Monday, November 19, 2012

Recommended Desserts For Thanksgiving And Beyond

Every year, I make sure to mention the best places to get pies for the holidays. Pies are a special thing. You can't simply mix up ingredients, put it in an oven, and have it be fine. You have to choose your ingredients carefully, prepare them correctly, then add them all together for baking.

For example, I so rarely find an apple pie that has the apple pieces cut up into small, thin slices. This is important because it increases the surface area on which the cinnamon, sugar, and acid interact, providing that rich, tart flavor. Go buy an apple pie at your local grocery store: huge chunks of apple.

Obviously, your best course of action is to make the pies yourself and get it just right. But if you don't have the time, and during the holidays time is at a premium, you want to get the best.

#1: The Village Hearth, Jamestown
I haven't been to The Village Hearth in some time, but it doesn't matter. I know the kind of person who runs it: dedicated, passionate, skilled. Their dough is house-made, their ingredients of the utmost freshness, and their preparation flawless.

Their prices aren't out in la-la land, either. Everything they sell is competitively priced, and when you consider the quality of their food, it becomes an absolute bargain. The only problem is their capacity, meaning that they sell out pretty early. To guarantee your pie, make sure to order early.

For your holiday pies, I cannot recommend The Village Hearth enough.

#2: Pastiche, Providence
I think everyone saw this one coming. Pastiche has been a fixture in the Providence dessert scene for nearly three decades. Much like The Village Hearth, they know how to prepare their fruit before.

In comparison to The Village Hearth, Pastiche's recipes fall a bit short. They aren't as rich or delicately prepared. It's as though everything is taken down by a notch. This may be a philosophical issue, where Pastiche feels that they should leave everything slightly more mellow. All I can say is that I don't agree with that philosophy. I like subtlety in many things, but I prefer my desserts to be punchy.

The most important thing is for desserts to be complex. There is a penchant for businesses to prepare desserts with a single-minded drive to deliver a particular flavor. Cake must be cake. Pie must be pie. No! Because desserts are so sweet, which can easily be overpowering, it is all the more critical for their design and preparation to provide a wealth of flavors and textures to prevent the palate from becoming bored.

In this regard, both Pastiche and The Village Hearth deliver. If The Village Hearth is too much of a drive, Pastiche is delicious. But if you're willing to take a journey, you won't regret what you get in Jamestown.

#3: Trader Joe's, Warwick
Obviously, Trader Joe's pies and treats do not compare to what you will get at Pastiche and The Village Hearth. But when it comes to grocery stores baked goods, no other store even comes close. These are the only acceptable baked goods that I have received from a grocery store. Stop & Shop and Shaws are disgusting. Dave's is only slightly better. When these things are the competition, one wouldn't think it hard to compete, but apparently it is.

Trader Joe's is legitimately good. And while the crusts are unimpressive when bought, a light basting with butter and milk and ten minutes in a 400' oven turns Joe's pies into something worth mentioning. It also helps to extend their shelf life in your home, since Joe's uses no preservatives, their baked goods have a penchant for going moldy very quickly.

And one cannot ignore the price, either. Trader Joe's isn't as good, but holy crap are their pies cheap. A full apple pie only costs $7.00. Their pies are smaller, so the comparison isn't quite apples to apples (pie), but even if you add 50% to the price of Trader Joe's pies to account for the size difference, Joe's still comes out cheaper. If you're on a budget, Trader Joe's is a great choice.

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