Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New York’s best sweets by neighborhood

When you analyze the sweet life in a city like New York, you have to think holistically. There are so many ridiculously delicious spots, it’s just not a matter of picking what is the best in any given neighborhood. You have to consider the whole landscape: the balance of cookies to chocolates to cupcakes. You might have four favorite cupcake cafes, but that doesn’t mean they’re better than your favorite chocolatier. Balance, my friends, balance.

It’s with this very serious and incredibly scientific approach that I have developed the following list—New York’s best sweets by neighborhood.

East Village
My love for Momofuku cookies is no secret. But given the number of cookies on my list, the best sweet in the East Village goes to Bespoke Chocolates’ insanely fresh, rich and inventive chocolate bonbons.

West Village
I’m getting a lot of important croissant-sampling experience over here in Paris. It only reaffirms my belief in Patisserie Claude having the best croissant in the city.

Lower East Side

I’m going with the Ooey Gooey cupcake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine over Doughnut Plant. Doughnuts don’t have frosting.


Kee’s. Though whether for the heady homemade chocolates or the wonderfully flavorful macaroons, I’m not sure.


Peanut butter cookie at City Bakery. It’s that easy.

When I met Sandra Palmer and Kiyomi Toda-BurkeI from Three Tarts, I became a convert. This was reinforced with every subsequent visit for a mini parfait or bite-sized bread pudding.

I’m really not a phyllo dough girl. I generally like my sweets made with lots of flour, sugar and dairy and topped with more sugar and/or chocolate (how do I not have diabetes??). But Poseidon Bakery’s baklava is so heavy and sweet with honey and nuts, it’s a must-have.

Upper East Side
I’m going with the mille crepes cake at Lady M, based on texture alone. Otherworldly.

Upper West Side
Eight ounces of cookie heaven: the walnut chocolate chip cookie from Levain.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fly me to the moon

I’ve always loved Patrick Roger’s chocolates and his chocolate sculptures. But with the window display at his new Faubourg Saint-Honoré boutique, my appreciation is going to new heights (hardy har har).

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon, he’s whipped up this clever little chocolate sculpture. My American pride prompted me to celebrate with a few bonbons—among them, lemon-basil, passionfruit, salted caramel and a couple good old pralinés.

199 Faubourg Saint-Honoré

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Une bonne idée

Ever since I moved to Paris, I’ve been wanting to try Du Pain et des Idées. I had read that the chausson aux pommes was especially delicious and heard from numerous people that it’s one of the best boulangeries in the city. Indeed, Christophe Vasseur, the former fashion sales guy turned artisinal baker who started the boulangerie seven years ago, was named best baker last year.

The problem is, it’s only open Monday to Friday. So it took me awhile to get there.

But, not only did I finally get there and it was everything I had heard about and dreamt about and more. But I went with Adorable Isa because her sweet copain, Alexi, is working there. So in addition to sampling bread, a croissant, a chausson aux pommes and an escargot amandes—puff pastry rolled with delicious almond paste and cream—lucky me, I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen.

Du Pain et des Idées is an authentic boulangerie—that is, it’s focused on bread and a select few seasonal tarts and viennoiseries, rather than cakes and pastries that entail tons of sugar and chocolate and pretty trimmings. This is the kind of place that does a few things and does them extremely well.

Its pain des amis, for example, is a wonderfully thick, doughy-on-the-inside, crusty-on-the-edges bread. I haven’t had bread like this here in Paris, and it is, in a word, incredible.

We got to see the raw dough, and a giant slab baking in the oven.

The ovens are stacked, with the hottest ones lowest down. The pain des amis baked in the bottom while the more traditional baguettes were a couple drawers above.

Look at Alexi go!

It was a small thrill to see an authentic French boulangerie’s kitchen, never mind one of the best in the city. The entire staff was so warm and welcoming—something that is truly extraordinary about the French. They are proud of what they do and happy to share it with you.

After Isa and I split a croissant, I took my chausson and escargot home.

Look at the artistry—there are a million layers of pastry. Mon dieu. It’s a good thing this place isn’t open on the weekends. I think I would give up everything and just exist on bread and pastries for awhile.

Un million de remerciements, Isa et Alexi!

34 rue Yves Toudic

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A new taste: la bressane

Paris is just filled with discoveries. I haven’t even tired of the pain au raisin or the croissants. I have yet to try a chocolate éclair or apple turnover. But there, in Eric Kayser, I saw a pastry I’ve never seen before and had to have it: the bressane.

I asked if it was like a beignet; the vendeuse told me it was like a brioche. In fact, this round, flat pastry topped with cream, sugar and, in these cases, fruit, is from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes.

The strawberry bressane was creamy and sweet.

The apricot bressane was tart with a modest dusting of pistachio pieces.

I can’t wait to see what other pastries I have yet to discover.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The croissant Nazi?

I don’t know about that. After reading about the best croissant in the city, I had to go check out this boulangerie on Ile Saint Louis. That the proprietor was said to be a cantankerous guy, fiercely protective of his goods and pride, made the intrigue that much greater.

But I witnessed no attitude. In fact, Hédi Habhab exhibited the patience of a saint—or at least more than I ever could have—as the tourists tromped in without enough French to say, “Un croissant, s’il vous plait.” I thought I was going to get a side of “mechant” with my baked good. Mais, non.

But what’s important is that the reports on his croissants were accurate: big, buttery, flakey and delicious. And they’re priced right at 90 centimes. I found mine a titch warm at 9 a.m. and weeping through the bag.

(Bonus points for his American patriotism.)

78, rue Saint Louis en l’Ile

Monday, July 06, 2009

Crushing on Pierre

Just look at these lovelies.

No wonder Pierre Hermé has been called “The Picasso of Pastry,” “The King of Modern Pâtisserie,” “The Pastry Provocateur,” and “The Magician with Tastes.” He’s the rock star of the French pastry world.

Pierre was the fourth generation of his family to make magic in the kitchen At the age of 14, Gaston Lenotre of the famed Lenotre Patisserie (a post to come in the not-too-distant future, bien sur), asked Pierre’s father if he could apprentice Pierre. So at about the same age that I started my illustrious career at Dairy Queen, Pierre began his in the French pastry world.

Five years later, he was the head pastry chef at Lenotre. Then he went on to Fauchon, and later still, he opened the Ladurée location on the Champs-Elysée. Not a bad CV. Now Pierre Hermé has seven boutiques in Japan and three here in Paris, one of which I became intimately familiar with last summer.

Everyone adores his macarons. With flavors like Campari and grapefruit and vanilla and olive oil, I am a fan, too. But given the choice of a Saturday afternoon indulgence, his cakes are just too exquisite to bypass.

This time, I got the La Maude Individuel.

I was seduced by the creamy-looking pillow atop the crunchy-looking shortbread. The creamy appearance was actually caramelized crème chiboust, which had a custardy taste and texture. Between it and the crust were some wonderful roasted peaches.

The use of cinnamon throughout was a little heavy-handed and overpowered the dessert for me. But of course I ate the whole thing.

72 rue Bonaparte

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Pain au raisin: who knew?

I’ve always been a chocolate girl. As far as I’m concerned, anything with chocolate supercedes anything without it, including a croissant. Don’t get me wrong. A killer croissant is one of life’s best offerings. But at the end of the day, my heart belongs to pain au chocolat.

Then the pain au raisin came long.

It was about a month ago, and I had decided that I needed a little something for breakfast on my way to work. I stopped at Stohrer, a gorgeous patisserie that was founded in 1730 by King Louis XV’s pastry chef, Nicolas Stohrer, and which often gets the nod for the city’s best chocolate éclair (I’m waiting for a special occasion to try that one). I guess it was because I could tell myself it was healthier to eat a pastry with raisins rather than a pastry with chocolate at 8 o’clock in the morning that I, on a whim, piped up, “Un pain au raisin, s’il vous plait.”

It was otherworldly and I chalk it up to one word: tiède. The pain au raisin that I received—and promptly demolished—was still a bit warm from the oven. This meant that the butter and pastry cream or whatever was baked into it made the dough soft and springy, sweet and savory, melty and just this side of rich. It put a spring in my step all day.

51 rue Montorgueil