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© The Moscow News / Joy Neumeyer

Moscow’s Cookie Monsters

by Joy Neumeyer at 15/09/2011 19:02

I Love Cake

4 Bolshoi Patriarshy Per., (495) 226 0238, m. Mayakovskaya
Open daily 8 am-11 pm

Patriarch’s Ponds are no stranger to the sugary touch of Pavel Kosterenko and Nina Gudkova; last year the restaurateurs opened the third location of their American café, Friends Forever, in the area. With their new nearby venture, I Love Cake, they’ve sweetened the pot, attempting to deliver an “American dessert lab” to a Russian and expat audience. But for this American bake-a-holic and her Russian companion, what started as a promising concept quickly fell flatter than a soufflé in the Alps.

I Love Cake presents itself as a more playful alternative to Friends. Gone are the latter’s black-and-white photos of the New York skyline; instead, diners are welcomed by graffiti, white mortar and retro refrigerators. While the floor-to-ceiling baking case is a nice touch, the place feels a bit like a mother who gets a nose ring to show her teenagers she’s cool: sympathetic, but a little sad. It’s family friendly – with no alcohol or smoking, and a separate room for children’s parties – so those who like their sweets with anything stiffer than a milkshake should get a box to go.

We sat down and began reading the menu, giddy at the prospect of the hundred or so desserts on the page. But when we consulted with our waitress, we realized that appearances were deceiving: only about a quarter of the cupcakes on the menu were available that day. We headed over to the baking case to make our selection from what was actually on hand.

The Sweet Paul cupcake is divine

© The Moscow News / Joy Neumeyer

The Sweet Paul cupcake is divine

After a pricey blueberry lemonade, which tasted like a woefully booze-less mojito, we tucked into the Sweet Paul cupcake. The cupcake craze of the past several years has all too often produced small, dry cakes big on hype but short on flavor. But with a moist vanilla base, a heavenly cloud of tvorog icing and a topping of fresh berries, the Sweet Paul reclaims the cupcake as a thing of beauty – and achieves the blissful marriage between American baking and Russian ingredients that I Love Cake promises.

Unfortunately, the marriage becomes fractious and ends in divorce. The S’more cookie sandwich – a play on the children’s campfire classic of graham cracker, milk chocolate, and melted marshmallow – was a dry, ungainly fistful, and not warmed-up as we’d requested. Our waitress proudly told us the Cookie Cake was created from a New York Times recipe, but maybe the chef should find another— the cookies were stale and swallowed by layers of mascarpone. Most disappointing of all was the Milky Way cheesecake, flavored with Russian-style sweetened condensed milk; the cake and icing shared the same flat, sickly sweet flavor. In a show of passive resistance to dessert injustice, the oddly rubbery cake stubbornly refused to adhere to its crust.

Thankfully, I Love Cake’s small savory menu helps compensate for its failings. The perfectly cooked Green Eggs came perched atop hearty wheat bread, freshly shaved ham, and crunchy dark greens, and drizzled with fresh, vibrant pesto. Emboldened to give the dessert menu one final go, we sa vored the airy homemade marshmallows, which bear no relation to the bloated puffs in American grocery stores. But we grimaced at the taste of the chocolate milk, which seemed to have left its flavor back at the counter.

Dessert lovers could do worse than I Love Cake – the tvorog icing alone is worthy of sonnets, state prizes and possibly a religious pilgrimage. Maybe, if the “dessert lab” downsizes its menu and crafts fewer goodies with more care, they’ll confirm their hypothesis that American desserts can blossom in Russian soil. In the meantime, this American cake-lover will be waiting for packages from home.

 

Schyot, please!*

 

Blueberry lemonade 290


Sweet Paul cupcake 230


Milky Way cheesecake 320


Cookie cake 390


S’more cookie 250


Green eggs 340


Classic marshmallow 150


Chocolate milk 260


*All prices are in roubles

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