thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the tag “dessert”

Miracle milkshakes? Burgatory Bar, Waterworks, Pittsburgh

Caramel Pretzel, Burgatory, February 2012

Caramel Pretzel halo, Burgatory, February 2012

I never thought I could be impressed by a milkshake enough to think that it was a gift from Heaven. However, those from Burgatory, a little joint that markets itself as serving up a “Helluva Burger” and “Heavenly Shakes,” might as well be.

I don’t even know what “house-turned vanilla bean ice cream” is (is “turned” Pittsburgh-ese for “churned”?) — but when spun with organic local ingredients, served in a frosted glass with a straw that’s finally an appropriate thickness, and pushed across the bar with the extra drippings in the metal canister it was mixed in — these milkshakes are not for the weak.


Friends required.

My Caramel Pretzel ($6) milkshake was crusted with salty pretzel chunks and wore a halo of lusciously-thick whipped cream, so decadent that by the end of my glass the caramel tasted like straight corn syrup — but I was willing to forgive.

Also available are the divinely-conceived Salted Nutella Crunch (with Nutella and Nestle Crunch bars), Coffee & Donuts (with Kona coffee and donut pieces), and a line-up of hard shakes, such as the Apple Pancakes and Bacon, Burnt Toffee, or Grand-Dad’s Secret. (The complete list of Burgatory shakes is available here.)

Unless you’re training for a food-eating competition or up for testing your virtue of patience, I strongly suggest eating the burger on a separate visit and consulting the wait-time for tables online before you go (visible on the right side of the homepage).

Fox Chapel / Waterworks
932 Freeport Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
(412) 781-1456
(View full list of locations.)

Sunday-Thursday 11AM – 10PM
Friday and Saturday 11AM – 11PM

Friday Photo: Going Dutch (Cookie-wise) in Central Pennsylvania

Jennie Groff displays Stroopie’s cookie press, June 2012

This article first appeared in the August 2012 issue of TheBurg, greater Harrisburg’s community newspaper.

Hold on, biscotti. Take a back seat, pizzelle. And welcome a new international cookie, the stroopwafel, to central Pennsylvania’s confection scene.

A stroopwafel is a traditional Dutch cookie, literally meaning “syrup waffle.” The “stroopie” consists of gooey caramel syrup pressed between two pie-crust-thin, cinnamon-spiced waffles. Traditionally, the cookie rests on the rim of a hot cup of coffee for a few seconds before eating to soften the caramel—an ode to taking time to eat, to drink and to be.

“My customers keep saying, ‘Oh, they’re caramel! Oh, they’re Dutch!’” said Ambreen Esmail, owner of Café di Luna on N. 3rd Street in Midtown. Esmail has carried the cookies since late June to complement her array of small batch, independently made desserts and internationally inspired coffee beverages. “Not many people have heard of stroopwafels, but they’re delicious,” she said.

Domestically, Stroopwafels are made at Stroopies, a Lancaster-based company managed by a husband and wife team, Jonathan and Jennie Groff.

“We both grew up in small family businesses, and we wanted one of our own,” Jennie said, herself the daughter of a dairy farmer. Jonathan is the son of the founders of Groff’s Candies in Lancaster.

Owners Ed McManness and Dan Perryman founded Stroopies in 2008 to make cookies and provide jobs to underprivileged men and women. They operate a branch in, of all places, Moradabad, India, with six full-time workers. Jonathan and Jennie joined the company two years ago and wanted to market the cookies in Pennsylvania. Since then, laboring in the back room of Groff’s Candies, they have made every stroopwafel from scratch.

Four cookie-size balls of homemade dough are placed on an authentic Dutch stroopwafel griddle and pressed for 80 seconds. Each waffle is transferred to a cutting board, filleted in half and drizzled with house-made caramel syrup. The halves are then pressed back together, cooled and hand-packaged.

“Our very clean hands are all over the stroopwafels that you buy,” laughed Jennie.

In addition to traditional stroopies, the Groffs offer stroopwafels dipped in Wilbur’s dark chocolate from Lititz, PA. They are experimenting with gluten-free stroopwafels, fresh pecan stroopwafels and chocolate dipped stroopwafels that are sprinkled with locally roasted espresso from Lancaster’s Square One Coffee.

There’s a balance between keeping it simple and being creative, Jonathan said, “but I do think the espresso stroopwafels are out of this world.” The couple hopes to eventually introduce a new stroopie variety each year.

Like the India branch, the couple hopes Stroopies can provide employment opportunities to immigrants in central Pennsylvania. “Specifically, we see a need among refugees that the U.S. has welcomed,” Jonathan said. “Sometimes they have a hard time finding work. We love working with internationals, so to be able to provide work for people from other parts of the world would be an enjoyable privilege for us.”

That inspires Café di Luna’s Esmail. “I promote Stroopies’ cookies because they bring people together,” she said. “So much is lost these days with the way we rush. I believe we need to go back to our values, and I try to promote products that do the same.”

105 Old Dorwart Street
Lancaster, PA 17603

Café di Luna
1004 N. 3rd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 233-3010

Salted caramel oatmeal sandwich cookie, Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg

The Midtown Scholar, July 2012

The Midtown Scholar, June 2012

Salted caramel hot chocolate at Starbucks.  Salted caramel crunch cake at the Blue Bird Inn in Cornwall near Lebanon, Pennsylvania.  And now, a salted caramel oatmeal sandwich cookie served at the Midtown Scholar made by independent baker Tiffany Foster of Hershey — currently the bookstore-cafe’s most popular sweet.

What’s the deal with salted caramel? I personally think it plays off of the sweet-and-salty addiction that most Americans have, manifested in our love of Reese’s peanut butter cups, caramel popcorn, or, my dad’s favorite, crumbled Kay and Ray’s potato chips on vanilla ice cream. (What’s next? Salt on our Cocoa Puffs? Call me in a year whenever I become right.) Poco dolce, an artisan chocolatier based in San Francisco, California, uses grey sea salt to enhance the flavors of their bitter dark chocolate (available in burnt caramel toffee, Aztec chile, ginger, and almond), but they’re not the only ones: Ghiaradelli sells salted dark chocolate, too.

As Tiffany Foster notes, salt — and, in her case, caramel — simply makes everything better, blood pressure aside.

Her sandwich cookie consists of a buttery, caramel-hinted filling sandwiched between two slightly-crisp oatmeal cookies that are hearty enough to merit your grandmother’s approval.  The salted caramel filling is not fluffy, like the frosting of a Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Creme Pie, but creamy, making this cookie richer and denser than it appears. If you want a light afternoon snack, this is not it; it requires a cup of cold-brew coffee (or a glass of milk, if possible) to soften the oatmeal and cut the creaminess.  But this cookie surely hits the spot!

Tiffany created this cookie to merge two trends: sandwich cookies and her own “recent obsession with salted caramel.”  The Midtown Scholar typically sells out of these cookies within three days.

In addition to this non-vegan cookie, Tiffany also bakes the Scholar’s vegan ginger cookies, vegan cinnamon buns, and vegan jam buns.  She hopes to attempt a vegan version of the salted caramel sandwich cookie in the future.

The Midtown Scholar
1302 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102

Blue Bird Inn
2387 Cornwall Road
Lebanon, PA 17042
(717) 273-3000

Friday Photo: Sweet Frog frozen yogurt toppings, Mechanicsburg

SweetFrog Yogurt toppings

Sweet Frog yogurt toppings

Ice cream is one of those things that my dad and I have always had in common: he’d come home from working on the farm, and I could always count on him to suggest that ice cream was needed for dessert. (I yet was too young to make a suggestion so bold.)

Sweet Frog Premium Frozen Yogurt of Mechanicsburg isn’t exactly locally-made ice cream like that made by Bootlleg Creamery and sold by Cream Cycles, Harrisburg; it’s also not my premium go-to, which is a peanut butter cup hurricane at Kristy’s Whistle Stop, Enola. And I admit that any of this barely comes close to a Magnum ice cream bar.

However, Sweet Frog does fulfill a childhood dream in a Willy Wanka kind of way. Surrounded by the bright pinks and greens of the building’s interior, I nearly skipped to the wall of frozen-yogurt pumps with which you serve yourself flavors that range from thin mint to pomegranate-raspberry, and I stared (with Christmas-day excitement)  at the bar of toppings that seemed to stretch to eternity.

Should I add M&Ms, chocolate sauce, and mini marshmallows to my fro-yo? Or should I try crushed peanut butter cups and swirl my spoon a bunch to make my own hurricane? What are mango poppers?  Are these really stroopwafel crumbs from Stroopies of Lancaster? (The answer is yes.)  Do I dare sprinkle on some Fruity Pebbles cereal topped with fresh strawberries? What am I saying? I hate Fruity Pebbles! What if somebody sees…?

This week’s Friday Photo is to color and limitless childhood imagination.

Sweet Frog, Mechanicsburg
6416 Carlisle Pike Suite 1100
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
(717) 697-4301

Lancaster company makes Dutch stroopwafel cookies


Chocolate-dipped stroopwafel

Stroopwafels are traditional Dutch cookies that are comprised of light syrup pressed between two pie-crust thin, slightly-spiced waffles (the name literally named “syrup waffle”).  I’m familiar with this cookie because my aunt Colleen brings packs of them with each visit home to Shippensburg from the Netherlands (they’re somewhat of a family obsession), and when I visited Europe with my brother Chris when I was 15, we ate a palm-sized stroopwafel hot off a cast-iron griddle in an open-air Dutch market.

I was ecstatic when I discovered Stroopies, a Lancaster-based company that caught onto the trend of stroopwafels in America and now makes their version of the famed Dutch cookie. Here, you can buy two kinds of stroopwafels — either traditional (plain) or dipped with an American-sized portion of decadent dark chocolate. (My Dutch family may never let me visit again if I admit this, but I always buy the one with the chocolate.)

To eat a stroopwafel, tradition mandates that you first rest the cookie on the top of a hot cup of koffee or thee (tea) for a few seconds to gently heat the cookie and the syrup, as shown in the photo above.  After heating, the syrup loosens along with the cookie’s flavors of caramel, hazelnut, and cinnamon.  In the case of the chocolate-dipped stroopwafel, the deep, slightly-warmed chocolate melts into a gooey mess that complements the cookie’s spice.

I love stroopwafels because they encompass what I appreciate about Holland: they are cookies that you’re meant to take time eating. My Dutch uncle, as hard-working as my father, owns a business and works in a carpenter’s shop at his home, but he never fails to come inside mid-morning and mid-afternoon for a cup of coffee, a bit of conversation, and occasionally a slice of cake.  Similarly, it seems to me that you can’t eat a stroopwafel on the run; you have to sit down with it, wait for the coffee to be brewed, and allowed the cookie to awaken.

I buy my stroopwafels individually or in packs each time I visit Folklore Coffee & Company in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, but Stroopies are also available from a variety of local cafes and businesses including Groff’s Candies, Lancaster, and the Hershey Lodge, Hershey.

Stroopies have been profiled and approved by the Netherlands-America Association of Delaware Valley, Inc. in their spring 2012 newsletter, De Brug.

Folklore Coffee & Company
1 North Market Street
Elizabethtown, PA 17022

Groff’s Candies
3587 Blue Lock Road
Lancaster, PA 17603

Hershey Lodge
325 University Drive
Hershey, PA 17033

Friday Photo: Strawberry pie returns to Kathy’s Deli, Shippensburg

Kathy's Deli, Spring 2009

Kathy’s Deli, Spring 2009

Luscious strawberries nestled in a buttery crust, swirled in a fruit glaze, and dabbed with real Cool Whip define this fresh strawberry pie, now back for the season at Kathy’s Deli, Shippensburg. As a former Kathy’s Deli employee, this was one of my favorite desserts to make—I loved to cut the strawberries carefully, crowd them into the crust, points up; and delicately edge the pie with cream. I still feel like there’s nothing better than a piece of this carefully-crafted fruit pie, enjoyed on a patio with a glass of lemonade.

Welcome back, spring.

Slice: $2.39
Pie: $10.99

Kathy’s Deli
891 West King Street
Shippensburg, PA 17257
(717) 477-8300

Monday-Friday, 6am-7pm
Saturday, 7am-4pm

Friday Photo: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar Debuts in France

Lycee Gustave Eiffel, 2008

Lycée Gustave Eiffel, 2008

It was the spring of 2008, and the Lycée Gustave Eiffel was holding an open house—or, literally from the French (“journée des portes ouvertes”), an open-doors day.  It was a day for prospective students to come visit the facility’s boarding-school type facility, and I was asked to make American cookies for the English department’s subtle, yet enthusiastic, display table of Twinning’s tea, lemon curd, and apple tarts.  Due to France’s lack of familiarity with peanut butter as well as soft chocolate chip cookies, I chose one of my favorite recipes from childhood that merges both: chocolate peanut buddy bars.  For my birthday in October, my mom had sent me a package that contained vanilla, semisweet chocolate, and a tiny jar of peanut butter, as well as the original blue-edged, flour-stained recipe that we had gotten from a Nestle package when I was in elementary school.  I love these bars because they are more moist than a traditional peanut butter cookie and are particularly gooey when eaten warm.


¾ stick butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter
3 eggs
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
¼ tsp. salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Beat together the butter and peanut butter until smooth.
2. Next mix in eggs, sugar, and vanilla.
3. Blend in flour and salt.
4. Stir in semisweet chocolate morsels by hand.  Pour into a 8×11 baking dish; bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Friday Photo: The Cookie that Made Me Proud to Be American

Sinful Sweets

Peanut Butter Cup Cookie

This cookie is truly worthy of a Friday photo because I only purchase it at the end of a week.  Made at Sinful Sweets, Broad Street Market, the peanut butter cup in the center is this cookie’s highlight — salty, chocolately, and moist.  I’ve been addicted to these cookies ever since moving to Harrisburg, claiming (when I first purchased one), “I think I was meant to come home from France just to eat this.”

In France, the sweet-and-salty combinations that so dominate American food (think chocolate-covered pretzels or caramel popcorn) aren’t so prominent; neither is, as a matter of fact, peanut butter.  In Talange, for example, peanut butter was available but in small 8 oz. jars for around $7, and only a small handful of my colleagues had ever tried Reese’s peanut butter cups.  (An adjective assignment I used for my seventh grade students was to write to my French friend in Paris who had spent a year teaching and eating Reese’s at Susquehanna University; my students and I sent her letters describing the cup’s taste, flavor, and texture and included a handful to satiate her craving.) When I was home for Christmas from teaching in France in 2007, my parents gave me a bag of Reese’s minis to use in the classroom, but when I returned to France, I stashed the bag in my apartment for weeks, feeding them only to myself.

Because of this, if there’s one thing that I love about being in the States, it’s peanut butter cups — and cookies like these.  If a cookie this simple can be worth a continent, it’s definitely worth your time.

Sinful Sweets
Broad Street Market, Brick Market Building
1233 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 232-0440

Thursday-Friday: 7am-5pm
Saturday: 7am-4pm

Friday Photo: Eight-Pound Carrot Cake, P&R Baked Goods

P&R Baked Good’s Carrot Cake

In my opinion, cake is usually a form of dessert that is much better served if squashed flat, crammed with chocolate chips, and transformed into a cookie.  Most cakes usually seem to be made of too much air and not enough substance, a fact which makes me often twice as more likely to be disappointed after polishing off a cheap grocery-store cupcake with dyed-pink icing than a cheap cookie of any kind.

However, the carrot cake at P&R Baked Goods, Broad Street Market, Harrisburg, is a cake to make an exception for.  A single cake takes two days to build, says Nora Proctor, the bakery’s “pound cake diva,” for the cake is first mixed and molded then soaked in a buttermilk mixture overnight. Once baked, the cake is as dense as it is mighty: a wall of raisins, walnuts, and shredded coconut as dense and high as Jericho. Each bite is so brown-sugar moist that it’s almost like eating cake batter.  The cake’s dark buttery flavors are cut by the cream cheese icing, which is flavored with lemon juice and a little bit of lemon peel. The result is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet, massive cake — a whole cake is heavy enough to rival a lasagna, weighing in at 8 1/2 pounds.

The carrot cake is “one of the most unique cakes I make,” Nora Proctor told me in 2010, who claims that P&R Baked Good provides “stuff as good as your mama’s.”  For this reason — heck, for any occasion — I recommend this carrot cake as a dessert to bring home for the holidays, since a single cake is probably enough to feed an army.  Just don’t start taste testing it first.

P&R Baked Goods
Broad Street Market
Harrisburg, PA

Wednesday, 7am-2pm
Thursday-Friday, 7am-5pm
Saturday, 7am-4pm

(717) 350-5326
(717) 350-5327

$3/slice, $30/cake

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