Toscanini’s and Brown Butter Bakery

It didn’t take me long after moving to Boston to declare Toscanini’s the best ice cream shop in town. My go-to flavor for years has been B3 (brown butter, brown sugar, brownie), and it never disappoints. On a recent visit, I discovered that their freezer was stocked with quaintly packaged ice cream sandwiches.

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I was so surprised to find this novel treat that I went with my usual order that evening, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those ice cream sandwiches after I left.  After doing some research, I learned that the cookies are made by Brown Butter Bakery and filled with various Toscanini’s flavors.  I was sold.  I went back the next week and tried the oatmeal molasses cookie sandwich filled with Ovaltine ice cream.  It was fabulous.  The ratio of ice cream to cookie and overall size were perfect too.

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I noticed that they had three cookie types – oatmeal molasses, dark chocolate, and malted peanut butter – so I vowed to try them all as soon as possible.  The next week, I went to Tosci’s early one morning with a bag of ice in tow so that the ice cream sandwiches wouldn’t melt on my way home. This time, I got a dark chocolate cookie and nocciola ice cream sandwich and a malted peanut butter cookie and belgian chocolate ice cream sandwich.  Since it was early and the pastry case was stocked, I also picked up a pain aux raisins and a brown butter chocolate chip cookie (also made by Brown Butter Bakery).  I couldn’t detect the nutty brown butter flavor in my cookie, but it was tasty and pleasantly soft nonetheless, and the pain aux raisins was made from deliciously buttery, flakey croissant dough.

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Over the next few days, I tried the remaining two ice cream sandwiches.  Neither disappointed!  The dark chocolate cookie was more intense than I anticipated, but it paired well with the amazingly creamy nocciola filling, which was one of the most clean and pure hazelnut flavors I’ve ever tasted.

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I usually don’t like peanut butter cookies (which is strange, since I can’t go a day without eating peanut butter), but these impressed me.  The malt flavor wasn’t strong, but a natural peanut butter flavor shone through and complemented the belgian chocolate ice cream.

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I spotted an oatmeal molasses-cake batter sandwich while I was there and a dark chocolate-mint, so clearly I’ve only exhausted the cookie options, but am nowhere near done trying all of the cookie-ice cream combos.  I’m so glad that we get to reap the rewards of Tosci’s partnership with Brown Butter Bakery!  Two desserts in one is twice the fun!

LA Favorites!

I interned in Los Angeles for three months this past summer, and while there, I made it my singular mission to try as many bakeries and desserteries as humanly possible. I didn’t have a car and had to rely on public transportation, so I used trying enticing pastry as my motivation for exploring this huge city.

To my surprise, almost everything I tried was good – even by my standards. This post showcases some of my favorites out of the hundreds I was able to get my hands on.

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Red Bread – Cracked Cookies

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Red Bread – Avocado and Radish Tartine

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Magnolia Bakery – Banana Pudding

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Magnolia Bakery – Marble Cupcake with Blonde Chocolate Buttercream

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Magnolia Bakery – Pistachio Cupcake

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Quenelle – Blonde Chocolate Chunk Cookie

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Quenelle – Blueberry Pie and Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream with Graham Streusel

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Sweet Rose Creamery – Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Pecan Crumble

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The Sycamore Kitchen – Chocolate Chip Rye Cookie

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The Sycamore Kitchen – Brown Butter Blueberry Financier

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The Sycamore Kitchen – Salted Caramel Pecan Babka Roll

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Bulgarini Gelato – Vanilla, Hazelnut, and Toasted Almond Gelato

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Fonuts – Blueberry Earl Grey Fonut

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Carmela Ice Cream – Dark Chocolate Cookie and Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich

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Carmela Ice Cream – Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Cone

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Carmela Ice Cream – Chocolate Chip Cookie and Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Sandwich

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Carmela Ice Cream – Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean and Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce

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Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts – Chocolate Cake Doughnut with Chocolate Frosting

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Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts – Apple Fritter

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Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts – Maple Bar

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MILK – Butterscotch Drumstick

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MILK – Iced Spiced Molasses Cookie

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MILK – The MILKIE Way Malt Milkshake

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MILK – Cookies and Cream Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich

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Sprinkles Ice Cream – S’more Cupcake with S’more Ice Cream

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Sprinkles Ice Cream – Red Velvet Cupcake Tops with Black and White Cupcake and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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Sprinkles Cupcakes- Black and White Cupcake

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Sprinkles Cupcakes – Banana Cupcake with Vanilla Buttercream

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McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams – Churros Con Leche, Double Peanut Butter Chip, and Salted Caramel Chip Ice Cream

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Top Round Roast Beef – Caramel Truffle, Graham Cracker, and Streusel Concrete

Until we meet again, LA.

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Bites Around Boston Lately

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Grilled buttermilk biscuits with honey butter

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Cookie monster french toast

I have walked past Café Luna at least once a week for years, but I never looked their menu up until recently.  After seeing their long and enticing lists of french toast, pancake, and waffle options for weekend brunch, I knew that I had to stop in as soon as possible!  It’s a very small place, so reservations are a must (unless you get there before the doors open).  I tried the biscuits with honey butter to start, which came warm and fresh off the griddle (I think they were grilled in the honey butter) and with a side of honey butter.  The sweet-salty-caramelized-warm biscuit combination was addictive!  The french toast special for April sounded amazing; it was called Cookie Monster French Toast, and it was described as speculoos spread and dark chocolate sandwiched between brioche and topped with Oreos and whipped cream.  Mine also had festive egg and bunny sprinkles on top, since it happened to be Easter Sunday.  This had the potential to be the best, most decadent french toast ever, but I wasn’t completely in love with it.  There was not nearly enough cookie butter in it, and I only managed to get one or two bites that had a detectable amount.  The bread/egg batter combination itself was also not very flavorful, and without any syrup or butter to add to the finished dish, it was all very dry and not entirely pleasant to eat.  More than a teaspoon-sized dollop of whipped cream for four large triangles of brioche also would have helped to make the dish more palatable.  I definitely want to go back to try their waffles, maybe with lemon curd and blueberries, to see if this combination is more well-balanced.

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Custom ice cream sandwich: Totally Turtle ice cream sandwiched between a red velvet white chocolate chunk cookie and a chocolate chunk cookie

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The Salty Dog: Totally Turtle ice cream sandwiched between two salted caramel cookies

Unfortunately, these ice cream sandwiches were consumed on a particularly gray, windy, and cold day, but they were still really tasty! The cookies themselves had the ideal crispy outside/chewy inside, and they tasted buttery and homemade.  The ice cream that the The Cookie Monstah truck uses is Richardson’s, which is pretty good, but not as smooth and rich as Häagen-Dazs or Ben and Jerry’s.  The flavor that I tried was called Totally Turtle, and it was vanilla ice cream with caramel, cashews, and brownie chunks.  The red velvet and white chocolate chunk cookie was my favorite because of its subtle cocoa notes, contrasting white chocolate, and fun color.  If I return to this truck, I think I’ll just order a cookie, since they’re way too substantial to manage as an ice cream sandwich.  I wasn’t able to get one bite that had all three layers – red velvet cookie, ice cream, and chocolate chunk cookie.  Perhaps this would be less of a problem in hot summer weather, when the ice cream might melt into the cookies and soften them, as opposed to staying frozen and making the cookies even harder and more difficult to bite.

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Chocolate chip cookie yogurt topped with cookie dough, chocolate pearls, and a chocolate chip cookie

If you’re sensing a cookie theme in this post, you are correct, and it’s about to continue.  When I walked past Pinkberry and noticed that their new yogurt flavor was chocolate chip cookie (one of my favorite flavors), I decided to try it before it was replaced by another rotating flavor.  The cookie yogurt itself actually (surprisingly) lived up to its name and tasted like a chocolate chip cookie without any weird artificial aftertaste.  The cookie dough and chocolate pearl toppings that I had with it also served to add texture and to enhance the cookie flavor of the yogurt, so that I actually felt like I was eating a creamy, frozen chocolate chip cookie.  The Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookie that I got as my third topping did not fair so well.  This may just be an issue with the particular Pinkberry location that I visited, but it tasted extremely stale and not at all like a cookie.  It’s kind of funny that the one component of my fro-yo creation that didn’t taste like a chocolate chip cookie was the actual, whole chocolate chip cookie itself!   Image

Left: chocolate salted caramel cupcake, right: white chocolate raspberry cupcake

I have never been to the DC Georgetown Cupcakes location, but I did have them shipped to my house in Pittsburgh when I was in high school after watching the TLC show for a few months.  I was not impressed with them then, and I thought that they were too sweet, so when I heard that they opened up a location in Boston in 2012, I didn’t bother to visit it.  Recently, I decided that I should give them another shot – perhaps they just didn’t travel overnight well and would be better fresh.  I got their white chocolate raspberry cupcake (vanilla cake baked with raspberries and topped with a white chocolate buttercream) and their chocolate salted caramel cupcake (a chocolate cupcake topped with a salted caramel buttercream and filled with dulce de leche).  Both had the perfect cake to icing ratio, and the flavors that the descriptions promised shined through.  I would have liked a stronger white chocolate flavor in the buttercream, and perhaps a salted caramel core instead of a dulce de leche one on the other cupcake, but overall I was left with a much better impression than I was when I had them mailed to me years ago.  I’m even planning a return visit to try more flavors.  They do use cream cheese icing on more of their cupcake flavors than most other cupcakeries that I’ve visited, so I have to be extra careful when ordering to make sure that all of mine are topped with buttercream (since I don’t like cream cheese icing).

Hope your spring has also been filled to the brim with brunches and baked goods!

Clear Flour Bread

Before my first visit to Clear Flour Bread in Brookline, Massachusetts, I did not do my research.  I had heard great things about the bakery while searching online for places to try in Boston, and that was enough to convince me.  When I arrived that morning, I just chose what I thought looked the most appealing, and since I was on a twice-baked almond brioche kick at the time, that happened to be their Bostock.  I was expecting something, buttery, almondy, and custardy, but theirs had another flavor to it – something floral perhaps – that I was not a fan of.

Two years later, I started looking for places to try around Boston that I hadn’t already been to, and again, I came across rave reviews of Clear Flour Bread.  One Yelper even called it “the best bakery in the United States.”  After carefully reading all of the reviews of the bakery that I could find, I decided that I must return a second time to sample more of their menu.  I decided that I would get their morning bun with walnuts, brioche with chocolate and pastry cream, chocolate chunk cookie, and chocolate bouchon.

I arrived about ten minutes before they opened on a Sunday, and the 30-person line that wrapped around the corner confirmed the high caliber and authenticity that I had read so much about.  Upon entering the bakery, which can only fit about eight customers at a time, I was overwhelmed by the aromas of freshly baked bread and warm chocolate.  Luckily, they didn’t run out of any of the items that I had my heart set on, so I was able to try all four.  They have a huge assortment of items that I’d love to try though, so I plan to make another visit soon to taste their canelé and financier.

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The morning bun was made from buttery croissant dough, which was a nice departure from the brioche-based ones that I’m used to, and the walnuts and brown-sugary goo didn’t overpower the flakey pastry.

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The dark chocolate in my brioche was still slightly melted and the pastry cream added a light sweetness to the treat.

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The chocolate chip cookie was enormous, crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside.  This was not just your average cookie, however, and the cookie dough and chocolate were actually layered in the way that pastry dough and butter are to create puff pastry.  This dough-chocolate striation allowed for greater complexity of flavor and notes from both components in each bite.

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The bouchon tasted like a very buttery brownie with dark chocolate chunks throughout, and the chocolate flavor was probably the most pure and intense that I’ve ever experienced in a chocolate cakelike dessert.

I should never have waited so long to give Clear Flour a second chance!  They truly are masters of their craft.

Check them out at http://www.clearflourbread.com

Chocolate Salted Caramel Whoopie Pies

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The first time I ever had a whoopie pie was when I discovered the Pittsburgh-based bakery, Vanilla Pastry Studio, during middle school.  They had them on display in clear plastic bags tied with brightly colored patterned ribbons.  Two whoopie pies were in each bag.  I was immediately drawn to their unique packaging and grabbed a bag to go with our box of a dozen cupcakes.

The whoopie pie was the first treat that I tried when we got home.  It was vanilla buttercream (that was slightly saltier than I was used to) sandwiched between two round, dark chocolate sponge cakes sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.  It was divine.  And addicting.  The classic whoopie pie quickly became one of my favorite desserts and my “must get” item at Vanilla Pastry Studio.  Their staple item, and my other favorite treat, is their vanilla caramel cupcake, and just as it sounds, it’s a vanilla cake topped with a caramel Swiss meringue buttercream.

Today, I’ve combined these two favorites to make chocolate salted caramel whoopie pies.  Instead of sponge cakes, I use a denser exterior that is a cross between a dark chocolate cookie and a brownie.  Homemade salted caramel sauce gets mixed with a simple vanilla buttercream for the filling, and the whole thing is drizzled with extra salted caramel sauce – just for good measure.  And I definitely wouldn’t think you were taking things too far if you also spread some salted caramel sauce on the inside of both chocolate cookies before sandwiching the icing between them.

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These whoopies are even convenient to pack up and eat on the go, since the icing is not exposed.  When I was away from home one summer, my mother even mailed me a package that contained Vanilla Pastry Studio’s whoopie pies (since their cupcakes would have been much too delicate to ship).  They all arrived intact, and I was able to refrigerate them and eat them throughout the week!

This is the kind of dessert sandwich that you can take your time eating and savor each bite.  It’s not a race against quickly melting ice cream that’s dripping all over the floor as you carefully attempt to take each bite.  These whoopie pies are the laid-back cousin of the ice cream sandwich.  There’s just something magical about biting into soft cookies with fluffy icing in the middle.

 

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Recipe:

Chocolate Salted Caramel Whoopie Pies

Makes about 10 sandwiches (20 cookies)

Chocolate Whoopie Pies (recipe from Food Network Kitchen)

Ingredients:

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup natural cocoa powder (I used Droste)

1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoons fine salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. I used an ungreased whoopie pie pan.

Put the unsweetened and semisweet chocolates and butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl; heat at 75 percent power until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir, and continue to microwave until completely melted, about 2 minutes more. (Alternatively, put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with an inch or so of water to a very slow simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching the water, and stir occasionally until melted and smooth.)

Whisk the sugar, eggs and vanilla into the chocolate mixture until smooth.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt into another bowl. Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until moistened. Switch to a rubber spatula and finish folding the batter together; take care not to over-mix.

Use a small cookie scoop or spoon to drop a heaping tablespoon of batter onto the prepared pan (more than a tablespoon if using a whoopie pie pan – use enough batter to fill each indentation). Space them about 1-inch apart. Bake until the cookies spring back when lightly touched, about 6 minutes. It took about 9 minutes using a whoopie pie pan, but times may vary.

Cool the cookies slightly. Transfer the cookies to a rack. Cool whoopee pies completely on wire racks.

Store in tightly sealed container for up to 1 week.

Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe from Kelsey Nixon)

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup heavy cream

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon gray sea salt, crushed or kosher salt

Directions:

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, without stirring. If necessary, use a wet pastry brush to wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. Boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove the sugar from the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream. The mixture will bubble. Stir in the unsalted butter, and salt. Transfer the caramel to a dish and cool.

The salted caramel sauce will keep in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. This recipe makes more than you will need for the buttercream. Use the extra to dip the whoopie pies in or drizzle on top, or save it for other desserts!

Salted Caramel Buttercream (adapted from ihearteating.com)

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, at room temperature

1/3 cup salted caramel sauce, cooled to room temperature

Heaping 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar

Pinch Kosher salt

Directions:

With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium for 1 minute. Add salted caramel sauce and vanilla extract, and beat on medium for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. Add powdered sugar and salt, and beat on low until powdered sugar is incorporated.

Increase speed to medium, and beat until smooth and well combined, about 2-3 additional minutes.

You will probably have some icing leftover depending upon how much you like in each whoopie pie. I would recommend refrigerating it in an airtight container and thawing it out and stirring it before using it for other purposes.

Assembly:

Find two cooled chocolate cookies that are of similar size. Spread as much buttercream as you would like on one of the cookies. Place the other cookie on top. Drizzle with salted caramel sauce before serving or spread the caramel on the inside of each cookie before spreading the icing.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days or in the refrigerator for up to a week. They are best eaten during the first two days though.

Poffertjes

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“Poffer-what?” is the usual reaction when I begin to explain to someone how delicious these little pancake-like snacks are.  I then follow this with a quick lesson.

“You can think of it like paw-fur-chuhs.”

“Paw-fur-cheese?”

“Sure.”

Difficult pronunciation aside, these treats are a common snack food in the Netherlands and can often be found at amusement parks and outdoor vendors – akin to funnel cakes in the US.  Unlike many of the miniature pancakes that you see sold here, these contain yeast, require about an hour to rise, and are topped with lots of butter (of the Dutch variety if you have access to it) and confectioner’s sugar as soon as they come out of the pan.  No syrup allowed!

These have been a favorite of mine since my mom acquired her very own poffertjes pans (sent to her by a Dutch friend) and began to make them on the weekends whenever we had some Dutch butter in the house.  Any mini pancake pan and your favorite butter will do though!

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Poffertjes Recipe:

Makes about 64 poffertjes

300 grams of flour (I use King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 package of dry yeast (4 grams)
10 grams of granulated sugar
4 deciliters of lukewarm milk
1 egg

Butter and confectioner’s sugar for serving

Mix the flour with the salt, yeast, and sugar in a bowl. Warm up the milk in the microwave until it’s lukewarm (not too hot). Break the egg into a bowl, pour the egg into the warm milk, and mix it up. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix it with a spatula by hand. You want to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated with the wet ingredients, but the mixture will still look very lumpy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a place where there is no draft – sometimes inside the oven (with the oven turned off of course!) You have to wait about an hour for it to rise as much as it should (it almost doubles but not quite.) Then you can butter the depressions in your pan. Once the butter is hot and bubbling, start to spoon the batter into the depressions. Cook until they are easy to flip and don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Once flipped, cook until the other side is done. You can cut one open to make sure that it’s not raw in the middle. Serve immediately with butter and confectioner’s sugar.

South End Buttery

Originally published 03/01/2014

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You may stumble upon South End Buttery Bakery and Café as you wander through streets lined with idyllic brownstone townhouses in the South End neighborhood of Boston.  I’ve visited it about once per year over the past four years – once for dinner and three times for their weekend brunch.  It’s always bustling with people.

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Buttery Bakery Basket brimming with banana walnut bread, butterscotch scones, and blueberry muffins
Today was a brunch day.  I started with the Buttery Bakery Basket, since I can’t resist a triple alliteration.  It came with pieces of banana walnut bread, blueberry muffin, and butterscotch scone, as well as butter and raspberry jam to spread.  The muffin was full of plump blueberries, the banana bread had whole, crunchy walnuts on top, and the scone contained sporadic* pockets of butterscotch (I wish they had been more frequent) that added staccatos of brown-sugary flavor and richness to an otherwise mild dough.  The butterscotch scone was definitely the most surprising of the three items, and it took several bites to identify it.  I’m a huge fan of butterscotch and recently experimented with making the sauce from scratch, so I would definitely love to see this flavor offered at bakeries more often (or ever)!

*This adjective is brought to you by the movie, Clueless (1995).  As if I would consult another source to expand my vocabulary.
Cher: Sporadically.  It means once in a while.  Try to use it in a sentence.
Josh: [later] Be seeing you.
Tai: Yeah, I hope not sporadically.

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Strawberries and Cream Brioche French Toast

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Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes (they should really title it, “Pancakes Topped with Bananas and Chocolate Chips” though)

I tasted two of the brunch “entrées” (read: socially sanctioned desserts as a meal), and both were generously portioned and well-executed.  The brioche french toast was topped with strawberries, strawberry-flavored whipped cream, sliced almonds, and powdered sugar, and the pancakes were topped with sliced bananas, chocolate chips, whipped cream, and powdered sugar.  Both were served with a side of real maple syrup to pour as desired.  I was very happy to see that they used real, homemade whipped cream, since many establishments opt for variations of oil-based whipped topping and spray whipped cream.  South End Buttery took it to another level by actually flavoring its whipped cream with strawberries to accompany one of its dishes.  I will say that incorporating the bananas and chocolate chips into the pancake batter would have really kicked this second dish up a notch.  The plain pancakes were fluffy and perfectly acceptable, but cooking the pancakes on the griddle with the bananas and chocolate chips already inside would have given them a stronger banana flavor and assured that all of the chocolate chips began to melt.

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Shelves once stocked with pastry!  (Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes – 2nd row, center)

After I finished my late brunch, I headed up to the bakery area to get a treat to go.  They were sold out of most items by this point, so I had no trouble selecting the salted caramel cupcake.  The chocolate cake was moist and flavorful and the chocolate buttercream was good as well, but the best part by far was the homemade caramel sauce and the sprinkle of sea salt to complete the contrast in flavors.  It would be a great idea to fill the cupcake with salted caramel sauce in addition to the caramel well within the icing swirl, because the caramel is just too good not to be included in every bite.

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Each time I dine at South End Buttery, I notice little changes.  A new location pops up in the South End that confuses me as I walk to the original (Nota bene: it’s conveniently close by if the Shawmut location runs out of your Pastry of Choice).  The cream on the french toast shows up tinted pink and flavored with strawberries even though it was plain the last time I was there.  The cupcakes that were topped with heaps of piped Swiss Meringue Buttercream the last time I checked seem smaller and simpler.  Most of these changes are welcome (Expansion – yay!  Adventurous uses of whipped cream – double yay!), but it is always a disappointment when you return to an old favorite only to find that the elements that made it so special and memorable have been replaced.  For now, South End Buttery has not veered too far from the food and baked goods that keep me coming back.  I’m curious what differences I’ll notice during my next annual visit though!  I suppose that gradual evolution is a natural (and desired) part of a restaurant’s life cycle – even if it’s sometimes to my dismay!
South End Buttery: http://www.southendbuttery.com