet with chunks of cookies or candy, whereas Eastern countries prefer fruits, tea, and spices.  Peanut and peanut butter flavors are surprisingly unpopular outside of the U.S. Instead, hazelnuts are a favorite ice cream ingredient in Europe. 

I guess we can consider ourselves fortunate for having places like Larry's Homemade Ice Cream that cater to all kinds of different preferences and give us the chance to sample rare, unusual flavors.

Brownie points for the Cleopatra: 2 out of 3
Brownie points for the oatmeal cinnamon cookie dough: 3 out of 3
Brownie points for the pistachio: 2 out of 3
Brownie points for the lavender: 1 out of 3

Larrys Homemade Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Macaron Bee

Macarons (also called "Luxemburgerli" in Switzerland) are sweet, tiny, creamy, soft, light, exquisite. They melt in your mouth. They come in countless flavors and colors. And they are difficult - if not impossible - to make at home. All these factors contribute to their growing popularity in the U.S. We know that cupcake haters are eagerly waiting for something else to come along and create a new trend, and yes, they have tried to promote macarons for exactly that reason. But let's not compare apples and oranges.

The  history of macarons goes back to 1533, when the first almond meringue cookie was crafted with almond powder, sugar and egg whites. However, the macarons we know and love today were the creation of Pierre Desfontaines of the French pâtisserie Ladurée in the early 20th century. Desfontaines was the first to think of "pasting" two of these cookies together with a layer of buttercream, jam or ganache. This idea was not only well-received all over Paris (the rest of France is not that macaron-crazy, actually), but it also helped Ladurée rise to fame: They now claim to sell 15,000 macarons a day.

What makes macarons so special for me is the contrast of textures: The almond meringue disks have a fragile, thin crust, but are moist and chewy inside. The filling, on the other hand, packs most of the flavor and is usually intensely creamy. You could say that a macaron is where "crispy" meets  "moist & chewy" meets "velvety & smooth". 

Unfortunately, really good macarons are difficult to come by outside of Europe.  Macaron Bee is the first place I have given a try here in DC, and I was pleasantly surprised. 

The store is small and located on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Everything about it looks cute: The white drapes and colorful decoration in the window; yellow paint chipping off the exterior; an old park bench right in front; even the logo itself. Inside, you'll find a glass counter exhibiting what looks like hundreds of tiny round treats in a variety of flavors, a table with milk/sugar/etc. for coffee drinkers and a girl that will happily tell you everything you want to know about what's on offer. That's about it, because there's just no room for anything else. Macaron Bee is simply a tiny store selling tiny sweets.

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by a friend, both because this meant that we could try almost all flavors on the menu, and because I had forgotten my camera. Thank you, Ms Kitkat (yes, she might have more appearances in this blog in the future)! 

Since we were completely exhausted and hot after walking up from M Street in desert-like weather conditions - and I know what I am talking about here, I lived in Abu Dhabi for almost 2 years - we started off with some fruity flavors: Key lime and lemon. The difference between the two is very subtle, so I would probably not get both in the same box, but they were absolutely incredible. One bite reminded me of why I loved macarons and made me question why I hadn't had one in so long. The texture was exactly what it should be and the filling can only be described as heavenly smooth. It surely made us forget all about the heat.

Even though the key lime and lemon macarons left me thinking they could not be beat, I seriously reconsidered after trying the gianduja. Gianduja is a sweet kind of chocolate with hazelnut paste. - So imagine full-on creamy Nutella flavor in a tiny macaron. Delicious.

The Macaron Bee girl told us that their bestseller is fleur de sel caramel, but both of us were not at all excited about this one. It tasted and felt like salty butter. Ms Kitkat spoke highly of the almond and espresso, which - together with lemon- were her favorites. I would also recommend pistachio and pink champagne. The latter had an actual champagne-tingle. Other flavors we tried were passionfruit and rose, and while the passionfruit tasted intensely fruity and almost refreshing, the rose was not a hit. You probably really need to like the fragrance in order to enjoy it in a macaron. 

Overall, Macaron Bee made us girls very happy. We each left the shop with six super cute little macarons in a super cute little box inside a super cute little bag (see pictures) which we paraded around like birthday gifts. The price of $11 for six is very reasonable, even more so considering their quality. I'll be taking my macaron-loving mum here when she visits.

Brownie Points: 3 out of 3

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