The food: Sweets Galore
I like to say that before I met my husband E, I was not a dessert person, and it was he who introduced me to the sweet table side of life, though so thorough was my conversion to the cause that I now eat something cake-ish, cookie-ish, or even, yes, candyish, twice daily, almost without fail.
The plothole in the blame-my-sweet-tooth-on-E story is that before I met him, back when I was a young office drone, I was seriously dedicated to my daily 3 p.m. chocolate bar. I even tried to give Rosemary, the main character in my first novel Looks Perfect – she’s my young, wise-cracking stand-in, only prettier, thinner, and with a cool fashion editor job – my daily chocolate bar habit. Until my editor suggested that there was no way Rosemary would fit into sample size dresses if she ate a chocolate bar every day. As well as regular food.
Nowadays, thanks to some careful calorie juggling, I’m able to eat my (usually smallish, and carefully rationed, but always delicious) desserts without gaining weight, and work some variety into the selection too.
One day, I might have with my afternoon tea some cute and crunchy pistachio/chocolate//almond “mosaic” biscotti (about 25 cents each) from Alimento, a charming Italian fine food shop and bakery near King and Spadina in Toronto. That same evening, after a light dinner, I might allow myself a piece or two of the aptly named Chocolate Caramel Crack. This salty-sweet chocolate on a matzo cracker is so addictive when made with premium dark chocolate (50% or more) and chopped pecans, that I whip up batches before and after Passover, as well as during.
This lemon curd cake – moist pink and yellow cake layered with lemon curd – at Alimento also called me the first time I saw it in the bakery case there. And at only $2 per slice, I usually buy two (but try to eat only one per sitting).
In fact, my devotion to lemon curd was such in the last year or so, that I was inspired to sample a variety of lemon meringue tarts in various locations. I cured myself of that obsession, however, after the one-two punch of the over-the-top versions shown below – the first from Pusateri’s in Toronto, the second from Sweet Lady Jane in Los Angeles – did me in. I mean, come on – is the height of the meringues on these two specimens not ridiculous? And the ratio of meringue to lemon is seriously out of whack.
My trip to bakery-to-the-stars Sweet Lady Jane in search of a lemon meringue tart was not in vain, however, for it was at the West Hollywood location that I encountered my favorite cake of the year so far – a triple berry shortcake. And to think that I only bought a slice of it to begin with, during my second visit to the store, because the lemon meringue tarts were not ready at the specific time I had been promised during my first visit (ahem).
Sweet Lady Jane describes the triple berry shortcake as “a yellow butter cake filled with three layers of lightly sweetened whipped cream and layers of fresh berries … frosted with whipped cream and decorated with buttercream vines and fresh berries,” and indeed there is nothing shortcake-y or biscuity-y about it. The luscious, light combination of moist cake, fresh whipped cream and fresh berries tasted so good that I was driven to create a humbler but still delectable home version months later, in Toronto, pictured at the top of the post and again here.
I used a Dr. Oetker mix for a European style lemon cake (don’t judge: it comes out light, moist, and tasting extremely unmixlike, partly because it calls for the addition of 3 fresh eggs) to which I added the zest of one lemon. I split the baked cake – the top of which puffs up during baking in the oven, then settles down into a thin, nicely caramelized top crust – with macerated berries and dollops of fresh whipped cream.
Try restricting yourself to one slice of that gorgeousness per day. I know you can.