Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blueberry Scones and Chai Latte of the Gods at Three Little Figs

Three Little Figs is a cafenista's dream for anyone living near Davis Square. Tucked away on Highland Ave., it's the sort of charming little cafe that you want to sit in for five hours while nursing a designer coffee beverage and watching snow waft down outside. However, you will be lucky to get a seat. Especially on the weekends, when people line up to wait for one of the coveted white tables or a spot at the handsome darkwood bar. If you can't hold out for half an hour, then you sit in one of the waiting chairs against the wall and scarf down your goodies straight out of the bag.

Should you score a seat, you will likely wait even longer for your coffee, but when it does arrive, it will be succor from Valhalla...the baristas at Three Little Figs treat their drinks like masterpieces and it shows when you take the first sip.

So why is everyone willing to cram into this little shop and jostle around for a seat? Well, it's not even a French cafe, come down to it, but a cafe started by a woman with Greek roots, who has gems on the menu such as spinach pie and goat cheese scones, along with a ravishing array of pastries. And as the name suggests, fig jam flows like honey here, to slather upon the muffins, scones, biscuits, and cakes in their glassy display case.

And I know you're wondering how their scones stack up. A crunchy exterior dotted with little beads of sugar, a light and flaky interior with a mild taste. The flavors are not going to hit you over the head, unless you order the lavender scone. The blueberry and fig n' pear scones are much more subdued, and go nicely with a bit of jam and butter. I would prefer a hint of lemon or lime zest to give them a little zip, and a bit more fruit for a juicier scone. But perhaps this is the limit of the scone itself; it is fundamentally a conveyance machine for other substances, such as clotted cream, golden syrup, chocolate sauce, custard, etc. It is the defacto bridesmaid of the pastry world...nobody is going to swoon over it the way they might over a cream puff or an eclaire.

Truth be told, the ginger bomb muffins, the eggnog cake, and the bacon corn muffin at Three Little Figs are much flashier on looks and taste, so by no means limit yourself to the scones. And if you're going in for a beverage, a word to the wise: avoid the iced tea. Mine came with a thick cloud of sediment that gave my tea the appearance of having a plankton bloom in full swing. Stick with the hot drinks; that's their bag at Figs.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Hi-Rise Bakery and Spotted Dick

The Hi-Rise bakery used to be tucked away in a colonial yellow house on Brattle Street, a wellknown secret among the Cambridge crew, it's charm in the winter was to cram into their
small counter space, pick out a wondrous dainty or two and then abscond with it up the old, wood staircase, into their upstairs parlor. These days, they're housed in a modern sort of bakery on Mass Ave. that has all the charm of a doctor's waiting room. While I'm trying to forgive them for this bombastic insult to the once darling ambience of the cafe, I have to admit I haven't spent much time in their new spot. 

But the one thing that I can't criticize about the Hi-Rise is their heavenly pastries, the most loved of which has to be their blueberry lime bread. It is, for my purposes, an especially tall muffin/scone, with a gorgeously light crumb, bursting with blueberries, and that hint of lime that the California girl in me goes nutty for. It is no exaggeration to say that I moved back to Boston for this blueberry lime cake, for it really ranks as one of my top ten favorite baked treats of all time.

It's hard to explain how it starts off as a muffin, veers a bit into a cake, and then ends with a waxy, sugar laden top that defies category. Equally mystifying is how they got such a beauteous lime flavor without any visible zest in the cake. But some mysteries I am content to let be. With my plentiful triangle of high-grade butter in hand, I downed the blueberry-lime bread in one blissful go.

But be warned. And this may come as a shock to those of you not from the East Coast. If you visit during the winter, they won't be offering the blueberry lime cake. And like me, you might have a moment of outrage, and demand to know why they're missing. Well, the Hi-Rise uses fresh blueberries, kids. Which means they're seasonal. So savor them whilst you may!

But take comfort, Bostonians, in knowing that during winter, one British treat is readily available to all within distance of Shaw's Market. For a tenner, you might feast on this pudding classic. Ambrosia pudding poured over Spotted Dick.


Davis Square Farmers Market: No Place for a Scone

The essence of the scone is that it must be dense, while still cakey, and it must be tender without falling into crumbs. It is, under no circumstances, supposed to have a consistency
that belongs on the ice at the Stanley Cup. It should not have a sheen like a hard cooked dinner roll. It should not, in my opinion, be made of whole wheat flour either.

Alas, such creatures exist. But they shall not be called scones on my blog. What I purchased this summer at the Davis Square Farmers Market qualifies as a roll, or perhaps a hiker's carb-packed nutritional bar, but it shall not go to the ball, it shall not quaver before the queen in anticipation of a little butter and clotted cream.

But, perhaps that is what you get when you buy scones from a bread stand. People who make darn good glutinous loaves that would do any sandwich proud. Gorgeous pizzas, yummy rice-based cakes of sesame and ricotta cheese, sourdough heaven, a rainbow of flour products that have been artfully made. Yes, the bread stand (called "Hearth Song"?) has all of those things, and is more than deserving of our business. I personally made off with several pizzas, all of which were happily devoured.

And I so did want to love that berry scone I purchased. But for reasons mentioned above, I was forced to DQ this treat from my scone hunt. I will not further abase the poor dear with bad grades. Go for the bread, kids, and stay away from the hockey pucks.

Scone Mania: Strikes and Gutters

In beginning my scone amble this afternoon, my eye was caught by the sign over Pemberton Farms, near Davis Square, advertising baked goods, among other things. I decided not to be a snob and wandered in. And, ah me, shelf after shelf of specialty foods awaited. Glistening rows of over-priced luxury food. Brandy butter, fig jam, little tubs of designer ice cream...all of this building in my mind the excitement for what kind of scones they might have at the bakery counter.

I might've forgiven them the fact that there was only one scone left (it was 4 o'clock). And I might've even bought that lonesome triangle of dough except for one thing. I asked the girl at the counter who made their scones for them. Reply: Um, yeah, we get them, and then we bake them here, kind of like a batter thing. I nodded my head sagely, as if that was a clear reply. Then I slowly backed away from the counter and flounced out of the store.

But I will say that Pemberton Farms has one of my favorite jams, from Sarabeth's in NYC.

Is it just me, or is there not something immensely comforting about a wall of jam? Not to be deterred, I went to Porter Square Bookstore, on the tip that Cafe Zing! sold good scones. The last few times I passed by, there was a line out the door of people ganging up for coffee; a promising sign! I lucked out today, as there was only a modest crowd, and I wormed my way up to the counter, to see several tempting scones, with a reassuring sign that indicated who actually made those bad girls (Petsi Pies). For slightly under $5 I sidled away with a berry scone, butter, and a small glass of peach iced tea.

There are worse ways to spend an afternoon, I realized, biting into a cakey, soft scone, inundated with fat berries, little bursts of purple, blue, and raspberry staining a cream yellow crumb. The taste was excellent, not too sweet and not too tangy. The dusting of powdered sugar was just right, and with a little ice tea, the entire thing went down my gullet post haste.

Taste: Excellent
Texture: Excellent
Appearance: Quite nice. Put it on a nice plate, in the middle of a British meadow, and it
would be fit for Alice in Wonderland.
Accoutrement: Two pats of butter chucked in the bag.
Price: $3
Grade: A (If they'd served clotted cream and put it on a pretty plate, this tasty jewel
would've made it to an A+)

The Scone Hunt Begins: Diesel Cafe Review

I always thought that the mysterious "elf bread" referred to in Lord of the Rings, bread so potent and compact that it could keep a man going for weeks on just one bite, must actually be some derivative of the British scone. Wodgy, dense, glutinous to the extreme, packed with 30+ grams of fat: the scone really ought to count as a hefty meal rather than something to tide us over between lunch and dinner. And, oh, let me count the ways I adore this homely, humble creature. So much so, in fact, that I've decided that my first task as the Boston Bakery Babe is to work my way through every scone in Boston.

Not that Boston is well known for scones. It really isn't. But I have a hankering, dang it. Both for scones and for surveying the culinary lay of the land. I should also mention that I'm supposed to be on a gluten-free diet. But this little scone mania in no way represents a breakdown of will power or excessive carbohydrate starvation. No, no. A very little scone surely shall do no harm.

So today, for the flagship scone, I stopped by the Diesel Cafe, on a rainy, wet afternoon, and laid eyes on a maple oatmeal scone the size of a dinner plate. I lost no time in acquiring this, along with a gallon of iced jasmine green tea (well, it wasn't a gallon, but it may arguably be the most generous quantity of ice tea I've ever had).

Looks kind of tasty, eh? Here's how the Diesel scone sorts out:

Texture: Moist and soft, but peppered with chewy oats, with a hard but not impenetrable crust.
Taste: Unremarkable, except for the maple glaze, which was reminiscent of a maple glazed doughnut, extremely sweet.
Appearance: A deflated Ikea meatball smothered in gravy.
Accoutrement: Butter. But I had to ask for it as an extra.
Price: Pretty good. $3 for half a pound brick
Grade: B

This scone, on the whole, was like a bowl of mashed potatoes: filling comfort food without a ton of flavor, yet somehow you can't stop eating.

I will definitely be coming back to Diesel, if not for the ice tea of Zeus and the quasi pool-hall ambience, then to sample their other, flashier scones.