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!
My son had been pestering me all summer to go to the beach and, since my usual beach hook-up fell through, I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it this year. Quite fortuitously, a friend of ours invited us to go to Ocean Grove beach with them and, excitedly, my son wanted to go the next day. A few days later, we were basking in the sun and surf of a Jersey shore day at the beach, immersed in tanning lotion and sunscreen, cold drinks, pre-packed sandwiches, and the ever present cawing of the “sea rats” spying above us. It was beneath the blue beach umbrella, skillfully impaling the brown Jersey sand, set up by Sarah and Gabby Redmond, with their mother Heather supervising, that I heard the story of the coconut cake.
“Renata, this cake is so good. My parents love it so much, I got it for them for their anniversary,” Heather claimed. I was intrigued, but only slightly, since I hear this proclamation often. She went on telling me that there was no pressure, but we both knew she wanted me to try this cake. With the day fast escaping, we packed up the backpacks, towels, and sunscreen and after rinsing off shoes and stray grains of sand from our nether regions, we loaded up the car to head home. “So, I’m going to go to this cake place to get a coconut cake,” Heather stated. Well, that was that and away we went.
Passing beach goers and sandy streets heading westward, we pulled up to a non-descript brick building with a sign reading, “The Macaroon Shop.” The sign also read that they close at 6pm, so we arrived there just in the nick of time. The display cases lined three-quarters of the wall and were filled with all kinds of pastry, mostly the usual bakery shop fair. It was hard to get a read on anything and I didn’t want to make assumptions. The “old style fakery” smell, the scent that indicates items (like those butter cookies with the cherry in the middle) were recently liberated from their plastic packaging and not actually “baked” there, was noticeably absent. Heather hurried over to the case where the coconut cake sat waiting for her. It was like most coconut cakes I had seen in most bakery shops: very white icing covered in shredded coconut with a maraschino cherry in the exact middle. I felt like I knew what it tasted like. After, I inquired about the key lime tart for my husband and ended up purchasing two mini tarts (per young Sarah’s suggestion). Heather nudged me over to the cookie section. Oh my. These looked better than the cookies I had seen in most bakeries. I was also glad to see real “regular” macaroons in all their lumpy mounded glory. I have grown a bit tired of the “Roy G. Biv” French macaroons and the over-hyped PR that overstates their taste.
I asked the young woman behind the counter what, in her opinion, was the best thing they had in the shop – the thing that would make a trip to this bakery worth the time and money. She looked around, unsure of what to say. I watched her scan the cases, biting her lower lip. I realized my forthrightness may have put her on the spot. She suggested I speak to the baker/manager/owner, Claire Morrison. I turned my attention to Ms. Morrison and boldly asked, “I have no intention of ever coming here again, so if you were to suggest something, the best thing you have for me to share with my friends and people who read ‘The Taste Chase,’ what would that be?” She smiled slightly, commenting as she hurried to a far case, “The gluten free chocolate peanut butter fudge cake”. She had me at chocolate and peanut butter but lost me at gluten free. If you have ever had a gluten free pastry with the consistency of dried spackling, then you understand my desire to sprint like Usain Bolt in the opposite direction. “This is my favorite and probably one of the best things we make here.” She pulled a good looking, dark chocolate cake, swirled on the top with peanut butter. I was excited. She raved about how good it was. I smiled. I then purchased my items as she put together a great little package of homemade cookies for me. I left with a box of regular macaroons, chocolate covered macaroons, chocolate covered graham crackers and Vienna Fingers, plus a few other things and…rum balls. Chocolatey, decadent rum balls. They make everything except two items on site at The Macaroon Shop and it tasted like it.
Back at home, Heather cut a slab of the coconut cake for me and I cut a slab of the peanut butter cake for her to take home. After dinner, I sat down and indulged. The texture of the coconut cake was soft and mild, accented by the shredded coconut on top. Honestly, I hurried through that tasting, wanting to get right to the peanut butter cake. I cut a whole piece hoping that it would be good enough to justify me eating the entire thing. The knife slid through the cake smoothly but not too quickly, which heightened my anticipation. The slice exposed a thick, dark, fudgy filling stripped with peanut butter, and I could smell the peanut butter so I knew it wasn’t some horrid imitation. When you see very dark, almost black chocolate, in my experience it means it is usually good and not laden with sugar. This was moist (no spackling here) and the combination of the mildly sweet dark chocolate and creamy peanut butter could not have been better. I was really surprised that this gluten free fare was not chalky and dry, nor did it taste like something was missing. Needless to say, this cake left me saying “Coconut what?”
Currently owned and operated by Chris and Claire Morrison, The Macaroon Shop has been in business since 1930. If you are in the Ocean Grove/Belmar area this is absolutely worth going out of your way to visit. The Gluten Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Cake will cause your eyes to roll to the back of your head, in a good way. And you won’t want to share, seriously. Please visit Chris and Claire at The Macaroon Shop, 107 Main Street, Avon-By-The-Sea, NJ 07717. I did mention the rum balls, right? Ok, I’m done.
Stayed tuned for the final chapter of Love Bites!