Tag Archives: dessert

Lame Adventure 292: Food Porn

One of my dear friend Milton’s great passions is cake.  The man can speak rhapsodically about long-shuttered obscure bakeries with the same degree of affection others reserve for a departed mate, relative or pet.  He can be merciless in his opinion about red velvet cake for that confection proves reliably disappointing.  One cake that consistently delivers his seal of approval is the Magnolia Bakery’s Hummingbird cake.  Unfortunately, I have searched my extensive personal photo archive of thousands of images that I have shot over the course of the years but much to my regret, I have yet to photograph a slice of one my buddy’s favorite cakes.  To fill this void, I am posting a picture of the Valentine’s Day cake he had made last month.

Yellow cake with white butter-cream frosting and strawberry filling.

I would like to add that he ate this entire cake himself in a single sitting at his desk at work, but I jest.  That is something one of the more dysfunctional nabobs at my place of employ would do.  Milton is very good at sharing with others, so  his colleagues very likely view him as “the cake guy”.  I am sure that he’s quite a popular and adored member of the staff.

Unlike Milton, I’m not much of a cake woman.  I like cupcakes, but I’m not a fan of a large slice of anything with frosting. Last month at work, to celebrate my sidekick Greg’s birthday, he wanted a chocolate banana layer cake.  I could barely eat half a slice.  It was a struggle to get down.  When I had given up I emailed an image of it to my Special Someone under the subject heading “I. Am. Stuffed.”


Me: Jesus, what a dense cake!  I feel like I ate the Alien.  I did the best I could with my piece of it.

SS: LOL. That’s it?! I wish I had your petit appetite.

Me: Oh, cut me a break!  That thing is enormous!  It weighs as much as a Buick and feels like a Buick idling in my gut right now.

SS: I could eat half that [entire] cake and not look back.

Like Milton, my Special Someone has a sweet tooth for cake.  Although I am not much of either a cake or dessert fan, I do like cookies, in particular the legendary six ounce warm chocolate chip cookies that are baked fresh throughout the course of the day at an Upper West Side institution, the Levain Bakery, conveniently located just a short trot from my sanctum sanctorum.

If this picture was scented it would reek of the aroma of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.

During a casual email exchange with Special Someone, I mentioned Levain and sent her the link to the cookie portion of the site.  She thought their cookies looked amazing.  The next day we visited Levain so she could try one.  My favorite is the traditional chocolate chip walnut variety, but Special Someone hates walnuts to a near violent degree going so far as to claim they’re racist.  I resist the urge to fall into the trap of asking for an explanation of this intentionally absurd declaration. Since it’s the weekend, the line outside is long, and the aroma of warm chocolate is intoxicating.  We have both been subject to far worse New York City line-waiting experiences.  At least this one smells like paradise.  I don my little spender cap and ask:

Me:  What flavor would you like?

SS:  Can we get the dark chocolate chocolate chip?

Me:  Of course.  We’ll get whatever you want.  I like them all [muttering] and I’m perfectly fine with ditching the dream of eating my favorite flavor with you.

Special Someone is fixated on the cookies on display.

SS:  I think I want the dark chocolate peanut butter chip.  Let’s get that!

We get both the chocolate chocolate chip and the chocolate peanut butter chip.  We hightail back to my lair, open our bag and place them on a plate.  I am eager for us to dig in.

SS:  Hey, I thought you wanted to photograph these for your blog?

Me (salivating):  Huh?

She whips out her iPhone and takes a picture.

Dark chocolate peanut butter chip on left and dark chocolate chocolate chip on right. Cookie bliss somewhere in-between.

We first try the chocolate peanut butter chip.  The center is warm, ooey, gooey, and the peanut butter chips are melty, too.  This cookie is like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on steroids.  For those of you that are peanut and nut-averse, take it from us that the chocolate chocolate chip is equally satisfying; like a chocolate lava-filled brownie with a crusty shell.

Special Someone enters cookie-bliss and I follow her lead.  As we eat our cookies, I realize that cake-connoisseur Milton is onto something when he laments the loss of the many bakeries he’s loved that are no longer around. If the Levain Bakery ever shutters, that will be a sure sign that the Upper West Side is on the decline.  In fact, it might be yet another indicator that western civilization on a whole has entered freefall.

Levain Bakery ever going away! I can't face it!

Lame Adventure 151: Forbidden Fruit

On a chilly late Saturday afternoon, I was standing inside the entrance of Whole Foods in Union Square, waiting for Albee.  To kill time I photographed the wall of All Natural Tortilla Chips in olive flavor and then I turned my camera’s attention towards the opposite side wall of Darling Clementines.

Great wall of tortilla chips

Before I could attain a properly lit shot of this apparently forbidden fruit, Bored Security Guard, a woman half my age and twice my size, begins yelling at me:

Bored Security Guard:  What are you doing?

Me:  I’m photographing the clementines.

Bored Security Guard:  You can’t do that!

Me:  Why?

Albee enters mid-commotion.  The Bored Security Guard is stumped, not wanting to admit that shoplifting is slow and she’s itching for something to do which is why she has zeroed in on innocuous me.

Bored Security Guard (light bulb):  You need permission!

Albee: We’re with the FDA.

That quip instantly thwarts any possibility of me facing further harassment and frees us to proceed with our actual mission – sampling the zeppole at Led Zeppole on East 14th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.

Led Zeppole at dusk.

After dining at Francis Ford Coppola’s restaurant, Rustic, last month where I had excellent zeppole for dessert, I wanted another fix of this Italian delicacy, but I was unsure where I might find it in Manhattan since winter is not synonymous with street-food season.  A quick Google search took me to Led Zeppole’s site.  I forwarded the link to dessert-lover Albee who was immediately on board for a fix of fried dough, too.

The shop is a minimally decorated simple storefront, with a modest array of desserts on display in a case.  Interior Design magazine will never publish a feature on this shop unless they do a story on how best to present product in an effort to lose customers.

Minimalist decor.

Desserts on display.

Menu board

A more welcome message than, "Clog arteries here."

I asked the friendly chap behind the counter about the zeppole and he said he’d have a fresh batch made “in two minutes.”   Within minutes, this man of his word gives us a bag with three piping hot, powder sugar-smothered zeppole that proved very satisfying – crispy on the outside, doughy within, and not greasy at all.  Yet, as soon as we bit into these treats the fronts of our black winter jackets were so heavily dusted with powdered sugar, to the unassuming observer we surely appeared to be two graduates of the Tony Montana School of Cocaine Addiction.

The star attraction zeppole on display, but the delectable fresh fare is smothered in powdered sugar.

Fried Oreo's - another Led Zeppole crowd pleaser.

For those that are not lactose intolerant, these cream puffs rate a thumbs up, too.

I asked Albee if he wanted the third one, but he also had a slice of the carrot cake.

Albee's carrot cake.

Although I could have easily stuffed myself with a second zeppole, I resisted.  As good as these zeppole are, one is excellent, two is pushing it, and eating three in one sitting is a one-way ticket to the Land of the Third Butt Cheek, a place I intend to never visit.  Yet, for $3 for a bag, this is a very sweet deal to share with friends.  We’ll be back, but I’ll make sure to avoid Whole Paycheck up the street on my way over.

Forbidden fruit.

Lame Adventure 150: Billy’s Bakery to the Rescue

“Nothing is easy,” could have been my boss Elsbeth’s mantra this entire week where one tile snafu followed another.  She repeated that phrase so many times, I suggested we translate it into Latin and put it over our entrance.  In addition, she beaned herself royally when she smacked her head into an elevator door.  She misjudged this door she had previously managed to walk through without incident for at least a dozen years, but apparently her successful-door-entering karma took a holiday.  When she handed out our weekly paychecks, my sidekick, Greg, looked at his baffled.  An exclamation mark popped up over his head, prompting Elsbeth to flash an expression best described as “now what’s wrong?”

Greg:  How come I was only paid for 39 hours?

Elsbeth:  Don’t you get paid the same salary every week?

Greg (in a tone reeking of feeling screwed):  Not this week.

I took a long drag on my Sherlock Holmes pipe and concluded that our payroll processor orchestrated this miscalculation straight out of left field.  Elsbeth shifted gears away from the tile challenges to plead Greg’s case for his missing fortieth hour of weekly pay.  With the going getting dumber by the day, The Boss confided to me that we needed emergency cupcakes.

Elsbeth:  Get me one with chocolate cake and chocolate icing.

Me:  That’s serious chocolate, Boss.

Elsbeth:  This is serious.

Ling and I sprang into action.  Our destination was Billy’s Bakery, a short walk up Franklin Street in Tribeca.  Ling ordered the troops to give her their first and second choice flavors.   Greg and Under Ling complied.  The Quiet Man announced:

The Quiet Man:  I want coconut or nothing.

Ling:  Last week, when we got cookies, they didn’t have your triple chocolate.

The Quiet Man:  I want coconut or nothing.

Ling:  You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.  What’s your second choice?

The Quiet Man:  I live on the razor’s edge.

I give Ling my screaming let it go glance which looks very similar to my forehead smacking you realize that this is a completely hopeless situation so why are you wasting your breath? glance.  We head out the door and trek like two mush dogs through lower Manhattan’s icy tundra.

Get cupcakes here. Now.

As soon as we enter Billy’s, a homey palace of dessert, we trample each other en route to the cupcake case and scope it out wild-eyed.

The selection.

Elsbeth's chosen one in the spotlight, chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream icing.

Ling:  I don’t see coconut.  Do you?

Me:  No.

Ling asks a clerk for coconut and is told that it’s a special order flavor that is sold in quantities of a dozen.  Ling is dismayed.

Ling:  I feel bad for him. You’re good with impossible situations.

Me:  Am I?  I’m two thirds of the way to the crematorium and I’ve yet to turn my dead end life around.

Ling:  Yeah, I know that, but are we really going to go back to the office with nothing for The Quiet Man?  Think of something!

Feeling pressured, I approach a second clerk, Kim the Magnificent.

Kim the Magnificent

Me:  We’re in a situation.  Our boss wants us to get cupcakes, but our colleague who refuses to come up with second choices, only wants coconut. Last week, he wanted a triple chocolate cookie when we got cookies, but his cookie wasn’t available.  We hate denying him.  Is there a compromise solution we can work out here?

Kim the Magnificent:  We have coconut cake.

Pie and Cake-land

Me:  How much is a slice?

Kim the Magnificent:  Five dollars.

Ling and I wince.

Me:  I bet that’s a huge slice.  He doesn’t want a huge slice.  Yet, I suppose if you did a half-slice that would screw up the cake’s slicing system, right?

Kim the Magnificent processes this idea.  She consults her colleague, who had previously offered the gloomy coconut cupcake forecast.

Kim the Magnificent:  Do we still do those small slices?

Gloomy Coconut Cupcake Forecast Colleague:  We do.

Me:  How much is a small slice?

Kim the Magnificent:  Two fifty.

Ling:  We’ll take one!

When we return to the office, The Quiet Man is not at his desk, so we leave him a subtle message:

A hint of cake to come.

Ling gives everyone his or her chosen cupcake that we all inhale in seconds flat.

Gone in 60 seconds.

I get my favorite, the yellow daisy with chocolate icing.  It’s a classic yellow butter cake with a generous swirl of sweet, but not gag-inducing sweet, soft chocolate buttercream icing.  On a freshness level of week old fish 1 to piping-hot-out-of-the-oven-pizza 10, this cupcake brings out the Spinal Tap grade of level 11.  Elsbeth, Ling, Greg and Under Ling, award their tasty treats with the same sky-high honor.  Until her phone rings again, The Boss celebrates 47 solid seconds of pure Billy’s Bakery comfort food bliss.

The Quiet Man returns to his desk under the false impression that his request only rated a plastic fork.  Ling explains the impossibility of getting a coconut cupcake.  The sound effect here is a downbeat.  We then hand him his cake box that weighs comparable to a kitten.

The box.

The Quiet Man:  What’s this?  [hopeful]  A coconut cupcake?

Me:  No, it’s your second choice.

The Quiet Man:  But I don’t make second choices.

Me:  We did for you.

The Quiet Man opens the box and sees his small slice of coconut cake that looks enormous to our amateur cake-cutting eyes.

The (small) slice.

The Quiet Man (excited):  Is this coconut?

Ling:  Yeah!

Me:  And they call it a small slice.

Greg:  That thing’s huge!  I want one of those!

Under Ling:  Me, too!

The Quiet Man escapes the salivating vultures and hightails to his lair in the back of the office.  Afterward, completely sated, he informs Ling and I:

The Quiet Man:  That was the best coconut cupcake I ever had!

Thanks to Billy’s that “cupcake” was about the only thing that went right in our department all week.

Billy's menus

Sandwich cookies and pies!

Pecan pie

Billy's Bakery, a source for excellent eats.