Birdie’s Cafe – Westminster, MD – 04/25/20

This morning I decided to make my way back up to Westminster, Maryland to support a couple of local small businesses. My first trip was to Birdie’s Cafe. I’ve been here several times before. It was nice to get there early in the morning, but it’s a very different experience when I’m the only one there. When the social aspect is taken away, people can’t sit and enjoy a coffee drink and breakfast.

I decided to go with a S’more Snowbird. The Snowbird is their ice blended coffee drink. The S’more is one of their specialty flavors, and it includes mocha, gingerbread, and toasted marshmallow. This was a sweet treat and it had a nice consistency to it. They always do a good job with their coffee drinks, and today was no exception. It was a happy way for me to start my day.

Touche Touchet Bakery and Pastry Shoppe – Columbia, MD

The weekends are about the only time where I can get out and about, so I try to take advantage. I did not do as much as I normally would, since I was trying to minimize interactions. Hopefully I’ll be able to go out next weekend, but we’ll see how things continue this week.

I decided to try a new place – Touche Touchet Bakery and Pastry Shoppe in Columbia, Maryland.

While I was driving, I kept seeing white blooms along the road, which tells me that Spring is definitely close. When I got to Touche Touchet, there were a couple of trees that had these.

After looking at the various options, I decided on two desserts, a Triple Chocolate Cookie and a slice of Boston Creme Cake.

I started with the Triple Chocolate Cookie. The flavor of this was good. The outer edge was crunchy, but the inside portion was nice and soft. This was a good cookie and just the right size for a dessert.

The Boston Creme Cake was up next. I did not eat these at the same time. I probably could have, but some days I am okay with portion control. The cake portion was light and moist. It had a nice, mild flavor. The filling had a nice flavor to it, and I would have enjoyed more of it. The chocolate frosting was a nice finishing touch. It had good flavor and consistency. When I ate everything at once, the portions of everything worked out really well. The filling, cake, and frosting all worked well collectively, and they were each good individually, so this was a definite plus for me.

It was fun for me to go a little bit more out of the way to try a new place, and I hope that I’ll get a chance to head back down there in the future. They had some nice looking cupcakes, some other cookies that looked good, and a lot of other treats that looked like they would be tasty. Eating well and staying positive!

Bartram House Bakery – Pittsburgh, PA

During my visit to Pittsburgh last week, my hotel was a about a three minute walk from Batram House Bakery. As a result, I ended up going there a few times throughout the week.

My first visit was on the night I arrived. I had a very big lunch/dinner at Hofbrauhaus, and waited a few hours before venturing out for dessert.

When I arrived, I started looking at the goodies. So many nice looking items to choose from, but I was leaning towards a cupcake. Then I saw a sign that indicated that the pastries were on sale (if you purchased two). So, I decided instead to go with the pastries.

I started with a chocolate croissant, which was my dessert for the night. This was a really good dessert. The bites that had the chocolate on the inside were truly delicious. The crust was nice and flaky. It was easy to bite into, and the soft bites of chocolate added a perfect amount of sweet. I was happy with this choice.

The other pastry I went with was the croissant. I saved this for the morning. Even though it sat overnight, it still had a really nice crunch to it. The inside was very flaky and had a really smooth flavor. This was a really good croissant and was a nice breakfast treat.

The next night, I went back to the bakery again for dessert. Fortunately, they still had the cupcakes, and I went with chocolate, although the vanilla was also looking quite good. The cake part had a nicely baked outside, and the inside part was very light and fluffy. The flavor was very good. The frosting was almost like a mousse and was also delicious. The bites with both the cake and the frosting were exactly what I would want from a cupcake. So I was a happy camper.

On my last night, I went back to Bartram House one last time. This time, I went with the S’Mores bar. It looked too good to turn down. There are three main components to a S’mores bar, and they did a great job on two of the three. The marshmallow topping was perfect. Nice and gooey, but not so much that was hard to bite through or would stick to part of your face. The chocolate layer was incredible. Probably the best chocolate layer I’ve had in any store bought S’mores bar. The graham cracker crust was the only part that missed the mark. Not on flavor. It had really good flavor. My only problem with it was that it broke apart too easily. There were some bites that the crust fell before I got it into my mouth, which was disappointing. It is a shame, because it had good flavor. And when all three were together in one bite, it was a great S’mores bar.

I would be happy to go back to Bartram House the next time I’m back in town. I would easily order any of these items again, or try something new. Knowing that there is a good place for some tasty sweet treats is an easy way for me to stay positive.

Dandelion Bakery – Sykesville, MD

When I first saw that Dandelion Bakery was going to be opening in Downtown Sykesville, I was pretty excited. When it was finally scheduled to open, I was getting ready to go on my Disney Cruise. So, I knew it would be awhile before I got to actually try it out.

I first made my way over there a few weeks ago. I got a chocolate chip cookie, but the other items they had looked really good.

I wanted to start with a chocolate chip cookie because I wanted to see if they were able to do it justice. This was a really good chocolate chip cookie. It tasted fresh, not generic at all. The nice crunch on the outside and the chewiness on the inside went well with the melty chocolate chips. Knowing that they could make a good chocolate chip cookie made me want to try more of their items.

They had some really good offerings, but it took me until this weekend to make my way back. I decided on two things: Flourless Torte slice and Oreo Mousse Cake.

I decided to start with the Oreo Mousse Cake. The mousse was nice and smooth, not grainy at all. There were plenty of Oreo pieces in there, and they had a soft consistency. The cookie crust also had a really good consistency. This was a delicious piece of cake. Sweet, but not too sweet. A nice balance of chocolate and the mousse. I was a fan of this one and will order it again.

The flourless torte was the next one I tried. This was all different types of chocolatey goodness. The torte was thick, and had very rich flavor. The icing on the top was a nice addition to these bites. The flavor of the cake was really good. This is an indulgent treat, but well worth it. The toughest thing for me was to decide which of these two treats were my favorite. To be honest, I don’t really know. They each had a lot of positives without any negatives. I’ll probably just have to buy them both again and try to make a choice again. 🙂

When you eat this well, you can’t help but stay positive!

Sugar Bakers Cakes – Catonsville, MD

During my time out and about yesterday, I visited Sugar Bakers Cakes. I’ve been here quite a few times before, but it has been awhile, so I wanted to post about it.

Sugar Bakers Cakes won on an episode of Cake Hunters on Cooking Channel. They have some incredible cake designs and creations, but they do more than just wedding cakes and special event cakes.

I know that these aren’t the greatest pictures, but I do like how the reflection of the sign comes through on the glass.

I bought two different slices of cake. One slice of Smith Island Cake, and one slice of Chocolate Mousse Cake.

Smith Island Cake is the official Dessert of the state of Maryland. It is a multi-tiered cake whose history goes back more than 200 years. The one I purchased at Sugar Bakers Cakes is a yellow cake with fudge icing and peanut butter cups. This is a very sweet cake, but well worth it. The cake itself is moist and has a traditional yellow cake flavor to it. The icing is set chocolatey goodness, and those bits of peanut butter cups add a really nice layer of flavor to this cake. The portion of this cake is huge. When I was younger, I would have been able to eat this in one sitting, but now, it’s a two to three sitting dessert for me.

The other cake that I got was a Chocolate Mousse Cake. This is a four layer cake, so not another variety of the Smith Island cake. This is a Devil’s Food Cake with layers of Chocolate Mousse and surrounded with a buttercream icing. The cake itself is very good. Another moist cake, and a solid chocolate flavor. The chocolate mousse has a very light, delicate consistency, and a really good flavor. The icing on the cake is the buttercream icing (it’s okay to roll your eyes). The icing adds another layer of sweetness to the cake. It provides a nice balance to the chocolate layers (cake and mousse). My favorite of the two was the Smith Island Cake, but I would still be happy to eat more of this one as well.

When you eat as well as I did yesterday, it’s easy to stay in a positive frame of mind. Enjoy!

Visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania

This past Saturday, I made a trip up to Hershey, Pennsylvania. It takes me a couple of hours to drive there, so my goal was to get in before 10AM, do a couple of things in town, eat some lunch, and then go to both ZooAmerica and Hershey Park (it didn’t open until 12PM). I was successful in getting there before 10AM. It was not quite 30 degrees, so there was a nice amount of cold when walking around, especially when the wind was hitting me just right. I parked in the parking garage for The Hershey Story and Museum (free parking).

The street lights have Kisses on top, which I think is really cute.

They alternate between wrapped and unwrapped. I think it makes it fun to see.

It must be a tough decision when you have to decide if you would prefer Chocolate Avenue or Cocoa Avenue. 🙂

You can get to the Hershey Company building in about a five minute walk from the Hershey Story building. I took a picture of myself standing in front of it, but forgot to take one of just the building. They do have some energy efficient cars with their brands on it, which I enjoyed seeing.

This is the outside of the The Hershey Story.

I went to The Pantry Cafe and got myself a Peppermint Mocha frozen coffee drink. They had some nice looking treats, but my pictures didn’t turn out. The coffee drink was very good. Nice consistency, not icy at all, the peppermint was not overbearing and went well with the mocha flavor. Definitely a good place for Frappuccino type drinks. There are quite a few things you can do other than just eating at The Pantry Cafe. There is a Museum Experience, a Chocolate Lab, a Tastings Bar, Hershey Gardens and more. You have to pay for these experiences, but they get some good reviews, so I have a feeling they are worth it.

There are other things to do in the town. It’s not just Hershey Park and the hotels, but it’s also a town with residents and shops. I was focused with what I planned on doing, but you can plan a day and do things outside of the park and have fun.

I made my way over to Hershey’s Chocolate World. Since I was going to be in Hershey Park, I paid for Theme Park parking. If you just want to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World, you can park for free for up to 3 hours. Once you step inside, there are plenty of options. There are paid attractions such as 4D Chocolate Movie, Create Your Own Candy Bar, Hershey’s Unwrapped: A Chocolate Tasting Journey, and Hershey Trolley Works. But there is a food court and a huge candy store and a large store that sells Hershey Company related items (shirts, cups, ornaments, etc.).

Right now, they have their Holiday theme going, including this Holiday Chocolate House, which is a nice size.

There are a couple of places where you can buy baked goods. I didn’t purchase any, but did get some pictures just so you can see what types of goodies are available.

I thought these looked very cute. I was tempted, but was able to resist.

Since I was there before the park opened, I decided to order the Hershey’s Cocoa Pulled Pork. It comes with two sides, so I got macaroni and cheese and Cole slaw. They were both good choices. I also got the side sauces. One is Hershey’s chocolate barbecue sauce, which was VERY good. There was also a Heath Honey Mustard, which was also good. I ate more than I should have, especially since I was going to be heading into the park, but it was worth it.

After my day inside the park was done, I came back into Hershey’s Chocolate World to buy more candy than I should have. Some of the items are really good deals, and they also have some items that you can’t get in most stores. I decided to treat myself with dessert. There is a S’Mores station which looked really good, but I was focused on getting their new specialty milk shake. It’s a Kit Kat Duo shake. They’ve recently introduced the Kit Kat Mint and Dark Chocolate Duo, and they have put it into milk shake form. I haven’t had the Kit Kat bars before, and since the milk shake came with two bars, this was my first time trying them. The milk shake and the bars were delicious!

I’ll write more about Hershey Park and ZooAmerica in a separate post, but I wanted to share these things since there are other things that you can do if you don’t want to go inside a theme park and don’t feel like going on any rides. It could be a fun day just hanging out at Hershey’s Story or at Hershey’s Chocolate World.

Starry Night Bakery – Westminster, MD

Starry Night Bakery is located in Westminster, Maryland, which is about a 20 minute drive from my house. I’ve visited a few times, and they do a really good job with coffee drinks and sweets. They participated in Cupcake Wars for a reason – they know how to bake.

I started off with ordering a coffee drink. I ordered a dark chocolate mocha frappe with peppermint. The drink had nice flavor to it. The dark chocolate and espresso worked well together, and there was just an underlying hint of peppermint flavor. The consistency was also nice. There were a couple of sips in the beginning that were thick (but not icy), but after that, it was all good.

I took a few pictures of some of the offerings. They had some nicely designed specialty cakes, they had vegan friendly treats, and they had treats other than just cupcakes. So there are options if you have different cravings. I ended up ordering three cupcakes. One Total Eclipse, one Oreo Stuffed, and one Pumpkin Maple.

I started with the Pumpkin Maple cupcake. The consistency of the cupcake was very good and moist. The maple frosting had a nice flavor and was not overly sweet. The flavor of the frosting and flavor of the cupcake paired very nicely. This was a very good cupcake.

The next one I tried was the Oreo Stuffed cupcake. There was an Oreo cookie baked into the cupcake. The cupcake itself had good flavor and was moist. The Oreo was soft, but still had a little firmness, so it wasn’t soggy. It was the perfect consistency for a cupcake. The frosting worked well with his cupcake, and the added touch of Oreo pieces brought everything together.

The final cupcake I tried was a larger one, the Total Eclipse. The cupcake was really good. Nice and moist, good consistency. There was some chocolate filling in there, and then a really good fudgy frosting. Although all three cupcakes were really good, this was by far my favorite. I look forward to trying more flavors in the future.

Old Mill Cafe and Little Market Cafe – Ellicott City, MD

I visited Old Ellicott City on Sunday morning and in addition to all the walking around and enjoying the historic buildings, I also made a couple of stops for breakfast.

This is just over the bridge, on the other side of the Historic District. This has been opened since summer of 2018. I’ve driven past it several times and walked in once (just to see what they had). After seeing what they had, I knew I would eventually go to order some food in the future. This past Sunday was that day.

I was only focused on the pastry cases. They have traditional breakfasts and some specialty foods, but I was planning on continuing my walking around and didn’t want to have something that might be impacted by the cold weather.

I ended up ordering a chocolate beignet bite and a mini banana chocolate chip muffin. The beignet bite was okay, but the muffin was great. The muffin had a nice texture, but there was a strong (but not overbearing) banana flavor that worked really well with the chocolate chips. The cinnamon mix was not just on the top, but there was also a layer around the muffin. The bites that had all of those elements made this a fantastic treat, and was something I would be happy to order again. I asked if they make ice blended drinks, and they do, but I will have to go back another time to try. I had Little Market Cafe on my agenda, so I wanted to stick with that plan.

Since I had something to eat, I needed a drink to go with it. I made my way over to Little Market Cafe. There is a little cluster of shops, and the pictures above share the historical background of this area as well as a picture of the group of row houses.

This sign was inside the store and I thought it was cute.

This is a shot from outside the store. I considered taking pictures inside the shop. It’s a small shop and very tight. I have to duck while I’m in there, since the buildings back then weren’t necessarily built for 6’5″ people. I ordered a Cookies and Cream Frappe. This had nice flavor to it, nice consistency, and was a good pairing with my breakfast. I’ve been to the Little Market Cafe several times, and I will continue to come back. Good food and drink as well as wonderful scenery made for a positive start to the day!

Thursday Morning in Pikesville, MD

This morning, I wanted to go out and about for a short time to finally try Sion’s Bakery in Pikesville.

The sky was beautiful this morning – I headed out a little before 7AM. It’s tough to get good pictures when you’re driving, and the scenery that would be a perfect picture are usually where you can’t stop.

My first stop was at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, where I got a Cookie Butter Ice Blended. It wasn’t until after I ordered that I discovered they had just started their peppermint flavors, so I know what I’ll be getting the next time I’m there.

Sion’s Bakery is just a few blocks away from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, so it works out really well. They were still doing a lot of baking, so their inventory wasn’t as huge as it would be if I was there an hour or so later. They did have a nice array of cookies, cakes and sweets, though. I opted for a chocolate danish and a cinnamon danish, and then I drove myself back home.

I started with the Cinnamon Danish. Just to be clear, I only had half of each of these danishes, and saved the other half for tomorrow. The Cinnamon Danish had nice flavor to it. It was a mild cinnamon flavor, but it was spread throughout the pastry. This is definitely one that goes with milk, coffee, or something else.

I followed up with the Chocolate Danish. This one was really good, my favorite of the two. The chocolate icing on top was good, but having the layers of chocolate on the inside really helped keep this moist and provided good flavor.

This was my very first visit to Sion’s Bakery, but it will not be my last. I would like to try some of their cookies in the future and some cupcakes as well. If they happen to have chocolate rugelach available, I would try it. I also want to try their Chocolate Mandel bread. I’ve seen it in other bakeries before, but I’ve never tried it, so it would be fun to try. They have some sugar free treats, which is good for people who are on sugar free diets. They also have knishes, which I want to try in the future. They don’t look like the ones that I’m used to seeing in New York, but that’s not a bad thing. If they are made fresh and in the bakery, I would want to taste the difference.

It’s always a good thing to visit a place for the first time and have a positive experience. It makes it much easier to justify going back again. I have a feeling I’ve said this before, but it still holds true. Stay positive!

Homemade Dark Chocolate Truffles

Homemade Dark Chocolate Truffles.

Homemade Dark Chocolate Truffles. I like the sound of those words so much, I had to repeat them.

It’s been a few years since I made some chocolate truffles, but I wanted to make them this weekend, and today was the perfect day for it. The process can take 6-8 hours from start to finish, but there is plenty of time for breaks in between. The recipe that I use is from a book titled “Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers” by Nick Malgieri. I have a couple of slight differences from his recipe, but I use his as the base for mine.

The type of chocolate that you use matters. You don’t have to use the most expensive chocolate in the world to make these, but you want to make sure that there is a level of quality to the chocolate, since you don’t want to have it break down during the steps that involve melting. When selecting the dishes that will be melting or mixing the chocolate, please make sure that everything is dry. Water can cause the chocolate to seize, which will result in a lumpy, muddy mess of chocolate. It can be fixed or used for other things, but will not be good for the truffles.

The first part of this recipe is the Center of the truffle. 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon corn syrup and 8 ounces of melted chocolate. The recipe calls for heating the cream, butter and corn syrup in a nonreactive pan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from the heat and wait 5 minutes. Add the cream mixture to the chocolate and whisk smooth.

I use a slight variation. I heat 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup in a pan over medium low to low heat. As soon as the butter is melted, I remove from the heat and continue to stir.

If you have a glass blender/mixer bowl, place the chocolate in there. While the cream mixture is melting, I heat the chocolate in the microwave over medium – low power for 30 seconds at a time. You don’t want the chocolate to be melted. If it is at a slightly soft consistency, it is done. The chocolate disks that I used took about 1 minute 45 seconds, but if you have smaller disks or chips, that should take less time, since there is less surface area. You want to make sure the chocolate doesn’t get too a temperature that is too high, or it might break down, which will result in a more grainy consistency.

The cream mixture should have cooled for a few minutes, so you can add that to the chocolate mixture and start whisking together.

You should have a nice, melty chocolate mixture once it’s all combined. The next thing you have to do is wait. 2-3 hours should be good enough. You want the chocolate mixture to be at room temperature.

After the chocolate is at room temperature, whip the mixture using an electric mixer on medium speed, for about a minute, until it lightens in color. It should be a duller brown color (similar to the picture above). Make sure you use a scraper or spatula along the bottom and the sides to ensure the mixture is completely combined.

The next step in the recipe is to spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tube. Pipe 1/4 inch balls on to the prepared pan. My variation is to use a small scooper/squeezer. It’s similar to an ice cream scoop and can be found in many kitchen stores. I have multiple sizes, which help if I’m making larger truffles, or if I want to make some uniform sized cookies.

I scoop these onto a cookie sheet that has been lined with wax paper. The next step is to chill for at least an hour. I usually put these in a refrigerator for 2 or 3 hours. The next step will involve dipping these and coating them in melted chocolate, so you want to make sure that the centers are chilled enough so they won’t melt as soon as they get into the chocolate to be coated.

Next is coating the truffles. The recipe calls for 12 ounces chocolate and 2 cups cocoa powder. Once the centers are chilled, melt the chocolate by tempering, or allowing it to cool to about 90 degrees. Coat the truffles using your hand, depositing them into a pan of sifted cocoa.

I have a slight variation for this as well. I use a double broiler to melt the 12 ounces of chocolate. You do not want the water on the bottom pot to be touching the top pan. This can lead to burning the chocolate. Once the last bits of chocolate have melted, I add just a little bit of vanilla (less than 1/8 teaspoon). This is just a personal preference. Let this rest for 5 minutes or so, to make sure the chocolate isn’t too hot for coating.

I use one fork and one spoon. I place one or two truffles into the melted chocolate, cover them with the spoon and bring them up with the fork. The chocolate will fall through the prongs of the fork and will be easy to transfer back onto the wax paper. I don’t put them in cocoa powder, but again, it’s just a personal preference.

This picture is taken at the half-way point from one of my trays.

This is one of my trays that has been completed. The chocolate is shiny and still very melty.

You can let these sit at room temperature for a couple of hours.

You should be able to notice a change in the appearance of the chocolate as it cools. You can touch the truffles to see if the outer layer has gotten firm. Once it has, they are ready to be eaten.

I used a 75% dark chocolate for the center and a blend of 75% and bittersweet for the outer coating. In the past, I have placed the truffles in the refrigerator once I finished coating them. If you do that, you’ll want to keep them refrigerated. If you take them out to sit, they will get melty and you will have chocolate fingers. There is nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to give you a heads up.

You can always mix things up. If you want to add some unique flavors to the center, add a little more chocolate if you are going to use a liquid. I’ve used peppermint extract, Amaretto, Espresso, etc., to change things up. I’ve also switched peppermint extract for vanilla for the chocolate coating, but it still has to be a very small amount. Too much liquid will affect how the chocolate will settle and solidify. If you want to use an outer coating of chocolate powder go for it. If you want to try something different, you can also change things around. Powdered sugar, cinnamon, chopped nuts, sprinkles, etc.

If you want to try the center and chocolate coating with different chocolates, then go for it. Make it your way. It’ll be delicious. And if you make any mistakes, they will be delicious mistakes!