Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dear New York,

I love you. You know I do. But I’m running off to Paris to see some old friends… Pierre Marcolini, Jean-Paul Hevin, Christian Constant…

But I will be back. For your chocolate studded cookies, Levain, and your dreamy peanut butter ones, City Bakery. For cupcakes—strawberry rhubarb from Batch, banana from Billy’s and even a good, old sugar rush from Magnolia. I will look forward to your toasted almond glaze, Doughnut Plant, and for, mon dieu, your chocolate bread pudding, Dessert Truck.

A bientot…

The mixing bowl: Pichet Ong

The master maestro of unconventional pairings and absurdly delicious desserts and baked goods, Pichet Ong makes New Yorkers proud. Here's a taste of what he loves best.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Marmalades of any kind. I always start off every morning with a spoonful of fruit jam. I'm particularly fond of strawberry. However if you don't consider that to be a sweet, then I'd have to say chocolate chip cookie.

My favorite sweet now is:
Chocolate chip cookie still. Always have a batch in the freezer ready to be baked, at home, and at Batch! And ice cream — rum raisin.

My personal favorite from Batch:
My favorite changes day to day depending on whatever is the newest thing in the case, today it's the apricot filled chocolate cupcake with green tea frosting.

What I love about the West Village is:
The charm of neighborhood, the culture of its residents, the style of architecture, the street names, the chaos of how the streets converge, the easy access to Chinatown, Soho, meatpacking, and Chelsea, the boutiques on Bleecker, and of course, all the chefs who have restaurants in West Village.

Truffles or pralines:

White, milk or dark:
Very often milk, but also very often dark.

Caramel, ganache or cream:

The perfect pairing:
Strawberries and cream, peaches and cream, passionfruit and chocolate, sugar & salt.

I'd love to create a flavor for:
A universal palate.

Kitchen essentials:
Whisk, offfset spatula, rubber spatula, and spoons.

Style essentials:
Expensive jeans, old t-shirts from high school (amazingly still fit!), designer underwear, comfortable shoes, a supersized man bag, and diamond rings.

Pastry chefs I admire:
Too many to mention.

I'm most inspired when:
There is beauty.

How much is too much?
Never too much.

Favorite movie snack:
Popcorn and chocolate, sparking water.

Guilty pleasure:
Foie gras

Other favorites:
Chinese, Japanese, & Italian foods; haute Chinese cuisine; autobiographies; urban culture; Scandinavian design; road trips, cruises, big cities/country; electronica/dance music, Madonna.

Monday, June 23, 2008

French training: Pierre Marcolini

On my last visit to Paris (which was wonderful), I went to no fewer than eight chocolatiers—about one a day. None blew me away more than Pierre Marcolini.

I was blown away again recently when someone told me there’s a Marcolini outpost on Park Ave. I had no idea. Where have I been?

In the spirit of training for my upcoming Parisian binge, I made my way to midtown. And yet, in an impressive display of restraint, I sampled only three.

Trianon Fondant: A creamy caramel ganache with crunchy nougatine, enrobed in dark chocolate.

Torsade: Milk chocolate Giandya filled with sugared almonds and nougatine chips: savory, smooth and crunchy.

Palet Or Fondant: A super rich buttery ganache with Tahitian vanilla inside a dark chocolate shell.

Mon dieu. They're all so buttery, rich, fresh and sublime. It was a relief to know the chocolates are as exquisite as they are in Paris, even though the New York boutique is a little shabby. In Paris, the bonbons are displayed with the same care and staging as jewels. You'd expect no less on Park Avenue. But here, the boutique's atmosphere belies the preciousness of these chocolates. Seriously, chocolates do not get much better than this. Pierre Marcolini, je vous reve.

485 Park Avenue between 58th and 59th

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sweet dreams, Tribeca

Yay! Another cute Frenchie café: Duane Park Patisserie.

I took my summer morning walk through the Hudson River Park and peeled off the West Side Highway to traipse around Tribeca (in doing so, vowing to have an apartment there in three years, on the western-most block of Duane Street.). As I was gawking up at the beautiful brick buildings, I noticed a sweet café at street level: Duane Park Patisserie.

Similar to Thé Adoré with its beatnik-y vibe and baking smells that greet you inside the door, but Duane Park Patisserie is a bigger affair, helmed by Madeline Carvalho. Over the past 16 years, her chocolate chip cookies, nut cakes, and birthday cakes have gotten sizeable attention. I scanned the pastries remaining from the morning pick-over and got a plain croissant (alas, there was no pain au chocolat) and a prune pastry.

The croissant was very modest: light, airy and petite. It was tinged with buttery flavor, thankfully without residual butter-grease on the fingertips. In a very cute way, it looked like a crab (see photo).

The pastry was a nice departure from the norm. Sweet-as-jam prune filling—with just a hint of smokiness—was made sweeter by the generous dusting of sugar. The center was a plush, squishy pillow of fruit filling, bookended by crunchy, savory dough points.

Goodness—next Saturday, my croissant will be from the 13th arrondisement.

179 Duane Street at Greenwich

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Second helpings

There's nothing like prolonging dessert. Here are Brownie's 5 Favorite NYC Sweets:

1) Chocolate Fondue from The Chocolate Room in Park Slope — I love the Chocolate Room. It's my go-to romantic dessert place. Everything on their menu is chock-full o' chocolate-y goodness and their chocolate fondue is absolutely terrific. You get a plate of fresh fruit usually strawberries, pineapple and bananas, little pieces of light and buttery pound cake, a couple homemade marshmallows and a nice sized pot of fondue made from 60% Belgian chocolate. At $14, it's the priciest thing on the menu, but it's ample to share with a date.

2) Liege Wafel with Belgian Chocolate Sauce and Whipped Cream from Wafels and Dinges — I've always loved waffles but Wafels and Dinges introduced me to what a real Belgian waffle could be. Slightly dense and chewy with little bursts of crystallized sugar in every bite their Liege Wafels are a must for me. And what goes better on a Liege Wafel than a generous helping of dark Belgian chocolate fudge and whipped cream?

3) Plain Fro-yo from Forty Carrots at Bloomingdales — I like my fro-yo to be tart and fresh, not overly sweet or processed tasting. I've tried all the heavy hitters and not so heavy hitters in the fro-yo leagues and plain Frogurt reins supreme. Once confined only to Bloomies and Café Lalo on the Upper West Side, Frogurt is beginning to pop up in more places throughout the city. But if you have a Frogurt problem like, um…me, you might want to join the Forty Carrots Yogurt Club. After 7 fro-yos, you get a free one with one topping.

4) Lemon Lemon Lemon Cupcake from Batch — I love all sorts of cupcakes from the low end fresh from the box Funfetti to the higher end confections you get now get at some of New York's most chichi restaurants. Pichet Ong's new bakery, Batch, makes a Lemon Lemon Lemon cupcake that's I've recently become very fond of. The cupcake itself is moist and almost as light as an angel food cake. The frosting was sweet and the lemon filling was nice and tangy. The Lemon Lemon Lemon Cupcake is a bit smaller and pricier than its neighbors at Magnolia, but in terms of quality it's worlds apart and well worth it.

5) Red Velvet Custard from Shake Shack — I've been a big fan of the Shack for a long time. I used to tend to get their concretes (shakes with lots of delicious mix-ins), but lately their special custards have been too good to pass up. Last month they made a Red Velvet Custard that was to die for. Oh man, the custard was a tangy vanilla base reminiscent of traditional Red Velvet cream cheese frosting and it didn't just have little Red Velvet crumbles, oh no, there were serious chunks of Red Velvet cake. I don't know when it will return to the custard rotation, but I'm hoping it will be soon.

Green shiso doughnuts

Doughnut Plant in Tokyo? And South Korea? Who knew? Might have to head over to check out the big, fat, doughy black sesame and yuzo doughnuts.

Read the article here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Strawberries and cream… and pine nuts

I know why strawberry shortcake is served in the summer, and it has nothing to do with strawberries being in season. It's just because it's the lightest, sweetest dessert that's perfect for a summer night.

Bennie and I had a nice dinner at Sapporo East, the whole time remarking on the importance of getting in shape and eating healthy and feeling good about our bodies. But he was hell-bent on dessert, and I'm pretty easily persuaded.

So after dinner, we dashed across the street to Tarallucci e Vino. Inside the display case of insane pastries (and gelato), one in particular stood out, looking like a Twinkie on steroids.

This ladyfinger cake is all golden brown on the outside. Inside is whipped cream and sliced strawberries. A pocket of delight.

But it had nothing on the pignolli cookie.

Ben insisted on getting this cookie, which, to me, looked like a dry, boring Italian cookie (another case of looks being deceiving). But it's made with marzipan. I was shocked. One bite, and I realized I have a new favorite sweet. The light chewiness, combined with the earthy pine nuts, dusted gently with confectioner's sugar… everything in this world should be so good.

163 First Avenue at 10th

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kindred spirits

Anyone who loves food and booze and caffeine and sweets is ace in my book. And anyone devoted enough to photograph burgers on dates and wax poetic about the versatility of Nutella is soooper ace.

I'm talking about Blondie and Brownie.

Here, Blondie's 5 favorite NYC sweets:

1) Glaser's Black and White Cookies - This is the apex of black and white cookies, in my opinion. The cakey cookie is golden, airy, and moist, while the frosting has a thin skin on the top, but is moist and creamy underneath. The cookies are, of course, baked on site and are incredibly fresh.

2) Sugar Sweet Sunshine's Cupcakes - All of them. I think I've tried every regular flavor combination (we've had a lot of SSS deliveries to the office) and each is moist and delicious. I tend to find buttercreams too greasy and buttery, but their frosting is perhaps the only buttercream in the city that I like and enjoy.

3) Sugar Sweet Sunshine's Banana Pudding - Every time I'd gone to SSS, I've immediately headed for the cupcakes, disregarding the other items on the menu, but recently, I was tipped off to try their puddings. I love bananas (eat one every morning) and 'Nilla wafers, and this is the perfect marriage of the two. There are chunks of bananas, the pudding is thick and creamy, and filling. I hope to one day try the other puddings, but that means passing on the banana and cupcakes.

4) Mexican Chocolate Brownie from Treats Truck - This was the very first item I ever had from the Treats Truck, and it's still my absolute favorite. It's moist and fudgey without being greasy or oily, and I still haven't figured out how Kim bakes the cinnamon flavor into the crust.

5) Nutella Turnover at La Dolce Italia (Astoria) - Yes, there is a turnover with Nutella baked into the middle. I have a severe addiction to Nutella. The dough is a little thick, but the ample amount of Nutella deliciousness baked into the middle more than makes up for it. It's even better warmed up a bit.

No, we didn't forget about Brownie. She dishes soon...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Obsession of the week: gelato

We started the week near 100 degrees and finished with 76% humidity.
Summer's here, which calls for fully indulging in ice cream.

And how lucky we are to live in a city that has tons of amazing gelato. Not as much stellar ice cream, but places like Sundaes & Cones can hold their own.

I can't wait to get my hands on a custardy shake from Shake Shack and an ice cream sandwich from Jacques Torres. But first, I need to sample some ice cream from Ronnybrook...

Friday, June 13, 2008

French training: Petrossian

In two weeks, I will touch down in Paris. I must start training.

Inspired as I was by Lunch with Front Studio's recent visit to Petrossian, and seduced by memories of my first visit there, I trekked to midtown for a morning croissant.

If only I were a purist and could stick to plain croissants. They are beautiful things, and I am always happy when I get one—like the ones from Balthazar and Amai. But when I come face-to-face with the choice of plain or chocolate, I can't not choose chocolate.

I have to say, the pain au chocolat was a strange experience. The outer layers were crisp, golden brown and flaky, as they should be, but so crunchy, they shattered and splattered across the ground when I broke it in half, immediately attracting a flock of pigeons (side, random note: today is national pigeon day?!). It was a bit much—I felt like half my pastry disappeared.

But no matter. Inside, the lesser-baked layers of dough were lightly moist and chewy, but still flakey and crunchy at the folds. The infusion of semi-sweet chocolate was modest, which is par for my tastes. And for those two or three bites that are buttery, chocolaty, chewy and crunchy at once, it was worth it. Pigeons and all.

911 Seventh Ave between 57th and 58th

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I’ve walked by the antique-y tea salon with its rusted aluminum lawn chairs and wabi-sabi storefront for four years now, promising myself I would go sometime. This morning, I finally indulged at Thé Adoré.

While a lot of New York bakeries make their goods in-house—resulting in fresh and delicious pastries—there’s something different when the in-house kitchen is small. Everything tastes like you baked it at your own place. Except you didn’t have to go to the supermarket for flour, or mix the ingredients until your bicep ached, or wash the dishes afterward.

Adore’s “cupcakes” are more like muffins… which is why I could justify having them for breakfast. And there's really no excuse for having two, like I did, when one will suffice, except they were still just barely warm— that perfect temperature that smacks of freshness—and they had two of my favorite flavors: banana and raspberry.

The banana flavor is just a dense, mushy, happy blend of cake and banana. The raspberry cupcake offers a sweet gooey texture with the little seeds popping between your molars like raspberry jam. It's hard to say which is better. Both.

And they’re super buttery, which is a good or bad thing, depending on your predilections. You can smell the butter (yay), taste the butter (yay), but the butter leaves a little grease on your fingertips (nea).

17 East 13th Street between Fifth and University

Monday, June 09, 2008

5 best ice cream spots

What's the difference between ice cream and gelato? Air and fat. Ice cream whips more air in, losing some concentration of flavor. It also uses cream—gelato, milk—which has more fat... which is a good or bad thing, depending how you look at it. In any case, they're both delicious and, more important, neither are frozen yogurt. Here's where to find the best scoops in the city:

Ciao Bella
The original. Apple caramel crisp, bourbon pecan, mango, fresh mint, white chocolate raspberry swirl. Love the packaging, too.

il Laboratorio del Gelato
The hipster. Thai chili chocolate, black sesame, vanilla saffron, licorice, earl grey.

The import. Hazelnut, whipped cream, gianduja, nougat, cinnamon.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
The fun factory. Avocado, lychee, red bean, peanut butter and jelly, watermelon.

Ben & Jerry's
The classic. Sorry — had to do it. Ever since I drove up to Waterbury, VT as a college sophomore, I've been hooked on the company's history, vibe, mission, morals and crazy flavors. I mean, Phish Food and Half Baked? Come on.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Chocolate perfume

If it were anyone else I might think it silly. But I know Yosh Han and know she knows her sweets as much as her nose knows notes. Thus, her chocolate perfumes have got to be delicous. Check out this video for more.

Go, Yosh!

‘Tis the season

Summer’s here. We’ve barely eased into June and we have the heat, the humidity, and the haze that turn the city a milky grey color.

Time for ice cream. Scratch that — gelato. Gelato from a genius.

Jon Snyder opened il Laboratorio del Gelato, a clean, white sliver of a space, in 2002. This was 19 years after he started Ciao Bella, the city’s other go-to gelato store, which he subsequently sold in ’89. None of this is terribly important or relevant except it goes to show that this guy loves gelato, loves experimenting with flavors (there are 75), and creates something that every Sweet Freak loves.

The toasted sesame gelato brings a smoky, savoriness to the sweet base of cream and sugar. The buttermilk has that tangy, sour flavor of… buttermilk. Delicate floral notes and small flecks of lavender make the honey lavender taste light and refreshing. And the milk chocolate is, omigodness, the most satisfying combination of sweet and rich and cold and creamy.

Don’t wait to go there for dessert. The shop closes at 7pm. And when you do go, please try the rose petal, black mission fig, or olive oil for me.

95 Orchard St between Broome and Delancey

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fruity focaccia

Don't let the almonds and fruit fool you. There's nothing healthy about the fruit focaccia at Balthazar. First of all, the portion is for NBA players: gargantuan. Secondly, it comes from the Balthazar bakery. Bien sur, it's laden with sugar, dairy and all things wonderful.

Tart cherries (there they are again), chewy raisins, crunchy slivers of almond, all baked into a slab of bread and dusted with confectioner sugar.

For an even bigger rush, sit down in the dining room and smear it with raspberry or blueberry jam.

Side note: Balthazar round the bill down to avoid loading you down with pesky pocket change. Of course you should show your thanks with a nicer tip for your server.

80 Spring Street

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Obsesssion of the week: Unusual pairings

I haven’t been able to get Batch off my mind and only wish I made a commission for every Sweet Freak I sent to the bakery. Pichet is the master of sweet-savory concoctions. Who else would marry salted caramel frosting with carrot cake?

Then there’s the sweet-salty combo of Mast Brothers’ Fleur de Sel chocolate bar. It’s 81% cacao infused with flecks of salt, awakening taste buds all over the tongue.

And while lavender might make you think of potpourri and chamomile, granny tea, when the two flavors are put together as they are in Amai’s cupcake, it makes for a lovely-weather indulgence.