Icons exist to remind us of something.
Just like we have sports icons, tech ones, movie stars or educational inspirations, it takes just a symbol to remind us of a certain meaning behind a task or a given time of year. It is upon us to seek them out through a shimmering crowd, under the guidance of perhaps nothing more than a silhouette or a single source of light.
Which is why its never surprising that if you see a deer with disproportionately large antlers, a symmetrical ripple-edged hexagon or a chubby man in a conical hat with a soft sphere on its tip, you think of reindeer, snowflakes and Santa Claus, respectively.
Having talked of New York bakeries and patisseries and San Francisco ones or Vienna’s cafes before, it comes as no surprise that a bakery is a must on every trip. It was during such trip and this Christmas sprinkled season that I stepped into an Alice in Wonderland style bakery where the first thing that caught my eye were the Queen of Hearts’ upside down flamingos on a wall behind a snow white Christmas tree. Quite the apt trick of colors, despite an overdose of pink and peach hues, all the way from duvet printed bold rosy floor lamps against tall peek-worthy windows to calla lilies glistening amidst other florets.
The bakery in question is in Rotterdam in Holland, called Ten to Three Bakery, taking its name from a poem ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ by Rupert Brooke, which goes on to immortalize the tradition and importance of afternoon tea. Smack in the middle of Rotterdam’s shopping district, it comes as a great addition that serves escapism at its best. Escapism into a sugary Wonderland, that is.
Keeping to the Alice theme, tea is served in whimsical Mad Hatter teacups and saucers, with quotable quotes like ‘The March Hare took the watch (from the Mad Hatter) … then he dipped it into his cup’ or the image of a dangling chain watch in assymetry.
Mine was soon bubbling with what I rarely drink: coffee… ironic given the teashop and teatime nature of the place on a fine afternoon, but I blame my choice on two things: sleep deprivation, and Europe’s delectable taste of caffeine. To my rescue, I chose what I usually get if I need it: chocolate laced cappuccino.
While I am admittedly a dessert monster, I have had a love hate relationship with cupcakes. For while they evoke the artist from within bakers and utmost appreciation from eaters owing to the same craft, they are very simply a cake with too much frosting. Saccharine sweetness has never been my palette’s pleaser. However, when presented in miniature format, a proportion control bite sized temptation that has seduced me in the past at a petite bakeshop in San Francisco, cupcakes transform into a winner. Aloha, Dutch cupcakes!
The bakers concoct the creations in open kitchens, a well marketed faceted facet for catering too. And evident from bakers smiling and cheerfully waving at my obviously large camera from pink checkered walls and counters upon counters of chocolates and edible portioned cupcakes shimmering with artsy fondant detailing.
The textured snowflake on a mint frosted vanilla cupcake, the carrot nosed chocolate eyed snowman on a cream cheese frosted chocolate cupcake, and the spherical candy ornament atop a mint frosted caramel cupcake, were visual favorites.
The M&M speckled, raspberry covered, chocolate leaf ones and silver dusted ones were more regular, but nonetheless inviting in synchrony. The flavors made up for being alluring, like ginger or carrot cake, which while common on the west of the Atlantic, are more of a rarity on the East.
Ten to Three Bakery also had savory foods which I skipped altogether, and moved on to sumptuous petite macaroons, used almost exclusively as cupcake toppers! These had to be good, owing to the proximity of the country to the hometown of macaroons: Paris. The pink strawberry macaroon was placed on strawberry chocolate shavings on a vanilla frosting and vanilla cupcake, looking immediately gobble worthy.
And the favorite of the evening was the reindeer, owing entirely to its detailing: a chocolate macaroon atop chocolate frosting on a ginger cupcake, complete with a jam nose and pretzel ears! Tiny, neat, and complete. It’s macaroon-less cousins had a frosted face, salted ears, and an M&M nose, which while not as creative, made for fun variety and imaginably easier baking.
After tasting a plethora of treats, I walked out with a box of petite chocolate squares in classic old school flavors of milk, strawberry and dark chocolate with textured embossed shapes of everything from reindeer with bowties, snowmen with scarves and wobbly penguins with jittery face expressions! Something about the purity and unprocessed-ness of Dutch chocolate makes me always want to devour it… and as expected, these morsels languished very quickly in subsequent travels.
After a festive afternoon, I strolled on to consume my staple conclusion to any meal – the stroopwaffel. Which in turn reminded me what side of the Atlantic I was on, for the cutesy Wonderland definitely had a nostalgic, transformational effect. Naturally I still side with stroopwaffels when in Holland, but it was gracious to find a cupcakery for nothing less than a daily sugar fix.
While not as whimsical and psychotic as Alice’s world, I will always return for bite sized inhalations and people watching musings from tall glass windows.
And perhaps one day catch one of the upside down flamingoes winking at a passerby or debating their life under the Queen.