Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Butter, Cream & Sugar in Barcelona

The subject of pastries and desserts in Barcelona is overwhelming. Where to start? Everything I tried--cookies, custards, beignets, croissants--tasted fresh and pure, and nothing was cloyingly sweet.   
Beignet from the venerable Bubo.
Indeed, Catalans are masters of the delicately sweet.  All photos are from bakeries/cafés in the Catalunya/El Born neighborhoods. Chocolate, a whole other world, has been covered elsewhere, so I will not get into that here.
Cupcakes, gingerbread cookies, and sweet loaves dressed to kill.
Crema Catalana (Catalan version of Crème brûlée) from La Pallaresa  at C/ Petritxol, 11
Mató de Pedralbes (made with sweetened milk) preening in a window at La Palleressa.
Xuxo, a croissant-like breakfast treat that's crispy on the outside, and laced with cream on the inside. With coffee, it is to die for.  From Pinotxo, at La Boqueria.
At Caelum, at C/ Palla, 8, nuns prepare the indulgent, seductive offerings.
These would be considered mini doughnuts in the US.  Relatively small, perhaps, but hugely delicious. From Forn Boix.
Empanadas and others...
 Torró (Catalan)/Turrón (Spanish)/nougat (English).
Macaroons and cakes from Bubo. (The remaining, roughed-up, fiery red macaroons on the upper left are extraordinary.)
The tenderest, most flavorful marshmallows (in fruity flavors) from Bubo.  
Meringue filled with hazelnuts from Forn Sant Jordi.  Again:  the sweetness was sure but subtle.  
Assortment of European pastries at Escriba.
Merengues the size of grapefruit.
Soft-serve lookalike merengues in cupcake liners.
Mel i Mató: smooth, custard-like cheese, that is lightly sweetened.  Topped with honey, this is pure and simple bliss.
Part beignet, part cake; puffs of heaven, laced with coconut, served for breakfast by my host.
Alfajores with dulce de leche, from Forn Boix. This was the sweetest baked treat that I tried.
A scrumptious wafer with sesame seeds, bits of hazelnuts, coarse brown sugar and orange peel, also from Forn Boix.
Wanted: Catalan desserts in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Anyone know of any? Please comment!

Special thanks to Marta Laurent for her help with this post. Gràcies, Marta! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Flowers and Sardines for Lunch at Comerç 24, Barcelona

I experienced a touch of edible luxury at Comerç 24, started by a former El Bulli chef.
The salad entree at Comerç

Prix fixe lunch was 76€ ($110). Instead, I opted for à la carte since, unfortunately, I don't eat some of the items that were on the menu. How tragic it seemed that I don't eat squid, octopus, and pig parts since they are specialties in Barcelona.  Good thing for me that cod and sardines are also delicacies.                                                                             

First came bread with four types of olive oil.  Then came a fat cigarette-shaped roll, delicately fried. When I bit into it, a creamy cheese, light as foam and scented with lemon, gushed out inside my mouth.

Next came small bowl of clear fluid, the color of lemon juice, with an edible foam-like puff inside--a refreshing palate cleanser.  With these two mini-starters, I felt like I was indeed eating at the restaurant of an El Bulli alumnus.

Then came the sardines, with skinned orange slices and, supposedly, wasabi. I did not taste the wasabi.  But it did not matter. This was an exceptional dish.  Raw sardines, enhanced with a splash of citrus! Now I was living! Now I was in Barcelona! 
Sardines in a meadow of greens and slivers of orange
I could not leave having tried just one dish here and was very curious about the 26€ salad.  What did a $38 (US) salad look like?  Was it flecked with gold? Did it promise eternal youth? So I ordered it.  
With pinenuts, petites fraises, asparagus, peeled cherry tomatoes and edible flowers, it was certainly the most beautiful salad I have had, delicately bitter, sweet and tangy at once.  

I can get salad mixes with gorgeous edible flowers from the farmers' markets here.  But to recreate the salad from Comerç24 would require considerably more skill.  How do you make a dressing that does not overpower the flavors of the greens and fruit, yet has a distinct flavor of its own?  Apply just the right amount of dressing so as to gently coat rather than drench the salad? Prepare the tomatoes, pinenuts and asparagus so their textures and flavors complement rather than dominate the rest of the salad? All these minute details were taken care of by Comerçe24.  

Alas superfine details are the difference between places like Comerç and the rest.  

Eating the gorgeous food here, I felt for a moment like a queen.  Just for a moment...which is what a higher-end food experience can do.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bona Pasqua Catalunya!

Since it's Easter, I'm focusing today on eggs. These were among my favorite in Barcelona.

Chicks flanked by dark and white chocolate eggs at La Boqueria. 

Milk chocolate eggs from Bubo.

Real eggs--emu, ostrich, chicken and eggs with a guaranteed two-yolks at La Boqueria.

Barça eggs featuring football artists, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta.
Eggs decorated with fuzzy chicks.

Eggs atop brownies.  
The gem in the jewelry case at Bubo.
Colorful eggs sit atop bonbons. Edible jewels.
The following bombón were not Easter eggs and shaped (and sized) more like golf balls, but I am taking liberties here since they were my favorite among the chocolates I tried. The white morsels are crispy and the center of the bombón is chocolate hazelnut ganache. Chocolate hazelnut ganache! This stuff brings me to my knees. I want to shoot myself for not bringing more of these back. These were available in white, dark and milk chocolates. I bought these from Xocoa, but they were available elsewhere as well.

Not too sweet for me (Nutella is more so); not too rich. Just right, with crispy and creamy textures.  
My last evening in Barcelona was spent watching the Barça - Madrid final of the Copa del Rey, a passion-filled showown that involves fireworks, food, and gathering around TVs in any building that has one, including restaurants and cafés. My hosts--who are sweeter than any of these confections--presented a Catalan Easter egg for dessert.  I had seen such eggs all over the city.  On this one was a mosaic of primary colors.  It was half dark and half white chocolate, filling the room with the scent of vanilla. 
An egg in the flesh!

These eggs cannot be cracked the conventional way. One must use a tool.
The inside of the egg. At the bottom was a figure of a caped superhero, and some candies.
The children of Barcelona indulged in chocolate like these today.

Bona Pasqua.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Barcelona Xocolata

Ambling along La Rambla and environs one becomes enveloped in a chocolate-lovers dream. 
The elegant display at Escriba.
Simply put, I am giddily drunk from all the chocolate in Barcelona. I have never seen so much chocolate in my life, in such varieties. This next series of photos are from chocolatiers at La Boqueria, which, by the way, meets all of my expectations.  
Chocolate porcupines from La Boqueria.
This place, at the front of the market, has truckloads of chocolate and candy.
There is enough at the market to satisfy the most serious of chocolate addicts, and then some. 
Truffles and chocolate with pistahcio, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts...
More chocolate and fruta.
Okay, out of La Boqueria now and into the alleys. A trip to Granja Viader, founded in 1870.
At around 10:00AM on a Saturday, it's filled with locals.
At last. I have been wanting to try chocolate for ages.  This is the Spanish kind that requires a spoon and was a dark chocolate version. It is thick, but was not nearly as rich as I expected, perhaps because it is dark...and made sans leche. It did not taste mousse-like.  (There are also milkier versions.)
Here is one typical way to enjoy it: with a spongy biscuit that resembles the French madeleine, but is more practically shaped for dipping.   
From Xocoa 
Buttons from from Xocoa.
Chocolate that looks like art. The sign at the top is in acknowledgement of the recent Japanese earthquake victims. Of course it is also a sales ploy, but  I was still appreciative. The stores along Career de Petritxol (street) were running these signs.  With Easter a week away, there has been an explosion of chocolate and candy eggs, of all kinds--and I mean ALL kinds!
Dark, ostrich-sized chocolate eggs...
Eggs with Barça players on them (this one of Puyol)

Eggs with Sponge Bob, Dora and others...
Here is a chocolate display with a candy Xavi, Hello Kittys, Doraemon (Japanese character), Cinderellas...

Chocolate churros:

I tried the "regular" churros which were warm and made me feel like home:
According to the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum), Spain is the 7th largest consumer of chocolate--after the UK, and Japan. What? With all this chocolate here? How could this be?!
Panel at Museu de la Xocolata
I actually have TONS more chocolate photos, but I didn't want to scare off my few precious readers away.  Okay, next up will be pastries, candy (non-chocolate), live fish or olive oil...¡Ay, caramba!