Thursday, April 18, 2013

Meeting the Mazarin: a hidden gem

Through travel, we discover hidden gems if we're paying attention. I would never fault anyone for enjoying a photo op at the Eiffel Tower, but I also believe these moments should be balanced with taking in the little details of one's surroundings. For in these details, you can find magic. Take airport people watching as one example.  I once spent an entire pre-boarding period at an airplane gate captivated by a musician picking ever so lightly at his guitar.  A gentleman in his late 60's (?),  he was playing just loudly enough to attract the curious glances of those passengers who could sense his immense talent.  I'm still convinced he was some sort of award winning artist who played backup for all the greats, and he left us wondering for the whole plane ride.  While adventuring around the world, hidden gems can be people, they can be your most favorite local specialty cookbook shops, and of course, they can also be desserts that your palate has yet to meet.  And when it comes to desserts I've never seen, I pay particular attention.  It was during a trip in Stockholm, Sweden that I met the mazarin: a perfectly-sized-to-accompany-a-coffee sweet, with a crumbly outer shortbread dough and a soft almond paste (heavenly) interior.
I also became acquainted with the work of the Stockholm-born artist Bengt Elde, whose whimsical prints I fell in love with right away. The small souvenir budget I had given myself was immediately spent on Bengt Elde postcards. My favorite, a postcard of the horse that reoccurs in many of his works, is captured in the mazarin taste test photos further down in the post.  I visited two bakeries for mazarins-- Petrus, and Chic Konditori, both in the Södermalm neighborhood of Stockholm. 

Lacking plates in my traveler's hotel room, I looked for an improvised solution and borrowed the wine glasses the staff had intended for use with the minibar.  Little did the management know that these make perfect mazarin holders!

Both bakeries made excellent versions, one with a sugar topping (Chic Konditori) and one with a layer of icing instead (Petrus.)  I will admit, after Stockholm, I now have a mazarin vice, and have seriously considered riding the train from Copenhagen across the border to Malmö, Sweden just to try to get my hands on a good one.  This has instantly become a favorite on my top ten list of desserts.

It's worth noting that the Södermalm neighborhood is packed with hidden gems, including 18smaker glassmakeri, which serves ice cream so tasty that is appealing even in a cold climate.  As they say on their website: "Here in the ice cream parlor, it's always summer, come in for a scoop of ice cream and forget the rain outside!"  You need a sense of humor when you're an ice cream shop in a Scandinavian climate.  Then again, this ice cream is seriously good. Their cinnamon and cardamom flavor is like a Swedish cinnamon bun and an ice cream all rolled into one.  After one taste of their ice cream, which I intended only on sampling, I had to buy a cone and willingly spoil my dinner.

Enjoy the pursuit of your own hidden gems!  Happy traveling. 
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