Saturday, November 29, 2008

The cookie that crumbles

It was the name that got me: "Barely Baked Cookie." I flipped the Vosges cookie over and, indeed, saw that dark circle in the middle, telltale sign of under-baked batter.

Since I had gone in to have a Bianca Cocoa—hot cocoa made with white chocolate, Australian lemon myrtle, lavender and vanilla—I disregarded my impulse for the classic chocolate chunk (made with single origin Costa Rican chocolate) and got the Bianca cookie.

It was a beast. On a positive note, it had a sweet, gritty texture; lemony, floral notes; and was chockablock with ingredients like coconut shavings.

But these six-ounce cookies (beasts, I tell you) are shipped from Chicago and kept frozen until on display. Maybe it was still a little affected, for it was hard. A tough cookie, you might say, that sent crumbs all over. Good, but not great.

Verdict: Stick to the bonbons (Alex swears by the organic peanut butter bonbons); it's what Vosges does best.

132 Spring Street

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Get the goods, make the goods

Now that you're in a Thanksgiving dinner food coma, shall we contemplate dessert?

These favorite NYC bakers and pastry chefs have new cookbooks out. Drop one in your shopping cart this season.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

He saved room for dessert

NYC Food Guy is no slouch. He covers more ground, eats more meals, and shares more mouth watering reviews and photos than any gastro-New Yorker you know. In other words, he knows his stuff.

So how does he like to top off a great meal?

1) Tuck Shop's Lamingtons & Vanilla Slice - Tuck Shop is the best and only Australian bake shop I know. Lamingtons are two pieces of sponge cake with jam in between, rolled in chocolate and rolled in coconut. Think a gourmet Hostess snowball minus the marshmallow and overwhelming sweetness. When these are fresh, they're awesome.

Vanilla Slice may look like slop but it also may be the best dessert I've ever had. Dense and creamy vanilla custard is sandwiched between two pastry puffs and topped with vanilla icing. It lives in the fridge so the icing ends up resembling that of a black and white cookie. If you like Vanilla, this is your heaven.
Read NYCFoodGuy's full review, packed with photos.

2) Houston's Warm 5-Nut Brownie Sundae - I know, it's a chain restaurant. But this brownie sundae has never disappointed me. Not once. A decadent and fudgey warm brownie is studded with peanuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, walnuts and pecans and laid over a pool of champagne custard. A hearty scoop of Sedutto vanilla ice cream on top is then drizzled with caramel espresso sauce. Drag each bite of the sundae through the custard and "marvel at the knee-buckling harmony of flavors making your palate sing."

3) Levain Bakery's Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie - There are a lot of great chocolate chip cookies in this city, but I always come back to Levain. Undercooked just the right amount, these hulking $3.75 cookies embody all that is good in the world of cookies. They're buttery and fresh. They're firm on the outside and chewy on the inside. They're studded with copious amounts of melty semi-sweet chocolate chips and chopped walnuts, and they taste like they were made by Mom. When warm, I don't see how anyone can physically prevent eating this cookie in its entirety.

Get more deliciousness.

4) Sugar Sweet Sunshine's Banana Pudding - Wow, just wow. If I'm ever on the Lower East Side, not eating at Sugar Sweet Sunshine is just not a possibility. Huge bowls of rich, creamy vanilla pudding are crammed with crushed shards of Nilla wafer and hearty slices of ripe banana. It's really the perfect dessert, sweet but not overly so, with a natural, home cooked flavor. The first five times I ate this, my knees got weak. I've since built up a tolerance. (If only it was the same way with Tequila.) Not only is the tiny bakery filled with cozy couches, but the help—particularly the co-owner, Deb—may be sweeter than the desserts.

Check out the NYCFoodGuy review, featuring a great place for a $20 Rib Platter beforehand.

5) Veniero's Italian Bakery Pignoli Nut Cookies - If you like almond paste (also known as marzipan) and also known as the ingredient that makes those little chocolate-rainbow-jelly brownie type things delicious, then you'll love these cookies. The sweet, chewy marzipan inside these light, airy cookies provides most of the flavor but the crisp, buttery pignoli nuts on top balance things out. I could probably sit down and eat about 10 of them. Take them home and pair them with some vanilla ice cream. You'll thank me later.

Here's the NYCFoodGuy review.

Thanks, Lawrence!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sweet Jesus!

L’Atelier du Chocolat, Bespoke Chocolates, Mast Brothers, Sweetiepie, Lulu's Sweet Apothecary, Momofuku Bakery, East Village Pie Lounge, Maison du Chocolat, plus two new Crumbs, another Magnolia…

Feel the sugar rush yet?

These are all sweet shops about town, newly opened or on the verge. Keep coming back to sample the goods. I, for one, can hardly wait.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Back for sevenths… and eighths

I was kept away from my new favorite cookie... a weeklong business trip (but, while in Toronto, I discovered one of the best chocolatiers ever).

I wasted no time returning to Momofuku this morning. After all, I hadn't sampled the banana cookie yet. (Nor the corn, but I'm saving that for another week.)

Who needs yogurt when you can have warm banana cookies for breakfast?

True to form, the cookie was monstrous, full of flavor, slightly undercooked, and it was oozing butter, leaving a slick residue on my fingertips.

I do love to gush about sweets, but I also have some gripes about the new bakery.

I hate to be one of those bloggers but since they seem to have been taking constructive criticism to heart (they've rearranged the interior layout and, instead of using multiple napkins and paper bags, they're using sanitary gloves and enviro-friendly whopper containers), I've gotta say: their process needs serious attention.

When there are 5 people behind the counter, and 3 people in line, at 9 o'clock in the morning, it shouldn't take 5 minutes to get 2 cookies. It just shouldn't.

But was it worth it? You betcha.

13th and 2nd

Thursday, November 20, 2008

So pretty, so kind

Now through the weekend, scoop up three of these lovelies.

At this wonderful truck.

And help keep more of these trucks cruising New York, picking up food donations for the hungry.

These are the last few days to score Dessert Truck's pomegranate macaroons.

The deal? It's the high season for pomegranates, and always the season for macaroons.

So Dessert Truck and PAMA Pomegranate Liquor teamed up to offer these limited-edition treats, with a portion of the proceeds ($3 for three) going to City Harvest.

They're a little bit sweet, a little bit tart, a little bit boozy, and such a good feeling.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Richie rich on Wall Street

For every chocoholic who worships at the altar of Robert Linxe, take note: you can get your fix of French bonbons at the beautiful new Wall Street boutique.

The two-week-old La Maison du Chocolat is light and airy and has all the exquisite flavors and thrills: dark and milk chocolates, pralines and ganaches, cocoa and espresso. They're all divine. But don't miss the Milk Rigoletto (milk chocolate, caramel and ganache), Salvador (classic raspberry ganache) and Anastasia (buttery smooth almond and hazelnut praline gianduja).

Sad about no Wall Street bonuses? Awww… don't be. Send some world-class chocolate down the hatch.

63 Wall Street

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Best. Cookie. Ever.

This is some serious competition.

I had a Levain cookie Saturday night. And six Momofuku cookies last night—with a little help from my friends (thanks, boys).

Serious competition. Momofuku is making a run for Levain’s title of best cookie in the city.

The blueberry cream is like a buttery blueberry muffin. In cookie form.

The double chocolate—the name says it all.

The cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip is sticky, chewy and crunchy.

The peanut butter is a gut-busting nutty, savory treat.

The compost cookie, chock full of pretzels and chips and butterscotch and coffee, was my least favorite. But still. These cookies are it.

13th and 2nd

Momo’s gonna knock you out

I have to admit: the fawning over David Chang bugs me (Eater). Maybe it’s because I don’t eat pork butt or because I think other NYC chefs are worthy of half the buzz that’s devoted to him. But, man oh man, am I whistling a new tune with his new bakery, dangerously located 250 paces from my apartment.

Fresh bread, cinnamon buns and “volcanoes”—savory treats exploding with gruyere, bacon and caramelized onions—are only half the story.

The three-layer cakes (pistachio, dulce de leche, chocolate chip!) dwarf the super thin pies (brownie pie, blondie pumpkinpie, crack pie!).

And then there are the cookies: double chocolate, corn, peanut butter, snickerdoodles (how I love these unsung heroes – and Momofuku’s are slightly undercooked, so they’re super doughy), blueberry cream, cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip, and the compost cookie: an obscene combination of chocolate and butterscotch chips, pretzels and coffee grounds.

The cookies are big and heavy, fresh and chewy, greasy and satisfying. Absolutely delicious. I'm eating my words.

13th and 2nd

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Please, mess with perfection

Ruby et Violette's chocolate chip cookie is called the "Perfect." And it nearly is. Modestly size. Chewy batter (no sugary grit, but that's okay). And huge, fudgy chocolate chunks. Nice.

But how about a little, I don't know, champagne tossed in the batter? Or dried apple? Or, as is the case with the Monday Night Football flavor, Rice Chex Mix? Seriously. It's a sticky, salty, peanut-y amalgam of yumminess.

All of Ruby et Violette's wonderful, wacky flavors (which change seasonally) are proof that, sometimes, you can mess with perfection.

457 West 50th at 10th Ave

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sweet Freak Smackdown: San Francisco v. New York

New York is the reigning champ of sweets. It’s that easy. But if you have you have to score in another city (that’s not Paris), San Francisco is as good a contender as any. How do the two cities fare in a Sweet Freak Smackdown?

Specialty’s v. Levain

Sigh. There’s nothing better than a whopper of a cookie. Levain takes the cake with its six-ounce beauties. But Specialty’s isn’t far behind.

My love for Specialty’s—in particular, the wheatgerm chocolate chip cookie (just trust me on this one)—was very deep when I lived in San Francisco. It hasn’t waned. That I got to the Battery Street location just when the black and white cookies were pulled warm from the oven only solidified my love for the hippie-ish café.

Verdict: Levain for consistency and quality. Specialty’s for range of flavors (11 of them) and fun.

Tartine Bakery v. City Bakery

These two are different, that’s for sure. Tartine is small, City Bakery is sprawling. Tartine is still firmly entrenched in French pastries, CB has mastered American snacks. Tartine is six-years-old, Maury Rubin served his first tarts in 1990. But they both produce the most mind-blowing baked goods (as well as savories) that warrant the vulture-like fans who pace and scope, pace and scope, waiting a wee table to open so they can sit and feast.

Verdict: Tartine for its bread pudding. City Bakery for its peanut butter cookie.

Bi-Rite Creamery v. il Laboratorio del Gelato

Both of these homegrown gelato shops produce small batches of unique flavors made with the best (best, best) ingredients. As much as I love il Laboratorio, I’ve never had ice cream as good as the salted caramel at Bi-Rite. Never.

Verdict: Give it up for SF.

Recchuiti v. Kee’s

Michael Recchuiti is an exacting chocolatier. So is Kee Ling Tong. Michael’s signature treats are the fleur de sel caramels and s’more bites. Kee’s are the crème brulee truffles and fresh macaroons. Michael has an adorable sliver of a spot in the gorgeous Ferry Building. Kee’s eked out space in western Soho. I could go on. They’re both amazing. But…

Verdict: This one goes to Kee’s.

Fog City News v. Food Emporium

World-class chocolate should be more available. Kudos to Fog City News and Food Emporium/Trump Plaza for doing their part to share the wealth with the masses. Fog City News offers over 100 bars from around the world. Food Emporium for its sheer brazenness of attaching a fine chocolate shop to the smelly

Verdict: Fog City News for its impressive selection. Food Emporium for the brazenness of attaching a fine chocolate shop to a smelly grocery store.


This one is tough. San Francisco has no shortage of kickass sweet shops. I didn’t even mention Miette, Citizen Cake or Bittersweet.

But New York is… New York. Untouchable. Delicious. Divine. From cupcakes at Batch or ChikaLicious Dessert Club to croissants at Patisserie Claude or Amai Bakeshop. From scones at Alice’s Tea Cup to brownies at Baked. From soy desserts at Kyotofu to vegan treats from This Chick Bakes. From cocoa at Jacques Torres to pudding from the Dessert Truck. From Doughnut Plant to Birdbath, Papabubble to Three Tarts, Lady M to Black Hound, Sugar Sweet Sunshine to Two Little Red Hens… okay, it’s not so tough after all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Places I wish were in New York: Tartine Bakery

Words cannot describe my love for this place.

I haven’t even sampled many things from Tartine Bakery. For example, I haven’t tried a croissant or pain au chocolat, both of which are the size of babies’ legs. I haven’t had a slice of Bavarian or hazelnut cake, which are so, so pretty. And I haven’t had an éclair, cookie, macaroon, brownie or scone. I know, I know… what am I waiting for? Good question.

But the two things I have had, the mixed berry bread pudding and now, the banana cream tart, are to die for.

Just look at this tart. The pastry shell is lined with dark chocolate and caramel. Then filled with bananas and pastry cream. And topped with sweet cream and generous shavings of rich chocolate. Needless to say, it’s an oozy, creamy, sweet-savory plate of deliciousness, and a good reason to keep coming back to San Francisco.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The underwhelming chocolate chunk

More and more, I’m realizing the start-up bakeries (Amai, Kumquat, Nine Cakes) are where it’s at. Their small batches, artisinal ingredients, appetite for experimentation and the exquisite treats that, combined, these things yield are nothing short of sublime.

But Bouchon is supposed to be sublime, too. And I figured with the luck I had at Petrossian, the chocolate chunk cookie from Keller’s boulangerie-inspired bakery would also be pretty incredible (like his bouchon).

I have to say, it was unremarkable.

What it did have was an awesome chocolate to batter ratio. And a titch of saltiness, which was nice. But it could use more butter and brown sugar to make it doughier, greasier, chewier and—more sublime.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The mixing bowl: Baked

Anyone with eyeballs and a sweet tooth know that Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of Red Hook’s adorable bakery, Baked, have crazy talent and taste. But now we see their style and senses of humor are pretty delicious, too.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Matt: Easily, hands down, Entenmann's chocolate chip cookies (hey, I didn't know).
Nato: My eyes used to roll into the back of my head when I ate Nutella. It was exotic at the time and I would only be able to eat it when someone brought it back from Italy.

My favorite sweet now is:
Matt: I am a sucker for our brownies with vanilla ice cream.
Nato: Most forms of anything chocolate.

My personal Baked favorite:
Matt: If I am feeling cake, it will always be the Sweet and Salty Cake.
Nato: The chocolate chip cookie is a perennial fave.

What I love about Red Hook is:
Matt: It still has a neighborhood feel and the water views of the city are mesmerizing
Nato: I like our regulars a lot. They are friendly, funny and sometimes I wish I weren't so busy so I could chat with them some more!

Truffles or pralines:
Matt: Truffles all the way. I like pralines, but they are usually too sweet.
Nato: Truffles, hands-down.

White, milk or dark:
Matt: Dark, dark, dark.
Nato: Milk, milk, milk!

Caramel, ganache or cream:
Matt: I am rather ganache crazy.
NATO: You know? I’d have to say caramel. My sweet tooth is very sweet.

The perfect pairing:
Matt: Red wine, Ambien, bath tub.
Nato: Cheese and burger.

I'd love to create a flavor for:
Matt: McDonald's. They mastered the french fry; I will fix their dismal dessert menu.
Nato: Top Pot Doughnuts. I just recently fell in love with them.

Kitchen essentials:
Matt: KitchenAid mixer, whisks, commercial baking sheets.
Nato: I really get a lot of mileage out of my toaster oven, surprisingly. Also, a really good chef’s knife. And lastly, a coffee maker and some really great coffee.

Style essentials:
Matt: I am a minimalist. Nothing too fancy.
Nato: Simple is usually the hardest to do, but always turns out the best.

Pastry chefs I admire:
Matt: I fell in love with one of Nicole Kaplan's desserts....I fell hard.
Nato: Hmmm… tough one. I think Wendy Kromer is pretty amazing as a decorator... I’m very easy to please when it comes to desserts. I even fawn over the Great Wall of Chocolate at P.F. Chang’s.

I'm most inspired when:

Matt: I am a terrible sleeper. I usually start thinking hard around 1 a.m.
Nato: When I have time to stop, step out of the situation and think. If I keep going, I lose steam pretty quickly and have a hard time coming to solutions.

How much is too much?
Matt: I always err on the side of it is always too much.
Nato: I don't like clutter, in my mind or with my physical surroundings. I get too distracted, so I would say too much is the point where things start to look or get too confusing. Keep it simple.

Favorite movie snack:

Matt: M&Ms.
Nato: Those little chocolate covered pretzel balls — Flipz? I don't even know the name, but man, are they good.

Guilty pleasure:
Matt: Day off of work.
Nato: Spending a whole day doing absolutely nothing. Hasn't happened much these days, though.

Other favorites:
Matt: I love me some Las Vegas, Paris, and most books.
Nato: Folksy, pop-y, electronic-y sounding tunes: Iron and Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Tracey Thorn, The Ting Tings, Beirut, Yelle, Adele, Jose Gonzales, and a little old Fleetwood Mac thrown in for good measure. Food: Italian, Mexican, comfort (in that order). Books: My Life in France, and David Sedaris always makes me laugh. 30 Rock. Brilliance. Paris, Amsterdam and, most recently, Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Chicks who bake

Don’t believe vegan baked goods can taste good? Get one of these cupcakes in your mouth.

Usually I'm skeptical of bakers who don't have storefronts. But I sampled some of Jen Houston and Charley Tucker's (of This Chick Bakes) treats, which are distributed to kickass cafes throughout the city, and my belly and I were happy.

The vegan cupcake was fresh-from-a-bake-sale moist and delicious (not soggy), with just a thin layer of frosting with crunchy dot sprinkles.

The raisin coconut oatmeal cookie (not vegan) was a cinnamon-y cookie, filled with chewy raisins, coconut shavings and chunks of semi-sweet chocolate. It was sort of like an "everything but the kitchen sink" cookie. Dee-lish.

And the café latte cookie was pretty mild and savory. Except that giant coverage of white chocolate that sweetened it up.

This chick bakes. And she bakes well.

Check out 71 Irving, Joe's, Gimme Coffee & 88 Orchard

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Love and history

In the words of Kool & the Gang…

There's a party going on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you

Come on now
Let's all celebrate and have a good time


We gonna celebrate and have a good time
It's time to come together
It's up to you, what's your pleasure
Everyone around the world

Come on!

Walking around Manhattan today is amazing. It really is like a party. I luvit, I luvit, I luvit.

Join the party and vote!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cupcake heir

If, as Jennifer 8. Lee recently suggested in the New York Times, the cupcake is going to go the way of Krispy Kreme, what, dear God, will replace it? Here are five worthy contenders.

Sandwich cookie
Why? It's different from an ordinary cookie. Duh, it's twice the fun. Plus, whatever's sandwiched in the center has the same sugary appeal of a cupcake's frosting. It could be caramel (Treats Truck), peanut butter (Bouchon Bakery) or your basic vanilla cream (Milk & Cookies).

Caky, fudgy, transportable, easy to eat, decadent, classic, a throwback to childhood... really, what doesn't the brownie have going for it? Especially when you think about Baked's amazing specimen with caramel and fleur de sel, or dried cherries inside a chocolatey Fat Witch brownie.

This retro throwback is getting gussied up with all kinds of gourmet flavors and labels. Three Tarts makes sublime treats ranging from rosemary to espresso, master chocolatier Pierre Marcolini offers chocolate-covered marshmallows and, yes, even Trader Joe's is on it, serving up vanilla and peppermint varieties of the fluffy snack.

Chocolate chip cookie
Ah, where to begin. A good old American classic, like the cupcake, the chocolate chip cookie never gets old. Never. I prefer them in their purest form (hel-lo, Jacques Torres), but I won't turn one down if it has nuts (Petrossian), champagne (Ruby et Violette) or double the chocolate (Levain).

Red velvet cake
Like the cupcake, red velvet is basically cake dolled up differently. Instead of personalized pieces of a whole cake like the cupcake, red velvet claims its stylish independence with food coloring (Amy's Bread, Sweet Revenge) or, in the best samples, beet juice (Daisy May's).

Who should inherit the declining cupcake's adoration? Weigh in with your opinion.