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Sweet Tooth


Posted on November 7

Photo by Ron Schwager

We can ignore it, we can renounce it, we can try to rationalize it out of existence, but our sweet tooth will not be denied. Some days it pines for a slice of chocolate cake, while on others it cries for a silky-smooth crème brûlée or a plate-sized peanut butter cookie. And although we try to shut it out, its pleas and entreaties eventually wear us down. Resistance is so hard, and giving in is so easy. Why fight it?   Here are 20 ways to make peace with your sweet tooth.

Rick’s Best Yellow Cake

Rick’s Dessert Diner, best-known for its oversized, extravagant desserts, offers diners a plethora of sweet options. Among the confections shouting for attention in the display case, you’ll find the quiet and simple elegance of Rick’s Best Yellow Cake. Yes, it’s eye-poppingly tall, like all the diner’s cakes, but what caught our attention was the subtle Easter yellow of its buttermilk cake—produced, we’re told, by the addition of extra egg yolks. The cake is velvety smooth and delicate, cloaked in an airy French chocolate buttercream redolent of coffee. It is uncompromisingly graceful, despite its super size, and we treasured its simplicity. (Hint: Make sure to eat the cake at room temperature—coldness robs it of its dainty appeal).
Rick’s Dessert Diner, 2322 K St., Sacramento; ( 916) 444-0969

Carrot Cake

After sampling many very impressive carrot cakes around the region, several of eyebrow-raising height, elaborate decoration and unusual additions such as candied ginger and dried cranberries, we stumbled upon Grateful Bread Company’s unpretentious carrot cake and fell promptly in love. Pretty it’s not: Sold in a cheap, disposable bread pan, it looks like something you might pick up at a school bake sale. The cream-cheese icing is applied somewhat carelessly, and it has more of a quick-bread consistency than a cakey texture. But what it lacks in fanciness it more than makes up for in taste. Owner Joe Artim says the only spice he uses in the dessert is cinnamon, but he also adds crushed pineapple to the mix, which gives it a honeyed, fruity fragrance. But the most unusual thing about Artim’s carrot cake is that it’s made with a sourdough starter, which, he claims, gives the cake its distinctive flavor and “keeps it fresh longer.” (He’s right: We snacked on ours continuously for about five days and it never tasted stale). The carrot cake is made only on Thursdays, so there are usually some available on the weekend. The batter, adds Artim, also is used to make muffins, which “sell out real quick.”
Grateful Bread Company, 2543 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 487-9179

New York Cheese-cake

This is an instance whereplain and honest wins out over frills and complexity. Megan Ward, the baker at Plantation Coffee Roasters, offers us a cheesecake unadorned, in its most basic and sublime incarnation. It is a wedge of creamy simplicity, featuring a chunky graham cracker crust supporting an ineffably smooth, incalculably fattening cream-cheese cake, smothered with a tangy sour-cream topping. No fruit, no mocha flavoring, no curlicues. It’s solid, it’s satisfying, it’s just plain good. “People come in a lot during the holidays to order this cheesecake,” says Ward, “and everyone just seems to find it quite tasty.” We sure do.
Plantation Coffee Roasters, 9583 Elk Grove-Florin Road, Elk Grove; (916) 686-2633

Pumpkin Baked Alaska

At Maritime Seafood & Grill, chef Morgan Song’s playful interpretation of a traditional baked Alaska showcases a rich scoop of housemade pumpkin gelato wedged between an apricot preserve-slathered round of poundcake and a bouffantlike topping of pristine meringue that’s been blowtorched to a toasty brown. It is a delight to slip your spoon through the crusty, warm meringue topping and into the gelato, then enjoy the warm/cold, crunchy/smooth contrasts on your palate. A bite of poundcake adds another interesting texture to this tasty experience. The only downside to the dessert is its accompanying mango and raspberry sauces, which, although attractive and colorful, fight fiercely with the flavors of the baked Alaska. Chef Song also delights in using other flavored ice creams, such as raspberry, lemon and cappuccino, in this unique dessert. (Note: If you haven’t made the trek to Maritime yet, we suggest it’s high time you do.)
Maritime Seafood & Grill, 420 First St., Woodland; (530) 661-6602

24-Karat Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake

Sometimes, nothing but pure chocolate will do. When you are laser-focused on sating your ravenous inner chocoholic, make a trip to Ciocolat in Davis for one of pastry chef Sarah Tansey’s 24-karat bittersweet chocolate mousse cakes. Elegant and sleek, this flawless, dark-chocolate dome encases a bittersweet chocolate mousse that lies atop a layer of chocolate cake. Adorned with glittering flakes of edible gold leaf, this is a dessert that will stop conversation. “The mousse cake is one of our signature desserts,” says Tansey, “and it’s been on the menu since the day we opened.” If you are planning a fancy soiree and want to truly impress your guests, bring a few of these lovelies home for dessert.
Ciocolat, 301 B St., Davis; (530) 753-3088

Almond Bar

We were bewitched by Bakerie & Latte Chateau Arme’s decadent and beautiful almond bar. It has a crumbly shortbread base with a chewy, caramelized, toasted almond and dried sour-cherry topping that is impossible to stop eating once you have started. Owner Helen Rostami adds Grand Marnier to the topping, which gives it a luxurious, orangey aftertaste, and we found that the tangy cherries were a vivid and welcome foil for the buttery, sweet flavors of her bar. Rostami, a native of Armenia, brought her extensive pastry chef experience from numerous large hotels and restaurants to El Dorado Hills 10 years ago to open up her own shop. The almond bar, she admits, is her “favorite item.”
Bakerie & Latte Chateau Arme, 2222 Francisco Drive, El Dorado Hills; (916) 939-0834

Warm Strawberry Soup

Curiosity, rather than lust, inspired us to order this intriguing dessert at Bacchus Restaurant and Wine Bar (formerly Christophe’s Restaurant). Imagining a hot mash of dubious pink color and texture, we were somewhat astounded when this lovely creation appeared at our table. Its fragrance, intensely strawberry-ish, was completely intoxicating. Served in a pretty cut-glass goblet, it featured a ruby-colored “broth” prepared from pureed strawberries, red wine, vanilla bean, lemon zest and cinnamon. Bobbing in this luscious liquid were perfectly ripe strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, and perched atop it all, melting seductively into the warm liquid, was a scoop of housemade vanilla ice cream. The other two desserts we ordered were shoved perfunctorily to the edge of the table as we dug in, spoons darting greedily for the warm berries. As the ice cream continued to melt, the soup became creamy pink in color and cooled off—briefly—before we devoured it. We wondered where chef Luc Dendievel (who, incidentally, makes all his own pastries) could find such gloriously ripe berries in the wintertime, but at $9 a dessert, we figured we were helping to offset that food cost.
Bacchus Restaurant and Wine Bar, 2304 E. Bidwell St., Folsom; (916) 983-4883

Sesame-CoconutCookie

Who said vegans don’t have fun? Try Bennett’s Bread & Pastries’ utterly delicious sesame-coconut cookie, made from a Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op vegan recipe. Large and saucerlike, the cookie is packed with toasted tidbits of almond and nutty sesame seeds that create a rich background for the starring flavor: coconut. The flavor is bold and complex, the texture is delicate and chewy, and the nuts and sesame seeds add an entertaining crunchiness. This sweet is an absolute delight to eat. “We really like them here at the bakery,” quips owner Mike Bennett, “and you won’t even know they’re good for you!” We can’t think of a nicer cookie to savor next to a fire with a hot cup of tea. (Note: For larger quantities, call ahead and order from Bennett’s bakery. If you just want one or two, you can purchase them at the Co-op.)
Bennett’s Bread & Pastries, 5493H Carlson Drive, Sacramento; (916) 451-1809

Sticky Black Rice with Coconut Ice Cream

While wolfing down a meal on your next visit to Thai Basil Cafe, hold off on that last forkful or two of pad kra pow. Instead, save some room for . . . dessert. What? You don’t eat dessert at Thai restaurants? We predict you’ll become an enthusiastic Thai-dessert eater once you are introduced to the restaurant’s exotic sweet sticky black rice. Served warm, emitting an alluring fragrance of coconut, the rice is served flattened on a plate with a generous glop of coconut ice cream. The rice’s texture is chewy, gelatinous and very addictive, while the ice cream is a startling, cold, smooth contrast to the rice. The result is a circus of textures in your mouth. This interplay between hot and cold, rough and smooth “characterizes Thai desserts,” notes owner Suleka Sun-Lindley. “A lot of our desserts have great contrasts in them.” This unique dish, she says, is prepared by steaming the presoaked “forbidden” black rice in a special bamboo steamer, then tossing it with a mixture of coconut milk and sugar.
Thai Basil Cafe, 2431 J St., Sacramento; (916) 442-7690

Chocolate-Dipped Mud Pie

The day you decide to fling aside your worries about calories and cottage cheese thighs, head to the display freezer at Gunther’s Ice Cream. There, you’ll find a true gem nestled among the decorated ice-cream clowns and frozen bonbons: a hefty wedge of the store’s scrumptious housemade mud pie, constructed of a sturdy graham cracker crust, coffee ice-cream filling and generous fudge topping; the whole thing then is dipped into a vat of chocolate and frozen. No kidding. A Popsicle stick is rammed into the crust, suggesting that patrons are meant to carry it around as they consume it, but considering its crumbly, bulky nature, I find that a bit optimistic. My slice, delectable with its crackly, chocolate exterior, was served on a plate, and as I walked to a scarred wooden booth, I noted several surreptitiously raised eyebrows from other customers—perhaps they were speculating on my cavalier attitude toward calories, but I’ll bet they were just jealous.
Gunther’s Ice Cream, 2801 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 457-6646

Almond and Brandied Cherry Clafoutis

What, you might ask, is clafoutis? According to Julia Child, clafoutis is a traditional French dessert composed of simple batter that’s poured over fruit (usually cherries), baked in the oven and served warm. Now that we have the nuts and bolts covered, let us just say that there is no better place to try clafoutis than at L’Image Bistro, Ana Divac’s newest restaurant venture in the Pavilions shopping center. Our recent clafoutis experience featured a toasty-warm disc of springy, spongy egg pudding, topped with a mound of tart-sweet brandied cherries. The fruit was not baked into the batter, but I heard no complaints. The cherry juices were quickly soaked up by the clafoutis, and its biscuity texture became celestially soggy. While gobbling it to extinction, we searched for the almond flavor promised in the dessert’s name, but came up short. Morning chef Steve Gonsalves told us later that the clafoutis is made with flour that’s been ground with the nuts. The dessert is served with a side of fresh cream—“people make a hole in the center of the clafoutis and pour the cream in,” he explained patiently. We found this to be an unnecessary step. Be prepared to wait a while for your clafoutis—they are all made to order—but your patience will pay off most sweetly.
L’Image Bistro, 537B Pavilions Lane (in the Pavilions shopping center), Sacramento; (916) 564-6555

Snickerdoodle

Race to Bistro Bakery, a tiny new family-owned establishment across the street from Whole Foods Market on Arden Way, for one of the irresistible snickerdoodles. These may possibly be the best snickerdoodles in the universe, and they’re not just for kids. Generously palm-sized, round and plump, the cookie’s outside glitters with granulated sugar and a generous coating of cinnamon. It may look sturdy, but the moment you sink your teeth into it, it explodes into a million tiny crumbs, spreading the buttery, cinnamony flavors throughout your mouth like wildfire. The secret to this cookie’s irresistible appeal, hints owner Kevin McCalpin, lies in an intense Sumatran cinnamon he uses called Korintje, which he characterizes as a “souped-up cinnamon with a nice rounded flavor.” Tender and oh-so-satisfying, this jewel of a cookie screams for a glass of milk.
Bistro Bakery, 4233 Arden Way, Sacramento; (916) 481-4139

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Tired of tortuously sculpted desserts, fussy garnishes and esoteric ingredients? Head to Danek’s Crestview Pastry in Carmichael for baker Chris Danek’s pineapple upside-down cake, guaranteed to catapult you back in time to Mom’s (or maybe Grandma’s) kitchen. This charmingly retro dessert is composed of circles of pineapple resting in a gloopy, caramely topping, dotted with bright little maraschino cherries (yes, people do still eat these in desserts) with a base of airy yellow cake. Although it looks a bit frumpy, we liked its humble, fruity sweetness. If you’ve got a kaffeeklatsch scheduled, this winning little cake could take center stage. (Hint: Pop it in the oven to warm up a few minutes before serving.)
Danek’s Crestview Pastry, 4792 Manzanita Ave., Carmichael; (916) 483-7180

S’more Sundae

When you hear the word “s’mores,” you probably think of grimy hands and carbonized marshmallows. So when Esquire Grill’s whimsical and sophisticated take on this old childhood classic arrived at our table, it elicited a few surprised giggles—it bears little resemblance to the messy, clumsy s’mores of our youth.

Served in a large, flat bowl, the dessert is composed of a scoop of excellent vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two housemade graham crackers on a bed of hot chocolate sauce, topped with a generous blob of marshmallow (also made in-house), which has been “torched” to re-create campfire scorching. The structure topples as soon as you attack it with your spoon—there’s no way to maintain its elegant verticality. And getting all the elements on your spoon at the same time can be challenging, especially when you’re sharing the dessert with a few other fascinated, hungry diners. While the s’more looks all grown up, it also appeals to little people. “This is the greatest day of my life,” declared our 7-year-old, as he swept his entire palm across the bottom of the bowl, wiping up every last drop of the chocolate sauce.
Esquire Grill, 1213 K St., Sacramento; (916) 448-8900

Banana Crêpe

When your child (or inner child) is lonely and out-of-sorts, head over the causeway to Crepeville in Davis for a hot banana crêpe. This enticing dessert arrives folded in a square of thin pancake, wafting heady aromas that will remind you of holidays, hazy, long-ago weekends with best friends, and everything that is good and comforting in life. When you cut into it, a warm pool of melted brown sugar, cinnamon and butter oozes out. The bananas within are fragrant, squishy and completely submerged in their brown-sugar-sauce bath. Don’t forget to pass your spoon through the mounds of whipped cream piled on the edge of the plate before you stuff a rapturous bite into your mouth.
Crepeville, 330 Third St., Davis; (530) 750-2400     

Lemon Tart

Sunny yellow and puckery sweet, The Flour Garden’s creamy lemon tart has a nubbly hazelnut crust. We enjoyed the contrast of the tart’s smooth, custardlike lemon curd with the roughness and crumbliness of the crust. According to head baker Matt Renfrew, the crust is made completely from scratch using butter, organic flour and organic hazelnuts (“We grind our own!”), and the curd contains fresh lemon juice and zest.

“This is definitely one of our most popular tarts,” he says modestly. Pick one up for your next picnic or casual dinner party.
The Flour Garden, 340 C Elm Ave., Auburn; (530) 888-1011

Chocolate Sin

If there were a beauty contest for desserts, it’s likely The Firehouse’s dazzling Chocolate Sin would win hands down. Dominating the plate is a glossy pyramid, composed of a very rich flourless Valrhona chocolate cake glazed with dark chocolate. The base of the structure is dusted with a delicate skirt of graham cracker crumbs, and standing beside it is a mini-me pyramid: a tiny, unglazed version of its bigger brother.

Scattered around this composition are crunchy, deeply caramelized warm bananas and pecans. And lest it take itself too seriously, the dessert is served with a cartoonish, flower-shaped cinnamon tuile cookie guaranteed to make you smile. Pastry chef Nicole Mitchell says she enjoys making individual desserts “so everyone has something special to eat.”
The Firehouse, 1112 Second St., Old Sacramento; (916) 442-4772

Flan de Naranja

We are smitten with Centro’s flan de naranja, a cold, jiggly custard dessert. After an evening ingesting spicy, chile-laden dishes, there’s no better way to soothe your palate than with this creamy dessert flan with its spunky kiss of orange, which cuts nicely through the richness of the dessert’s caramel sauce, making it taste light and refreshing. Think you have no room to stuff it in? Bet you do.
Centro Cocina Mexicana, 2730 J St., Sacramento; (916) 442-2552

German Chocolate Cake

Finding a good German chocolate cake is not easy. Many have teeth-achingly sweet frostings, gummy fillings and dry, uninteresting cake layers. So we were doubly excited to discover Selland’s Market-Cafe’s version of this traditional cake. Its icing is not overly sweet, and it contains a chewy tangle of coconut shreds and roasted pecans and is decorated with a delicate latticework of chocolate. The cake crumb is moist and flavorful (the bakers use coffee in the batter, which contributes to its distinctive taste) and the whole ensemble is about as pleasing as can be. The recipe for the dessert came from owner Nancy Zimmer’s Aunt Jean. “She was a wonderful aunt,” recalls Zimmer affectionately. “I used to bake at her house when I was a little girl.” All of Selland’s desserts are made from scratch, adds Zimmer, “and we try to keep that homemade look.”
Selland’s Market-Cafe, 5340 H St., Sacramento; (916) 736-3333           

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