Movies portray people eating sweets by themselves as hilariously depressed individuals; but throw another person in there and suddenly it’s a romantic date—complete with spoon-feeding. But whether you’re crying into a pint of ice cream, or shoving chocolate ganache into the mouth of a romantic partner, one thing is for sure: you’re loving that dessert.
Mankind’s love affair for all things sweet can be traced through the centuries, back to an era when he was willing to get the crap stung out of him for some honey—maybe that’s where the whole association with eating candy and crying comes from…
The History of Candy
Thought to be derived from the Arabic word gandi, meaning “made of sugar,” the English word for candy has been used since the 13th century. The origins of candy can be traced back to the Egyptians who combined fruit and nuts with honey to make a confection most likely resembling today’s granola bars. The first modern-type candies were produced in the 16th century, though mass production wouldn’t occur until the 19th century—the era when man discovered he had one hell of a sweet tooth.
Englishman Joseph Fry made the first chocolate bar in 1847 and, later, in Nashville, Tenn. two candy makers concocted “Fairy Floss,” aka cotton candy, in 1897. In 1908 George Smith of Connecticut invented the modern style lollipop and later trademarked the name—christening them after his favorite racehorse, Lolly Pop. Nowadays, over 900 million pieces of candy are sold each year in the US.
Buy Local – Candy
While chocolates from that town in Pennsylvania are never met with disappointment, they’re nothing compared to the “oohhhhs” that locally prepared confections receive. J.W. Renfroe Pecan Company is known for their spiced nuts, but their fudge and pralines, as well as their mini pecan pies truly make for the perfect gift. Buy some peanut brittle for yourself as you tour their store, or shop online and ship your friends a local surprise—it doesn’t count as eating sweets by yourself if you’re talking over Skype, right?
For something a little different head to Shoreline Food Store where, if you catch them on the right day, you can get a tin box of their decadent baklava to-go with your gyro.
My favorite new place to kick a craving is Popcorn King. Those who have been in Pensacola a while may remember a similar store that used to reside on Plantation Road. Many days I lamented—being a kettle corn fanatic myself—that it was gone. Then, last month a friend texted me that she was eating “no joke, banana popcorn,” and soon I too was snacking on a bag of self-mixed flavors: cheesecake, coconut, and vanilla. With over 44 varieties, including savory kinds like white cheddar and spicy jalapeno, they have something for every taste. Serving sizes range from Mini (3 cups) to Party (275 cups).
Sidebar: The baker’s dozen has its origins in the 13th century when Henry III instituted the Assize of Bread and Ale Statute. Created to deter dishonest bakers who were stealing portions of dough from clients, it carried harsh penalties—like losing a hand if caught. To safeguard against being accused of shortchanging customers bread, bakers began throwing in an extra roll at no charge—and thus “the bakers dozen” was created.
Buy Local – Bakeries
For some, comfort food isn’t so much about the food, as it is the place where it’s purchased. Having been around since 1946, J’s Pastry Shop in Pensacola is an East Hill landmark. Those farther north should head to the Milton Quality Bakery. A tradition for more than 40 years, my family has made the drive there from Cantonment to stock up on their sour cream cake donuts and cinnamon rolls since I can remember. Just don’t go in hungry.
If you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated, then go see Tuan at the Cake Gallery, which recently opened up on West Garden Street. Having established itself as the place to get wedding cakes with his previous establishment—Sweet Things Bakery on Mobile Highway—the new place is nothing short of amazing with his cakes resembling glorious, gastronomic art. Even if wedding bells aren’t ringing, be sure to stop in for coffee and a miniature dessert masterpiece while you admire his newest creations.
Around town locals are divided when it comes to favorite sweets—there’s the cake people, the cupcake radicals, cheesecake connoisseurs and others who fancy themselves bread pudding evangelists—“a bread pudding without raisins! Blasphemy!” Grant Hutchinson, of Hutchinson Communications, is of the pro-raisin team and is adamant that rum sauce be involved. If anyone is to be blamed for his zealousness regarding bread pudding it’s Jerry’s Cajun Café, he’s been addicted to theirs since his youth. We won’t even start on the coconut debate.
Scott Greenberg of Greenberg Palmer Boutique PR knows that dessert can make or break an evening. For him, there’s no better choice than the Flourless Chocolate Lava Cake and caramel infused cheeses at The Wine Bar on Palafox. If you roll like he does, order it with a glass of champagne—just make sure you ID your date first.
When Blake Rushing, of R & R Fine Catering, isn’t whipping up desserts himself—like his signature rosemary shortbread topped with whipped, sweetened goat cheese and strawberry mousse—he’s digging into one of The Magnolia’s trifle mason jars. Like their “Pick Me Up” Jar: espresso vodka soaked ladyfingers layered with cheesecake filling and mini chocolate chips, or their “Spumoni”: chocolate cake, pistachio cream and cherry pie filling.
“Dolce, Dolce!” was yelled at me on numerous occasions when I was asking friends their favorites. “They create amazing tastes, including one made with beer from Pensacola Bay Brewery and I love talking to the owner—I mean who else do you know in Pensacola that lived and worked in Azerbijan?” Aaron Ball, Marketing Director at idgroup, explains excitingly. Flavors this season include lavender, honey, rum, Key Lime, lemon basil sorbet and mascarpone caramel pistachio.
Make it Yourself
There is something to be said for the cathartic nature of baking. It’s hard to be angry when you’re inhaling powdered sugar and whipping up icing. If anything, sugar is the great pacifier—well, that and beer. Given that this time of year is the magical season when Abita Strawberry is available, I decided to test that theory: and thus beer scones were born.
Abita Strawberry Beer Scones
Served with Whipped Cream and Strawberry Jam
2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup creme fraiche (you can substitute whole fat Greek yogurt, if you like)
1 large egg
3/4 cup Abita Strawberry Beer
Mix flour, sugar, ginger and baking powder in large bowl. In another bowl beat the creme fraiche with the egg and then add the Abita beer—stirring lightly so as not to lose all the carbonation. Pour over and gently fold into the flour mixture until you have a very soft and sticky dough.
Flour your workspace very well, and then scrape the dough onto it. Don’t try and knead it—it’s too sticky—just liberally flour the top and pat out until it’s about one inch thick. Cut into desired shapes (traditional triangle) and place on flour-dusted tray. Brush tops with milk.
Bake at 425F for 10-15 minutes, or until brown. Serve with strawberry jam and whipped cream.
Local Sweets Directory
The Cake Gallery
732 W. Garden St.
Desserts for any special occasion.
221 E. Zaragoza St.
With new gelato flavors every week.
2014 N. 12th Ave.
Try their “Devil Dogs.”
Jerry’s Cajun Cafe
6205 N. 9th Ave.
Their bread pudding has been making dessert converts since their opening.
J.W. Renfroe Company
2400 W. Fairfield Drive
Candied pecans, pralines and fudge.
1014 Underwood Ave.
All things sweet and savory popcorn: cheesecake, caramel and classic kettle as well as cheese and spiced popcorn.
2907 E. Cervantes St.
Desserts trifles served in mason jars—adorableness and decadence all in one.
Milton Quality Bakery
6727 Caroline St., Milton, Fla.
Options are endless but their sour cream cake donuts are life changing.
R & R Catering
400 Bayfront Pkwy.
Operated out of the Lee House, Blake Rushing’s specialty desserts can make any occasion a special one.
Shoreline Food Store Inc & International Deli
1180 W. Main St.
If you see it, buy their baklava.
The Wine Bar on Palafox
16 Palafox Place
Their flourless chocolate cake is worthy of skipping a glass of wine for.