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The Cake Quest took a little detour and is happily back on track. We only have about two more places to explore and then it is on to “Fall Fare.” During this little detour, I had a few tasty experiences that I want to share with you.  I had three delectable surprises, two of which came from places where low expectations were rife.  Consider these stops like points of interest along the way. I like to call them Love Bites. So open wide and enjoy!

On a warm, but not overbearing, July midsummer evening, full of bright stars against a purple and indigo night sky, I was blessed to witness the culmination of a wonderful love story.  My childhood friend, Sarah Huddleson, eloped earlier in the year with Jeff Herbst, the man she had been waiting for her whole life. They gathered some of their nearest and dearest friends and family in Mary and Curtis May’s backyard, amidst the graceful light of candles and fireflies to share in their joy. There was plenty of food, all of it good, some of it catered and some of it brought by guests, to share with the couple and those gathered.  When I arrived with my offering, someone familiar with The Taste Chase hastened me to view the cakes on display in another room. Laid out on a buffet were three very appealing cakes. They were square and tall, solid looking and not overly embellished, which I like. However, they were interesting and different enough to pique my interest and my taste buds. After we ate, drank and reminisced under the white canopy while warm summer breezes carried honeysuckle through the air, we were invited to indulge. Being instructed to try them all, I approached the table for my first slice and noticed there were already people helping themselves to their second. I found that interesting, given that most wedding cakes that I have encountered merely look good.

I cut through the first slice carefully, feeling the knife glide through a healthy layer of cake, then the center filling, then the cake again, on through to the plate underneath.  Moist, pale yellow, buttery and dense looking cake revealed itself.  I guessed it was some kind of pound cake.  My suspicion was confirmed by the baker himself, Jay Michalowski of Sweet Stuff in Philadelphia. “This one is burnt almond torte with pastry cream filling and icing, decorated with candied almonds.”  The almonds tasted as though they were toasted with brown sugar and good butter, a flavor that carried through to every bite.  

Then, as I went on to the second cake, he explained that it was a vanilla cake. “Two layers of vanilla pound cake filled with Italian buttercream, covered on the top and sides with paillete feuilletine [have at it, all you Francophiles!] which are tiny crepe pieces directly from France.”  I was impressed; so were my mouth…and hips.  The icing was smooth and just sweet enough. Those crepe pieces though…wow.  They added a texture and mystery to this cake that made it a memorable highlight. Well done, Jay.  

Then, he pointed to the last cake slice on my plate.  “This is a vanilla pound cake filled with lemon curd and frosted with Italian buttercream, then coated with toasted coconut.” There was plenty left over for all of us to take home and, without caring if we looked greedy, we emptied Mary’s cupboard of plastic Chinese take-out containers and helped ourselves. These were the best cakes I had tasted in a very long time. Kudos to you Jay Michalowski. If you would like to contact Jay Michalowski at Sweet Stuff, and you know you do, please email him at: jamichalowski@comcast.net. Trained as a master pastry chef and baker at Philadelphia’s Art Institute, Jay Michalowski works out of a private commercial kitchen in Philadelphia and services the Delaware Valley.  Kick your event up, say, 50 notches, and call Jay.  If nothing else, people will remember the cake.

Stay tuned for 2 more chomps at Love Bites!

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Renata Barnes
Renata is the author of "The Taste Chase," MercerMe's own food review column. She's a lover of all things poetic, colorful, funny and inspiring. A native New Yorker, who grew up in Hopewell Valley and spent the better part of her adulthood back in NYC, currently finds herself in a growing love relationship with “the Valley”. Latin food, Indian saris and mehndi, French perfume, African music, Middle Eastern spices, South American jewels, Asian fabrics and anything from just about any island (maybe not Riker’s Island) are things that remind her to go out and taste the world, live passionately and always wear deodorant. The mother of one rambunctious boy and the wife of a mellow fellow, Renata tries to put her too many years of university and her film and writing talents to good use here in NJ. “I’ve spent too much time trying to fit in some where when I probably belong everywhere. That slow revelation has been freeing.”

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