April 20, 2006

From A Dessert Addict's Files

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Last Friday at 7 a.m., I descended upon dessert heaven. I walked downtown and made my way into a little room filled with the most incredible Greek pastries I’ve seen in my life. We’re all familiar with baklava: it’s available everywhere from Sinbad’s to Aladdin’s to Cornell Catering. However, very few of us have tried home-made, 5-inch high baklava stuffed with finely chopped walnuts, gooey honey and sweet, rich cinnamon.

Galactopouriko are also filo-based: these little custard-filled rolls trump pudding or crème brulee any day of the week. I’m always eager to try new desserts – as I get older and eat more, it’s been more difficult to find a type of pastry that hasn’t hit my tongue.

Needless to say, the melomacarona was a shock to my system. These Greek spice cookies meld into a combination of shortbread cookie and cake. The scent of the cinnamon, clove and allspice hits you right away, and then the sweet, sticky honey seeps onto your tongue, along with the crunchiness of walnuts. Pasta floras are latticed shortbread cookies filled with apricot – the flavors reminded me of a hamentaschen cookie, but the texture was more cake-like. To top it all off, there was a 15-foot table completely covered in Greek Easter bread.

The loaf was braided, like challah, but the bread itself was reminiscent of German sweet bread. The light, airy consistency that pulls apart in strands and becomes chewy at first bite was a sure sign: these loaves came from the kitchen, not the grocery store. Unfortunately, this little room was not affiliated with a restaurant, market or anyplace you can go yourself to attain dessert karma.

I feel a little guilty teasing your senses by writing about the bake sale at Saint Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church that occurs only twice each year, but the food was worth it. Even though you can’t purchase these delectable desserts this weekend, make sure to mark your calendar and keep your eyes open for the next event (possibly in November). In the meantime, you can read about more desserts from around the world that you never knew existed:

Czech Republic: For a country best-known for its goulash, the Czech Republic also boasts the most fabulous wafers in the world. When I say “wafer,” Necco should not come to mind. Unlike stale, chewy, tasteless American wafers, Czech spa wafers are light, thin, airy, and have a diameter of about nine inches. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the ones filled with cream.

Denmark: Best pastry in Europe. I know, you were expecting this honor to be given to a more obvious country like France or Italy, but the Danes have perfected the art of the bakery. If you find yourself walking down the street in Denmark, make sure to stop in the store with the golden pretzel hanging outside to pick up a cinnamon roll, snegl, the size of your head, a chocolate-filled croissant, or a fresh loaf of chewy bread.

Hungary: Cheese pudding. Don’t freak out: this pudding is made with a white cheese similar to ricotta. Cheese pudding in Hungary looks like a flan but tastes like the inside of a cannoli – it’s typically served with a berry sauce.

Mexico: Arroz con Leche. This rice pudding with raisins and cinnamon has a different texture and flavor than American rice puddings, which are made with eggs and cream. The Mexican version uses whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Also, Mexican cooks prefer Ceylon cinnamon, a less pungent variety than the cassia cinnamon sold in U.S. markets. In Latin American markets, it will simply be labeled canela (Spanish for cinnamon).

Morocco: M’hanncha (the snake). Morocco is a country obsessed with sweet, particularly in the afternoon. This little melt-in-your-mouth delight is formed by rolling a home-made almond/butter/cinnamon paste inside puff pastry, coiling into the shape of a snail, and drizzling with honey and almonds before baking.

China: Supposedly, there is no official “dessert” food in China, but the custard buns served at the end of dim sum come pretty darn close. What can satisfy a sweet tooth better than dense, sweet, steamed bread filled with creamy custard?

If you’re lucky, some of these treats will pop up on campus via cultural events hosted by Cornell-sponsored organizations. The World’s Fair event is approaching on April 28th, and rumor has it that there will be a dessert tasting, and maybe I’ll finally find dessert heaven again.

Archived article by Anna Fishman