Greece Part II: Santorini!

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After a few days in Athens, we flew to Santorini, which I had been dying to visit since I read and watched The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as a kid in 2005. I knew it only as the beautiful island where Lena Kaligaris spent a summer visiting her grandparents and falling in love with Kostas Dunas, and now I know it as the land of many waffles and terrifying cliffside bus rides.

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I was surprised at how many legs there were to the journey from Athens to our hotel in Santorini; we took a cab from Athens to the airport, a bus from the airport gate to the plane, a plane to Santorini, a bus from the plane to the airport, a bus from the airport to Fira, a bus from Fira to Oia, and a cab from Oia to our hotel on Baxedes Beach. By the time we arrived at our hotel, there was no question in my mind that we had found a remote paradise to spend the second half of our vacation. Oddly enough, this paradise also was overflowing with tourists. Since there was absolutely no food to be found near our hotel, we spent our days in Oia and Fira, which are cities higher up on the cliff that are teeming with tourists, souvenir shops, and restaurants.

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Luckily, as an experienced scourer of TripAdvisor by this point in our vacation, I quickly found the most critically acclaimed dessert and gelato spots. Lolita was the most highly recommended gelataria and Melenio was raved about for desserts. Fortunately for us, both were located in Oia, which was the closer of the two cities.

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We tried Lolita first, and returned almost every day to experience as many of the flavors as we could. I immediately gravitated toward the biscuit gelato, remembering my outstanding experiences with cookie/biscuit-flavored gelato and other desserts in Athens. I paired it with a honey gelato, and the combination was excellent. It reminded me more of super premium ice cream because of its texture and the way that it melted than the gelato at Da Vinci did, which had the stretchy quality that I usually associate with gelato. Lolita’s various nut flavors cleanly and potently tasted like their namesakes; I tried the hazelnut, pistachio, and peanut butter dream (which also included some dark chocolate pieces) gelato.

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They’re known for their baklava gelato, which I was hesitant to try because of how vehemently I disliked the baklava I tried in Athens, but I got a small scoop anyway. It was a vanilla or sweet cream base mixed with small pieces of broken up baklava. The baklava was in such small and well mixed in pieces that it was not at all overwhelming. Instead of being hit over the head with butter and honey, the sweetness, richness, and slight crunch evenly permeated the entire gelato. Even though I’m still not a huge baklava fan, I was definitely able to enjoy it as the star of this cold, melty treat.

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Melenio reminded me of Cookie Land (in Athens) in that it had a surprising variety of menu options, including plated desserts, gelato, and crepes (as well as some savory dishes). While Cookie Land was playful and kitschy, Melenio’s atmosphere and desserts were more refined. Their caramel cake and strawberry cake were the first two desserts we tried, and they had many of the same components: chocolate sponge cake, chocolate mousse, and dark chocolate shavings. The caramel cake was topped with caramel mousse and an apricot glaze, while the strawberry cake was topped with a strawberry mousse and strawberry glaze.

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Both desserts tasted good, but neither had a strong taste. The chocolate and caramel were surprisingly mild, and the strawberry mousse and glaze were the most recognizable components. I was underwhelmed with Melenio based on that first visit (except for the view, which was fantastic), but we decided to return the next night since there were so many options.

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We got a to-go box containing a slice of apple pie, cream puff cake, and mille-feuille. The apple pie was nothing special, but the cream puff cake and mille-feuille took ingredients that I was familiar with and arranged them in a way that I hadn’t seen before. I’ve never been particularly fond of cream puffs on their own, since I find the taste and texture of choux to be slightly unpleasant, but when they are nestled in an outer layer of vanilla pastry cream and covered in chocolate ganache, the overall effect is a light and airy slice of cake/pie hybrid that is reminiscent of Boston cream pie. The mille-feuille was our favorite dessert of the bunch. It was a layer of puff pastry topped with a mousse-like pastry cream tinged with citrus notes and another layer of puff pastry, and then the whole thing was surrounded by a soft, sweet meringue and covered in shards of puff pastry dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar. The dessert was light in texture, yet flavorful and satisfying. The closest dessert I’ve had to it is a Napoleon, but Melenio’s mille-feuille had a higher ratio of cream to puff pastry, a layer of meringue, was easier to cut and eat without it falling apart, and was round in shape rather than rectangular.

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The next night we got the mille-feuille again (of course!) and tried their pyramid cake, chocolate torte, and walnut pie. The pyramid was lemon mousse with chocolate cake and ganache, and I was not fond of the combination. The chocolate torte tasted more of cocoa (think of a Panera brownie) than the high quality dark chocolate I’m accustomed to in that kind of dessert.  Unfortunately, the walnut pie was soaked in some kind of honey and/or simple syrup that made it too cloyingly sweet for me to eat more than a few bites of it. I definitely had a lot more luck with their non-chocolate desserts and was more than happy to undertake a few days of decadent exploration to find two desserts that I loved!

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Even though my mother and I saw a laughable number of crepe and waffle-serving establishments in Athens, we only ate crepes for lunch on the first day and a vaflaki as part of our gelato dessert on a subsequent evening. It wasn’t until we arrived in Santorini that the number of these shops unbelievably multiplied and a waffle, crepe, or vaflaki became a part of our daily routine.

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The Corner in Fira was the first and most memorable crepe and waffle place that we tried, since it was most highly recommended on TripAdvisor. Most of the crepes and waffles we found tasted similarly high in quality and had a nearly identical array of toppings to choose from, but it’s clear why The Corner was so highly rated. They go above and beyond when it comes to plating their food. They create designs with the fruit, chocolate, and whipped cream, and finish everything off with a single animal cracker.

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It made for a photogenic plate that was that much more fun to eat. Unsurprisingly, crumbled biscuits were a typical add-on for a waffle or crepe. Several types of praline sauce were also available, including milk chocolate, white chocolate, Bueno, banana, and strawberry. In Greece, praline seems to refer to a thick, sweet sauce that involves some kind of chocolate incorporated with the advertised flavor. Whenever I’ve ordered a waffle or crepe with sauce in the States, I usually wish there was more and complain about its skimpiness, but in Greece I found that they were overly generous with the toppings. So much so, that I scraped chocolate sauce off my breakfast or lunch on more than one occasion. This ran counter to my assumption that all things European are less over-the-top and indulgent (in terms of portions at least) than all things American. A vaflaki with bananas, Bueno sauce, and hazelnuts was my favorite combination.

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I was elated to find such an abundance of dessert inspiration while in Greece, and needless to say, I must invest in a vaflaki maker and several boxes of LU Le Petit Beurre Cookies (like the ones used in all of the biscuit flavored treats) immediately so that I can recreate my favorites at home!

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A Grecian Getaway and Unexpected Inspiration

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“Guess we won’t have much dessert for two weeks,” I said as we left our house for the airport, assuming that baklava was all that awaited my voracious sweet tooth in Greece. “That’s okay. I’m going for the sights anyway, not the food,” I considerately reassured my mother.

When we arrived in Athens the following morning, hungry and tired and desperately in need of some quick food, we followed the advice of our hotel concierge and walked to Monastiraki Square. Before even crossing the street to get to the main square area, we spotted a gelateria and a creperie. Too exhausted to explore in depth before making a decision, we headed straight for the creperie with plans of gelato for dessert. To my surprise, their menu of sweet crepes had options that far exceeded any I had found at similar establishments in the U.S. – both in terms of variety and originality. It was a hard choice, but we settled on a white chocolate praline, Oreo, and strawberry crepe and a milk chocolate caramel, banana, and biscuit crepe. They tasted just about as good as they sounded. The gelato next door (I had bannoffee and brownies and cream) was a little icy in texture for our tastes, but still passable. We were just happy to find a creperie and gelateria in Greece at all, let alone next to each other and within walking distance from our hotel.

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Once we began our walk around the square, we passed several more gelatarias and creperies, many claiming to also serve waffles. We literally couldn’t travel a few feet without finding another dessert shop. I had attempted some research before leaving for Greece, but I must not have even known what to look for, since the existence of all of these places came as a total surprise. After that first day walking around Athens, I did a lot of research at our hotel so that we wouldn’t miss out on the very best desserts. People raved about Da Vinci Artisan Gelato online, which we had passed that day after we had already eaten, so we chose that as our next culinary destination.

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I got marzipan gelato and “Da Vinci’s Blend” gelato (sweet cream, chocolate cake, and honey) topped with Bueno sauce the first time we went. It was divine. I gave it the highest praise one could give to gelato and exclaimed, “This is as good as Grom!” We hadn’t even been able to find a second gelateria in Italy that rivaled Grom.

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Of course, convinced we had found the best gelato in Athens (and maybe Greece), we went back the next night. This time we were more adventurous. We ordered vaflaki. I am forever grateful to Greece for introducing me to vaflaki. Imagine a waffle. Now imagine each pocket of the waffle enlarged and separated so that they can be enjoyed on the go with one hand – all you need is a fork! I got cookies and cream gelato and stracciatella gelato topped with caramel and chocolate pearls.

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Cookie or “biscuit” flavored gelato – and pretty much all other desserts for that matter – were everywhere. As a cookie lover who is obsessed with cookie ice creams and cookie crusts (I famously requested m&m cookies to be mixed into the buttercream that filled the center of my 12th birthday cake), I was in heaven. And I was simultaneously appalled that the U.S. shows such little cookie love in comparison. Something else to note – whenever you see “cookies and cream” gelato in Greece, it usually refers to chocolate chip cookies, while gelato containing Oreos is simply called “Oreo.” This vaflaki topped with high quality gelato was one of the best desserts I’ve had in recent memory.

As my mother and I walked around the Plaka and its various squares, we repeatedly passed a restaurant called Cookie Land. There weren’t multiple locations; we just really had no idea where we were going and had zero luck following our map. Despite its suspiciously American title, we finally decided to try it.

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I was immediately intrigued when I looked over their menu and realized that they had cookies, gelato, waffles, pies, cakes, and “bowls,” which they used to refer to their layered dessert cups. I made the obvious choice, a cookie bowl from Cookie Land. Before they served it, they even brought a few complimentary cookies to our table.

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I’ll take that over a bread basket any day of the week! I’m still dreaming of their cookie bowl. It has secured a coveted spot toward the top of my list of favorite desserts ever. Its base was a mix of chocolate mousse and chocolate cookie crumbs, which was topped with cookie flavored custard (that was so airy it was like a mousse), a hidden star-shaped shortbread cookie and some more chocolate mousse, another layer of cookie custard, and then a final layer of milk chocolate ganache and a star cookie to finish it all off. The combination of crunchy and creamy textures and chocolate and cookie flavors was perfection. Basically, it is the dessert I would have created if I had been asked to design my ideal dessert. It’s the dessert that I didn’t even realize my life was missing. I plan to recreate it at home as soon as possible.

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I also tried their mille-feuille bowl, which was whipped cream layered with puff pastry coated in powdered sugar, and it was also great for what it was, but not nearly as complex and potently flavorful as the cookie bowl.

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By a stroke of unprecedented luck, we left Athens right before Greek banks started to close and ATM withdrawals were limited to 60 Euro a day. We escaped to Santorini, an idyllic island driven by tourism that remained seemingly unaffected (at least to a couple of foreigners only there for a few days) by the financial crisis. More desserts awaited us there! Stay tuned…

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Union Square Donuts

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Unlike most of the culinary establishments I seek out, Union Square Donuts found me. I have visited the Harvard Farmers Market in the Science Center Plaza every Tuesday during the summers and autumns that I’ve lived in Cambridge. I always went directly to the Danish Pastry House stand and got a kringle slice (buttery pastry with almonds and almond paste) and sometimes a cookie, and then continued on my way to class. I rarely deviated from this routine. When I returned to the market in 2013, I noticed a sign that read “Union Square Donuts” and listed a few flavors, but didn’t think much of it, despite the sizable crowd gathered there. Because of my many bad experiences at the ever popular Dunkin’ Donuts, I had lost my faith that a truly delicious donut existed. So, that first week, I got my kringle slice, went to class, and didn’t look back. The next week, the stand was back, and again I passed it up on my way to class, but afterward, I followed my gut instinct and decided to try one. By that time in the afternoon, the only flavors left were orange creamsicle and cherry, so I went with an orange creamsicle. The donut was huge and more substantial than any I had eaten previously because they use a brioche dough. I wasn’t in love with the orange glaze, but I knew that going in since it’s never one of my preferred dessert flavors. I decided immediately that I would return the next Tuesday and get there early enough to have my choice of flavors.

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Clockwise from upper left: Chocolate covered pretzel donut, poppy roll, blueberry jam filled donut, brown butter hazelnut crunch donut

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 Clockwise from upper left: Buttered popcorn donut, cinnamon sugar donut muffin, malted milk chocolate donut, birthday cake donut

That’s when I found the brown butter hazelnut crunch donut, the reigning champion for Best Donut I’ve Ever Eaten. It’s the perfect combination of contrasts – sweet and salty, crunchy and fluffy – and buttery, nutty notes. In my opinion, it’s the ultimate donut. The brioche dough has a hint of nutmeg in it and a subtle yeastiness, and it is infinitely light and layered. Browning the butter in the glaze makes it taste rich and nutty, which is complemented by the generously applied chunks of toasted hazelnuts. No matter how many other flavors I try, this is the one I return to again and again and recommend without hesitation to friends trying Union Square Donuts for the first time. When the farmers market ends in late November, I dearly miss having such easy access to high quality donuts. After braving one of the worst winters ever, I decided it was time to break my donut hiatus and trek to their storefront. I’m glad I did, because that’s the first time I was able to try a warm brown butter hazelnut crunch donut, which was next level amazing.

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Brown butter hazelnut crunch donut

To make sure that I wasn’t missing out on another fantastic flavor, I’ve sampled many of their other options. I wasn’t a fan of the poppy roll (because I didn’t know that it had cardamom in it and that flavor completely overwhelmed it) or the chocolate covered pretzel donut (because the texture was slightly tough and I didn’t think the flavor of the milk chocolate added anything interesting to it), but other than that, I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve had there. Their glazes always taste like the freshest and best possible versions of their name – even the buttered popcorn glaze – and their risen brioche dough is consistently the best donut dough I’ve had. Their cake style donuts are great too, and are addictingly crisp on the outside and fluffy and cakey on the inside. I would highly recommend their Birthday cake donut, since it’s simplicity allows their cake donut and chocolate glaze flavors to shine through while still feeling like a whimsical treat thanks to the rainbow sprinkles.

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Berry pistachio donut

Whatever your taste, there is something for you at Union Square Donuts. It’s always great to see a business so willing to create new flavors and to publicize them on social media to keep its customers informed. JUST NEVER TAKE THAT BROWN BUTTER HAZELNUT CRUNCH DONUT OFF THE MENU!!! Thanks.

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The Fab Four of Pittsburgh Ice Cream

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and it’s still home to some of my all-time favorite ice cream (and frozen custard) places. Even though my four favorites have been around longer than I have, I didn’t discover them until I was a teenager (they are kind of off the beaten path). Now they’re all mandatory stops each time I’m back at home.

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Sarris Candies and Ice Cream Parlour in Canonsburg, PA is one part old-fashioned soda fountain-style creamery and two parts chocolate shop, complete with a seasonally changing giant chocolate castle. They’re famous for their peanut butter meltaways and chocolate covered pretzels, but their ice cream is what keeps me coming back for more. I first became enamored with their unreasonably large (one size only) shakes – their chocolate malt (made with vanilla ice cream as the base of course) was my go-to order. Years after getting a shake each time I visited, I heard a young boy in line in front of me rhapsodize about his favorite treat – a sundae made with cookies and cream ice cream topped with marshmallow fluff and milk chocolate hard cap. Woah. I wasn’t ready to try it just yet, but the next time I visited that is exactly what I ordered. It was great, but the marshmallow made it a little too sweet for me. Nonetheless, it shaped my future standard order. Now I always get a sundae with milk chocolate hard cap. They put enough chocolate on top that huge puddles of it pool around the sides of the dish and stay warm and melted, while some forms a hard shell around the ice cream. Their portions of everything are huge and unfinishable, but that just makes it feel more special.

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Cookies and cream ice cream with milk chocolate hard cap, whipped cream, a rolled wafer cookie, and a cherry

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Pralines and cream ice cream with dark chocolate hard cap, whipped cream, a rolled wafer cookie, and a cherry

For years, my mother went to Sugar and Spice in the South Hills of Pittsburgh for cake decorating supplies so that she could make extravagant and inspired birthday cakes for me and other family and friends. I hardly realized they sold ice cream, let alone homemade ice cream, until high school. They have an old-fashioned vibe like Sarris, but without the crazy portions. My favorite flavor is their vanilla – it’s perfectly creamy, rich, and sweet, and it tastes unbelievably fresh. It’s currently the frontrunner for my favorite vanilla in Pittsburgh. I like to dress it up as a sundae, since they do such a nice job of making them look pretty in tall sundae glasses.

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Front: Vanilla ice cream with caramel, Oreos, whipped cream, and a rolled wafer cookie

Back: Vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, whipped cream, a rolled wafer cookie, and a cherry

Glen’s Custard, all the way out in Springdale, PA, is the first frozen custard that I ever tried. It’s kept at a higher temperature than hard ice cream, so it’s the perfect temperature and texture for eating, it’s denser than ice cream because it has very little air whipped into it, and it’s rich like French vanilla ice cream, since it has egg yolks in the base. Glen’s stellar reputation preceded it, but it was apparent at first bite that this was the real deal and it exceeded my expectations. Glen’s always has fresh vanilla and chocolate custard as well as a rotating flavor of the day (my favorite is their butterscotch custard). I tend to stick to some variation of their vanilla – either getting it as part of a sundae or pairing it with another flavor – because it is just that good. My mother loves their “gourmet custard flavors,” which are more reminiscent of hard ice cream than frozen custard to me. Her favorites are caramel cookie dough and malt shop brownie (which includes chocolate malt custard, marshmallow swirl, and brownie chunks). You can even play mini golf while you’re there since they have their own course!

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Vanilla custard, butterscotch custard, caramel, and M&Ms

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 Peanut butter pretzel custard topped with a scoop of vanilla custard

Page Dairy Mart was my final discovery of these four esteemed frozen dairy institutions. Ironically, it’s also the oldest (open since 1951!) and closest to my house. Go figure. The sheer magnitude of their menu, which decorates the entirety of the storefront windows in no particular order, can feel overwhelming…but in a good way. Just driving up to this place is fun, and the absurdity and decadence of their creations adds to this energy. I was practically apoplectic when I realized that they serve Nancy B’s cookies (which is only open during working hours so I can rarely get to the shop) with their ice cream and it had taken me this many years to find out. Do your research, kids. After that epiphanic moment, of course, my first taste of Page’s was in the form of a cookie sundae. It featured their vanilla soft serve, hot fudge, whipped cream, and a warm Nancy B’s chocolate chip cookie. It was as amazing as it sounds. They have so many sundae options and soft serve flavors that I’ll never try them all, but everything I’ve had has been great – especially the birthday cake soft serve cone (with big chunks of vanilla cake throughout) and the arctic swirl made with crushed Nancy B’s cookies. There is truly something for everyone there.

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Arctic swirl made with vanilla soft serve and Nancy B’s chocolate chip cookies

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Sofra Bakery and Cafe

Since it’s my last semester living in Cambridge, MA, I’ve made it my New Year’s resolution to try as many new (to me) bakeries and restaurants as I can. That’s easier said than done when you have places like Flour and Cafe Luna within walking distance, where you can rest assured your trek through the snow would be well worth the effort.

After enjoying a fabulous, Eastern Mediterranean influenced meal at Oleana last year, I learned that Oleana’s Executive Chef Ana Sortun also owns Sofra Bakery and Cafe. Hundreds of glowing Yelp reviews and pictures of their special weekend-only doughnuts later, I was ready to run to Sofra in the middle of the night. Sensibly, I waited until Saturday morning to head over. Their pastry case overflows with exotic and enticing cookies, tarts, and breads. After reading all of the signs, I wanted to try one of everything, but narrowed it down to eight sweet items and one savory for good measure.

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The first item I tried was the morning bun, made from pieces of croissant dough held together by sugar and cinnamon and topped with an orange glaze. It was sweet, crisp, and buttery, but I preferred the bites without the glaze because it was so sweet.

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Morning bun with orange glaze

The pistachio pop tart had a similarly sweet glaze, but luckily it was used more sparingly. The filling had hints of honey and rosewater.

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Pistachio pop tart

The bostock was my favorite pastry of the morning, and combined buttery, eggy brioche dough with almond paste and hints of cinnamon. It had a surprising sweet-salty balance that kept me going back for more.

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Bostock

The brioche doughnut filled with tahini (sesame seed paste) brown butter cream and topped with a salted caramel ganache was not quite what I expected. I liked the dough and the ganache, but the tahini filling was not very sweet and had a savory quality that I found off-putting. There was a lot of filling in this doughnut, so it was impossible to eat around.

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Tahini brown butter brioche donut with salted caramel ganache

I had better luck with the dukkah doughnut, which featured a sour cream cake doughnut as its base. The coconut, phyllo, and hazelnut crunch topping was sweet and slightly mysterious because of the dukkah spices.

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Dukkah crunch sour cream donut

Sofra’s chocolate chunk cookie is an extremely well executed version of the traditional recipe. It’s crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and filled with high-quality dark chocolate disks and notes of brown sugar.

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Chocolate chunk cookie

I was excited to try the unique tahini shortbread, but I was overwhelmed by the potency of the tahini and could only manage one bite. If nothing else, I learned today that I’m okay with tahini in my savory food (like hummus!), but that I’d really prefer for it to stay out of my desserts.

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Tahini shortbread

Sofra is known for its earthquake cookie, which is an extra-chocolaty take on the familiar chocolate crinkle cookie topped with powdered sugar. It strikes the perfect balance between cookie, cake, and fudge in terms of texture and has just the right amount of intense chocolate and palate-pleasing sweetness.

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Chocolate earthquake cookie

I couldn’t end my first visit to Sofra without trying one of their savory lunch options, so I opted for one of their cold meze spreads served with three of their sesame crick-cracks. I chose the squash skordalia spread topped with pepitas, and I was very happy with my decision. It reminded me of butternut squash soup in cold, light-as-air, spreadable form.

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Squash skordalia spread topped with pepitas (left), crick-cracks (right)

I plan to go back soon to try more of their offerings, like the chocolate-hazelnut baklava, simits (Turkish bagels), chai-spiced coffee cake, and spinach falafel!

 

Culinary Adventures in Portland and Seattle

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For years I watched shows like Unique Sweets and The Best Thing I Ever Ate feature countless eateries in Portland and Seattle. It was an exercise in self-torture, since I knew that an opportunity to visit one of these distant cities in the Pacific Northwest would probably never arise. Lucky for me, I was gifted a trip to this area for my 21st birthday last spring and was able to embark on the food-filled vacation this December. Each day was planned to maximize the number of restaurants and bakeries visited, and these are the highlights!

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Blue Star Donuts in Portland was undoubtedly my favorite stop of the whole trip. I had seen their pear, pine nut, sage, and caramel fritters (yes, that’s all in one fritter) featured on Unique Sweets many moons ago, and that particular item always stuck with me as my #1 must try. I had actually forgotten that it was from Blue Star until I walked in and saw the little display sign that read, “Pear Pine Nut Fritter.” Words cannot describe my level of awe and wonder as this realization sank in. This miraculous fritter lived up to my lofty expectations, and each component offered its own flavor and texture while still complementing each other to make the sum better than its parts.

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The Buttermilk Old Fashioned was the other standout doughnut here. It was slightly crisp on the outside and was surprisingly flavorful. The combination of the glaze and the cake had an almost cake-mixey flavor that worked really well here and made this basic doughnut feel like something very special. Blue Star was the only place that got a repeat visit on our trip!

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Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe was an unexpected and delicious surprise. We were walking around Portland’s Alphabet District one stereotypically rainy morning when we came across this shop. It wasn’t until I saw their display of chocolate bars that I realized I had been purchasing their chocolate at grocery stores in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA for years and was already a huge fan of theirs. One of my all time favorite movies also happens to be Moonstruck, so clearly it was fate. When I saw that they had macarons, a huge selection of truffles, and hot chocolate, my excitement multiplied. I ordered malted caramel hot chocolate and it was divine. I also tried their cookies and cream cone truffle (filled with buttercream!) and their gingerbread macaron.

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Since one can’t survive entirely on sugar (at least not for long), I needed to find some savory spots that could match the caliber of the bakeries I had found. I had been craving ramen for a while and was delighted to accidentally stumble upon Boke Bowl. I got their caramelized fennel broth ramen and ordered a side of fried pears. Everything was delicious – the noodles, the eggplant, and especially the rice tots.

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I first found Salt and Straw ice cream at Joan’s on Third in L.A. and knew that I had to visit their flagship store at some point. I got their snickerdoodle and pecan pie ice creams, but really, you can’t go wrong here. They put so much care and consideration into each of their flavors and come up with some really unique combos. They now have a full store on North Larchmont in L.A. as well!

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On a whim, we decided to take a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. Here, we spotted Mora Iced Creamery next to the crepe place we stopped at for lunch. Their store is gorgeous and impeccably clean, and they carry flavors that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I got a cup of speculoos (!) and white chocolate ice cream, and it was so good that I ate it even though I was completely full from my banana-nutella crepe. It reminded me a lot of gelato and rivaled (your highness) Grom in terms of quality. The best part is that you can mail order it, which of course I have done already since returning to the East Coast. I would also highly recommend their dulce de leche with shaved chocolate flavor.

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An adorable ice cream shop called Parfait offered up one of the most expertly crafted ice cream sundaes that I have ever had. I chose a scoop of their chocolate chip cookie ice cream and their caramel brownie ice cream and topped it with caramel, homemade hazelnut toffee pieces, homemade whipped cream, and white chocolate shavings + rainbow sprinkles. This sundae tastes even better than it looks, and it was a stunningly gorgeous sundae. The ice cream somehow melted at exactly the perfect rate to allow for a relaxed pace of sundae consumption, even after being hit with the hot caramel sauce. They also had a ton of other unique and enticing ice cream novelties, like s’more ice cream pie and gingerbread ice cream sandwiches, which I hope to have the opportunity to try someday.

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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!