Sunday, March 23, 2008

Peep, peep

I’m not really sure what the connection between Jesus Christ and the Easter Bunny is, but I do find it curious that Jesus and Peeps were both born in towns called Bethlehem.

And it’s strangely fantastic how everyone loves a Peep. This year, Jacques Torres honored the holy marshmallow creations by enrobing them in dark chocolate. You might think they taste just like chocolate-covered marshmallows. But there are two distinct differences.

One, those gritty bits of sugar that coat a Peep add extra chemical-y sweetness and a nice crunchy texture. And two, it’s Jacque Torres dark chocolate, which is of the highest order. Not unlike both Jesus and the Easter Bunny being equally adored on this day, the chocolate-covered Peeps are an unexpected marriage that works despite the odds.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Salty sweet

How about this sweet-salty thing?

Next to lavender and honey, sea salt seems to be the ingredient of the season (smoked salt truffles at Kee's, salted caramel bonbons at Chocolate Bar, chocolate caramel sea salt tarts at How Sweet It Is — dig in.).

Baked's got the goods, too.

In addition to super flavors like peanut butter, spicy and the good old classic deep dark brownie, there's a sweet & salty brownie that's infused with caramel and fleur de sel.

The fudgey brownie is sprinkled with large flecks of sea salt, creating an irresistible punctuated texture, and putting those taste buds to work. Even though the sweet and salty taste buds are both concentrated at the front of your tongue, the combination creates a sensory experience that plumbs the depths of taste appreciation: rich, bitter, thick, chocolaty, sonorous. Another bite of happiness.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Double shot on Sixth

It’s so nice when you wander around your slice of the city and discover new little eateries with yummy little snacks. After picking up some cranberry pecan bread from the farmer’s market this morning, I happened upon the 2+ month-old Gusto Organics and the not-yet 2 week-old Royale Café on Sixth Avenue.

Inside Gusto, I was torn between a pastelera, a modest-sized pastry with a vanilla cream in the center, and a madgalena, a traditional Argentine sandwich cookie. I must have appeared to be in agony because the incredibly nice guy behind the counter gave me 2 for 1 since it was my first visit. Just what I need.

The pastelera was 10x better than I ever expected. I bit into while on my way out of the restaurant (which is really calm, airy and lovely), and threw my head back. The pastry looks like one of the those crunchy, bland, boring numbers, but is actually moist, chewy and loaded with that sweet almond/vanilla flavor. Heaven. But here’s where it gets embarrassing. I dropped the pastelera on the sidewalk and was too smitten to throw it away. That’s right. I picked it up from the sidewalk and still ate it. I’m disgusting. (But it was so good!)

The madgalena, I wasn’t as crazy about (crazy, apparently, being the operative word). The sandwich part of the cookie is a bit dry and crumbly — not my favorite flavor or texture. But the inside is thickly spread with dulce de leche: a soft, melty caramel that can and should be licked right off the biscuit.

Further south on Sixth Ave, my eye was drawn to a hot pink wall inside a triangular storefront that used to be part of Sammy’s Noodles. It’s now Royale Café, a brand new coffee and pastry shop part owned by Baked’s Rafi Avramovitz. Whereas most bakeries seem to be duking it out for the most over-the-top proportions and wackiest flavors, these fellows have it figured out. Just give us a portion that indulges our sweet tooth but doesn’t make us feel sick and bloated afterwards.

I sampled their Oreo cookie and chocolate-chip pumpkin bread, both of which were moist and sweet. You can choose between a crunchier cookie-like Oreo or a softer, cakier version (smart). Other treats include Baked’s brownies and cookies, along with cinnamon buns, scones and cupcakes that skew small. The folks behind the counter here were incredibly nice, too, (what is with everyone??) so you just might want to sit in the window with a Gimme coffee and wait to see what else comes to the neighborhood.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Danger on the UWS

Cupcake, cupcake, chocolate, cocoa, cookie, cookie.

Within a very concentrated area of the Upper West Side are a number of pitfalls for a trying-to-be-good Sweet Freak. Magnolia’s second branch is in a sprawling corner space at Columbus and 69th, awash with sunlight, packed with baby strollers, and churning out bake sheets of pastel cupcakes. They seem a wee bit smaller than the ones downtown, but anything is worth not enduring that god-awful line.

Onward to 72nd Street, walking west—boom: Buttercup Bake Shop. More cupcakes. But not much atmosphere, so it’s time to carry on. (Though it’s worth noting that Krispy Kreme used to inhabit this very same location. Bonus points for the auspiciously sweet heritage.)

Jacques Torres’s new outpost is on Amsterdam, between 73rd and 74th. It’s smaller than his Soho factory, but bigger than his original Dumbo shop, and they’ve smartly tucked a few cushy seats in by the windows so you can snack in-house. The truffles are piled high, the cocoa bar is fired up, and there are some new treats to behold: chocolate-covered lemon pound cake, for one.

And on to the grand finale: around the corner to Levain for whopper cookies. It seems more crowded these days, but it still has the allure of a subterranean hole-in-the-wall that just so happens to have the best cookies in the city. Or at least the heaviest. Seriously: 6 ounces of chocolate-studded goodness. Cookie monsters.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Pud' it down

The Steamed Vanilla Puddin’ from Chikalicious Puddin’ has a light but moist gingerbread cake at its center, surrounded by warm crème fraiche. It’s as lovely and delicate as you could ever hope to receive in a plastic to-go cup. And just a little too easy to put away while standing at your kitchen counter.

Chickalicious Puddin'
204 East 10th Street