Sweetshop impress with pumpkin, cinammon flavors
By: Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
If there is one thing this food adventurer loves more than or as much as bread (refer to every other article on the site), it is sweets. My insatiable sweet tooth nags me like a teen asking a parent for money. It begs me to consume all the chocolates and sugary treats I can shove in my mouth before my stomach realizes what I'm doing.
Needless to say, when an offer to sample a bevy of decadent, carefully crafted desserts presented itself, I have never responded to an invitation quicker. Better yet, it was the increasingly popular, varied selection of the 4 Rivers Sweet Shop I was asked to taste. Even better yet, the chosen treats were the newly available seasonal ones, a.k.a. fall-themed pumpkin, cinnamon, Bavarian crème variety. Bring on the pumpkin and maple everything!
As per usual, I grabbed my friend Carol to be a willing participant and sample the desserts with me, as long as she promised to give opinions in between heaping bites full of sweets. Carol is a huge fan of 4 Rivers Smokehouse, located in Butler Plaza in the former McAllister's location, as well as the Sweet Shop inside, so I felt she would provide some extra insight relative to the shop's typical selection.
We sat down at a booth, mindset prepared for a tasting of all dessert genres - sweet, tart, crunchy and smooth. What was presented, however, were seven of the most carefully constructed, overwhelmingly artistic works of dessert art seated ever-so-delicately in two rows on a tray. The range spanned from cakes to cupcakes, mousses to whipped frostings, and all the pumpkin-flavored everything we could get our hands on.
Chipping away at each dessert creation, according to the 4Rivers pastry chef "are created in house and most prepared ready to order," Carol and I trucked on through the list:
Pumpkin Cheesecake: As the first of many pumpkin-based desserts, the pumpkin cheesecake was a lighter option than the other selections. The orange cheesecake was not overwhelmingly sweet or spiced, but more of a lighter pumpkin flavor that complemented the fluffy consistency of the filling. As Carol described, the "airy" feel of the dessert made it an ideal after dinner treat if, like me, you crave sweets after a salty meal. While a relatively self-explanatory dessert, it was the ginger snap cookie crust made with cookies, pecans and butter that was distinct. It was crumbly and not so sweet as to overpower the pumpkin cheesecake filling, but provided a nice crunch to the softer filling, which I am very fond of.
Pumpkin Cronut: Next on the list was the highly-anticipated pumpkin spice cronut. For those of you who were unsure of what this was, as was I upon presentation, the cronut is croissant dough manipulated to the shape of a small donut and deep fried. This particular one was not only pumpkin-flavored, but had a hard layer of fried caramel and cinnamon sugar perched atop the fried dough. As a difficult option for a knife and fork, the flaky layers were evident, providing a chewier sensation, and the flavors of the spice and caramel were spot-on. Carol, a fan of cinnamon buns, said the cronut was akin to a cinnamon roll, which I had to agree with, as the inside provided a doughier contrast to the harder, flakier exterior. It was a unique experience, I will say.
Pumpkin Cupcake: Craving more richness, Carol and I delved into the classic spin on a pumpkin cupcake. The cake tasted more like a pumpkin muffin than a cake. Atop the simple pumpkin spice cake was a thick, highly swirled mound of bright orange butter cream and cream cheese frosting, which is made in-house. We wanted richness, and we certainly got it: The thick frosting was such a stark difference in texture, sweetness and flavor to the lighter cake. Not a huge fan of frosting, I would lop it off entirely and eat the cupcake base as a breakfast pumpkin muffin of sorts any morning.
Pumpkin Bomb: Now comes the more unique desserts. The pumpkin bomb, consisting of layers of sweets with a pumpkin cupcake layer as a base, a center filling of mousse, and topped off with another layer of pumpkin cupcake, was a flavor explosion (the "bomb" part makes sense now). Surrounding this upright cylindrical layering was a thick coating of soft, vanilla bean frosting with pecans on top and the sides, which gave it that extra punch of sweet and crunchiness that diversified this dessert from so many. Well, it was that and the creamy mousse filling that sparked my interest, as it melded cohesively with the spongier pumpkin cake surrounding it. The only aspect I could do without was the pool of salted caramel that rested atop the creation. Combined with the other elements, it was a creative contrast, but alone it was bitter and very rich. I do commend the differentiation, though.
Pumpkin Bayou Bar: This had to be one of my favorite original creations, Akin to the look of a Blondie (golden-colored brownie), this dessert combined every desirable texture into one savory bar: crunchy, soft, sweet and a tad of spice. A soft, mushier pumpkin spice-flavored coating rested atop a shortbread cookie crust that lined the bottom of the bar. This coating, which I can only compare to that of mashed yam, immediately revealed a considerable amount of nutmeg, which was a nice change to the milder pumpkin flavors typical of most of the desserts. The cookie base was brownie-esque, but complemented the orange coating to a T. I am convinced that this would be the perfect twist on traditional pumpkin pie. It made me miss home at Thanksgiving!
Pumpkin Whoopie Pie: As the name suggests, this whoopie pie was a whopping magnitude and consisted of two large cookie-shaped layers of pumpkin cake (although it was of a cookie consistency, which I loved) and a thick, generous application of cinnamon nutmeg(!) frosting. Each forkful of this traditional U.S. dessert oozed frosting at an overwhelming and overly heavy amount, although the pecans thrown in the frosting was a nice crunchy touch. Note: At this point, Carol and I were slowing way down on the dessert train. The cookie-cake layers, however, were light, sweet and just what I was looking for. There was even a hard (almost too hard) buttery layer of frosting sprinkled with pecans atop half of the cookies. Next time, I would just eat the cookies without the frosting filling.
Pumpkin Harvest Stack: The most standout pumpkin creation on the tray (middle item in pic of tray above right) was the final dessert--the seventh and the largest (that I have ever seen in person) masterpiece (image at top and right). A verbal description doesn't do it justice: The stack literally included large rectangular stacks of sponge cake intersected with mascarpone cream cheese frosting sealing the layers together. Eyes wide, Carol and I hesitantly dove our forks into the soft, multi-layered cake topped with light whipped cream, pecans and a hearty drizzle of caramel sauce. Carol said it best: "This is what to get if you want the best of everything." It combines the trademarks of dessert — cake and frosting — with the originality of a fall-themed treat. Not to mention that the frosting, which was too prevalent in many of these desserts, was delicately and thoughtfully applied, as was the pumpkin flavoring. This, also, was the most shareable of the pumpkin creations.
Despite countless inquisitive, puzzled stares in our direction due to the sheer volume of dessert in front of us, I was proven wrong: There is such a thing as too much sweet. I had to be rolled out of the booth, but in general the fall-themed desserts at the 4 Rivers Sweet Shop were thoughtfully crafted and an experience in themselves. I wouldn't even eat a meal before eating almost any of these desserts. Plus, you are always guaranteed amazing service while there.