The Food Fanatic’s Shopping Guide
Plus a few unapologetically not-from-scratch desserts.
Even non-cooks hold strong opinions about stuffing: in the bird or out; oysters or no; white, sourdough, or cornbread. If you’re in the corn camp, you’re better off making your own (see the recipe from Hungry Mother chef Barry Maiden). For SOURDOUGH go with B&R ARTISAN BREAD, sold at Formaggio. And for WHITE, try CLEAR FLOUR BREAD in Brookline.
You shall know a great SPICE market by its smell or, rather, by your own sniffing and sighing as you hungrily survey the sprawling inventory. That, plus the helpful service and old-time charm—it looks like the adventurous cook’s version of a penny-candy store—makes CHRISTINA’S in Cambridge quite literally a sage shopper’s paradise.
The Dairy Case
For sheer variety you can’t beat WHOLE FOODS, which, despite its Big Gourmet menace, also sources from local folks like Sharon’s CRESCENT RIDGE DAIRY, producers of creamy Holstein milk; MENDON CREAMERY, whose cinnamon-sugar butter transforms plain boiled carrots into veggie candy; VERMONT BUTTER AND CHEESE, makers of the ultimate cultured butter for your dinner rolls; and COUNTRY HEN EGGS, whose chickens roam freely in their barns and nosh on organic feed.
In these anxious times, it does seem a tad 2006 to shop for pantry staples on Newbury Street. The justification for a trip to O&CO., then, has to be the sheer number of options: The shop stocks more than 25 different OLIVE OILS, not to mention flavorized and truffle varieties, covering everything from the perfect peppery Tuscan for finishing your steak to everyday Spanish drizzlers. Tasting is encouraged, so even if you drop $60 for a limited-edition Veralda from Croatia, you’ll be an informed sucker. Meanwhile, despite its hoity rep, FORMAGGIO has some downright bargains—$6 for a great French cabernet or cider vinegar—in addition to its curated collection of Italy’s finest Modenas. A happy medium: soft, fruity BANYULS VINEGAR from La Guinelle, at $21 for about 17 ounces—it’s also sold in bulk for around 70 cents per ounce.
You’ve been muddling through with Pillsbury. Blue Frog, Flour, Hi-Rise, B&R, and Sel de la Terre’s boulangerie all use KING ARTHUR ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR. The reason for its superiority: protein, which provides structure to baked goods. Derived from hard r
ed winter wheat, baking flour contains between 10.5 percent and 11.7 percent protein, depending on how close to the center of the grain it’s milled; the more of the outer bran layer that gets processed, the more diluted the protein power. Gold Medal and Pillsbury skew to the lower end of the spectrum, but King Arthur ($6/5 lb.) nails 11.7 percent every time, yielding crispier cookies, sturdier muffins, and light, airy biscuits that don’t cave in on themselves.
The Apple(s) of Our Pie
There’s no single perfect pie apple—like wines and unmarried doctors, they’re made to be paired. MCINTOSHES have fantastic tart flavor, but cook down to a mush. Combine them with a firmer partner, though, and you have yourself a winner. In that category, GINGER GOLDS and GOLDEN DELICIOUS are best: Both have just the right balance of acid and sweet. If you like your pie a bit more tart, substitute GRANNY SMITHS or RHODE ISLAND GREENINGS.
The Cash Cacao
We’re living in an age of choco-luxe plurality, with shelves stocked with bars loudly trumpeting stratospheric proportions—80 percent! 90 percent!—of cacao. The more, the better, right? Not always. Ramping up those cocoa solids means decreasing the sugar and fat (crucial to meltability), which can seriously screw up a recipe built on the usual 60/40 mix. Our favorite, SCHARFFEN-BERGER BITTERSWEET ($7.99/4 oz.), at a modestly elevated 70/30, hits the sweet spot, bestowing complex floral notes on even the humblest cupcake. Available at Whole Foods.
The Pumpkin Saver
Sure, you could go to the trouble of cutting open a pumpkin, scraping out the stringy innards and seeds, then par-baking, draining, puréeing, and straining the scooped-out flesh to yield two measly cups of filling. But why would you, when even the pros prefer using the canned stuff, which is indistinguishable from fresh, post-baking? Avoid the prespiced variety, and, even better, go for CANNED SQUASH, which makes for a superior pie. We like ONE-PIE ($1.89/15 oz.), but LIBBY’S is good, too.
The Pie Crust-sicle
Nothing beats buttery, flaky, homemade PIE CRUST, but few of us have the hours and patience needed to perfect the finicky dough. Skip the frozen industrialized versions—packed with such delights as partially hydrogenated lard, gums, and wheat “starch”—and opt for the next best thing to from-scratch: Whole Foods’ store-brand frozen pie shells, which contain nothing but flour, butter, maple syrup, milk, and sea salt. Available at Whole Foods.
The Pumpkin Pie
Plenty of fine cooks farm out dessert, so there’s no shame in tapping Boston’s pie experts for yours. The FLOUR BAKERY VERSION is tops in the filling department: a thick, creamy pumpkin custard with a lingering hit of cinnamon. The crust, however, comes off more like puff pastry, so if you’re a traditionalist, go with a pie from the aptly named PIE in Newton Centre. Pastry chef Paige Retus produces flaky and buttery bases, with a hint of salt to offset the sweet middle. For aesthetes, Somerville’s PETSI PIES makes the prettiest pies we’ve seen, adorned with seasonal (and edible!) decorations and filled with a clove-heavy, gingerbready custard. Then there’s the pumpkin “pie” for the anti-pie crowd, from CLEAR FLOUR BREAD: an Italian torte in which puff pastry encases a cakelike filling of pumpkin, almonds, and a touch of citrus.
The Cream of the Creamery
Here’s what’s à la mode at the dessert table: Eduardo Kreindel’s Concord-made Giovanna gelato. This season, let no slice of pumpkin or deep-dish apple go without a scoop of his small-batch boozy VANILLA BEAN or buttery DULCE DE LECHE. Or call to customize a flavor of your own ($7.99/pint). Available at DeLuca’s Market.
The Semihomemade Sweet
When you’ve had your fill of orange-hazelnut biscotti and bedazzled butter crisps, sometimes you just want a big, chunky American cookie. That’s ROSIE’S BAKERY‘s specialty, in flavors like peanut butter chunk and snickerdoodle. PREMADE DOUGH ($9.95/pint) means all you have to do scoop and bake.
Arax Market, 585 Mt. Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-3399.
B&R Artisan Bread, 151 Cochituate Rd., Framingham, 508-370-7730, brartisanbread.com.
The Butcher Shop, 552 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-4800, thebutchershopboston.com.
The Butcherie, 428 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-731-9888, butcherie.com.
Christina’s Spice & Specialty Foods, 1261 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-576-2090.
Clear Flour Bread, 178 Thorndike St., Brookline, 617-739-0060, clearflourbread.com.
Concord Cheese Shop, 29 Walden St., Concord, 978-369-5778, concordcheeseshop.com.
DeLuca’s Market, 239 Newbury St., Boston, 617-262-5990, delucasmarket.com.
Flour Bakery, 1595 Washington St., Boston, 617-267-4300, flourbakery.com.
Foodie’s Urban Market, 1421 Washington St., Boston, 617-266-9911, foodies-urban-market.com.
Formaggio Kitchen, 244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750, formaggiokitchen.com.
HoneyBaked Ham, multiple locations, honeybakedhams.com.
James Hook & Co., 15 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-423-5501, jameshooklobster.com.
John Dewar & Co., 753 Beacon St., Newton, 617-964-3577; 277 Linden St., Wellesley, 781-235-8322; johndewarinc.com.
Las Ventas, 700 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-266-0905, lasventasspain.com.
Lionette’s Market, 577 Tremont St., Boston, 617-778-0360, lionettesmarket.com.
Mercato del Mare, 99 Salem St., Boston, 857-362-7477.
New Deal Fish Market, 622 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-876-8227, newdealfishmarket.com.
O&Co., 161 Newbury St., Boston, 617-859-8841, oliviersandco.com.
Petsi Pies, 285 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-661-7437; 31 Putnam Ave., Cambridge, 617-499-0801; petsipies.com.
Pie, 796 Beacon St., Newton Centre, 617-332-8743, piebakeryandcafe.com.
Plum Produce, 106 Waltham St., Boston, 617-423-7586, plumproduce.com.
Rosie’s Bakery, 243 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-491-9488, rosiesbakery.com.
Russo’s, 560 Pleasant St., Watertown, 617-923-1500, russos.com.
Salumeria Italiana, 151 Richmond St., Boston, 800-400-5916, salumeriaitaliana.com.
Savenor’s Market, 92 Kirkland St., Cambridge, 617-576-6328; 160 Charles St., Boston, 617-723-6328; savenorsmarket.com.
Shaw’s, multiple locations, shaws.com.
Sofra, One Belmont St., Cambridge, 617-661-3161, sofrabakery.com.
Stop & Shop, multiple locations, stopandshop.com.
Trader Joe’s, multiple locations, traderjoes.com.
Wasik’s Cheese Shop, 61 Central St., Wellesley, 781-237-0916, wasiks.com.
Whole Foods, multiple locations, wholefoods.com.
Wilson Farms, 10 Pleasant St., Lexington, 781-862-3900, wilsonfarm.com.