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Passionate Pastry

Sweet Revolution

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Tucked into a little nook in a shared space with A Cappella Books, Sweet Revolution (formerly Xocolatl) is all modesty up front: A chalk-scrawled, informal menu is perpetually propped outside the entrance, and a wall of overspill books from the shop next door (including the culinary section) creates half the decor. But despite the lack of airs, the pastry inside warrants far more than a look-see. Pastry chef Taria Camerino's specialty is Central and South American pastry, and her desserts, many of which have roots in the home but glisten with the polish of a bakery, play off both the rustic and the refined.

Simple Seduction: Despite their exotic names, most of Camerino's pastries taste so familiar you'd swear you've eaten them your whole life. Alfajores-- two sugar cookies hugging a smear of house-made cajeta (caramel), their edges rolled in flaked coconut -- are almost too pretty to eat. But they're also far too buttery and flaky, their caramel layer far too teasing, to eat in anything more than one sitting. The coconut flan tastes positively sinful. Its custard is velvety and sunny yellow, cloaked in a veil of nutty caramel.

What makes these desserts so difficult to resist is the coupling of lightness and richness so many of them possess. Take the tres leches cake: Traditionally made without butter, its crumb is delicate and unfathomably moist, soaked with milk and cream and dusted lightly with cinnamon. The flavor is pure and rich, an elaborate expression of one humble ingredient. Less sensual but no less loving is capirotada, a dense bread pudding torte. Baked in its shortbread crust and punctuated with bits of candied and dried fruit -- lemon, orange, raisins -- it's moist and homey, with that pleasant, satisfying chewiness that makes you want to hunt down and eat all manner of bread-based desserts. There is little to disdain about a bread pudding you can eat tidily with your hands.

Ode to Chocolate: A tidy little row of truffles occupies an inconspicuous half-shelf in the pastry case, but they are powerhouses of flavor that put up a good argument for chocolate as a major food group. Here are gutsy little nuggets, small enough that you could feasibly gobble them in one bite, but so intense you'll want to savor them for five. They're seasoned creatively but simply, and most are built on a foundation of bittersweet ganache. Blended with mildly salty, Parmesan-like coteja cheese, they're ultra-creamy with a thoroughly appealing tang; specked with coconut and rolled in Hawaiian sea salt, they're a mastery of that salty-sweet counterplay that always makes chocolate-covered pretzels more addictive than they should be. In a version using white chocolate, that buttery canvas supports an infusion of floral, slightly musty lavender, and the resulting taste is simply beautiful.

Rice Dreams: In a shop that's practically devoted to the dairy gods, Camerino's rice pudding, made with soy and coconut milks, is a surprise vegan offering. It's not as rich and creamy as the conventional sort, but no less comforting, with toothy, starchy grains and bright notes of cardamom that lend it an ethereal delicacy. Horchata, too, pairs coconut milk and blended rice, and the resulting drink, lightly spiced with cinnamon, is too refreshing to put down.

But then very few of Sweet Revolution's sweets are easy to let go of. They even tempt a rethinking of that virtuous debate we launch each time we're faced with the option of having dessert. Life is too short to bother wondering whether or not to eat cake: better to decide which flavor.

— Emily Horton

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