Sunday, July 29, 2012

Royal Pastry Shop: Safari into the wilds of suburbia

In that apex of cinematic glory that was Romancing the Stone, one line always sticks in my mind. It is when Kathleen Turner takes the wrong bus and ends up lost in a South American jungle. "Angel, you're hell and gone from Cartegena," Michael Douglas says to her. This line has cropped up many times in my life, always when it becomes clear that I've misread the map, misjudged the neighborhood, or inevitably gotten lost.

And it popped up succinctly in my mind as I hoofed my way from the Kendall T stop, into the wilds of the suburbs. Block after block went by, all signs of M.I.T. and student life faded, I kept thinking, "surely this is the cross looked so close to the T on the map." But, alas, it was a solid twenty-five minutes before I came to the right area, and by then I had realized that I was parallel to the Cambridgeside Galleria, that I had, in fact, walked in sweltering heat as far as the Lechmere stop on the Green Line.

I looked around the street that seemed just a tad less shiny and friendly than the Somerville streets I'm used to. Three guys in wife-beater t-shirts handed another guy standing in a doorstoop several twenties. I walked by a large sign that promised to kill a chicken for me on the spot.

And a store for anyone needing a bright red, sequined wedding dress.

I soldiered on, amuck with the muggy heat, desperately thirsty, promising myself that at the end of this quest would be an old-school Italian bakery with cheap goodies, and, heaven willing, a beverage case with cold soda. The elusive Royal Pastry Shop. Oh yes, it would be mine. But when at last it came into sight, I was slightly underwhelmed. No matter, I told myself, it's the inside that counts.

I walked in to a smallish shop that had shelves that were stacked for utility rather than eye appeal.

It wasn't the happy place. The women behind the counter looked like I was an exotic bug when I took out my camera to snap pictures of the cream puffs. I had the feeling that this was the kind of shop that wasn't used to people outside the neighborhood ambling in. But I spied some promise in the cases. After all, you can't go wrong with Italian cookies.

And cream puffs.

And a breakfast pastry or two.

But I had a hot tip on the ricotta pie. Or "rigotta" as the lady at the counter pronounced it. A humble, plain little piece of ricotta cheese cake covered on either side with a cookie-ish crust and laced with the flavor of lemon. I bit into that creamy confection, noting a slightly sandy texture compared to cream-cheese counterparts. And I have to say, for under two bucks, that was a dang nice piece of pastry. The carrot cake was also quite cheap, the sort of thing a parent happily gives as a treat to their child because it's not expensive and to an undemanding palate, quite tasty. Would it pass muster if served a little closer to the red line? Probably not. The cream puff was also decent, and a very good showing for the amount of money it cost.

As I fumbled in the soda case and found that Royal Pastry doesn't believe in diet soda, I pondered if I would ever be visiting this oddly uncheerful place again. If I lived around the corner, there's no question I'd come every day with my 1.25, looking for "rigotta" satisfaction. And maybe, after a few months, the ladies at the counter would decide I wasn't an exotic bug and say hello. But if I had a car and could pick any Italian bakery on this side of the Charles, I'd have to go with Arthur's in Medford before heading to the Royal. They have that sense of merriment and plenty that the Royal is missing.

738 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02141
(617) 547-2053

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Georgetown Cupcakes: A vision of plenty

I think I've hit upon one of the most important factors in a good bakery experience, and Georgetown Cupcakes is to credit for the revelation. Often at shee-shee cupcake joints, there are perhaps 4 or 5 varieties of cake, and of each there might be ten cupcakes at most out on display. So one feels like a hummingbird buzzing about a modest bunch of flowers. When you walk into Georgetown Cupcakes, the new store on Newbury street, you are hit by a wall of cupcakes. Hundreds of them, stacked high in a beautiful display case. I was immediately buoyed up by that wonderful sense of plenty. And no doubt, the many people behind me in line were happy also to see that there was more than enough for everyone to haul a box of treats home. And be warned, on a weekend, there will definitely be a line, and for a good reason. This place is, for lack of a better word, the bomb.

Salted caramel beauties that truly taste of both salt and caramel. Oreo mint, strawberry, key lime, red velvet...I was nearly buzzing about in an anticipatory sugar high, trying to decide which cupcakes to order. Really, would you be able to chose just four? And if you begin to fret that the several hundred in the display case might be the last, look to the back and see a tower of industrial cooking trays stacked with more to come. I have noticed in my eating adventures that places which make the food on the premises feel better; they just do. There is a certain happy humming of activity and creation that gives a sense of contentment. Someone worked hard to make these cupcakes, and odds are good she's one of the bandanna'd bakery goddesses behind the counter. It's that kind of happy place.

And I wasn't disappointed with the taste. The cake was fine-crumbed and spongy, not at all likely to fall apart but still tender. The icing was a just-right pillow of butter cream that tasted... real. You know what I mean, people. Sometimes, even at fancy bakeries, you have a bite of butter cream and are left with the sinking suspicion that no actual butter ever went in the mixing bowl. You won't have any doubts at Georgetown, where they do it right. They even have winsome birthday cupcakes that would be amazing at a party, and even one variety of gluten-free.

Take a peek on their website and you will see the most precious seasonal cupcakes, including Halloween beauties that have convinced the Babe to line up this October and snag some. But no matter what the season, make sure you plan a trip to Newbury Street to visit this bakery; it really is a special spot.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Danish Pastry House: License to fill (your tummy)

Red Velvet cake

On the occasion of July 4th, I decided to treat myself to a place I'd heard about in almost hushed, glowing whispers. Here, there, and everywhere, whenever I mentioned my hobby, people would pass notes into my purse, send one word emails with no reply address, little scrolls of paper via messenger pigeon...and they all had just these words: Danish Pastry House.

Marzipan frogs, of course!

With visions of cuckoo clocks on the wall and hearty, buxom Danish girls in flour-strewn aprons, I decided I could stand the half-hour walk to get to the Danish Pastry House. Given that it was thunderously muggy and hot, my determination flagged before I even passed Teal Square. But I imagined I was walking toward ten-pound blocks of marzipan, and I survived the not-insignificant hills around Tufts that block a pedestrian from dessert. At last when I did arrive, I found a very modest cafe in a small cluster of shops that serve Tufts students. And right across the way? A bus stop. Yep, had I consulted google maps, I've would've seen there was no reason to suffer dehydration and heat stroke. I refrained from cursing in front of the bubble-eyed frosh-girl primly sitting at the bus stop. After all, it wasn't her fault I'd just duped myself into exercising. But cheered by the task ahead, I made haste for the DPH.

There were no buxom Danish women at the counter. No ten-pound blocks of marzipan. No cuckoo clocks. Instead, I found a mix of warm wood and industrial brick, not entirely unlike what you might find at a Starbucks. And rather than herds of baked goods, what I found was a display case selectively filled with not just sweet goodies, but salads, quiche, and sandwiches. In short, this was not the bakery I'd imagined it was. The actual baking facility is elsewhere (they supply quite a lot of goodies around Boston to other businesses, and also have a stall at the Davis Farmer's Market). Once I got over this, I looked around at a happy crew of Tufties and young parents who had come to arguably the only coffee shop within walking distance of campus for coffee and a sandwich or perhaps one of the breakfast pastries or croissants.

And let's not forget the kringle.

These breakfast treats do set DPH apart from your average cafe, although the croissant I had did not transport me to any particular heights. The vanilla cupcake and cream puff were also decent but not mind bending.

I began to wonder why all those people recommended this place. Then I stumbled onto the far end of the counter and found the cakes. Big glorious confections with interesting flavors like passion fruit mousse and red velvet.

For five dollars, you may have a slice the size of Wisconsin carefully deposited on a plate, which I did. The red velvet cake really was extraordinary. The three layers of cherry-red cake were so moist as to almost surpass the texture of cake and veer into breed pudding or cake batter. The frosting was very cream-cheesy and sweet, with a marzipan flower on top. It was, perhaps, a tad too sweet, as I got about 2/3rds through the piece and began to feel that I was about to go into insulin shock and/or stuff my gullet so full that there would be no recovery. In that regard, it was a little like eating at the Cheesecake Factory: there is the inevitable guilt of leaving your plate half-finished because the quantity of food is super-human. Almost as if that piece of cake is laughing at you as your fork drops to the plate and you sit back, stuffed.

In the end, I felt that the Danish Pastry House is a good cafe and a nice place to hang out. It would not be a bad choice for a Birthday cake or for a pit stop if you're on a tour of Tufts. But I can't claim I would travel across Boston just to go again. Sometimes, friends, legends don't always shine as brightly as you thought they would. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try a slice of red velvet cake from this Somerville institution.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Solace for the slow-carb Bakery Babe

You may as well know it, I'm on the slow-carb diet. The last year of glorious excess has been a blast, and I don't regret a single macaroon or triple pudding pie that went down my gullet. And I'm sure many of you thought along the way, what is the Bakery Babe's secret for staying healthy and slender whilst having daily treats fit for Buckingham Palace? The answer? The Babe's tush covers a lot of territory! And while that's never bothered me before, I'm starting to think about being a wee bit healthier. I know many of you fierce and awesome foodie bloggers out there run marathons in order to make up for all the fab food you eat. But the Babe is not putting on her jogging shoes unless Johnny Depp shows up in trainers on my doorstep and asks if I'd like to take a run with him. So, what's left? A diet. And I didn't pick just any diet. I picked the Queen Mary of diets. The Four Hour Body's slow-carb diet. Which pretty much means eating protein, vegetables, and beans. No more glorious piles of whipped cream on top of blackberry teacakes. No more icecream piled high as a beehive on top of warm apple pie. No more midnight runs on the oreo bag. And nix on that half cup of half n' half that normally goes in the coffee. Sigh.

So where is the solace for the slow-carb Bakery Babe? It's called Saturday. One day a week, the diet recommends glutonously and unabashedly feasting on anything and everything I want, in any quantity. There's scientific reasons for this that involves the metabolism, but I didn't make it past that first sentence informing me that Victorian sponge cake, caramels, and chocolate brownies can be consumed, en masse, on that one day a week. Indeed, why do you think I picked the diet?

So, let us not fear that the Bakery Babe will be blogging about celery parfait or turkey doughnuts anytime soon. Once a week, I intend to fit quite a few bakeries onto the menu, continuing with my wanton trail of sweet crumbs that wind around the entirety of Boston.

But should you hear me weeping during the weekdays about the lack of triple frosty blizzard bombs and deep-fried cupcakes, don't be alarmed, they're just the salty tears of a Babe who is down-sizing, big time.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Babycakes and Confections: num num num

I've seen clear cartons and baggies full of goodies at Pemberton Farm that say "Babycakes" on them, and now I've finally gotten a chance to try the offerings of a Massachusetts baker who juggles motherhood with her commercial kitchen. If you're lucky enough to be near a store that carries Karen's products, you can be certain they will be some of the prettiest cupcakes you've ever seen.

There are all kinds of sparklies showered on these bad girls, and really, if you bought 6 of these at a shee-shee bakery, it would cost about $18. It's about $7 at Pemberton Farms. So if you want some gorgeous looking cupcakes on a budget, this is the place to start (they're in the case in front of the sandwhich counter). But here is the catch. You need to make sure they're fresh. Babycakes can't control how long the store lets these sit in the case. The buttercream will either be transcendent or indifferent, depending on when it's placed out; so if there's only one carton looking lonely in the case, wait until there is a whole herd (so you know they've just stocked up). I will say that the red velvet cupcakes are beyond the pale of good. Really, so tasty and cream-cheesy with a not-too-sweet cake that is just the right size for a three-bite devour. Add in the devilish red glitter strewn on top, and you have a convert. I will be purchasing these anytime I want to treat a friend to a decadent dessert experience.

And on a side note, for those in a pinch who cannot find a decent looking cake for a birthday, may I recommend that Babycakes make a very nice birthday cupcake array?

Here are a list of places they can be purchased:

• Idylwidle Farm, Acton, MA
• Nashoba Brook Bakery, Concord, MA
• Pemberton Farms, Cambridge, MA 
• Dover Market Dover, MA 
• Wilson Farm, Lexington, MA
• Water Fresh Farm, Hopkinton, MA
• Volante Farms, Needham, MA

Or go here for more information:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Boston Fireworks in a Rainstorm!

The moon over the Charles, before the fireworks.
The Babe can admit's possible that I cry during fireworks displays. Copiously. Like a small girl. And that's just for ordinary fireworks. Boston is the grand-daddy, the opus magnus of fireworks. And Bostonians take the holiday seriously! Thousands of people descend on the Charles to listen to the Boston Pop's free concert and then wait for 10:30 to roll around for a half hour of fireworks that light up the Charles and the Boston Skyline. Being just a tad on the sneaky side, I waited until about 9:30 to worm my way into the crowd, where some people had been staking out their seats since this morning. And then, whammo!

What a glorious cacophony of high-grade explosives lobbing into the air! It was like the best rock concert of all time. As for my penchant to sob uncontrollably during patriotic explosions, it turned out I didn't need to feel funny, because about five minutes in to the show, a freak downpour of rain absolutely soaked one and all by the river. If the Babe was crying, nobody would've known!

And then when it was over, I jointed about ten thousand Bostonians in a mad sprint to make it back to the T stop before it was swarmed with people trying to get home. Miss fleet-o-foot made it onto the first train out of Kendall (way-hay!) and scurried home to post these images for you. Happy Birthday, America, and Happy Fourth of July from Boston!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

LA Burdicks: Choco Blast at Copley Square

The last I posted on Burdicks, the store by Copley had just opened and the cafe wasn't functional yet. But baby, they're open now!And to what stunning effect! Being new and on a little sidestreet off Boylston, not everyone has caught on to it yet. So unlike the Cambridge location, you can find a table at the Copley Burdicks with no problem. So welcome into a beautiful store replete with walnut panelling, gold and pink walls, big brass chandeliers, huge mirrors, and the narcotic-like permeation of the smell of chocolate.

Once you're in, there is no way you can go without a taste. There is something distinct, irreplaceable, and intangible about the smell of Burdick chocolate. I can't explain it any better than that. Once you've had one of their candies, you will understand; this is chocolate people in Mayan times would offer to the gods. Luckily, these days, all you need is $5 and you can have a frapuccino (see above) that is so mind-blowingly rich that you will want to split it with a friend.

But the Babe was not out for bon bons; I was out to investigate the now-functional cafe. And truly, although small, it is a mighty collection of European tarts, tortes, krugels, macaroons, and cake.

As I sat with my frapuccino and marbled krugel, with a little fork that had an old-fashioned rosebud on it, I breathed in the cool chocolate haze, and felt that this truly is one of the places in Boston where every visitor should come, and every Bostonian should put it on their regular dance card. So, next time you're in downtown Boston and wondering where to go for a treat, head straight to will thank me, I promise!