Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Have Sweet Tooth, Will Travel : A Few of My Favorite Sweet Spots from Around the World

After sharing Lonely Planet's favorite dessert destinations with all of you last week, I got all inspired to create a list of my own. As you all know, one of my favorite things about travel is the opportunity it affords to try new foods  - and these foods always seem more memorable if they come with a hefty dose of sugar! Here are a few of my favorites from the past few years:*
*This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is delicious!



1) Flapjacks, Tom's Cakes, Cambridge, United Kingdom
In addition to being a the creator of traditional pastries and intriguing cakes (like their Lemon and Elderflower loaf), Tom's is the official purveyor of the world's most excellent English flapjacks (okay, official = in my opinion). I discovered Tom's while visiting my brother at university and have made countless pilgrimages since that inaugural visit. Thanks to my wonderful brother, Tom's flapjacks have made regular appearances amongst my Christmas presents for the past few years. Sadly, I'm not sure how I'll get my fix, now that his PhD is over!


2) Tarta de Santiago, Santiago de Compostella, Spain
The Galician city of Santiago is probably better known for the 700 km walk many people take to get there, but it should be famous for this fantastic dessert. Adorned with the symbolic Cross of St. James, this pastry is beloved of pilgrims, tourists and locals alike. It's light, sweet, and heavily flavored with almonds, which, in my opinion, makes it just about perfect.


3) Cookies, Levain Bakery, Upper West Side, New York City, NY
When I first tasted Levain's Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie, I was pretty convinced that it was the best cookie ever...and it was, for about the five minutes that passed until I tasted their Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookie. In any case, Levain makes some of the best cookies ever - even in the face of tremendous popularity and hype. And that's pretty impressive. Almost as impressive as the gargantuan, behemoth, 6-ounce cookies they serve.

No, it's not Spaghetti Eis, it's the Town Hall in Bamberg - still gorgeous, though!

4) Spaghetti Eis, Lido Eiscafe, Bamberg, Germany
So, this was Matt's contribution to the list, and I'll admit it's a good one. Spaghetti eis (literally, 'spaghetti ice cream') can be found all over Germany, and isn't nearly as strange or disgusting as it sounds. It's actually just soft, gelato-like ice cream that's been put through an extruder to look like spaghetti. In the interest of verisimilitude, it's usually vanilla-flavored and served with strawberry 'pasta' sauce, but our favorite cafe offered more than 15 different varieties. It's most often ordered by kids (Matt remembers tasting it during his childhood in Germany) but I guarantee adults will find it just as novel and delicious!


5) Crumbly Fudge, Burnt Sugar, Borough Market, London, UK
How to properly describe butter fudge (also known, in my world, as 'deliciously crumbly fudge)? It's really tricky because I've yet to come across a similar confection in the States. Those who know Scotch or Swiss Tablet will know something of the texture - grainy and sugary, hard and breakable, yet meltingly soft when tasted - but the flavor of the British kind is darker and more intense, with notes of caramel and, well, burnt sugar. Can you tell it's a subject about which I'm passionate? I love this stuff and even spent months trying to track down a recipe after tasting it from the Burnt Sugar shop in the Borough Market in 2009. Eventually I found one, only to lose it again. Maybe someday I'll find it and share it on the blog, because crumbly butter fudge should be shared. It really should.


6) Gelato, Venice (or Florence, or Rome, or Milan, etc.), Italy
This extremely poor quality photo is from Florence, but our favorite gelato was from Venice, far off the tourist track on the island of Lido (where it's much cheaper!). Known for being richer, creamier (and even less fatty!) that regular ice cream, gelato is one of the signature desserts of Italy. Gelaterias boast almost every flavor imaginable, and many have real fruit and nut purees or other flavoring ingredients mixed in. My favorites are usually Amaretto, Walnut or Hazelnut, though I once had a Lemon Meringue Variety that was unforgettable.


7) Giant Cinnamon Roll, The Hilltop, L'Anse, Mighigan
Okay, so I haven't actually been here in the past few years, but the giant cinnamon roll pictured above was enjoyed by me (and my entire family - it's that big!) a Christmas or two ago, so I think it still counts! Tucked away in the frigid Upper Peninsula of Michigan - their website boasts that they are "on the snowmobile trail" for year-round access - The Hilltop has been churning out their famous Sweet Rolls since the 1950s. It was a favorite haunt of my parents when they lived 'up North' (long before I was born), and their 1-pound confection of sweet dough, cinnamon and icing consequently became the stuff of our childhood legends. Check out their webpage for an adorable picture of a baby wrestling a giant pastry!


8) Schneeballen, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
This choice makes the list more from uniqueness than flavor. Rothenburger Schneeballen, literally Rothenburg Snowballs, are famous pastries only sold in the medieval town of Rothenburg (and now online, of course). They're made of long strips of short-crust like dough, compressed into a sphere and, with the help of some special globular tongs, deep fried in boiling fat. On its own, the dough is rather savory and a bit bland, which is why it's covered in powdered sugar before serving - hence, the 'snowball.' Of course, modern versions explore a multitude of possibilities, with maple, almond, white chocolate, milk chocolate, and even Nutella flavored coatings. Some have icing centers or are even filled with marzipan. Schneeballen aren't easy to eat - I'm pretty convinced they were invented so that locals could watch the tourists make fools of themselves - but they are pretty tasty and get extra points for originality.


9) Red Velvet Ice Cream, Dillard's Ice Cream Parlor, Greer, SC
We made a pilgrimage to Dillard's Ice Cream Parlor, a childhood favorite of Matt's, on one of our recent visits to his parents. The place also houses a great produce stand, selling peaches, preserves, and other items from the nearby Fisher's Orchard. On this visit, however, it was all about the ice cream. Huge portions, reasonable prices, and inventive flavors keep so many folks coming back that the line often wraps outside the door! In defiance of tradition - which dictates that you should stick to peach flavors in peach country - I chose a birthday cake variety, but it was Matt's Red Velvet that stole the show. It even had nuggets of cake and ribbons of real cream cheese icing!


10) Cream Tea, The Orchard at Granchester, Grantchester, United Kingdom
I thought I'd end this list with a favorite steeped in tradition and lauded the world over. The photo is from a tea with my brother at Gratnchester, but I've had excellent cream teas in other places also - usually unassuming little tea shops populated by grannies (I had an excellent cream tea in a granny-filled tea shop in Wells a few years ago, but have sadly forgotten the name). Of course, there are a few important qualifications for any cream tea, regardless of provenance. Clotted cream is a must, as is strawberry jam (you can toy with other flavors if you choose, but strawberry is essential). Scones should be tall, reasonably dry, and easy to split for the addition of toppings (they can be with or without currants). I should warn you that there's some stiff regional debate about whether the jam or cream comes first (it's a bit like the Sweet Tea v. Unsweetened Tea debate in the States) - of course, you can judge my preferred method from the photo above.

Well, now you've seen a few of my favorite dessert destinations, what are yours? Share your nostalgic or sweet tooth travel favorites and help me fill up my future itineraries!

1 comment:

  1. Gelato is a must-try when traveling to Italy. Many claim them to be a healthier alternative to regular ice cream. With the variety of flavors available, you are sure to find one that will catch your fancy.


    Calandra Janocha

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