Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Bosch

The following resin figurines arrived in the mail the other day:

These are figurines of characters from Hieronymus Bosch's “Temptation of Saint Anthony”, a triptych painting depicting very surreal scenes and creatures in dark and on-the-edge-of-disturbing settings. Truthfully, I'm not sure that the figurine on the left in the picture above is from this work, since I've scanned over pictures of the painting a couple times now and cannot find the little cloaked fellow. You can take part in the same surreal “where's Waldo” experience I had by going here and see if you can find him (her? it?).

I was informed a couple years ago about a company in the Netherlands that has decided to make plastic figurines of characters from various famous artists. They offer other Bosch figurines, as well as figurines based on works from Dali, Escher, and others. I'm not exactly sure if they're selling a lot of these. I would honestly be surprised if they were.

Oddly, I had all but forgotten about this company and these figurines until I watched a film called “In Bruges”, in which the two main characters visit a museum (in Bruges, Belgium), which houses a Hieronymus Bosch collection. Bosch is not a central theme in the film – the museum scene is mostly played for comedy – but for whatever reason, that scene resonated with me enough to remind me of an odd little studio in the Netherlands selling Bosch figurines.

Hieronymus Bosch was born in a small town in the Netherlands appropriately named Den Bosch, sometimes referred to as Hertogenbosch. Coincidentally, I actually visited this little town a number of years ago. I do not remember seeing any fantastic looking creatures roaming the streets, but I do remember having a "Bosche Bolle", which is something similar to a large cream-puff covered in chocolate. Perhaps the most fantastic thing I did see was someone leaving a pastry shop with a "Bosche Bolle" the size of a human head.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cupcake Comparison

In these tough, economic times, it's important to remember to have snacks. A good cookie may not fix your tanking stock portfolio, or compensate you for being laid off of work, but it's better than nothing.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that there is usually some sort of ubiquitous chain business selling the latest "trendy" snack. This first got my attention when Mrs. Fields Cookies started, but I kept a watchful eye on the Cinnabon craze, the meteoric rise and fall of Krispy Kreme, and the recent newcomer, Beard Papas. I've also noticed a number of gourmet cupcake stores popping up, fighting for the right to become the next big snack thing. A Sprinkles Cupcakes store recently opened up near me that seems to have a never-ending line of people. Passing by it on several occasions, I have witnessed a full squad of high-school cheerleaders, in uniform, standing in line, as well as a line forty people deep at 7PM on a Friday night.

They sell individual gourmet cupcakes for about $4 a pop, which seems ridiculously expensive to me. Interestingly, another gourmet cupcake place, Kara's Cupcakes, opened a store across the street from Sprinkles, selling their cupcakes at a mere $3.75 or so. Having nothing better to do one Sunday, I decided to brave the lines at both places (thankfully short that day), and do a head-to-head cupcake comparison:

(left to right: Sprinkles Red Velvet, Sprinkles Black and White, Kara's Chocolate Velvet, and Kara's Lemony Lemon)

I sorta screwed up, however, since I didn't get exact equivalents from both stores. Nonetheless, here are my findings on each individual cupcake:

Sprinkles, "Red Velvet" : Red Velvet is apparently some sort of standard of gourmet cupcakes. I'm not sure why, since the name makes me think of curtains or something. Anyway, this one was slightly disappointing -- the "cream cheese" frosting was too sweet and too solid. The "southern style chocolate" cake was a bit on the dry, not so tasty side. Finally, it was topped with a strange red and blue candy circle, which tasted like, and may have been, decorative wax. Rating: Meh

Sprinkles, "Black and White" : Not to be confused with the New York cookie of the same name, this cupcake was slightly better than the Red Velvet, in my opinion. The vanilla frosting again was too solid, and not so creamy. The "belgian dark chocolate" cake was sufficiently chocolate-y, but again a bit on the dry side. Maybe I just got a bad batch. Rating: Ok

Kara's, "Chocolate Velvet" : This is basically Kara's take on a Red Velvet, I think. The cake portion is superior to Sprinkle's Red Velvet in taste and moistness. The frosting was good, but nothing to write sonnets about. Rating: Ok

Kara's, "Lemony Lemon" : The frosting was a little on the sweet side (it's frosting, on a cupcake. I'm not sure what I was expecting), but the actual cake portion was tasty and moist. This was aided by the addition of a creamy Meyer lemon curd filling inside the actual cake. I learned my lesson and skipped the blue disc thing. Rating: Tasty

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You Got Bacon in My Chocolate

In my foolish younger adult days, I once decided to make a BLT sandwich. I opted to use eight strips of bacon. It was delicious, but, in hindsight, probably not the healthiest decision I've ever made. Like many, I have a hard time resisting the power of bacon. As a Cooks Illustrated article once stated, "Bad bacon is something of an oxymoron".

Recently, a chocolate manufacturer (Vosges) announced they had merged bacon with chocolate. Even more recently, I acquired one of these "Vosges Mo's Bacon Bars", and decided to try this unholy union for myself. Word on the street is that it's so popular in the UK, it's constantly sold out in shops. However, I generally do not view the Brits as culinary authorities with the final say, so I cleared a Thursday night on my calendar and prepared myself for this:

(no quail eggs were harmed in the making of this picture)

The instructions on the bar wrapper state:

"Notice the color of the chocolate, the glossy shine. Rub your thumb over the chocolate bar to release the aromas of smoked applewood bacon flirting with deep milk chocolate."

I did none of their silly preparation suggestions, and went straight for the main event.

It tastes, well, almost exactly as I expected. You could approximate the experience by grabbing a good piece of bacon, a Hersheys Bar (or something of slightly higher quality) and shoving them simultaneously into your mouth. Chew slowly. Your taste buds are hit with savory bacon wrapped in a milk chocolate base.

It's good. How could it not be? But, honestly, it's overkill at both ends. The bacon is overpowering, and unfortunately, the milk chocolate is overpoweringly sweet. They probably would get better results with a slightly less sweet dark chocolate. Yet, the milk chocolate version is the only one currently offered, so maybe I'm completely wrong on this. Perhaps I need to think bigger, and consider covering my next piece with a healthy dollop of clotted cream, or hollandaise sauce.