Friday, February 27, 2009

I forgot how good vegan can be

After seeing a spread of This Chick Bakes cookies at Joe, I had a hankering for one. I went for the vegan ginger molasses.

Moist and chewy, with a kick from the ginger and crunch from the sugar granules sprinkled on top, it hit the sweet spot as good as any traditional cookie could.

This chick can bake.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Best recession special

Like many others in these gloom and doom times, I am not giving up my splurges on sweets. I take too much comfort in them.

But I also get that a $4 cupcake or $5 cup of cocoa is stretching the concept of "affordable luxury." Especially when you indulge every day like, um, me.

So I was especially thrilled to see the peanut butter cookie back at City Bakery. I had a cocoa date with Emmanuelle there and, in all my ladylike modesty, almost skipped a cookie. Thank goodness I didn't. I had forgotten how creamy-crunchy and heavenly this little beauty is. And, for just 75¢, an absolute must-eat.

Best cookie ever? That's a tight race. But best peanut butter cookie? Absolutely.

3 West 18th Street near Fifth Ave

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The mixing bowl: Amy Scherber

Not only do I feel an affinity for Amy Scherber because of our shared name—which is also the name of her bakery, which is the first reason I went years ago, but now I just go for the great, big baked goods—but also because she builds her travel itineraries around finding the best sweets in town.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Lemon meringue pie

My favorite sweet now is:
A fabulous lemon curd tart, or devil’s food cake with chocolate frosting and vanilla ice cream, or a hot fudge sundae.

My personal Amy's Bread favorite:
Definitely Devil’s Food with Chocolate Silk Frosting

What I love about Hell's Kitchen is:
It is our “original” location and it has a fabulous old New York wood bay window. It feels like a place from another era. The neighborhood is very modern now, and busy, so it is fun to have that “old place” in the area that everyone knows about.

Truffles or pralines:
Truffles are my favorite.

White, milk or dark:
Dark chocolate, for sure!

Caramel, ganache or cream:
Salty caramel, or ganache are both wonderful.

The perfect pairing:
A tender, not too sweet shortcake biscuit with fresh, local strawberries and unsweetened whipped cream; gingerbread cake with lemon sauce and unsweetened whipped cream; sweet and tart, or rich plus salty.

I'd love to create a flavor for:
A new muffin for President Obama.

Kitchen essentials:
I just love tongs and use them for everything—and my digital gram scale. I also can’t live without my super sharp, Japanese serrated bread knife.

Style essentials:
If I am wearing a beautiful pair of boots, a decent pair of jeans, a stylish, fitted top, and interesting artist-made jewelry, I am happy.

Pastry chefs I admire:
I admire almost all the pastry chefs I meet because training and managing a staff of people on a sugar high is a huge challenge and takes great talent, not to mention being good at making pastry.

I'm most inspired when:
I try delicious food while I am on vacation. I can taste it better then.

How much is too much?
It’s more fun to try lots of small tastes than a huge meal. A giant steak with gigantic side dishes is too much.

Favorite movie snack:
Popcorn shared with my 4-year-old son. He holds the container.

Guilty pleasure:
A chocolate hazelnut biscotti with a well made single espresso at 4 p.m.

Other favorites:
Traveling abroad; visiting bakeries around the world; visiting playgrounds in foreign cities and observing “kid culture” with my 4-year-old son; running in Central Park in the spring; dining in Japan.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The red, original Kookaburra

I went to Russ & Daughters for my dried pineapple movie snack (saw Two Lovers… not bad). I love this place as much as the next New Yorker and always want to lick the window when I walk by and see the dried fruit piled high. But I have to say, the dried pineapple—as fresh and chewy as it is—is just a titch too sugary for me.

But while I was there, I saw they have Kookaburra by the ounce. These are great, big, thick heavenly nibs of strawberry licorice from Australia. You can buy packs of the stuff at certain Duane Reades but they're not always easy to find. Besides, ordering just a few pieces at a time is one way to not demolish an entire bag.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sweet Freak Smackdown: East vs. West

The Willage has always been my go-to neighborhood for sweets. But, like a dark horse, the East Village has come from nowhere with chocolate, cookies and cupcakes of heroic portions and flavors.

So, which side of town is the best sweets destination? A Sweet Freak Smackdown:

The dessert bar & spin-off:
p*ong and Batch v. ChikaLicious and ChikaLicious Dessert Club

I've always been a sucker for Pichet Ong's sweet-savory combinations. It started at p•ong with a three-course dessert-as-dinner feast: a walnut-crusted Stilton cheese soufflé with basil-arugula ice cream, a chevre cheesecake croquette and a malted chocolate Bavarian tart served with crunchy caramelized bananas. And my love for his cupcakes—carrot salted caramel, chocolate dragon devil's food cake and others—is no secret. I have an affliction.

But at the original dessert bar, ChikaLicious, Chika and Don Tillman are hardly slouches. Their three-course prix fixe menu starts with an amuse, ends with petit fours, and includes your choice of a gorgeous dessert like brown sugar panna cotta served with grape sorbet, warm chocolate tart with pink peppercorn ice cream and red wine sauce, or fromage blanc island cheese cake served atop a mound of shaved ice. And, knowing that Sweet Freaks sometimes like a treat on the run, their Dessert Club offers heavenly cupcakes, bread puddings and chocolate chip cookies.

Verdict: West Village
At the end of the day, my heart belongs to Pichet.

Cupcake central:
Magnolia v. Butter Lane

We can thank Magnolia (sincerely or facetiously) for taking us on this national cupcake binge. When I first moved to Manhattan, there were no annoying lines at the West Village bakery (just cranky employees) and I quickly became a fan of the ultra sweet pastel cupcakes. Then I got a little sugared out.

Thank goodness new cupcake stations, like the East Village's Butter Lane, have toned down the sweetness and introduced super fine ingredients like French buttercream, farm fresh eggs and pure vanilla. This three-month-old cupcake-only bakery does the neighborhood proud.

Verdict: East Village
Butter Lane kicks butt.

Cookie monsters:
Milk & Cookie v. Momofuku

I really think cookies are my all-time favorite sweet. Classic chocolate chip is hard to beat, but I'm always hungry for experimentation.

I love that Milk & Cookies lets you create your own flavors with killer ingredients like hazelnuts from Bazzini and E.Guittard chocolate, not to mention cappuccino chips, M&Ms and cranberries. Their variety is impressive; quality, top-notch; and the place is just cute.

But, um, Momofuku? Best. Cookies. Ever.

Verdict: East Village
Momofuku's blueberry cream and cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip cookies seal the deal.

For the chocoholic:
Pure Dark & Li-Lac v. Bespoke & Bond Street

Both Villages have seen a lot of chocolate action lately. Alison Nelson's Chocolate Bar spent seven years on Eighth Avenue before high rents last year sent her across town to East Seventh Street. But the East wasn't as kind and just six months later, she closed. Sad, but… she's going to reopen right across the street from her original shop in the West Village.

In the meantime, Pure Dark opened on Bleecker (house specialty: create your own bark with mix-ins like cacao nibs, mango and macadamia nuts), joining Willage staple Li-Lac.

On the eastern side of town, Bond Street Chocolate, home of the gold-dusted deities and tequila truffles, opened on Fourth Street, followed by Bespoke, where you can get the most divine melt-in-your-mouth truffles.

Verdict: East Village
Between Bespoke's strawberry balsamic truffle and Bond Street's chocolate-covered corn nuts, I have my sweet, salty and sour chocolate needs met.

Overall verdict:
East beats West!

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's (ahem) a banana cookie

I always walk by Something Sweet and am drawn to the window by the M&M cookies and fondant-frosted cakes. And yet I know I will not get something better than, say, the cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip cookie at nearby Momofuku or a beautiful chocolate buttercream cupcake from Butter Lane. So I was happy to try something totally unique to this old-school bakery: the homemade banana cookie.

It's pretty basic: a ripe banana resting on a thick biscuit cookie and topped with semi-sweet chocolate. It looks laughably obscene.

But it's tasty. Truth be told, the cookie lends a nice crunchy texture but doesn't improve upon the perfect pairing of chocolate and banana. I'm such a sucker for that combo that, after a few bites, I just removed the biscuit altogether and ate the banana with the rich, frozen chocolate.

177 First Avenue at 11th Street

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In the chocolate and cheese aisles

After chocolate, cheese is one of my deepest loves. So a trip to Murray's is almost as sacred as a trip to Bespoke, Kee's or Teuscher.

As smitten as I usually am by the cheese (drunken goat, robioloa, manchego), this time I couldn't peel myself from the sweets shelves.

Knipschildt, Vere, Scharffen Berger… all oh-so tempting. But my two favorite finds:

Pralus Crème de Noisette (a better version of Nutella), brilliantly packaged in a squeezable tube. The better to squirt a little on toast, in batter, or directly in the mouth.

And Murray's own Ring Ding. Just check out that copy! Some of my favorite words: stuffed, tucked, luscious and fudgy. They make me very happy.

254 Bleecker between Sixth and Seventh Aves

Monday, February 16, 2009

The mixing bowl: Katherine Thompson

Katherine Thompson is a lucky woman. Not only is she married to dell'anima and L'Artusi executive chef Gabe Thompson, she's the pastry chef for both of these divine restaurants. She clearly has a privileged palate and shares her love for coconut, cream, olive oil cake and more.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Growing up my mom's friend was a pastry chef and made the most amazing thick, dark and dense chocolate pate. I was obsessed with it. I've tried to recreate it, but my versions don't do it justice.

My favorite sweet now is:
Banana split at Blue Ribbon. No frills. Exactly as it should be.

Favorite dessert:
The olive oil cake at L'Artusi. Gabe convinced me to put it on the menu. At first no one ordered it, and then it took off. It is simple and tasty too.

Favorite thing about the West Village:
The people that live in the neighborhood. Gabe and I have met so many wonderful people here that have welcomed us into their lives. It feels like home here.

Truffles or pralines:
Pralines. Love the crunch.

White, milk or dark:
Dark with lots of salt.

Caramel, ganache or cream:
Love them all. Cream is probably my favorite. I love the contrast of unsweetened whipped cream with a sweet dessert.

The perfect pairing:
Sour cream coffee cake with coffee.

I'd love to create new flavors for:
Coconut. After hating coconut for my entire life, I realized that I now am completely obsessed with coconut. I can't get enough.

Kitchen essentials:
My sous chef, Jenny Lee. She rocks!

Style essentials:
Keep it simple.

Pastry chefs I admire:
Tai Chopping. She taught me everything.

I'm most inspired when:
My mom and I talk about food. She is a pastry chef too and always has good ideas.

How much is too much?
Sugar can be overdone. I'm not a fan of overly sweet desserts.

Favorite movie snack:
Popcorn with tons of fake butter and M&M's mixed into the bag.

Guilty pleasure:
Freshly spun ice cream or gelato. There is nothing better.

Other favorites:
Celebrity gossip

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chocolate heaven

I'd heard about Food Emporium's vast Chocolate Shop and yet couldn't bring myself to believe it would be anything extraordinary. Since I'm the first to admit when I'm wrong, I must admit: I was wrong. Very, very wrong. This place is chocolate heaven.

Of course the two bars I was looking for weren't there (Vosges Enchanted Mushroom and Zotter Horse's Milk and Berries - don't ask). But seemingly everything else is.

Fauchon, Michel Cluizel, Dolfin, Vere, Galler, Chuao, Chocolove, Scharffen Berger, Cote d'Or, El Rey, Valrhona, Michael Recchiuti, Dagoba, Amedei… chocolate heaven, for sure.

(Hi, Adrienne!)

1175 Third Avenue between 68th and 69th

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thanks for the love

Sweet Freak has received lots of shout outs in the blogosphere and some verbal and written messages of fandom and support (especially you, El!). On this day 'o love—which, for the record, I think is a great excuse for indulging in expensive chocolate, but otherwise utterly silly—I just wanted to say thanks. Bisous.

Friday, February 13, 2009

V-Day countdown: Jacques Torres

We can't forget about Mr. Chocolate. There have been so many exciting indie chocolate shop openings (Nunu, Bond Street, Bespoke) that Jacques Torres feels practically as huge as Hershey's. But his bonbons are still to die for.

Skip the Valentine's chocolate lips and raspberry body paint (or… don't) and bring home some classics to your lovebug.

350 Hudson at King

285 Amsterdam between 73rd and 74th

66 Water Street, Dumbo

Thursday, February 12, 2009


As Sweet Freaks know, Ben & Jerry's created "Yes Pecan!" ice cream for Obama last month. Yum, yay, love it.

What flavor would best commemorate George W.? Here are some responses from the world wide interweb:

- Grape Depression
- Abu Grape
- Cluster Fudge
- Nut'n Accomplished
- Iraqi Road
- Chock 'n Awe
- WireTapioca
- Impeach Cobbler
- Guantanmallow
- imPeachmint
- Good Riddance You Lousy Motherfucker... Swirl
- Heckuvajob Brownie
- Neocon Politan
- Rocky Road to Fascism
- The Reese's-cession
- Cookie D'oh!
- The Housing Crunch
- Nougalar Proliferation
- Death by Chocolate... and Torture
- Credit Crunch
- Country Pumpkin
- Chunky Monkey in Chief
- George Bush Doesn't Care About Dark Chocolate
- WMDelicious
- Chocolate Chimp
- Bloody Sundae
- Caramel Preemptive Stripe
- I broke the law and am responsible for the deaths of thousands...with nuts

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Good golly, Grandaisy

I love a good sandwich, and Grandaisy's are supposed to be great. But at nine in the morning, it's all about the breakfast sweets.

I went to the new Tribeca location of Grandaisy (apparently I've been totally out to lunch and didn't know the old Sullivan Street Bakery is now a Grandaisy) and got a slab (a slab, I tell you! Look at that photo!) of banana walnut bread. It was a decadent way to start the day.

Chockablock with walnuts, the only thing I'd ask more from this sweet loaf is a stronger banana flavor. But the big candied walnuts on top made up for it.

250 West Broadway at Beach

Monday, February 09, 2009

V-Day countdown: Bespoke Chocolates

These heart-shaped bonbons from East Village newcomer Bespoke Chocolates are on the menu year-round. But they're perfect for Valentine's.

Tart passion fruit is tempered with a little butter, vanilla and Venezuelan white chocolate. They're crisp but creamy and wonderfully sweet.

6 Extra Place off First Street, between Bowery and 2nd Ave

Sunday, February 08, 2009

V-Day countdown: Roni-Sue

Rhonda Kave has been dreaming up wonderful homemade truffle flavors on the Lower East Side for a couple years now, and she has a seemingly infinite supply of creativity. And good taste.

Last year for Valentine's, she created red and white rose truffles. At their centers, they both have a beautifully blended ganache of rose liqueur, fresh-dried rose petals, rose-hip marmalade, rose petal jam and rose syrup. The ganache for the red rose truffles is made with dark chocolate, while the white rose uses, you guessed it, white chocolate. Buy a dozen of either (they're both wonderfully sweet), and $5 goes to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Essex Street Market, Essex Street at Delancey

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The curious case of the shrinking cupcake

It used to be that Amy's cupcakes were so big, you couldn't fit your mouth around one of them. This was good for gluttonous instincts (guilty). But not so good if you were trying to show a little dignity while chowing down.

But look at this: Amy's cupcakes are now much smaller. In fact, they barely peep out of their liners.

The spendthrift part of me found this disappointing at first. Like I was getting gypped. But the reality is, we don't need softball-sized cupcakes. If Amy can help us with portion control, it's something our dignity and our butts should thank her for. Besides, the uber-moist cake and light buttercream frosting are still divine. Not too sweet. And now, just the right size.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Behold, Bespoke is open

Rachel and Gil are ready! The city was kind enough to finally hand over those permits so us chocoholics can get our fix at the lovely new Bespoke Chocolates. All I have to say is: get ready, people.

These truffles are some of the best I have ever eaten (though Mr. B's birthday bonbons were pretty crazy, and I still put Kee's on a pedestal, and then there was Paris…). But. But, but, but.

The strawberry balsamic truffle is made with strawberry puree, eight-year-old La Vecchia Dispensa Italian balsamic vinegar and 66% dark chocolate. Then it's dusted with freeze-dried strawberry powder. Heaven.

A simple 70% Columbian dark chocolate truffle (pictured here) is impossibly creamy — a real melt-in-your-mouth gem.

And Rachel's signature pretzel-covered sea salted caramel is crazy, with crackly, salty pretzel bits coating the chocolate shell and caramel center. Insler suggests popping the whole thing in your mouth since “it’s really liquidy caramel inside.”

As amazing as these truffles are, I can't wait until they unveil their homemade hazelnut spread (better than Nutella?!) and chocolate bars.

6 Extra Place off First Street, between Bowery and 2nd Ave

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fudgy and free

Baked goods have a way of making people feel better. Especially when they're free. So if you're out indulging in retail therapy (or torturing yourself by "just looking") at Henri Bendel this month, beat it to the third floor. Whisper the words “Brownie Bailout” and the fine folks at Alison Nelson's Chocolate Bar will give you a free brownie. Seriously.

Mondays through Thursdays, 3 -8 p.m.
712 Fifth Avenue, 3rd floor

Monday, February 02, 2009

V-Day countdown: Vere

I love that a gazillion different studies have proven dark chocolate's health benefits (lower blood pressure, improved blood flow, reduced cholesterol levels, etc., etc.). And that a company like Vere (started by Kathy Moskal, who, back in the day co-founded Hue tights, ladies) espouses health and deliciousness.

A few things to note about their chocolate:

• It's 70% and 75% cacao content chocolate made from single varietal heirloom "flavor beans".

• Chocolate bars are USDA Certified Organic.

• There are no artificial preservatives, additives, chemicals or sugar.

And, all of this good stuff is being wrapped into their special Valentine's chocolates. Check out their solid hearts in three amazing flavors: raspberry, coconut and fig & fennel. Yes, please!

12 West 27th Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway, 6th Floor