Friday, May 30, 2008

With a name like Amy's

It has to be good, right? This I know. I've been snacking at Amy's Breads for years. I've had especially good birthday cakes there. But with a name like White Chocolate Cherry Chunker ("chunker" — I love it!), I had to try this cookie.

It's a chunker alright. About five inches in diameter and packed with lots of oats (which, are a Superfood - good for you!), and sprinkled with chunks of creamy white chocolate and chewy sweet-sour cherries. It's a good fix for a Friday afternoon, though I would have liked even more chocolate and cherries in that chunker.

On a side note, I've been loving dried cherries in everything lately, from Alta's spinach salad to Trader Joe's cereal to this month's gorgeous Bon Appetit.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I can’t even get over the deliciousness of Pichet Ong’s cupcakes at Batch. Just looking at these photos, you can tell these have “it.” They’re home-baked. Use real ingredients. Are carefully considered. And generously constructed.

The carrot & salted caramel is creamy and savory with carrot shreds in the batter and salt flakes on the frosting. The strawberry rhubarb combines bright, fruity flavors that pop and dance all over the palette. I love the unexpected filling — not like a massive dollop of sweet frosting, but just a simple complement to the cake and frosting. Genius.

And they're expertly crafted. The baker takes the time to frost these as they should be frosted: with a heavy hand and an eye for detail.

While the carrot cupcake made Ong's Top 5 must-eat list, the strawberry did not. Here are his picks:

1) Chocolate chip cookie

2) Chocolate dragon devil’s food cupcake

3) Ovaltine pudding

4) Pasionfruit rice pudding

5) Carrot & salted caramel cupcake

150B West 10th Street

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Obsession of the week

This week clearly was all about cupcakes.

It started with the Buttercup / Billy’s Smackdown. Continued with a stop at Out of the Kitchen. Then today, I had a couple of the most heavenly flavors yet.

I visited Keavy at Brooklyn’s Brownstoners Flea Market and had a Kumquat strawberries and cream mini cupcake. Two bites of strawberry-wow flavor. And then onto Batch in the West Village. At Mr. Ong’s suggestion, I tried the carrot and salted caramel cupcake, which was, yes, divine. But the new strawberry frosting/rhubarb filling is even better. Such vibrant, fruity flavors. And the cake and frosting have that beautiful home-baked texture and density.

Instead of being cupcaked out, I’m dying for more Kumquat and Batch.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In or out?

What can I say? I’m on a cupcake kick.

This one I’ll blame on Julie. “I’m a Duncan Hines kind of girl,” she confessed the other night when we were taste-testing. I couldn’t agree more. So when I found myself on Hudson Street, I couldn’t resist the magnetic pull of Out of the Kitchen. They have the gooiest Duncan Hines-like cupcakes — the perfect antidote to pastel sugary varietal.

One chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, and one yellow cake with chocolate frosting later, and I can’t decide which is better. The yellow cake is moister. But the vanilla frosting is sweeter. I could always get vanilla frosting on yellow cake, but then again, I can’t. I just can’t break from the chocolate/vanilla combo. Ultimately, I think the cake is just the vehicle for this frosting so it’s always good to get both.

420 Hudson Street

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The sweet tooth gene

Quel surprise. There might be a gene variant that makes us eat more sugar. Inflicted!

Read the article here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sweet Freak Smackdown: Buttercup v. Billy's

Is there anyone out there who isn’t over Magnolia? Thought so.

Though the original West Village bakery deserves props for being the first to sell the quaintness of old fashioned, sugary-sweet, precious as a princess cupcakes that send you into orbit, the backlash is no less deserved. Snarky employees, SATC tour-whores, and ridiculously long lines will kill anyone’s appetite.

So never mind Magnolia’s cupcakes. What of Buttercup and Billy’s, spawned by a founding partner and ex-employee, respectively?

Here, two very discerning palates pit the cupcakes, cake to cake, frosting to frosting.

Looks: Very pretty. The frosting is domed like a beehive, dotted with colored sprinkles.
Cake: J: "I knew without tasting that I wouldn't like this. It's too dense." Dry, too.
Frosting: The frosting is okay. A: "It's sort of chemical-y tasting."

Looks: A little messy, guys. Squat and flat. The frost job looks rushed.
Cake: On the dry side, but good. A: "The cake tastes real — like it's made with real ingredients."
Frosting: Creamy, buttery and light. J: "Their frosting kicks ass."

Billy's, by a long shot! The Buttercup creations are dense and dry, lacking discernable flavors. Billy's light and creamy frosting, on the other hand, elevates the whole cupcake to a sublimely sugary treat.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cupcakes never get old

If ever there were a local cupcake aficionado, it would be Rachel Kramer Bussel, co-founder of the omigod-amazing Cupcakes Take the Cake blog. What are her top five NYC picks?

1) Sugar Sweet Sunshine: Have loved them from the moment they opened. Such a cozy, wonderful neighborhood bakery. Delicious cupcakes - simple but perfect. Their vanilla/vanilla sunshine cupcake as well as red velvet stand out, but my very favorite is their occasional (I had them at Christmastime) peppermint frosting. Wow! And shhh...sometimes I indulge in their coffee cake. Also try the chocolate bomb (chocolate cake mixed into pudding) - to die for!

2) Kumquat Cupcakery: The best mini cupcakes! They are the perfect size, really creative flavors (omg the peanut butter chocolate!) and are just so cute. Keavy sells these at two Brooklyn flea markets and at Newsbar on University.

3) Little Cupcake: Way out in Bay Ridge but such fabulous flavors. Go there hungry. Really. Coconut cloud is outstanding.

4) Martha's Country Bakery: Like Little Cupcake, a great space, huge variety of cupcakes, quite delicious.

5) Tribeca Treats: These cupcakes are smaller and a bit more nuanced. The flavors are very specific and intense in a good way.

You going to argue with any of that?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

18 chunks

If you ever need an excuse (or 18) to venture outside on a cold, rainy day, here it is: Ruby & Violette is open again.

When the cookie café shuttered 14 months ago, I really thought they were gone for good. Instead, they've spiffed up their space and added ice cream and espresso to the menu.

But those upgrades pale in comparison to the variety and creativity of the 18 chocolate chunk cookie flavors currently available.

Yep. 18 flavors of chocolate chunk cookies. And by "chunks" I mean huge chunks Italian-imported chocolate.

The "perfect" (that is, pure chocolate chunk), oatmeal raisin and lemon white cookies are always on the list. The other flavors rotate according to season and whim. Which means Ruby & Violette actually churns out dozens of flavors.

What to try? The root beer float is pretty kickass. The champagne strawberry has a nice light flavor. And the marshmallow is a creamy, chocolaty, otherworldly cookie experience.

Next time, I'll try one of these:
Candy Jar
Berry Blueberry
Home Run
Peppermint Chip
White Irish
Oatmeal Butterscotch
Dried Strawberry
Espresso Bean

457 West 50th Street

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Japanese for "sweet"

“It changes all the time,” warns Kelli Bernard of Amai Tea & Bake House.

Spoken like a true Sweet Freak, it’s just not that easy to declare one — or three or five — favorites from the menu. And it doesn’t help that she has a selection that’s as meandering as it is delicious. But here, she does her very best to steer us towards her must-eats:

1) “I have to say the green tea cupcakes because those are crazy popular. They’re bright, so they’re perfect for spring.” But don’t shrug off the lavender chamomile or chocolate & peanut butter options.

“People come in all the time just for our croissants. A lot of bakeries buy the dough for their croissants, but we make ours from scratch.” I had a chocolate croissant: indeed, insanely buttery and decadent.

3) “Tea cookies are our specialty. We have seven different kinds, and those are really good.” Made from tea leaves and spices: green tea, earl grey & currant, hojicha & sesame, lemongrass & ginger, white tea & strawberry, chai almond and rooibys & vanilla.

I can’t help but feel we’re neglecting a lot of really great stuff though. What else?

“It’s hard to pick because it’s whatever you’re in the mood for!” But just to show you how eclectic and irresistible the menu is, she rattles off a few more sweets you should try: mango & pineapple parfait, mandarin brownies and the green tea muffins.

171 Third Avenue

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fun with friends

It's so nice to eat vicariously through a friend with an appreciation for great chocolate.

After sending my friend Alex into diabetic shock from pain au chocolat (Penelope's), peanut butter cookies and cocoa with marshmallows (City Bakery), and doughnuts (Doughnut Plant), it seemed only appropriate to bring her to the Dessert Truck. She and her husband Nick live in San Francisco and introduced me to the salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery, after all. Tit for tat and all that.

So after a divine dinner at Centro Vinoteca (where, omg, we passed on hazelnut cake with nutella mousse?!), we walked over to University and 8th. Unlike my first visit when I felt gluttonous just ordering hot chocolate with my chocolate bread pudding, this time I was able to sample three whole desserts.

The chocolate bread pudding, which I snitched a taste of from Alex, is still shamefully rich and deliciously spongy. The goat cheese cheesecake was a little too hoof-y for me, but Nick seemed to enjoy it plenty. Me, I got to sample the weekly special: chocolate truffle cake with praline crunch, and the praline crunch made the dessert.

So that leaves the slow-baked apple, chocolate and peanut butter mousse, and vanilla crème brulee as unexplored menu items. Alex, when are you coming back to NYC?

University & 8th
Every night except Monday

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sweet Madeleine

Happy things happen when you break from routine.

This morning, I walked west on 23rd Street to catch the 1 instead of taking the N, R or W like I usually do. (The sad reason being, I skipped yoga to go to the Sigerson Morrison sample sale, and I walked out empty handed. Booo.) Squeezed between the crappy shoe stores and gargantuan Duane Reades, I came across what I thought was a new café. But it's been around since last July: Madeleine Patisserie.

And to what did my eyes alight? Plain croissants, chocolate croissants, cheese croissants, almond croissants and, the flavor I chose, pistachio-chocolate croissants. Yum!

This pistachio-chocolate croissant is very nearly a pastry, with a slick-sticky coating on top that clings to pieces of crushed pistachios. Inside, an oozy rich chocolate is enrobed in pistachio paste. The dough was chewy and made me suspicious for some reason — like it's chockfull of preservatives even though the baking's done on the premises. Maybe it's just me.

In any case, it has nothing on Petrossian's apricot danish.

Madeleine Patisserie
128 West 23rd Street

Friday, May 02, 2008

Sesame sweetness

My friend Ben is no liar.

He told me one of the best things he’s eaten lately is the sesame banana cake from Birdbath. While he was not charmed by the price ($4 for a takeaway muffin?), he raved about the heft (about the diameter and weight of three stacked hockey pucks) and yumminess (not his word).

And rightfully so. Birdbath is proving that vegan baked goods can be delicious. And that ingredients usually reserved for savory dishes are just as at home in sweets.

The sesame seeds in the cake (it’s called a cake but shaped like a muffin) give it a nice smoky flavor and textured mouthfuls. And yet there’s sweetness from agave. And while some vegan baked goods suffer from funky consistencies — they’re either so moist, they’re wet (eww), or so crumbly that they fall apart before reaching your mouth — this one gets it right. It holds together just as if loads of butter were binding the ingredients.

Even better than the sesame-rich insides are the big hunks of bananas that give it a carmelized chewiness. They’re so good that, in a weird way, it’s almost like eating chocolate.

Thanks, Bennie.