Noted Australian cultural authority and sweet eater Soda and Candy has tagged me with a meme. And thank God. Seriously. I normally don’t like doing memes, but I haven’t a single thing to write about, so this is quite welcome.
S&C's meme asks you to list seven sweet things you enjoy. After doing a quick count, I realized that listing seven sweet female bloggers would result in at least two or three brandishing a rolling pin in my direction. Therefore, in the interest of my personal safety I’ve decided to instead list the seven best desserts I’ve ever eaten out. Not all are fancy or great culinary accomplishments, but all were delicious and several created a cherished memory.
Mexican hot chocolate, Senor Fred
Senor Fred is a Mexican place in my neighborhood. The food is good and the atmosphere is nice, but on the whole it’s pretty unremarkable - except for the Mexican hot chocolate. It’s served in a big coffee cup and is extremely thick and rich. It is actually as much like a pudding as a hot chocolate. Creamy and velvety and tasting deeply of dark chocolate. Best of all, it’s served with freshly made churros for dipping. And these aren’t theme park churros. These are deep fried slabs of sweet dough, perfectly undercooked so they stay pliable and slightly elastic, then rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Exquisite.
Cheese roll, Porto’s Bakery
Porto’s is a Cuban bakery here in Los Angeles. Everything, from pastries to breads to mouthwatering roast pork sandwiches, is exceptional. But the best thing on the menu is the cheese roll. Sweet cream cheese filling is surrounded by layers of flaky phyllo dough and a lacquered sugar-glazed surface that cracks when you bite into it. Light as air and delicious.
Tres leches cake, Casona
To continue the Cuban theme, Casona is a Cuban restaurant in my hometown. It opened a few years ago, and I ate there when I was home for the holidays last year. I’d never had tres leches cake before. It’s a spongy cake soaked in three kinds of milk – evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. I know it doesn’t sound that great, but it’s wonderful. It has a unique texture that I haven’t encountered anywhere else, and the texture is what makes the cake special. The closest comparison I can make is to the little cake pieces on the outside of the ice cream bars called Strawberry Shortcakes and Chocolate Eclairs. Imagine a whole slice of cake with that texture, and that’s kind of close.
Key lime pie, forgotten greasy spoon in Key West
The exact location I had this pie is lost to the mists of time, but boy do I remember my first bite. A bracing citrusy tartness dominated, and the lime flavor was strong. I’m sure the local limes were juiced the same day I ate the pie, and it showed. Still the best key lime pie I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot.
Chocolate ice cream, Good 'N Plenty
Surely nothing as unadorned as a simple bowl of ice cream could make a list of great desserts, could it? It could. Good 'N Plenty is a family-style restaurant in the Amish country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. My family used to make a day trip to the Amish country quite often when I was little, and this was usually where we ate dinner. The menu is littered with authentic Amish classics like buttered egg noodles, chow chow, apple butter and shoofly pies. But I always loved their chocolate ice cream best. It was served alone in a freezing steel bowl, and the creamy, milky flavor was phenomenal. I wondered if this place was a romanticized childhood memory or the real deal, and I had the chance to find out when I went just a couple of years ago. It is most definitely the real deal.
Mango pudding, Hong Kong food stall
Somewhere in the maze of food stalls that wind through the streets of Hong Kong, I had this fantastic dessert. It was a molded pudding that resembled a tiny bundt cake. The base layer was a moist dark chocolate cake, and the top layer was a refreshing mango pudding that had the texture of a very firm flan or egg custard. I’m not especially fond of actual mangoes, but this dessert had a great texture and just the right balance of richness and lightness.
Water ice, South Philly truck
When I was a little kid, my parents would ship me and my brother off to my aunt and uncle in South Philly for a week every summer. In return, my parents would take in my two cousins afterwards so that each couple got a kid-free week to enjoy themselves. The highlight of the week was always the water ice truck. Every evening when the sun started to go down and the sweltering heat emanating from the concrete began to dissipate, we’d hear the truck coming. Ice cream trucks usually played chimes, but the water ice truck had a stereo and blasted rock music out the back. No matter how many years this was a ritual for us, I swear the only song they ever played was Juice Newton’s “Queen Of Hearts”. The water ice was shaved ice drizzled with sugary sweet syrup and served in a paper cone. Cherry was my favorite flavor, and to this day I’ve never seen a red quite as red as cherry water ice.