Just Desserts

This would definitely catch my eye.

Let’s talk about bakeries, pastries and desserts, shall we? A bit inspired by Cinnamon’s post yesterday with her photo of her local bakery. I’ve probably done this post before, maybe more than once, but fingers crossed your long-term memory isn’t that much better than mine.

On trips abroad, my traveling companions (if there are any) are often experiencing the country through the museums, local churches, etc. and okay I’m doing that too, I’m not a total philistine. But I’ve laughed in the past when my traveling companions are, you know, sampling all the local fine wines, or smoked meats, or cheeses, although I wouldn’t say no to a cheese tour. Hell, I’d go on a cheese tour … where were we? Oh, yeah, pastries and desserts. If you want to find me, you should probably look for the nearby bakery. I mean, I might be at the patisserie, or the boulangerie, or the chocolatier (gotta love a country that splits all those things out). But maybe I’m just standing right over there, in front of the street cart selling some kind of sugared dough.

I lost my group in Galway because I got distracted by the churro cart (“wait, what? Churros in Ireland? I must sample them!!”) How were they? They were … not amazing. But I was cold, and some hot churros sounded just the thing. I know I’ve mentioned before that I wandered across much of Italy on a caffeine and sugar buzz. Highly recommend, 10/10 would do again.

I spend a lot of time here in the local panaderias, buying pastries I don’t know the names of, filled with things I don’t recognize. Is that … quince paste? (No.) Is the topping on this thing … literally a schmear of sugar butter? (Yes. I think.)

How to choose…

Then there are items I’m way too lazy to make, but will immediately grab from a bakery if I get the rare opportunity. Kouign-amman and sfogliatelle are both at the top of that list. There was an Italian bakery at the farmer’s market where I used to live, and about once a month they had sfogliatelle, and I was in sugar-dusted heaven.

There are things I’ve burned out on, too. Macarons used to be a treat I’d enjoy on the rare occasion I saw them someplace, likely in New York City or Paris. I used to drive 40 minutes in D.C. to this one French bakery for a macaron. Now they’re everywhere. They’re the new donut. I can walk to three four different places that sell macarons, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I haven’t had one in eons. Maybe scarcity is part of the pleasure?

I think I’m going to make a Basque cheesecake – that less-sweet, burnt cheesecake. (In fact, I think people often call them “Basque burnt cheesecake.”) As much as I love cheesecake, and I loooove cheesecake – have I mentioned my NYC cheesecake tour years ago? I’m sure I have — anyway, Basque burnt cheesecake would probably be everything I love in a cheesecake, since I always pick the tallest, most overly browned slice I can find. I know I can buy a Basque burnt cheesecake for many dollar$$$ on Goldbelly but tbh it doesn’t look that hard to make. I mean, the end product looks like someone forgot it in the oven, and then dropped it while pulling it out.

Is there a dessert or pastry or bakery item you love so much you’d travel for it, or search it out when you’re in a particular place? Is there something you’ve never even tried, that you pine for? Do you have a favorite dessert country? Do you think I am out of my gourd and you’d be perfectly happy with a plate of fresh fruit and cheese? I remember how disappointed I was decades ago when I realized my mother-in-law, who expected us for dinner regularly, thought that was dessert. And to give credit where it’s due, she upgraded that option when she got to know me and started buying desserts from the fancy Watergate Bakery nearby. An act of love, from a woman who didn’t throw those around like they were nothing.


  • Aimtx says:

    Can confirm the Galway churro incident and can confirm that this Texan thought you were overly optimistic about churros in Ireland but loved you for taking the chance.

  • alityke says:

    Believe it or not I’m not big on pastry or cake. Being diabetic sweet must be balanced with protein &/or fat.
    High end perfectly ripe cheese, ripe fruit & interesting fruit cheese, chutneys & pickles would suit me just fine.
    Saying that, there was a doughnut ring split & filled with whipped fresh cream, covered in almond water icing & dipped in toasted flaked almonds from my childhood that I would give my eye teeth for. The local bakery is still in business but closed its local shops & now sells baguettes to France among other large scale sales.
    The master baker, John Foster, taught Nigella how to make bread!

    • March says:

      Well, that makes sense! And to be clear, I LOVE a plate with excellent fruit, cheese, chutneys, etc. — I just want it at the start of the meal lol. That donut ring sounds like something I would adore, almond is one of my favorite flavors.

      • alityke says:

        If I remember the smell taste & texture after 50+ years I reckon it must have been pretty special

  • cinnamon says:

    oh, my, bakeries and baked goods. I can fully understand how you lost your group in Ireland distracted by a churros cart. You are definitely not off your gourd. The things I love … those enormous, bready, gooey cinnamon buns I used to get from Ozzie’s cafe on 7th Ave in Brooklyn (near my father’s apartment). Cinnamon buns have become a thing here, but none so far are like the ones at Ozzie’s. Cannoli from Fernando’s Focacceria in Red Hook, plus the ones from various bakeries on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. So so good. The baklava from the Dinosaur Turkish cafe here which they appear to make each day — goo city. And Sara’s in Topsham where I go weekly. Sometimes the owner and the main baker are having conversations about what to bake next when I visit. The various croissants (plain, hazelnut, almond, Portuguese cream) are amazing as are the fruit tarts with creme patisserie, brown butter chocolate chip cookies and banoffi pie. Oh.My. Oh, and the flourless chocolate brownies (plain, salted caramel, peanut butter) from the Exploding Bakery, but I can get those at the farm shop as well.

    • March says:

      Cannoli … something I really miss here (the ones from Whole Foods are okay but not great.) I love your list, I think we share some of those same passions. A reaaallly good croissant is a beautiful thing. And those flourless brownies sound amazing!

  • ElizaC says:

    One of the great joys of traveling is going into a bakery or restaurant and trying a new dessert! One of my favorite childhood travel memories is going to a restaurant in New Mexico and having sopaipillas with honey. As an adult in Seattle, I always look forwards to the Winter event at the Duwamish Longhouse where they serve frybread. We have some amazing bakeries in Seattle – Fuji Bakery with their Japanese/French influenced pastries, Deep Sea and Sugar with their amazing slices of cake and so much more. There was one lovely bakery (which closed during the pandemic) that introduced me to Malt Loaf! I’ve made it at home but getting the ingredients was quite the production.

    • March says:

      My daughters when they were little LOVED the fact that there were sopaipillas with butter and honey right there on the table for snacking! I have the Pacific NW on my to-do list (Seattle, Portland) and of course I’d be researching the bakeries… I will have to google Malt Loaf, bet I would love it.

  • Tom says:

    Now I love fruit and cheese, if the fruit is ripe (and so is the cheese) but pastry is just the end for me. Blu hon was in BH for a while and in addition to the restaurant they had their own separate bakery, where they did Kouign-amman, and where I had it for the first time. They made a big deal that they were made in special pans and that were only so many they’d make in a day. Lordy they were good.

    LA has some great bakeries. Gelson’s has a branch of Victor Benes in each store, there’s Sweet Lady Jane- oh so many.

    I want to say cheesecake isn’t my jam, until I have some. Once my friend from NY was visiting and we were picking up the godchild at her school around the corner from Sweet Lady Jane. We stopped, I thought to get to go croissant or something. She had us sit and order cheesecake, saying when I pointed out the kid was getting out in 15 minutes “there’s always time for cheesecake.”

    Words to live by.

    • Tom says:

      Goddam spell check. Bouchon was the BH place. Gone now. Pity.

    • March says:

      Ha! That cheesecake story! Yes, there is always time for cheesecake! I like the unvarnished, plain slice — the gold standard. No oreos or other additions for me. Man, I really need to get back to LA one of these years. I really wish someone here would make kouign-amman but it’s such a PITA I can’t really blame them for not doing so.

  • Dina C. says:

    I love watching episodes of The Great British Bake Show and have long wished that some bakery in my area was smart enough to offer that week’s assignments for sale after the episode aired. There have been so many European specialty bakes I’ve never tried and would love to sample.

    • March says:

      Totally with you! I’ve actually made some of the simpler ones — found a recipe online, etc. But you’re right, I think people would 100% have gone for it. I do remember reading a wonderful news piece about how there’d be a run on some oddball ingredient after the show aired and people wanted to make it.

  • taxi says:

    Canele de Bordeaux! Very hard to find but so yummy. First got one years ago from a cart in a Parisian park.
    Very few even supposedly “French” patisseries make them but try one (or more) if you see them anywhere.

    • March says:

      I love caneles and have actually had them a few times! There was a pastry shop near me on the east coast that had them occasionally. I think because they’re so unglamorous-looking maybe they don’t sell as well? Which is too bad because they are delicious.

  • Musette says:

    Lol! You know I suuuuuck at pastry…but…BUT! Miette chocolate sables…bliss! They are the Scharfenberger version of Pierre Herme’s sables…which are the Ultimate Reason to return to Paris. While I still have teeth.

    • March says:

      Those Miette sables! Yeah we should get to Paris while we still have teeth, I’ve never had so many goodies in my LIFE.

  • Tara C says:

    I am a total pastry and sweets whore. Every place I go I seek out bakeries. Got that from my mother. Right now I’m dreaming of a pastis cake, which has nothing to do with the pastis alcoholic drink. It’s a local specialty from the southwest of France, specifically les Landes. Very dense and moist.

    • March says:

      Oooh, I will have to google! OK I just did, it looks wonderful. Like a tea cake crossed with a pound cake. Yummmm.