Fast forward to college, where the dessert situation improved immensely. Soon after arriving in New Haven, Connecticut, I made two very important discoveries. First, in perhaps the initial lecture I attended, I happened to sit next to a friendly and talkative girl with whom I struck up a conversation. Though I don’t recall what we discussed on our first encounter, this chance meeting would turn into a lasting friendship where food, and especially dessert, is a key element. My friend Betty Yip is a highly talented pastry chef, food fanatic, and quite possibly the only person I’ve ever met who can pack away more dessert than me. There will be more about Betty in future posts, but for the moment, I’ll simply mention one of my earliest memories of Betty: a small package of chocolate-covered biscotti she presented me, baked in the kitchen of her residential college, Pearson. Delicious as they were, the biscotti were only the tip of a gigantic sugary iceberg as I’ve since ravenously gobbled down countless numbers of her toothsome treats.
Another memory I have of Betty is when she brought me a slice of Claire’s Lithuanian coffee cake on the plane from America to Paris, which brings me to college dessert discovery number two. Soon after arriving in New Haven, I found out that there was a bakery immediately adjacent to campus: Claire’s Corner Copia, a vegetarian establishment whose scrumptious goods have garnered national attention. Every first-year Yale student is quickly introduced to Claire’s legendary Lithuanian Coffee Cake: one is to be found at almost every reception, public event, master’s tea, food-loving students’ party, and so on. The cake is immediately recognizable for its pale caramel color, slightly crumbly exterior, and gobs of buttercream icing. Here’s a picture of it, taken by the aforementioned Betty Yip.
This is the stuff that dreams are made of, as Sam Spade would say. So deliciously moist it almost sticks to the roof of your mouth, divinely dense but not heavy, the cake is quite simply sublime. Several months ago, I had a hankering for it and found an excellent recipe online, from the blog of a fellow former Yalie and baking lover. Though I’m quite thankful for the recipe, I’ve altered it a tad it for my own tastes and European ingredients: you can find my version here.
Though I would go on to try many lovely cakes while at Yale, from Claire’s, other nearby restaurants from New Haven’s stellar dining scene, as well as from relatively nearby New York City, I wouldn’t say that any of these experiences were formative to my interest in the matter. However, my first summer in Europe would change that.