Friday, January 14, 2011

Does The Cake Boss Deliver?

Plus Did The Tongue Map Misguide Me?

We all know that the Cake Boss, or at least Cousin Ant-Knee, delivers his cakes and other baked goods within certain geographic boundaries from Carlo’s Hoboken bakery. But does the taste of the items themselves deliver on the promise of Buddy’s increasing fame?

Recently, I was lucky to enough to taste cannoli AND cupcakes from Carlo’s.

D(aughter) was visiting from faraway and brought them to me after she saw a friend in Hoboken. Her friend actually LIVES in Hoboken. Why is this important? Because, with proof of residence, Hoboken folks are allowed in a separate, smaller and warmer (because it’s inside!) line, while others have to wait their turn in an often huge (and often outside) line.

D arrived home and I practically snatched the box from her. (Sorry, hon!) I studied it carefully.

There was a tiny grease mark starting to show through the box in the upper right corner, portending the good things inside.

Tied around the square cardboard box was an old-timey red and white string that I remember from the Bronx bakeries of my youth.

Even better was what was inside - 2 cannoli, 1 yellow cupcake with a pink rose on top and 1 red velvet cupcake.

I went for the rose-topped cupcake first. (I WAS sharing, but I got first dibs.) I had to stop to admire it. It was so beautiful. It was a perfect rose.

I cut away one quarter of it to examine the inside.

The crumbs were moist, but they held together perfectly. It was spongy, without a hint of toughness. I tasted the cake and icing together and then the two separately. The flavor of the cupcake itself? Just like any excellent yellow cake, but with an interesting twist. It wasn’t overly sweet. In fact, if I could say anything about the cake, I would say maybe it needed one iota more of sweetness.

I moved on the icing by itself. It had a really good mouth feel, but there was something very surprising about it. Like the cupcake, it wasn’t overly sweet.

After watching the Cake Boss, wouldn’t you have thought that all those tons of buttercream that they fling everywhere would be really, really sweet?

Also, interestingly enough, the flavor of the cupcake seemed to disappear the minute I swallowed it. There was no lingering on the tongue. What does that mean, I wonder?

I had some standard buttercream in the freezer and I tasted that to compare. MY buttercream seemed to hit my tongue in the back and the taste stuck around longer than the time it took me to swallow, unlike Buddy’s buttercream.

The Cake Boss’s cupcake left no sensory blueprint whatsoever on my tongue. It was here one second and gone the next. Do you think that’s to get people to keep eating more cupcakes? It certainly went down easily enough.

This got me to thinking and I engaged in some fairly exhaustive study of the science of the tongue. (Okay, it was 15 minutes on the internet, but whatever) AND I discovered something quite sensational.

I have to digress just for a second. (I know, when don’t I?) The last time I studied the effect of food or drink on my tongue so closely was at a wine tasting with the Riedel people. Their stock in trade is that each variety of wine requires a different shaped wine glass to bring out its strengths and individual characteristics.

At that tasting, we tasted different wines in the right, and wrong, glasses and I came out totally convinced that, yes, certain wines have to first reach your tongue at the tip…or the sides…or wherever…to really taste their best. I TASTED THAT FOR MYSELF!

I couldn’t remember where the tongue tastes sweet, so I looked it up. I convinced myself that I tasted my buttercream, which was fairly sweet, at the back of the tongue, but Buddy’s buttercream didn’t seem to light up any particular area.

The Tongue Map says that the sweetness taste buds are at the front, so that didn’t help to explain my tasting results at all. But THEN I found out something else, much more earth-moving and interesting. The Tongue Map is a bunch of rubbish and has been completely disproved!!!

How do I know? Because I found it here, here and here. Actually, I don’t really know what to believe, because I could have sworn during the wine tasting that everything Max said was true. And I know for myself that when I taste something really sour, I taste it on the side edges of my tongue.

As to WHY the Cake Boss’s cupcakes left no discernible mark on my taste buds, I have no idea. Anyone?

Alright, let’s move away from talk of tongues on to the Red Velvet Cupcake and, even more importantly, the cannoli.

I don't love Red Velvet Cake (or cupcakes), but, again, the texture of the cake was perfect. It was moist, not overbeaten or overbaked. The cream cheese icing was rich, but had a slight artificial taste to it – perhaps from the vanilla extract.

I’ve saved the best for the last - the cannoli. Let me put it simply - they were the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had my share of cannoli - from New York’s Little Italy to Boston’s North End.

Why were these cannoli from Carlo’s Bakery so good? I think the shell is the key. It was fresh and crisp and tasted as if it had been recently deep-fried, but there was no trace of oiliness. HOW do they do that? The shell was crunchy and tasted like a browned cookie.

Also, the filling was perfect - creamy, just sweet enough and in the right amount. Not overstuffed so the filling would come squidging out of the end when you took a bite, but enough so that there were no air pockets.

I had the best of both worlds. I got to taste those yummy creations from Carlo’s Bakery AND I didn’t have to stand in line waiting to buy them. Those cannoli, though, would be worth almost any wait.


Tracy said...

Lucky you! We paid a visit to Carlo's bakery last summer. After waiting 2 hours in line outside, we still were waiting by the drugstore across the street. We decided it wasn't worth it to wait any longer and left.

If you think about the fact that Buddy prides himself in using old-school recipes, that may be why his cakes and buttercream aren't super sweet. But that's pure conjecture on my part, because again, I never got to taste any of it.

The cannoli sound delicious!

Sue said...

Oh no, Tracy!

You were so close and, yet, so far! I guess you have to bribe a Hoboken resident to make it possible to actually buy something.

That is such an excellent point about why his stuff isn't overly sweet. I bet that's exactly why.

Not to make you feel bad, but the cannoli WERE certainly worth a two hour wait. Two MORE hours, though, I'd have to think about.

Emily said...

Wow... I can't believe anyone could wait that long in line. It sounds like Tracy would have had to waited another hour or two. That's crazy!

But maybe not. The cannoli looks incredible. The shell looks so thick and fresh. I haven't had really good cannoli before. I've had some in Little Italy but it has always been greasy and the filling was overly sweet.

My cannoli was good, but not authentic or anything. I don't know how they get the filling that thick.

The cupcake looks good too. Very pretty! You have a good daughter.

Lys said...

I haven't really been caught up in the Cake Boss phenomena - but that's just me. However, hearing about those cannolis has me thinking about my friends in Jersey and wondering if any live in Hoboken now - just to check them out :) I love a decent cannoli. The best I've had so far have been in Philly's Italian Market.

Sheila said...


Heather said...

Better than the North End? Now that I'm in Jersey for a while, I'll have to try Carlo's to judge for myself.

jenbryson said...

Wow I am pretty jealous!

The rose cupcake is beautiful and I wish I could have tasted that cannoli!

Sue said...

I was quite happy not to have to wait in ANY line to taste Buddy’s stuff. I’m so sorry about your little Italy experience. That’s just wrong!

I do have a good daughter…well, THAT day anyway.

You have to plan a trip to Hoboken. It’s a great place for you youngsters. I’ve never had a Phillie cannoli, but they can’t possibly be better than Buddy’s.

You got it, they were amazing!

I’ll eat my words if you think your Bahston cannoli are better than these.

Hi Jen,

The cupcake was so gorgeous, it could have been used as a bouquet in a wedding. Hey! Maybe that could be a million dollar idea – brides and bridesmaids carrying cupcake bouquets, instead of flowers. Tell me that's not brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful =) Saw an episode when they sold Cannoli and wished hard that I lived in the US or could travel there just to have one. Lucky you! Nice pic as well! xo