Mid-Week Tangent: Cake-ploration Returns! (sooner than anticipated)

Well, my hiatus from cake-ploration turned out to be shorter than expected. I have to admit, diving back into devouring giant slabs of cake was not an altogether wise decision, especially when combining cake consumption with half a bottle of red wine, and most especially when all of this occurred on the tail end of 10 days without sugar or carbs.  I can only assume that going from one extreme (no carbs/no sugar/no fun) to another (all the wine and all the cake) might have impacted my fair assessment of this cake, but I am reviewing it nonetheless. As it turns out, this cake-ploration has developed into quite the little passion project of mine, and I simply cannot stay away from it, even when I know full  well that my body may rebel as a result.

Let’s talk about the cake, though. On Saturday, which I had already decided was going to be a cheat day, because honestly life without sugar and carbs is not a life I want to live seven days a week, I hemmed and hawed about what was worth cheating for. Ice cream? No. A donut? No. Straight chocolate? Nah. Nothing was sounding good to me. Then I thought about cake, more specifically, moist cake with layer upon layer of thick frosting. Yes, now that sounded more like it.

I was trying to think of where I could go to find a slice of cake that might be worthy of a cheat, and I had a revelatory moment in which a bakery I visited only once, and probably ten years ago, sprung to my memory as if out of nowhere: Sweet Obsessions. Suitably named for this project, I thought. The picture of their chocolate and bittersweet chocolate buttercream cake sealed the deal.  We were driving twenty minutes. For cake. Don’t let yourself consider the carbon footprint associated with my cake-ploration.

The sheer volume of frosting was so promising…

First and foremost, I must say kudos to all of the moist chocolate cakes I’ve had throughout this quest. I’ve never been one to care about the cake itself, but I have to say that if I’ve learned one thing from cake-ploration, it’s to appreciate the actual cake component. This cake was solid, as in tasty and dense without being heavy and moist without being soggy.

The frosting, as always, was the greatest disappointment. After ten days without sugar, I expected the sweetness to overwhelm me like the return of a long-lost friend. It did not. In fact, it barely registered on my sweetness scale. If i’m going to cheat with cake, I want it to smack me in the face with overpowering sugar-coma-inducing sweetness. I suspect it was either swiss meringue buttercream or italian buttercream and I cannot stress enough (even though I’ve already mentioned it many, many times) that these are not suitable forms of buttercream!!!  Where is my saccharine, classic american buttercream, damn it!

Once again, cake perfection eludes me. I’m particularly discouraged after this latest cake-ploration because I broke a perfectly good sugar-free streak for a cake that was, let’s face it, perfectly fine, but not at all my definition of a perfect cake. I still hang on to hope that one day I will find that perfect combination. For this week, though, I admit defeat.

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Mid-Week Tangent: Cake-ploration Season Finale

Well, friends, it was a damn good run of cake eating. All told, I consumed 1-2 slices of cake per week for the better part of a month. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s because I haven’t included a donut, candy, and ice cream count. I’ll spare you the mental math and admit that it’s been a lot of sugar. That’s why today is my cake-ploration season finale. Well, in actuality, Sunday was my cake-ploration season finale, but I’m just getting around to writing about it now.  But as of Monday I am taking a bit of a break from sugar. I know, why on earth would I do that? Never fear, though, I have one last slice of cake to tell you about this season, and rest assured that once I get through this little sugar hiatus I will launch into next season’s search for the perfect cake.

And I will find it, damnit. 

That right there was a little something I call grit. But back to the cake. This weekend I decided to give an old favourite a try to determine if my first true bakery cake love might just be the perfect cake. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. That makes it sound as though the cake was awful, which it was not, so before I create all sorts of false impressions, let’s dive deeper into this.

One day I won’t be so eager to eat my cake that I’m not willing to take even a second to take a picture that makes the cake look appealing!

As I mentioned, I visited an old haunt, True Confections. As happened to me at Trafiq just a week ago, I almost had a minor meltdown when it appeared as though they had no classic chocolate cake. I mean, you cannot have a bakery cafe called True Confections and not have a classic chocolate cake, am I right? Alas, much like last time, only my dazzling powers of observation were to blame. The cake was right there in front of me, on a pedestal no less. Crisis averted yet again!

My second near-meltdown moment happened when I went to pay: $9.25 for a slice of cake?!?! Good lord, when did a little flour, butter and sugar get so damn expensive. And with all the other fantastic cake floating around in this city for $5-6 a slice, how is this place still in business? Okay, I’ll stop ranting like the cheap person I’ve evidently become because, really, can you put a price tag on good cake? No.  But you can put a price tag on decent cake, and it’s about three dollars less than I paid.

The cake itself was the issue here. It was dry, bordering on crumbly in some layers. I’ve simply had too many deliciously moist cakes lately to put up with those kind of shenanigans. The only thing saving this cake was the frosting.

Oh, the frosting.

This is the frosting I’ve been waiting for, a classic, chocolate buttercream. None of that swiss meringue buttercream bullshit. Just pure sugar and butter and chocolate. It won bonus points for setting up firmly like fudge when refrigerated. I will admit that I saved all of the frosting for last, consumed every last bite of it in rapid succession, and have zero regrets. If I could have loaded that frosting onto the chocolate cakes from Buttercup bakery or Magnolia Bakery, I would have found my elusive perfect cake. Alas, life is not that perfect and so my search must continue.

And continue it will, but not for a few weeks. Until then, I will accept any and all referrals for future cake-ploration adventures.

Mid-Week Tangent: Cake-ploration Continues

Last week I wrote about my quest to find the perfect cake. I seem unable to let it go. When I was picking up my (decidedly un-perfect) slice of chocolate decadence cake last week (chocolate mousse masquerading as frosting *shudder*), I noticed a very fine looking cake: vanilla salted caramel. It looked amazing, but chocolate is my first love, so I went with it. I should’ve trusted my instincts.

Sunday night, I persuaded my better half to swing by that same bakery** on our way home, even though it is not really on our way home. As I stood in line, I had a minor panic attack when it appeared that there were no slices left. Thankfully, my better half stayed calm and was able to locate several slices sharing a platter with another cake. Crisis averted. You think I am exaggerating, but it should be clear that I take my cake seriously.

Behold. In all her glory. Bad lighting care of my extreme sense of urgency around consuming her.

I am pleased to announce that this cake was ten times better than its long lost chocolate cousin. Although the thick layers of filling you see were still a mousse, it was somehow more acceptable in caramel form. It could also be that the mousse was studded by little pockets of salted caramel perfection. I am even willing to forgive that the outer ‘frosting’ was caramel cream and not my beloved buttercream. I cannot believe that I am willing to say this, but it’s because the vanilla cake layers were so delightfully moist and flavourful that, when combined with the filling, I didn’t feel the need for copious amounts of sweet frosting. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Suffice it to say, I have not yet found the elusive perfect cake but I can safely say I have found a damn good standby that, thankfully, is not within easy walking distance.*

*Although I did walk 2.5 km home with the slice of chocolate cake last week. I didn’t go on the walk specifically for the cake, but at the end of the day I walked 5 km and returned with a slice of cake. That’s commitment. However, this vanilla salted caramel cake is worth the 5km walk. Easily.

**If you’re in Vancouver, this cake can be found at Trafiq on Main Street.

Mid-Week Tangent: Dangers of a New Neighborhood

I am in love with my new neighborhood and the impact it has on my commute (hello, 15 minutes!), but there is a dark side to my new neighborhood: it’s full of tempting and delicious…and expensive distractions.

We walked 10 blocks in each direction from our house and discovered all manner of ways for us to fritter away our money. There are pizza shops, and fusion restaurants galore, and dear lord there is a Dairy Queen a mere 600 metres from my doorstep. I should not be allowed to live so close to my beloved pecan mudslides. Not only are they dangerous for my health but they also put a serious ding in the pocket book, weighing in (pun intended) at a steep $7 per treat.

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of temptations at my doorstep now.  The one benefit of the suburban life was that very few temptations were within walking distance. Ultimately, I am too lazy to get into my car to drive for treats, but I will walk to them in a heartbeat. This does not bode well for me in my new neighborhood.

Already, in the span of three days, we’ve visited a nearby bakery twice. I am not normally a fan of yeasted donuts (cake donuts for life), but this donut was the best yeasted donut I’ve ever had. And I didn’t have to pay upwards of $4 for it, nor step foot in a hipster donut haven. I wish I could share a picture with you of this dulce de leche stuffed donut coated in thick caramel frosting but I devoured it so quickly that you get only this:

If you look closely, you may be able to see remnants of its deliciousness.

At this point, I am deeply concerned about our bank balances and our waist lines. This could be a very, very dangerous five months for us.

Quest for Gelato Perfection: All Summer and No Perfection

Well, that was an unexpectedly long departure from blogging. I was away for an extended long weekend and planned poorly for this week’s posts. Never fear, though, I am back with my final installment of this Summer’s quest for gelato perfection. And I left the granddaddy of local gelaterias for last. I wish I could say that I planned it that way but this, too, was opportunity gelato.  I also wish I could say I went and saved the best for last (cue sappy Vanessa Williams to accompany), but sadly that was also not the case.

After a summer of trying desperately to find the best gelato, what I’ve come to believe is that nothing will ever taste as good as what I ate in Italy. It’s possible that the gelato there is leaps and bounds better, but it’s equally possible that its deliciousness was heightened by the fact that I was, you know, in Italy, surrounded by vast countrysides of vineyards and historic castles and whatnot. Yeah, that could be it. Still, here we go with this latest experience.

Where: Bella Gelateria (Marinaside location)

What: I ordered the Amarena Cherry and Wickedly Burnt Caramel. My better half ordered the classic salted caramel.

Salted Caramel
Cherry and Wickedly Burnt Caramel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What stood out: First, I have to get this off my chest. I have mentioned several times how I despise gelato shops in which gelato is hidden from view in charmless stainless steel bins. I don’t know why it irks me so, but it does. Only once have I been blown away by the contents of those bins. This was not that time.

Second, and a bit of a sidenote, some advice for those less wise than me: gelato does not make a great pre-concert choice. We stopped for gelato en route to the Guns n’ Roses concert and, though it seems obvious now, I didn’t question whether a giant bowl of gelato would make an ideal pre-show snack. It does not.

In terms of the gelato itself, I can say that the texture was lovely. It was velvety. It commenced melting the second it hit the warm air outside, as one would expect from gelato. It was served properly with a spade and not in scoops.

When it comes to the flavours, I was tremendously disappointed. They were fine. But here’s the thing: this gelateria is widely acclaimed as the best gelato in the city of Vancouver and supposedly the best outside of Italy. The location near my office regularly has a long line (upwards of 45 minutes!) wrapping around the block. If I had waited 45 minutes for this gelato, I’d have been pissed. I do not want to wait 45 minutes for gelato that is “fine”.

The Salted Caramel was nice enough, and was clearly the winner of the three flavours, but I’ve come to believe that salted caramel is one of those flavours that is hard to mess up.

The Amarena Cherry was a grave disappointment. Perhaps this is the one area where Italy legitimately has a leg up because I’m certain their cherries actually taste like cherries, whereas anything cherry-flavoured here seems far too subtle and/or overly sweet. I have decided that, aside from Dolce Gelato in White Rock, I am through ordering cherry flavoured gelato here. It is dead to me.

Now let me unleash my bitterness about the over promising and under delivering Wickedly Burnt Caramel. This flavour is living a lie. It is decidedly not burnt, and presents its consumer with nothing even remotely wicked. My boyfriend described it best when he said it was “caramel lite”, as in it had the most subtle hint of caramel flavour possible for such a boldly named gelato. It was the biggest disappointment of the evening.

My final conclusion on Bella Gelateria is twofold: 1. This place is overhyped to the extreme and 2. Location may matter for this gelateria. We may have chosen a dud, but then again, part of multi-location eateries is meant to be their consistency. Make it good everywhere or don’t make it at all, I say.

I’m sad to end this summer’s quest with such a lacklustre finale. However, I still have hope for finding brilliant gelato next year, or at least visiting my Kelowna discovery many, many times when we make our move to Vernon. Until then, may you find your own gelato perfection and, if and when you do, please loop me in!

 

Triumphant Return of the Quest for Gelato Perfection

This was opportunity gelato, plain and simple, as in my boyfriend and I were picking up a birthday cake in a quaint little bakery somewhere in the heart of Bellingham when I noticed there was a chocolate and gelato shop next door. Had it not been for proximity, no gelato would’ve been consumed.  I should know better than to be tempted by a store that sells two completely different products. One of them is bound to be inferior. Though I can’t say for certain that the chocolate was any better, I can say the gelato left a lot to be desired.

Where: Chocolate Necessities & Gelato, Bellingham, WA

What I Had: Cherry Mania and Mascarpone

What Stood Out: I have no idea what is going on with me this year. I have never in my life been so tempted by cherry-flavoured anything, and now it appears to be my flavour of choice.  This was NOT my best cherry flavour experience.

The picture says it all. Disappointing. Texturally off.  Sigh.

Here’s the skinny:

The Mascarpone ice cream had good flavour, with more of a distinct mild cheesiness than I’ve had in many similar flavours. The Cherry Mania was indeed cherry-like, but completely unbalanced (i.e. way too sweet, and that’s saying a lot for a sugar fiend like me!). This is the most positive feedback that I have.

In general, the “gelato” had way too many icy crystals to be considered true gelato. I couldn’t tell whether it was just ice cream, or whether it was stored at an improper temperature. The glass case housing the gelato had a great deal of condensation on it, so much so that I had to bend down and crane my neck to even read the names of the flavours in the back row. On top of that, the gelato broke my spoon. Now, I may be an aggressive consumer of sweets at the best of times, but even in my most enraptured gelato eating moments I’ve never broken the spoon.

I should learn that when gelato doesn’t look fantastic in the case, it’s probably not going to taste much better, but I feared that if I didn’t seize the opportunity I would never get back to my quest for gelato perfection. I’m sure you can tell this stop on my gelato journey was far from perfection. In fact, I feel certain that the Orange gelato, which looked heinous in colour and even stranger in texture, and which appeared to be puking itself out of its metal bin, was actually attempting to escape its fate as mediocre gelato.  Having experienced the gelato, I completely understand its plight.

ps. However, if you want a wonderful carrot cake, do visit Pure Bliss Desserts directly next door. I still regret not buying a salted caramel cupcake in lieu of the gelato.

Mid-Week Gelato Quest: Gelato Repeat Repeat

No, that is not a typo. I am outing myself, yet again, for failing to visit a new gelato destination before my weekly quest for gelato perfection post.  It is trickier now that I’m working, and was made even trickier this weekend when I decided to host my own birthday party, which essentially turned one of my free days into a full-on scramble to get food, drink and decor sorted.  I am really seeing a pattern here, and that pattern is that I am a master of excuses.

Instead of broadening my horizons like I am supposed to be doing, I visited Dolce Gelato for the third time (here’s visit 1 and visit 2 if you’re curious). I’ll spare you the lengthy intros and jump right to flavours, because at the very least I did try two brand-new-to-me flavours. Trust me, that’s harder than it sounds.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

My boyfriend would like to note what a fine hand model he makes.

The Gelato: 

My boyfriend, who always shows more restraint than I, ordered one measly flavour, Bacio. It’s chocolate hazelnut and it tasted like frozen Ferrero Rocher filling, which is pretty much as good as it gets in the chocolate hazelnut world if you ask me. It was velvety, chocolatey, hazelnutty perfection. If you’re in the mood for pure indulgence, get it.

My flavour choices were difficult. I really wanted the Cassata again, but have a tendency to stick with my favourites. Plus, I knew if I was going to pawn this gelato trip off as a new post, I better at least get different flavours.  In the end, I went with the Variegato and the Stracciatella.

The Variegato is a sour cherry gelato and packs some seriously tart kick. I am not always a fan of fruit flavours, but lately anything cherry has been a go-to for me. Aside from the foresta nera (essentially black forest) gelato that I had at Dolce last time, this is the best cherry gelato I’ve had outside of Italy. It was creamy and its sweetness was perfectly offset by sharply sour cherries.  That probably sounds offensive. Who wants sharply sour cherries? I do. They are amazing.

The Stracciatella was a strategic choice. I’m a firm believer that the simpler the gelato flavour, the more challenging it is to do it really, really well. You can’t get much simpler than vanilla with chocolate shavings.  It was very good, maybe not the best I’ve had, but very, very good. The vanilla base was top notch and ultra creamy. For me, it just needed way more chocolate. I’m also a chocoholic so perhaps take that with a grain of salt.

Overall: I don’t regret returning here. It was the only logical choice since we were golfing/Farmer’s Market-ing nearby. Any other destination would have been way too much driving given that it was my birthday and I had no desire to spend the whole day in the car. Plus, for once I actually picked complimentary flavours instead of cramming two things that should never be together into one tiny cup. That’s learning, my friends. After three visits, I still stand by my recommendation for Dolce Gelato. In a word: yum!