It became clear to me the minute I started researching about mithai in Jackson Heights that Indians love their sweets. How else would one account for the proliferance of sweet shops, of which I counted at least 5 in the small triangle between Broadway, 74th St and 37th Avenue? Eager to reacquaint myself with Indian dessert, I arrived at Jackson Heights an hour before my scheduled dinner in search for some sweets.
sweets galore

sweets galore

The sweet shops in Jackson Heights are generally humble looking establishments. With the exception of Maharaja Sweets’ chandeliers, the main aesthetic feature at a sweet shop is its glass display filled with trays of sugary tidbits. Deep fried dough steeped in syrup, hard milk and cashew candy rolled with flecks of silver, moist milk cakes tasting of cardamom and saffron, all in full display. At the three places I did go, the shopkeepers were friendly and helpful, steering Sarah and I towards their favorites.

falooda

falooda

Curiosity got the best of me at Shaheen’s, where I opted for a very foreign sounding falooda. I am glad that Sarah was here to share the dish with me, as this dish of Persian origin was big and very saccharine. The dish, very popular in Mumbai is filled with kulfi, milk, milk curds, vermicelli, basil seeds and topped off with rose syrup, and is a myraid of textures in a bowl, ranging from icy, creamy to slithery. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I am glad I tried it. We also split a gulab jamun, a round ball, similar to a donut hole but denser soaked through with sugar. To our surprise, this was not quite so sweet, and really freshly fried and pleasant with cups of fragrant chai.

boxes

boxes

After dinner at Jackson Diner (good but overrated), I presented our group with the spoils of Sarah and my sweet escapade. From Al Naimat, I purchased Jalebi, straws of fried cake batter bent in a pretzel shape and coated with a crystallized sugar exterior. I say straws because the hardened strings seemed almost hollow, that sugar syrup flows into the mouth upon one bite. Strangely, it reminds me of Grandma Cheng’s favorite Cantonese sweet, Sa Chi Ma, also best when fresh and sugary. Al Naimat must go through a lot of Jalebi, because the box I bought tasted fresh, not tainted with the foul scent of stale oil.

From Rajbhog we had a selection of burfis, cham chams and halwas, more subtle than the jalebi, also not quite as sweet. Milk acts as a base, and mixed with other components allows the different flavors to shine. Kaju burfi remains my favorite, the smoky nuttiness of cashew clearly apparent. Cham chams are new to me and delicious, tasting faintly of rose syrup and saffron and very moist from the cream that is nozzled into it.

Indian sweets are not very easy to like, especially for people not used to the saccharine or the spice profiles that sometimes appear potpourri like. And while I still don’t know what makes one mithai good and the other mediocre, I’ve discovered a taste for sure, and am glad to extend my mithai education in Jackson Heights.  

Al Naimat

3703 74th St, Jackson Heights, NY

Shaheen Sweets and Cuisine

7209 Broadway, Jackson Heights, NY

Rajbhog Sweets

7227 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, NY

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Donut Plant

Donut Plant

Do you believe in serendipity? I do, since how else was it possible that the day I decide to randomly hop on a bus just to see where it goes, the bus winds up right in front of the Doughnut Plant? The Doughnut Plant is famed throughout the city (and apparently Japan) for innovative doughnut flavors and fillings, yet I have never actively sought it out, because fried sweet dough as we all know, are BAD. Tasty but sends you to calorific hell.

However, since the bus deposited me right in front of the store, there was no way I was not at leasting trying one. The tres leches cake doughnut it was, and wow was it worth the hype. The fried tube of cake dough was filled with a semi-viscous condensed milk that just oozes out. The firm cake and the warm filling milk collapses in my mouth and melds together into a sweet mush. Delicious.

Since the first trip, I’ve been making occasional sojourns back to the doughnut plant since I now know how to get there. I love their cake doughnuts, be it the pumpkin that’s packed with cinnamon and spice, and the ultra-indulgent chocolate blackout cake. I have been unimpressed with the yeast doughnuts however, finding them too leaden and greasy, but they too have their followers. And while you’ll find the doughnuts sold in many other locations such as Dean & Deluca, they are still best in the original store, where turnover is fast and the supplies always fresh.

The Doughnut Plant

379 Grand St (at Suffolk St)

http://www.doughnutplant.com/

chikalicious puddingsIts been almost a month since moving and I am really liking the new neighborhood despite the commute to work. While the walk home is lengthened, my pace is relaxingly slow, and my previously high-powered dash across Rockefeller Center and Times Square to minimize tourist impact has been replaced with pleasant ambles through still unfamiliar streets, checking out shopfronts while I make my way home.

There is one unfortunate detail in these walks. It is that the East Village is a field with calorific landmines waiting to explode and I, while well-intentioned enough to avoid most fat-laden traps, am awfully weak-willed when it comes to sweets. This past Thursday, I managed to walk past Ben & Jerry’s and Sundae & Cones without stopping; browsed St Alp Teahouse’s bubble tea menu and convinced myself that the calories in the tapioca pearls weren’t worth it; declined a free sample at Oko; until I walked into an empty Chikalicious Pudding “just to take a look”.

Of course “taking a look” ended up being “taking a bite” of one of the four puddings in the roster, a dark, slightly gritty chocolate pudding sitting on a bed of chocolate cookie crumbs. A bitter-sweet sweet chocolate mousse redolent of chocolate and not too cloying, while it wasn’t great I finished it before walking all the way home a mere 2 blocks east without being too bloated.

Days later I found myself back at Chikalicious Pudding, this time on a busy weekend night with a few friends, happy for the proprietors yet annoyed to see that place packed to the brim with people. We bought a selection to go and headed home to try them. This time, we tasted the aforementioned chocolate pudding, along with a warm steamed pudding in a creamy vanilla sauce and the seasonal apple pudding cake topped with slices of tart baked apples. The “Adult” chocolate pudding was the least well-received on the warm summer night, but the others did surprisingly well. The cream sauce was pleasantly light and we almost drank down the sauce, or at least dunked the hell out of the pudding in order to soak up the milky juices. The apple pudding was baked to a moist, cakey texture and equally satisfying.

Besides puddings, the place also sells a variety of cupcakes, and at $1.60 – $2.20 a pop seem reasonable for our New York inflated pricing expectations. Oh yes, and it seems the pudding prices have come somewhat closer to earth at $3.50 a pop v. $4.50 when they initially opened. So my evening strolls have yielded an interesting foray into the world of chikalicious’s tasty but not crave-inducing desserts, still its pleasant enough to warrant a return in the not-so near future. It is afterall summer time, and much more appropriate for ice-cream slurping.  

Chikalicious Puddin’

204 E 10th St (Between 1st & 2nd Aves)

http://www.chikalicious.com/

More than once have I fallen prey to the bakery case at Starbucks, ordering a giant slab of lemon pound cake iced with a thick coat of sugared frosting. The lemon financier at Bakery and Bar Oro beats Starbuck’s by a mile. Whereas Starbuck’s version is a pale yellow, Oro’s lemon cake has a brilliant yellow sheen to it, courtesy of lemon oil. The rectangle of cake is buttery and super-moist with slightly crispy edges and the taste of citrus intensified with the addition of lemon zest and little sacs of fresh pulp. It’s probably not a traditional financier as I could not make out any strong nut flavor, but its still perfect with a cup of strong coffee in the afternoon. The only thing it has going against it is that its size, about a quarter of what’s served at starbucks, but for the quality, its worth it.

carrot financier

Besides the lemon financier, the little bakery also serves a few types of pastries, tarts and cakes, along with salads, sandwiches and quiches for those looking for more than sweets. The smell of the freshly baked quiche cooling on top of the bar is positively addictive. Besides the lemon financier (which I had 2 weeks in a row), I also tried a chocolate dipped madeline, that was nicely eggy and soft. It converts into a bar serving alcohol and snacks in the evening, which should be a nice addition in the neighborhood.

The cute little storefront is situated in little italy, and is still flying under the radar for the most part despite heavy foot traffic in the area. It makes it a tranquil spot for afternoon tea, but I’m rooting for them and hope they can get busier. Surely their pastries are much tastier than the insipid offerings at those little italy tourist traps!

Oro Bakery and Bar 

375 Broome St (Bet. Mott & Mulberry Sts)