Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December Tour: Chocolate, more chocolate and even more chocolate—say Hallelujah!

’Tis the season for offering great, big, decadent boxes of chocolate. And one little stretch on Faubourg Saint-Honoré in the eighth arrondisement serves up a gorgeous selection of the best bonbons.

Starting with Neuhaus (189 Faubourg Saint-Honoré). For over 150 years, this Belgian chocolatier has been peddling its pralines, and they happen to be some of my favorite treats in the world. So rich and creamy, so nutty and thick, each one is a magnificent dessert. If only I could stop at one…

It’s not much easier to resist the temptations at Patrick Roger’s fourth boutique in the city (199 Faubourg Saint-Honoré). House specialties include chocolate-covered caramelized almonds, cubes of rich praline nougatine, and pristine bonbons made with cheeky ingredients like basil, oatmeal, tonka bean and Creole rum.

Keep going up the street to the granddaddy of Parisian chocolate shops, La Maison du Chocolat (225 Faubourg Saint-Honoré). While you could sink your teeth into a sumptuous chocolate éclair, chocolate tart, or chocolate macaron, hop in line and order up a customized box of ganaches and pralines. And don’t miss the plain truffles.

After all that exertion, reward yourself with a lovely dessert across the street at Mariage Frères (260 Faubourg Saint-Honoré,). The Happy Day cheesecake is made with their classic Wedding Imperial tea and caramelized apples. The Russian Kiss is panna cotta with Russian Kiss tea, dark chocolate mousse and a gelée d’orange. But, given the season, I’d go with the Hallelujah!, a dark chocolate fondant cake infused with their special Christmas teas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yuletide logs

They are everywhere here in Paris: Christmas logs of individual and ginormous proportions. Christmas logs of mocha, vanilla and raspberry. Christmas logs adorned with butterflies, mushrooms and children’s balloons. They are France’s Bûche de Noel and they are something to behold (and dig into).

The traditional dessert is generally made with Genoese sponge cake, flavored with liquor and covered with butter cream. And, as you can, the pastry chefs go to town with the decorations: mushrooms made of meringue, holly made with marzipan, fresh berries and macarons, powdered sugar to create a snowy effect…

Often the bûches are served with cake cut off from one side and set askew to resemble small branches. They can actually be a little garish. But they’re still delicious.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Spot on cupcakes and dessert

I flew 3600 miles for one of Pichet’s cupcakes. And was richly rewarded with cheesecake, chocolate ganache and semifreddo.

I was crushed when Batch and p*ong closed. Crushed. My favorite cupcake in the world, the carrot salted caramel cupcake, gone. Ovaltine, lychee and huckleberry surprises on the dessert menu, no more.

But say hallelujah. Pichet opened a new dessert bar in the East Village, Spot, and I was so happy to catch him there when I was home in New York.

I dragged Bennie along with me; my perfect partner in crime. As soon as we sunk our teeth into the cupcakes, he said, “Forget the flavors—the cupcake itself is so much better than a Magnolia cupcake.”
Of course he’s right. We sampled the mocha maldon salt caramel and the vanilla caramel Vietnamese coffee cupcakes (along with the coconut macaroon nutella almond bar, just for kicks. Anything with Nutella is a must-try).

The cake was so moist, the flavors were potent and the frosting was super generous. Pichet’s cupcakes never disappoint.

But he wouldn’t let it rest there; he sent out other goodies to try.

The soft cheesecake, elegantly spilling out of a highball, with huckleberry compote, crushed walnuts and lemon foam.

The white miso semifreddo, a surprising, sweet-savory plate of moist cake, flavorful olive oil, raspberry sorbet and almonds.

And lastly, the uber rich chocolate ganache cake, served with green tea ice cream, crackly caramel crunches and Pichet’s patented malted chocolate (also on the cupcake) bits.

Maybe I’ll have to fly back again for the imminent opening of Village Tart.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Baby brownies

Best brownie ever? I surely wouldn’t go that far. But when your hotel offers turndown service with a nice two-bite Fat Witch brownie, you can’t complain. At least I didn’t.

I was surprised and a little sad that, instead of going across the street to City Girl Café for their decadent Valrhona brownies, 60 Thompson scoops up these babies from across town at the Chelsea Market.

So in addition to testing out new chocolate chip cookies and indulging at Pichet Ong’s new dessert bar, Spot (more on those later), I plunked myself down for a few bites of baked goodness every day during my short but sweet stay at the hotel.

The brownie fared better than the blondie with a dense, undercooked middle (the way I like ’em).

The blondie had the chocolate chip bonus, but were a bit on the dry, crumbly side.

Next time I’m in town, I’ll have to give some of the other flavors—available only in full size—a shot.

It's only fair that I try the walnut, caramel and spicy brownies before denying Fat Witch the best brownie title.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Parisian douceurs, New York style

The grass is always greener and the sweets, sweeter, when you’re away from your home territory. Here are five sweet spots in New York where I’m indulging in Parisian douceurs.

Michel Cluizel
The master is back in NYC after closing shop in ABC last year. Now you can sink your teeth into a cup of cocoa or a grand cru chocolate bar at his new boutique at Fifth and 47th.

Or scoop up some artisinal chocolates instead. Kee Ling Tong puts the same meticulous care into her insanely delicious bonbons as she does her homemade macarons. You just can’t go wrong.

Ceci Cela
Anyone who’s ever had a croissant from this Nolita darling—be in butter, almond or pain au chocolat—knows they’re the real deal.

Butterfield Market
Payard, lost and found! While the patisserie sadly closed earlier this year, you can still get Francois’ exquisite French éclairs—or go whole hog with the buche de Noel—at this Upper East Side market.

Thé Adoré
I love this little spot on 13th that always goes under the radar. Once you step inside the narrow salon de thé and get a gander at the pretty fruit tarts, you might as well be in Paris.