pit stops: Chi > Cle >FLks > Mont > Queb > Mich > Chi

Dear Dessert Oasis,
Your recent posting about your yummy cross country road trip bakery stop in Lincoln, NE made me think I should do some advance planning for my own upcoming road trip. Any tips on wish list dessert stops between Chicago-Cleveland-Finger Lakes region, NY-Montreal-Quebec City- Toronto-and back to Chicago (via Michigan)? Whew! It’ll be a long adventure and we could use some delicious car snacks.
Thanks!
Road Trippin’ Rover


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Dear Road Trippin’,
Having a few known dessert stops on your map will definitely save you from an overload of gas station candy bars and hot pockets – way to think ahead!! That being said, it can be tricky to find great stop offs that don’t veer too far away from the beaten path. (like, unfortch, much of the Ohio turnpike is a bland stretch of oasis pits.)
And so, I’ve outlined a few standouts near each of your destinations, and recommend you stock up as you approach/leave each locale. Be sure to bring a cooler, some extra tupperware, and a roll of paper towels!
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Munster, IN: Munster Donuts (get a sour creme donut or twelve)
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Cleveland: Presti’s Bakery (cannoli), Jack Frost Donuts (including a donut that looks like a hot dog! GET IT.), Sweet Moses (ice cream)
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Finger Lakes: Seneca Farms (banana splits – have to eat your fruits and veggies while you’re on the road), Colonial Inn (ice cream with historic charm)
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Montreal: Mamie Clafoutis (bakery – tarts and croissants and cream puffs, oh my!), Wild Willy’s (ice cream), Les Givres (a lil bit of everything)
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Quebec CityÉrico (chocolate everything, including a chocolate museum to stretch your road-weary legs!)
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and to really savor the last leg of your journey, Michigan! Sister Pie (Detroit – pie, duh), Hinkley Bakery (Jackson – for donuts), Whistle Stop Grocery (Union Pier – cakes, pastries, and maybe some provisions for your fridge back home)


Happy travels and happy eats!!
– Dessert Oasis


*photo creds to many IG travelers: @foodchristinaeats, @whistlestopgrocery, @deeedoyle, @sarhuzarski, @stephyaklin, @terrellm, @tastymorocco, @jenn_pearce, @nadiawasti


Have a dessert question?  Email me at courtneysconza@gmail.com – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.

Why can’t I get a legit chocolate shake?

Dear Dessert Oasis,

Last night, all I wanted for dinner was a cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate milkshake, so I went to a local diner and ordered exactly that. But when I sipped my shake, it was too sweet and not very chocolatey at all. I asked the waitress about it, and she said they use vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup to make their chocolate shakes.

So my question is: why don’t places use chocolate ice cream to make chocolate shakes?

Sincerely,
No Nilla

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Dearest No Nilla,

You are a treat-seeker after my own heart.

Why, indeed, don’t places use chocolate ice cream to make chocolate shakes?? Why is vanilla always the default base? Shakes, donuts, marshmallows, you name it, it’s always vanilla first and chocolate as an afterthought.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because 40% of the population prefers vanilla. (These are the people you hear saying, “Oh, I judge an ice cream shop by their vanilla.” Why not judge by their chocolate? It’s difficult to get a soft chocolate ice cream using real cocoa, and a crappy, artificial chocolate should make you walk right back out the door. Judgement complete.) And the other 60% aren’t only chocoholics. Maybe chocolate gets 30% and the rest is made up of strawberry, coffee, mint, maple, tutti-frutti, peanut butter, whatevs. Restaurants want to minimize their unused inventory and hence try to use vanilla + flavor/add-in for EVERYTHING.

Now for a coffee milkshake, let’s say, this works. It’s just like an overly creamed coffee. For peanut butter, fine, no one can drink a straight glass of peanut butter anyway. But for chocolate? Forget about it. Real chocolate lovers can sniff out a fake with half a sip. It would be more aptly named a “chocolate flavored milkshake,” and then I would know right off the bat not to order it. Also, don’t tell me a strawberry milkshake wouldn’t be better using strawberry ice cream too….

If I ruled the world, I’d have both chocolate AND vanilla options always. That’s right, I wouldn’t banish vanilla completely, but I wouldn’t allow it to carry on with its “my way or the highway” forceful antics either. I’d make the world a harmonious swirl and everyone would be treated equally in their dessert quests. But since I don’t reign supreme, here are some tips when trying to order a chocolate milkshake:

1. don’t get your hopes up – go in expecting the worst: vanilla base only.

2. look at the dessert menu – if you only see apple pie à la mode with vanilla bean, hot fudge sundae made with vanilla ice cream and nuts, brownie with a scoop of vanilla (like that’s some extra treat)….chances are they don’t have chocolate ice cream in the kitchen.

3. ask before ordering – make double sure or be double disappointed when you are served a light tan shake.

My advice today would be to go grab a pint of chocolate and make your own milkshake to help erase last night’s bad taste.

The more chocolatey the better,
Dessert Oasis

ps: here was my bfast today: the so simple but so rare maple glazed chocolate donut. think about it: why is maple glaze almost always only on a vanilla donut? why is strawberry glaze only on a vanilla donut? haven’t donut makers heard of chocolate covered strawberries? why isn’t anyone making chocolate raised donuts??!?!?! what is the world waiting for?????

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Have a dessert question?  Email me at courtneysconza@gmail.com – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.

Under the Boardwalk: Taffy and Fudge

Hi Dessert Oasis,

Why is it that every lake/beach/ocean vacation destination has some shop that sells fudge and taffy? Like not just in major destinations, but also in some tiny little town in the middle of nowhere Minnesota?

Trying to keep my beach body, but how?

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Dearest Beach Body,

It is so true! Try to get away on a summer trip and everywhere you look there are Taffy and Fudge, Fudge and Taffy (saltwater taffy to be exact) beckoning you like evil twins trying to push your bikini physique closer to sweater weather. Every summer resort-y town seems to have some kind of oldtimey shoppe with handmade confections. But why are they centered in these towns and not so much in metropolitan cities?

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It might be that hanging out in salty ocean air all day gives people a craving for something sweet? Maybe it’s the fact that taffy and fudge don’t dry out quickly in humid/beach conditions so they make good souvenirs?

Maybe, maybe, but basic bottom line: tiny beachy towns are riding the confectionary coattails of major players like Atlantic City and Mackinac Island, and Atlantic City saltwater taffy and Mackinac Island fudge play on tourist nostalgia for simpler times and vacation indulgences.

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Taffy and fudge have pretty minimal ingredients, recipes that haven’t changed much in over 100 years, and there really aren’t any corporate companies selling these treats, so small candy shops can make the taffy/fudge right there in the shop and not worry about mass-produced competition. The entertainment value of watching taffy pulls or stirring a big copper pot along with the sweet smells is an easy win win as window shoppers are drawn in to the store. And then…. might as well buy something! Oh, you only sell fudge by the half pound? Whatevs, I’m on vacation, let’s do it! Oh, you gave your kid a bag with instructions to choose a few colorful taffies and they came back with it filled to the brim? Whatevs, they’re on vacation!

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Taffy and fudge will help restore your energy after a long day on the water, and will help ease the post-vacation/back-to-work transition (save some for Monday morning!). Pro tip: zap cold fudge in the microwave for about 8 seconds/let it sit on your car dashboard for about 1 minute. *times vary based on microwave/dashboard settings*

And remember, every body is a beach body, just go the beach.
– Dessert Oasis

 

Have a dessert question?  Email me at courtneysconza@gmail.com – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.

always something to celebrate!

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Dear Dessert Oasis,

You often post in celebration of dessert holidays (of which there are a plethora!), which helps me to ensure that I am doing my part to honor these special days. Do you know of any comprehensive calendar that lists these holidays? While I greatly appreciate that I can rely on you to keep me informed of dessert holidays, I feel somewhat abashed that I’m not prepared in advance for my favorite ones. (What better way to celebrate National Chocolate Chip Cookie day then baking your own! But alas, it’s Sunday at 11pm and I have no chocolate chips or butter….)

Yours truly in celebration of sweets,
Dessert Day Devotee

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Dear DDD,

Oooohhh, I feel your pain! Nothing worse than realizing mid-day that it’s National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day and you #1: missed the perfect excuse to eat cookies for breakfast, and #2: have a pantry full of tortilla chips instead of chocolate chips. *tear*

Well fear not, because I’ll get you set for all upcoming dessert holidays so you can prepare in advance! I mean, most holidays incorporate some kind of cake or cookie or candy in the festivities, but holidays where the dessert is the actual focus??!?!? Made up or not, I’m in!

If you are on Instagram, (aside from following @dessert.oasis), I recommend following @itsadayreally. No forewarning there, and dessert holidays are mixed in with a bunch of other holidays (today is May Ray Day???), but they are a good reminder since they post early enough in the morning for you to find some way to celebrate accordingly throughout the day.

For more comprehensive/all-in-one lists, I suggest the following websites:
foodimentary.com
thenibble.com

Both of these pages have searchable calendars along with some foodie facts and history thrown in too, so not only can you plan ahead to celebrate National Devil’s Food Cake Day (TODAY!!!!!), but you can wow your foodie friends with lil morsels like: “A similar cake, the red velvet cake, is closely linked to a devil’s food cake, and in some turn of the century cookbooks the two names may have been interchangeable.” #themoreyouknow

And to make sure you don’t miss anymore May dessert holidays and drown in sugar-free tears before the month is over, here are the most important upcoming national dates to remember:

May 22 – National Vanilla Pudding Day
May 23 – National Taffy Day
May 26 – National Blueberry Cheesecake Day
May 27 – National Grape Popsicle Day (i’ll be skipping this one…)
May 31 – National Macaroon Day

Now go get some Devil’s Food for lunch!!!

Celebratorily yours,
Dessert Oasis

 

Have a dessert question?  Email me at courtneysconza@gmail.com – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.

egg free and ageless

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Dear Dessert Oasis,

What is an egg free dessert I can bring to a dinner party that will please both kiddos and discerning adults alike?

Sincerely, Suburban sweet lover

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Dear Suburban Sweetie,

I’ve got a few suggestions for you dependent on level of acceptable mess:

  1. Bake or buy a fruit pie. Done and done. (*not a custard/key lime/pudding type pie – bc duh, eggs)
  2. Rice Krispie Treats – age doesn’t discriminate here. EVERYONE ALWAYS loves Rice Krispie Treats. They’re easy to make (only 3 ingredients – none of them eggs! one bowl! one pan!), you can keep them classic or add a little something for the kids (mix in sprinkles!) or adults (spread a layer of melted dark chocolate on top!)
  3. If it’s chilly outside, and you don’t mind a *touch* of a mess inside, chocolate fondue is a sure winner. Milk chocolate (maybe even swirled with white chocolate?) for the kiddies, and dark/semi-sweet (maybe swirled with milk chocolate?) for the adults. Slice and dip any fruit, pretzels, shortbreads (no eggs), marshmallows, etc. It’s a fun way to keep kids occupied/happily playing with their food, and a relaxed way for adults to linger at the table with cocktails over the fondue pot…. but keep in mind, this dessert will for sure take centerstage. If you don’t want that much limelight/potential mess in someone else’s dining room, simply dip and cool everything on a tray/arrange on a platter beforehand to bring the treats sans melting accessories.
  4. With warmer months coming and dinner parties potentially turning into backyard BBQs, DIY (or store bought) popsicles are great and kids can be hosed down on the lawn afterwards. Blend some juice/fruit/yogurt together and pour into popsicle molds – maybe add a few extra pieces of fruit to each mold too to make ’em pretty. You can keep it simple for kids: strawberry/banana, orange/vanilla yogurt, and maybe toss in something more interesting for the grown-ups: add fresh ginger to blackberry pops or chopped basil to watermelon pops!

You don’t have to crack any eggs to make this omelet,
Dessert Oasis

 

Have a dessert question?  Email me at courtneysconza@gmail.com – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.

 

to bake or to buy?

Dessert Oasis,

Is it more/less/equally acceptable to purchase a really great bakery item when you are asked to bring a dessert to a party, or should it really be homemade?

Sisters, sincerely yours,
Susie Not-So-Homemaker and Store-Bought Sally

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Dear Sus and Sal,

Some people just do not have the strength of baking (or moussing or ice creaming or candying or etc). That is that. If you can’t make your way off the dessert list and onto the hummus list instead, there is no argument that a great item from a great bakery always = great.

Now, do not confuse “great bakery” with the grocery store down the street. And do not confuse “great item” with a plastic tray packing overly dyed cupcakes that taste like the aforementioned tray. Though you may not be able to bake a cake yourself, I believe that you do have the sense to know that no one appreciates having to feign excitement over an old buttercream sheet cake layered with soggy strawberries.

Plus, bringing a great bakery item gives you the opportunity to share/introduce a special treat/new find with friends who may not be in the know. You might even be renamed a dessert connoisseur! (though maybe you should drop some hints re: “I can’t bake don’t ask me to bring dessert again” while guests are enjoying your bakery goodies so that you sidestep an unwanted dessert connoisseur future….)

Basically, if you really love it, bring it. If you’re just planning on throwing a box of Chips Ahoy! on the table, you’d be better off bringing the hummus instead and pretending you missed the dessert memo.

Good things come in pink boxes,
Dessert Oasis

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Have a dessert question?  Email me at courtneysconza@gmail.com – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.

the butter solution

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Dear dessert oasis,

Where does one find fancy French butter, such as Echire, in Chicago? The overpriced organic/grass-fed stuff isn’t doing it for me. I know there’s a whole world of amazing butter out there, and I can no longer deprive myself of such joy.

Sincerely,
An Aspiring Butter Snob

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Dear Aspiring Butter Snob,

First, let me start off by saying that although butter isn’t a dessert, it is used in many desserts (*and also I love butter and cheese), so I will help spread some light on the subject. (might I also add that using fancy butter when ‘butter’ is called for in a cake recipe is, frankly, a waste. maybe spread fancy butter on top of the cake instead?? yes.)

If your local WF or Mariano’s isn’t enough to keep you cheerfully churned, might I suggest one of several Pastoral locations in Chicago. While cheese is their main act, they usually have a fairly decent butter selection as well.

Eataly has some fancytime butters, but they are most likely all Italian, so they might be lacking in the certain je ne sais quoi du beurre.

Blah blah, you’ve prob heard all that before if you’ve done any rudimentary Chicago butter searches, so are you ready for your hot insider tip? Are you ready to maybe take a short(ish) trek to find butter gold?? *whisper voice* Here you go: there is a situation called European Imports. They import all sorts of cheeses, chocolates, oils, BUTTERS, to various gourmet shops in Chicago, and a few times a year they have a warehouse sale. Let’s say a lb of Parmesan straight from Parma usually costs $100/lb (of course it doesn’t). Well at the Euro Imports sale that very same cheese costs $1/lb (or close to it). Forrealz. This little temporary heaven on Earth used to be housed in some tiny warehouse on Elston near Damen, but, get your hankies out, it has now moved to somewhere near Arlington Heights. WTF. I know. But still. Sign up for their newsletters on the website and mark that shit down in your calendar and make the journey. You will not be disappointed.

And lastly, see that glorious pic at the top? Well that, my buttery friend, is Amish cultured butter straight from the farms of central Illinois and available by the brick at Schnuck’s grocery store in Urbana. And you know very well who lives a pat’s throw from there….

Yours in all culinary quests,
Dessert Oasis

ps: my dad’s nickname is Butter Boy

 

Have a dessert question?  Email me at courtneysconza@gmail.com – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.