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To Live and Pie in Wicker Park

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Welcome one and all to another great blog post from Mastication Monologues!  Things have been picking up as of late since it’s the holiday season.  In between studying and braving the Walking Dead-esque crowds at the mall, I managed to squeeze in a trip to a Chicago bakery that was truly memorable in terms of its concept and approach to classic desserts.  If you’re a sweets lover, strap yourself in for a wild ride!  If not, prepare to be amazed!

The adventure all started back when I received an email from A Baker’s Tale saying that they were huge fans of my blog at the bakery, and they wanted to invite me to an exclusive event for local bloggers.  Naturally, I said yes, and informed Janice that we had some serious business to take care of.  Baked goods business.  I looked it up, and I saw it was located in the Bucktown/Wicker Park area which has been recently gentrified.  What this means is that you can’t walk more than five feet without running into an ironic mustache or fixie bike.  However, the exterior of A Baker’s Tale exuded neither a hint of pretentiousness nor any sort of kitchyness. IMG_7877 Walking in, we were immediately greeted by the employees and eventually the owner, Christine, who’s in the middle of the pic below. IMG_7923 I didn’t know where to look first in this coffee shop+bakery+fun house.  Once more bloggers and vloggers and what have you arrived, Christine explained that she loves literature and baking which in turn translated to the Alice in Wonderland and other literature inspired establishment that surrounded us.  Since I am also a fellow librophile, I couldn’t get enough of the homages to many classic works.IMG_7882 IMG_7884From the classic book prints,IMG_7917 the talking doorknob statue,IMG_7921 whimsical cakes,IMG_7889IMG_7887 IMG_7886IMG_7890 hedgemazed trip to the bathroom,IMG_7929 and the breathtaking tree overshadowing our tasting tables with leaves made of pages from Alice in Wonderland, IMG_7888IMG_7933there was no detail left on the sideline as we quickly made our way over to the tasting table. IMG_7878 I was late, so late, for a very important date…with some bakery!  IMG_7926IMG_7918IMG_7880Surprisingly, there was no door mouse, march hare, or Mad Hatter when we sat down.  As more bloggers began to stream in and take their seats around the table, I was half driven to yell, “Change places!” to get in the spirit of Mr. Carrol’s work, but I decided to focus more on the diverse spread of pastries in front of us like a very late high tea.  IMG_7879We started with a plate of a mini cherry pie, a passion fruit raspberry cheesecake, and a s’more bar.IMG_7924  While none of them made me shrink or grown into a giant like Alice when speaking with the doorknob, they were big on flavor.  First, there was the mini cherry pie that was a version of their normal sized pie.  It was topped with hearts as an homage to the Queen, but I felt like a king with this royally decadent dessert.  The crust was buttery and mixed with the sweet and tart filling to perfection.  I then had the passion fruit raspberry cheesecake.  It was filled with a burst of tropical flavor that was like a mix between an orange, mango, and lime that kind of gave the whipped cheesecake a slight key lime pie vibe on the aftertaste. However, if you’re not into tart flavors, it might be a bit overwhelming for you like it was for my gf, Janice.  As good as these first two desserts were, they were beneath the third option:  the s’mores bar.  These desserts date as far back as the 1930s from a Girl Scout campfire cooking manual, or so the legend goes.  However, A Baker’s Tale version of it presented it in the least messy way possible.  One of my personal pet-peeves with traditional s’mores is how the crunchy graham crackers explode with every bite and can’t keep the blazing hot marshmallow inside to save its own inanimate life.  I quickly learned upon the first bite that these bakers really can work magic.

Step 1: Take a bite

Step 1: Take a bite

Step 2: Enlightenment

Step 2: Enlightenment

Step 3: Devour

Step 3: Devour

The graham cracker base was soft yet substantial and topped with a house-made marshmallow fluff that sported a rich, chocolate accent that tied it all together to perfection.  Plate two wasn’t as over the top in terms of bombastic flavors, but it was a solid entry to the tasting event.  IMG_7907The chocolate chunk and peanut butter cookies (both also were available in gluten free versions at the tasting as well) were good but not great probably because they weren’t the most decadent options.  Case in point, they were overshadowed by the toffee chocolate cheesecake that was presented in a Reese’s peanut butter cup form.  From the Oreo cookie crumb crust to the creamy filling that had ample pieces of chocolate coated toffee and a thin layer of gooey caramel on top, this dessert checked all the boxes for me.  Moving from there, the next plate was the belle of the dessert ball.  It consisted of three, vibrant, expertly-crafted macarons sporting three very different flavors:  pistachio (green), raspberry (red), and elderberry (blue). IMG_7932According to the almighty Wikipedia/internet, macarons originated in Venetian monasteries in the 9th Century A.D. but were brought to France when Catherine Medici, an Italian noblewoman, married King Henry II of France.   Their popularity began to rise during the French Revolution when two nuns in the city of Nancy made the cookies to pay for their rent; however, the original version of these desserts were basically a cookie.  The modern version of the macaron with two cookies and a filled center came about in the 1830s in Paris where it was known as the Gerbet, named after the supposed inventor, or the macaron parisien.  They were then brought over the USA and sometimes confused with the coconut-based macaroon.  Actually, the word “macaroon” is just the English translation for the French “macaron“.  Whatever it’s called, these little morsels went down too easily.  My personal favorite was the pistachio because it was sweet but not too sweet whereas the elderberry one was a bit too saccharine for my palate (surprising, I know).  The outer cookies had that thin, crisp shell that gave way to feathery interiors that led to the thin but incredibly rich layer of flavored cream. IMG_7916 Ils sont tres delicieux!  Finally, there was the somewhat sweet and savory plate.  Whereas the other plates contained straight up desserts, the scone platter mixed it up in terms of flavors and textures.  Scones have an interesting history to say the least.  Their name has many different origins including the Middle Dutch schoonbrood or “pure bread”, the Scots Gaelic’s sgonn or “large mouthful”, or perhaps after the Scottish town of Scone.  They were not as cutesy at they look today because before baking powder, a scone was a large, flat, unleavened oat cake made on a griddle.  Thankfully, A Baker’s Tale did not harken back to the scone’s roots.IMG_7931 The two on display were the vanilla scone and the jalapeno white cheddar scone.  I thought I would prefer the former over the latter, but in reality, it was the opposite.  Yes, both were denser and somewhere between moist and arid that scones should be compared to the aforementioned cookies and cakes, but somehow the savory option won me over.  I personally think it was because it was such a sharp contrast to the mountains of sweet stuff I hoovered up over the course of the tasting, but I was partial to the clear pepper notes that came out in every bite that resulted in me showering the floor with crumbs.  Don’t hate me because I’m so debonair.IMG_7908  I highly recommend the jalapeno scones if you don’t have much of an affinity for all things sugary sweet.

As the night went on and my sugar levels reached their optimum level of satisfaction, we called it quits.  We departed A Baker’s Tale with a warm farewell from the owners and thoughts of the wonderful experience we had the priviledge of enjoying.  I highly recommend a visit to this very welcoming bakery that boasts desserts that are as satisfying as a finishing a great read where all of the ends are tied up and the villains receive their just desserts.  Lucky them!IMG_7937
A Baker's Tale Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bits and Bobs

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s post is in the same vein as some previous posts where instead of offering reviews on local restaurants, I comment on some random, small snack foods that I have tried while living in Korea (See:  Got The Munchies?).  I’ll begin with probably the healthiest snack my coteachers have given me.  One day I was in my cubicle after lunch, and I noticed that my coteachers and other teachers were crowding around the table in our office.  I could tell they were eating something with their hands, but I couldn’t see what.  I approached, and they offered me a plate covered in small, bright red fruit.  They looked kind of like cranberries but tinier.

I eated the red berries

I eated the red berries

I popped one in my mouth, and I was greeted with a complex rush of sweet, bitter, and sour flavors.  Plus, I quickly found out that they have a pit.  One of my coteachers told me that these were Korean cherries which made sense with the pit.  When the teachers saw my approval, they insisted that I eat the rest of the plate.  I naturally obliged as they were saying I wasn’t eating them fast enough, so I went from teacher to chipmunk in 1 minute flat.  I didn’t feel that bad because fruit is insanely expensive in Korea, and I can’t say that stuffing my cheeks with fruit is bad for my health.  Now that I’ve described the healthy food, let’s get to the good stuff.  First there are the spicy Pringles.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Pringles since I love their flavors, texture, and I’m from Amurika, so I wanted to see what kind of flavors they would have in Korea.  I needed something to go with my kimbap lunch for my hiking trip, and I settled on the Wild Spice Pringles.

Tube of disappointment

Tube of disappointment

I read the can, and I saw that they were Thai in origin.   This made me really excited since some Thai food is spicy enough to leave you using a colostomy bag.  However, they were a very big let down.  They looked like normal Pringles chips seasoned with a light brown powder, but this supposed firework show of spicy hellfire was more like a damp sparkler, unimpressive at best.  It just tasted like a potato chip with some soy sauce.  However, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom.  I found some Korean bakery that was quite nice.

While I was waiting for my friend, who is currently visiting me, at Bupyeong station on the platform going towards International Business District, I managed to be lured to a small food stall by an enchantingly sweet aroma.  The board on the top of the mini establishment said, “Manjoo Hana”, and I could see that they were selling different types of waffles.20130105-235347[1]  However, I was intrigued by the conveyor belt that consisted of small metal moulds being filled with batter and custard and then being baked in an oven.  I went for a 3,000 W bag which got me about 15 of these small pastries.  They were fresh out of the oven, so I had to take care not to bite in too soon and have my fingers/mouth coated in the napalm-esque custard inside each pastry.  When they finally cooled down, I found them to be great finger food since I was starving after a long day of work.

A litter of newly born Manjoo

A litter of newly born Manjoo

The dough was soft and buttery like a cake donut while the custard on the inside was creamy and had understated vanilla notes.  It would go nicely with this 19 grain cereal milk my coteacher gave me this week in honor of finally finishing recording our final exams.

It does a waygook body good

It does a waygook body good

It tasted like a less decadent vanilla milk shake which was surprising since it allegedly contained wheat, kefir, buckwheat, and sorghum to name a few grains.  Oh, Korea.  You do surprise me sometimes.  Especially with the last treat that tasted a lot better than it looked.

Since Korean summer is starting to get into full swing with sunlight that can make you feel like a roasting pot roast and humidity that can make you feel like you’re walking in a steam bath, all of the teachers in my office got ice cream.  I picked one that looked like chocolate, but when I opened it up it looked like something a bit more unsavory.

Before...

Before…

What I was staring at was a chocolate popsicle that looked suspiciously like a log of stool.

After: A real poopsicle

After: A real poopsicle

I bring up this association due to the fact that Korean culture seems to celebrate poop and don’t see it as something that is an object of revulsion in the West.  So I eventually managed to open this tube after what seemed like an eternal struggle to find what was the equivalent of a fudgesicle inside.  It was a treat that managed to cut through this crappy summer heat.

So here is another small glimpse at the vast variety of snack foods that Korea has to offer.  Some may seem more appetizing than others, but the main thing is that I ventured out and tried something new.

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