If there is a dessert season in the year, this is it. Coming up on Valentine’s Day, romance or not, the excuse to buy treats and enjoy sweets is in the air. And sometimes, for such endeavors, it’s best to hire a guide to lead you through all the options.
Last Saturday, we joined Adrienne Newman, a.k.a. Madame Cocoa for a Dessert First! tour in Central Austin. A partner tour with Austin Eats, Dessert First! focuses on the sweet side of Austin and gives its guests an educational and delicious behind the scenes look at several local creators and vendors. Our tour had six stops and covered about a mile of walking.
We started the afternoon on the patio of Uchiko and began eating with a savory treat: mole tacos from Tacodeli . As we ate, Adrienne shared the legend of mole as told by Roberto Espinosa, chef and founder of Tacodeli. On the tables were about half of the 21 ingredients required to make a mole. As tour participants opened bags and cups to smell and taste all the sugars, chocolates, spices and peppers, Adrienne continued the education with maps of the regions and history of all the different ingredients.
Satiated with some savory and ready to take on more sugar, we started the walking portion of our tour to the unique Sugar Addict Bakery food trailer at 40th Street and Medical Parkway. For me, beignets are associated with New Orleans, a Louisiana powdered sugar treat, so I was surprised to learn that they are big in Bulgaria. Owner couple Vessy and Dimitry Alexander of Bulgaria started Sugar Addict Bakery food trailer two years ago, based on the beignets they grew up eating for almost every meal back home. With recipes from their families, they do all their preparation and cooking in their bright orange trailer, making beignet breakfast and lunch sandwiches, as well as desserts fresh to order. The group tried both a Nutella and fresh strawberry beignet and the classic powdered sugar option. Their selections change regularly with the seasons, and you can design your own, both sweet and savory.
Energized on a sugar rush, we took a walk over to 38th Street for some award winning Teo Gelato. Our group was invited to taste as many flavors as we wanted and choose a cup of our favorite. As a special treat, we had a private audience with Matthew "Teo" Lee, founder and creator of the shop. He shared his story of learning how to make gelato in Florence and educated us on the different styles of gelato around Italy. And we learned why his business makes one of the Top 10 gelatos in the United States and is continuously voted #1 in Austin. Their ingredients are top quality, they make their bases from scratch and they turn out fresh gelato every single day, even experimenting with flavors like popcorn and bacon and eggs.
Then we got a dose of Texas history and Texas flavor at Austin’s family owned Lamme’s Candies. Operating since 1878, Lamme’s has had a rich history as Texas’ first soda shop, as an ice cream maker, and now a candy maker with its factory off of Airport Blvd and several shops around Austin and Round Rock. We tasted two of their handmade candies, including the Habenero Praline- a sweet and spicy treat you won’t soon forget.
And here is why your choice guide is important: not only did Adrienne open the door for us to personally meet several local proprietors, we had the opportunity for a private chocolate lesson from Austin’s chocolate maven herself. Madame Cocoa walked us over to Central Market and gave us a lesson on chocolate making and the qualities of high-grade bars. We tasted several and learned about the process of taking chocolate from its source to the final product, and why the United States is such an exciting location for the industry. She answered all our questions and helped demystify the huge selections we find at specialty shops, like Central Market.
As a grand finale, the tour was treated to Champagne and a private audience with pastry chef Andrew Lewis back at Uchiko. Andrew creates different desserts for every tour group, taking advantage of the small size to experiment and offer something he wouldn’t ordinarily get to make for the restaurant menu. He gave the tour personal attention, explaining each creation carefully. It was an occasion unique to the group and a true advantage to turning the planning over to an expert.
Adrienne said she is always looking for new tour ideas and stops and people to introduce to her groups; the tours will likely change over the next several months, visiting new businesses and walking different routes. I certainly left with new ideas for my sweet season and beyond, and new recommendations for friends the next time we have our dessert first.
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