Friday, September 26, 2008

The mixing bowl: Benjamin Van Leeuwen

Let's hear it for principles! The only thing that makes sweets better is when smart, compassionate people that you actually want to sit around the kitchen table with create them. Like Ben Van Leeuwen—who sometimes caves in to Heinz ketchup, but is otherwise devoted to purely unmolested products.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Chocolate croissant

My favorite sweet now is:
Hot fudge sundae

My personal Van Leeuwen flavor:

What I love about being mobile is:
Not paying rent and being able to put the savings into the best ingredients and earth-friendly packaging.

Truffles or pralines:

White, milk or dark:
Milk, actually.

Caramel, ganache or cream:

The perfect pairing:
Espresso ice cream, fudge and cocoa nibs.

Kitchen essentials:
Real balsamic vinegar, grape-seed oil, shallots, 2-3 artisan cloth bound cheddars, 1 English cheddar for grilled cheese, mushrooms, ginger.

Pastry chefs I admire:
Not exactly a pastry chef, but Michael London, from Saratoga Springs.

I'm most inspired when:
I taste incredible food.

Favorite movie snack:

Guilty pleasure:
Enjoying Heinz ketchup with french fries, even though it has high fructose corn syrup.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sampling madeleines

When I fall for something, I fall hard. (I'm a Scorpio: fiercely loyal.)

So after my first Petrossian experience, I was smitten and immediately a fan of the place.

Even the building that houses Petrossian is gorgeous. It's really a sight to see.

So I'm willing to overlook a gaffe or two.

In full disclosure, I’m not a madeleine fanatic. But I've had better than the cranberry and chocolate varieties I sampled.

The lemon and tart cranberry flavors popped nicely. But the pastry was too moist and greasy. Can't it be fluffy without so much oil?

For some reason, the chocolate worked. Rather than borderline soggy, the density of the cake was lighter and airier. Not unlike Lady M's petit chocolat.

I have my eye and mind on other Petrossian treats. Redemption can only be a bite away.

911 Seventh Ave between 57 & 58

Monday, September 22, 2008

Seriously? The grocery store?

I can't stand the smell of old-school supermarkets. But I might have to plug my nose and take a journey uptown to "The Food Emporium Fine Chocolates shop at Trump Palace." How silly.

But the word from Emily is that it will be worth it: chocolate from 14 different countries.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

5 sweets I’m craving now

We’re on the doorstep of fall and I’m trying really hard not to be sad. I’m a summer girl. I understand everyone’s love of thick sweaters, crisp apples and crackling fireplaces. But I find it really hard to let go of long days of sunshine, lazy picnics in the park and bare feet.

That said, the change in light and temperature is getting under my skin, making my sweets cravings turn toward more fruity, savory and autumnal desserts:

Apricot danish from Petrossian:
Thanks to my conversation with Edward at Café Cluny, where they serve these wonderful creations.

Banana cupcake from Billy’s:

The cream cheese frosting reminds me of last weekend’s wedding cake.

Croissant from Claude’s:
Just do it, Amy.

Slow-baked apples & cinnamon from Dessert Truck:
It’s one of the last remaining treats to be sampled from the truck (the molten chocolate cake is the other).

Chocolate banana bread from Once Upon a Tart:

It’s just been way too long.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The off season

I so don't need this. Cold hot chocolate from City Bakery.

They couldn't (wouldn't) tell me how it's made, but it's their same hot cocoa, served over ice. And you get about 10 more ounces than you do with the hot portion, which is utterly ridiculous.

3 West 18th Street at Fifth

Places I wish were in New York: Flour Bakery

A visit to Boston isn't complete without a stop at Flour Bakery in the South End.

It's a homey, hippy-ish neighborhood place: the kind with chalkboard menus, communal tables and newspapers, and warmth from the kitchen's ovens.

Killer sandwiches on house-baked bread (God, I love sandwiches), gourmet Oreos, Scharffenberger cookies, crazy-rich brownies, moist muffins. Dee-lish.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


It took me nearly four years to get there, but I finally made it to Lady M.

It's pure UES: rich and chichi, and filled with delightfully expensive and delicious bits. When you take a seat in the clean, white boutique, you're served from silver trays. It's fussy but fabulous. I likey.

Naturally I had to try the signature Mille Crepes cake. It's 20 crepes sandwiched with vanilla custard and topped with caramelized sugar. With the sticky-chewy texture of the layered crepes and the soft custard that rolls around your mouth, it's great fun to eat.

In addition to exquisite cakes, Lady M has some smaller pastries and snacks. Like the Nutty Boat (what a nutty name — I love it!).

I'm not usually a nuts-in-my-dessert person, but this little number is good. A caramel shortbread makes the boat, and it's filled with hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts and walnuts.

The Petit Chocolat is just that: a little button of chocolaty heaven. It's light and refined, not too dense or rich. Spongy. Not crumbly.

Lady M. Definitely Upper East Side all the way.

41 East 78th Street at Madison

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sweet hangover

I should go to Vermont more often. As spoiled as we are with food in NYC, I put my feedbag on this weekend for a friend’s wedding in “The Northeast Kingdom.” I am still reeling from the sweets.

Friday, Bennie and I touched down in Burlington. That involved a most amazing brunch at Penny Cluse, complete with zucchini bread French toast (you heard me), covered in a honey ricotta and orange zest. Uh-mazing.

At the rehearsal dinner later that night, I tried all three kinds of pie that were offered: three-berry pie with that delicious crumbly top; pecan pie, which was sweet, savory and crunchy; and good old apple pie, undoubtedly made with apples from the local farms, which were crisp, juicy and tart (I had a couple of those too).

We also made s’mores.

On Saturday, I experienced a first: I eschewed chocolate ganache cake when offered to me. But only because the wedding cake was pumpkin with cream cheese frosting. Seriously, it was the most sublime thing in the world. There weren’t nuts in it, like carrot cake often has, but it had a similarly hearty flavor. Perfectly moist, springy cake, and incredibly creamy-smooth frosting. I would have had a third slice if the only the other guests hadn’t hogged it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The mixing bowl: Francois Payard

Simply put, Francois Payard is one of the world’s best, most celebrated pastry chefs. After growing up in Nice with a grandfather and father who were also pastry chefs, he conquered Paris and then came to New York nearly two decades ago. Somewhere between creating his sublime éclairs, madeleines and cakes (and opening restaurants around the world), he finds time to travel, publish cookbooks and get a high-speed adrenaline rush.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Candy bars. I even had an account at the local grocery store and I would buy them on “credit.”

My favorite sweet now is:
Ice cream and sorbet. I love it plain, with fruit or whipped cream. After a heavy meal, it makes the perfect ending.

My personal favorite from Payard Patisserie is:
The Candy Bar because it reminds me of the candy bars I used to love to eat as a child.

What I love about the Upper East Side is:
The quiet and discreet location. It’s a perfect location for Payard Patisserie & Bistro. I especially love the townhouses on the side streets because they remind me of Europe.

Truffles or pralines:
I like pralines better; even if they are more old fashioned. With an open mind, they can be very versatile. They can be made with sesame, peanuts, orange, almond or hazelnut. The possibilities are endless.

White, milk or dark:
I love dark chocolate. I also especially like bittersweet chocolate because it has a bit of acidity and a beautiful finish. Quality chocolate will never have a sandy texture like a cheap chocolate would.

Caramel, ganache or cream:
Caramel. I love that it can be chewy like a Carambar, soft and gluey like a Mars bar, or creamy like the ganache I make in the patisserie. I always add a pinch of salt because it brings out a beautiful flavor to the caramel.

One thing I always tell people is that caramel is not just water and sugar; it's a distinct flavor like coffee. Caramel has to be perfectly cooked, not burnt, to get the perfect flavor and the right balance.

The perfect pairing:
Dark chocolate and berries, or the sweetness of milk chocolate and the acidity of passion fruit. I also love caramel and salt, vanilla and pistachio, and fresh raspberry coulis. I could just keep going.

I'd love to create new flavors for:
Milk chocolate, almond and pistachio, lychee, rosewater, raspberry and meringue, dark chocolate, tea and lemon bergamot.

Some of these flavors can be complicated, but can also be adventurous for people who want to sample something different. I love a challenge and am always thinking about the next perfect creation.

Kitchen essentials:
A scale, knife, KitchenAid standing mixer and a Thermomix. All of these small tools are perfect, especially when you want to test recipes for small quantities.

Style essentials:
A stylish watch (not necessarily expensive), a Lacoste shirt, jeans and Gucci loafers. Not just for the brand, but because they are well made and very comfortable; chefs spend a lot of time on their feet.

Pastry chefs I admire:
My father, Guy Payard, and Pierre Hermé, the most creative and realistic pastry chef out there.

I'm most inspired when:
I’m traveling, seeing new things and tasting new ingredients. Afterwards, I try to remember that taste and incorporate them into new creations.

How much is too much?
I have no limits, so it is never too much. I only feel limited by others.

Favorite movie snack:
Always popcorn

Guilty pleasure:
Cognac and cigars

Other favorites:

I love speed sports, action movies and motorcycles. I ride mine to work every morning. I just recently went skydiving this summer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where's the peanut butter?

The thing about a sandwich cookie is that it's a sandwich. Which means there should be some filling.

I was suckered into buying an oatmeal cream'wich at 'wichcraft — the flavors were too good to pass up (and mark my words: sandwich cookies are going to be the new cupcakes).

As I waited for my toasted PB&J sandwich, I tackled the cookie. Being a sandwich, naturally I broke it apart like an Oreo.

What I saw didn't please me. Because I didn't see much.

So I complained that they were a bit chintzy with the filling.

I think the gal behind the counter didn't know if I was serious until she looked at my face. But then she graciously responded and obliged me with a big squirt from the pastry bag.

Which made for an interesting sandwich cookie.

In the end, I actually liked the cookie part better than the filling.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Places I wish were in New York: Jin Patisserie

Talk about dessert as art. Kristy Choo's creations are gorgeous. This one here is the Abbot: a honey walnut sponge cake topped with caramel banana and dark chocolate mousse. Ridiculous.
And corn flake cookies? Those I might just have to import those from LA...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Obsession of the week: little things that sparkle

Besides my growing obsession with Obama, I’m nursing an obsession with all the little things that make all the difference: the not-too-sweet honey in Poseidon’s baklava; the perfectly sweet apricot jam on Treat Truck’s jammy cookies; the authentic creaminess in Ronnybrook’s chocolate milk; the rich nuttiness in Van Leeuwen’s pistachio ice cream.

Holly Brubach wrote a piece in the September issue of Gourmet in which she reflects on appreciating small, daily pleasures. In addition to indulging our senses, it keeps us in the present moment.

We should all heed these calls, sometimes silent, sometimes sparkling, of life’s little pleasures.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Jammies and chippers

Seriously. What did we do before these mobile bakeries rolled into town? They dispense childish thrills (like playing Wii or watching Step Brothers) as keenly as heavenly snacks.

Kim Ima’s Treats Truck (named Sugar) is no exception. The shiny silver bullet is a beacon of happiness in midtown’s choked streets, serving up freshly baked cookies, brownies, bars and rice crispy treats. I stood in a line that was at least 15 deep (only two men, but who’s counting?) for my share of sugar.

I tried three sweets from the arsenal, an apricot oatmeal jammy being my favorite. It was chewy, and the oatmeal cookie had a nice nutty flavor that was perfectly complemented by the beautiful, zingy apricot preserves spread on top. Nicely sized, too.

The raspberry brownie was another excellent flavor pairing. (Is there anyone who doesn’t love that combo?) The raspberry jam was a little strong and sweet, but the brownie part was stellar: rich, chewy and chocolaty.

The chocolate chip cookie, “chocolate chipper” in Treats Truck Speak, was solid. It’s tough to beat some of Manhattan’s heavyweights, but this is a good cookie. Or, as the Treats Truck itself proclaims, “Not too fancy, always delicious.”

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The end of cupcakes?

Jennifer 8. Lee, the author of the fabulous Fortune Cookie Chronicles, has a posting on The Times today about cupcakes having reached their tipping point. Naturally, it sparked conversation and a tad of defensiveness from readers. But most comments are just cupcake enthusiasts gushing about their favorite NY brand.

I agree with Nichelle that the Crumbs/Krispy Kreme comparison isn't entirely apt, but I do think these cupcakes have a shelf life. Flash forward to 2010… I think it's going to be all about sandwich cookies.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

5 best ways to pretend summer is going nowhere

You can eat ice cream until the cows come home. Or change it up with a few tastes of summer, from the nostalgic to the effervescent.

S'mores cupcake from Chikalicious Dessert Club:
Campfire memories, transferred to a beautiful, rich urban treat.

Marshmallows from Three Tarts:
Light, frothy and refreshing, perfect for the front stoop.

Strawberries & Cream cupcake from Kumquat:
A springy, fruity, two-bite treat.

Chocolate milk from Ronnybrook:
Chug it like a milkshake, without the brain freeze. Smooth and chocolaty satisfaction.

Mango ice shower from Beard Papa's:
Shaved ice, fruity sauce and chunks of sweet mango. Then again, a cream puff is awfully light, too.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Epic baklava

God, I love mom and pop shops. The other day I went to Poseidon, which has been a family-run business for over 85 years. It has all the tattered, personal charm of your Greek grandmother's kitchen.

I talked to Anthony about his family, the business, high rents in the city—the kind of chit-chat makes you feel connected to the community. This is what a neighborhood joint should be about. Their great goodies don't hurt either.

Instead of a dainty triangle of baklava, Poseidon's portion is like a rock. The top is a thick, multi-layered roof of homemade flakey phyllo dough; the middle is a meaty blend of crushed walnuts and almonds; and the bottom is saturated with honey—the kind that, instead of being overwhelming or cloying, adds just the right touch of sweetness.

629 Ninth Avenue at 44th