Friday, November 15, 2013

Sweets by Belen

What do you think of when you think of great desserts?  Probably cakes and pies hailing from the United States or maybe even parts of Europe.  Some may even go as far as thinking about Mexico.  Well, what if I told you about desserts from Peru? I was introduced to Ms. Belen Bailey via email encouraging me to try something different from your typical desserts and sweets.  Always the intrepid foodie willing to be adventurous, I agreed to meet her.  Belen is the owner and operator of Sweets by Belen, a "food truck" specializing in desserts with a South American (Peru in particular) flair.

Belen Bailey came to the US from Peru to be a teacher, not a cook or baker.  In fact, she was a Spanish teacher for 12 years.  However, during that time Ms. Belen told me that she missed the home cooking form her mom and grandmother and would often contact them to find out how to make things from home.  It was during this time that she discovered her true passion for baking and making sweets.  During our conversation Ms. Belen told me that the reason she changed careers was not because she did not enjoy teaching, but rather because she enjoyed baking more!  She did the baking thing only as a hobby and part time enterprise for 7 years before fully committing to making baked goods full time a year and a half ago.

In a way she does not have a food truck in the traditional sense. Where most food trucks will sell their product out of said truck, Belen uses it more as a means to get her business around.  The truck (more like a van) is used to make deliveries or get product from point a to point b.  Rarely does she actually sell out of the truck, but it can be prominently seen so as to indicate where she is.

 A good portion of her business come in the form of catering, either from her website or from customers who have ordered from her in the past.  Belen told me that she even does cakes and other baked good for some restaurants that either don't have an in house baker or just don't know how to do the things she does. 

I met Belen at the Rice University farmer's market where she can be found every Tuesday from 3:30 to 6 pm.  It was actually at farmer's markets (specifically the Kingwood farmer's market) where Belen first started selling her wares.  Now she not only does the farmer's market scene, but also does food festivals as well.  The festivals are a good way to get here name out there.  A majority of food trucks sell savory dishes so Sweets by Belen provides a good alternative.  Even if there is another dessert truck, it is a certainty that they will not offer what Belen has.

When I walked up to her stand, Belen had a full array of sweets out on display.

Banana Breads and Merenguitos
Various Sweets

 One of her more popular items was the alfajores.  These are little shortbread cookies with dulce de leche sandwiched in between them and coated with confectioners sugar.  Belen makes them in three varieties: traditional, pecan, and chocolate.  At the market she was selling them in packages of 6 cookies.  The cookies were marvelous.  Light and crumbly but not too sweet so that the dulce de leche could provide the sweetness and shine on its own.  I would highly recommend these to anyone.

Traditional Alfajores with one missing.
The most popular item with the kids, however, were the ice pops.
Exotic and more traditional flavors available.

Have to keep them frozen.
 These cool treats were basically just tubes of frozen goodness.  Using the most traditional recipe with the most basic ingredients, Belen creates magic.  She has flavors ranging from the well known, like strawberry, passion fruit, and mango, to the more exotic like chirymoya , lucuma or chicha morada.  I opted to try something different so I chose the chirymoya.  It had a taste that while different it was not unfamiliar and all together enjoyable. Belen mentioned that having chirymoya had gotten her a number of Vietnamese fans seeing as how the fruit is now cultivated over there.

Belen was nice enough to give me some things to try at home with the wife.  So here at home we tried the banana bread and the merenguitos.  The banana bread has liquour infused raisins that Belen infuses herself.  The merenguitos are small meringue "cookies".  They are just basically meringue piped into a shape and baked until hard.  The banana bread was delightful.  The infused raisins played well with the bread and did not overwhelm it.  And while not my favorite, the merenguitos were also good.  They provide an interesting alternative if nothing else as far as sweets go.

Banana Bread w/ Infused Raisins

Merenguitos: Baked Meringue Cookies
 While talking to Belen she told me that she only uses all natural ingredients in all of her confections.  She also tries to use local ingredients too as much as possible, although some of the more exotic fruits she has to ship in frozen.  Right now you can find some of Belen's handy work at both of the Phonecia Specialty Foods locations.  So next time you find yourself in a farmer's market or food festival, keep an eye out for Sweets by Belen and try something out.  I promise you it will be worth it.

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