Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sweet on Shake Shack

With all the hoopla over new Van Leeuwen ice cream truck, Tribeca cart wars and frozen yogurt taking over the city, it's like Shake Shack's frozen custard has melted from memory. Not for me.

I blew by all the chumps waiting in line for burgers and went straight to the B line — custard express — and got the flavor of the day: Plum crumb.

Creamy texture + tart and tangy aftertaste + bits of crumb (strange little blonde pellets) = the perfect treat for another hot summer day.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obsession of the week: sugar

Have you ever been in Jersey when a cover band does “Pour Some Sugar on Me”? It’s nuts. And borderline scary. But a great thing to be able to say you experienced.

It was a sugar-fueled weekend on the Jersey Shore — beyond the Def Leppard hysteria — so I wanted to pay my respects to the basic but beautiful ingredient that makes my world spin.

Of special note was the elephant ear we scored. Named for its enormous size, this regional specialty (alternately referred to as a pastry and cookie) is just a giant disk of pastry dough, sweetened and baked with cinnamon and white and brown sugar. It’s slightly chewy in texture (with some grit from the sugar), very flakey and messy to eat, and the perfect way to both pay tribute to and end an unhealthy weekend.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Binging on revenge

I think what I love most about Sweet Revenge's cupcakes is that they remind me of the Sydney opera house. The frosting is spread on in big (rich, creamy) architectural waves. Gorgeous.

On the flavor front, they're less inspired, but still tasty. Especially the Crimson and Cream, one of the four signature flavors. Instead of the now standard red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting combo, owner Marlo Scott introduced raspberry to the mix, folding it into the cake's center. It adds moistness, texture and a beautiful fruity infusion.

The Sweet Revenge cupcake is peanut butter cake with a ganache center, topped with peanut butter buttercream. Excellent potential, but sadly underwhelming because the cake is too dry. The Dirty cupcake, a little moister, is ganache on chocolate, a combination that never fails in my book.

Thank you, Brownie, for helping me polish off three cupcakes (and a ginger snap) in a sitting. We should have gone for it and ordered the fourth signature cupcake, Mexican vanilla cake with buttercream frosting. But another summer afternoon…

62 Carmine Street

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The mixing bowl: Keavy MacPherson Landreth

Keavy MacPherson Landreth makes mini cupcakes, but she's going big. Way big. All you have to do is taste one of her Strawberries & Crème or Black & White cupcakes, any flavor for that matter, to know I speak the truth.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
This flourless chocolate cake drizzled with raspberry sauce from Cucina Cucina in Seattle. My parents would take me every couple weeks (I loved it because I could draw on the tables), and my favorite part was always dessert. I would order it every time, and (at less than 60 pounds), devour the whole thing without even blinking.

My favorite sweet now is:

This Caramel Nut Tart I make from time to time that is absolutely killer. Think walnuts, almond cream and caramel baked together in a flaky pie crust. Mmmm. It's amazing.

My personal Kumquat favorite:

Chocolate Pistachio, definitely.

What I love about Brooklyn Flea is:

The people I've met there.

Truffles or pralines:
As much of a chocolate freak as I am, truffles have always been something I could take or leave, so I'm going to have to go with Pralines. Chocolate, nuts, and caramel...psshh, no competition.

White, milk or dark:

Oh how I love them all, but the king of chocolate has to be dark.

Caramel, ganache or cream:
Can I put them all together to create a caramel ganache and call it a day?

The perfect pairing:
A crostini topped with olive oil, goat cheese and caramelized rhubarb, accompanied by a glass of crisp white wine is my idea of a lovely summer evening.

Kitchen essentials:
A large coffee maker and KitchenAid. After that, I'm down for improvisation.

Style essentials:
On me? Racer back tank tops in the summer, and a good fitting, slightly worn hoodie in the winter. On cupcakes? Simple, yet elegant frosting design, good use of its natural colors.

Pastry chefs I admire:

All the ones here in Brooklyn who have gone through, or are going through, a similar process as me to start their own business. Whimsy & Spice, One Girl Cookies, Mast Brothers Chocolate, Amai Tea & Bake House, etc.

I'm most inspired when:

I'm hanging out with the people mentioned in the above question.

How much is too much?

When you over-spice a recipe. A hint of cinnamon or nutmeg can make a recipe a winner. But if it's all you can taste, you've ruined the dessert. Piling candy on top of a dessert ruins it for me as well. Get those gummy bears, M&M's and sprinkles away from my ice cream — they just don't belong.

Favorite movie snack:

Homemade popcorn, made with just olive oil and salt.... I could eat it for dinner.

Guilty pleasure:

Diet Coke. Once a week I head over to the tiny pizza place around the corner from me and get the biggest fountain diet coke they have. I know it's full of chemicals, but something about it is so comforting I can't seem to give it up.

Other favorites:

Music to bake to: Ratatat & Girl Talk, Diner in Brooklyn, painting & dancing for the mirror, Harry Potter, Food & Wine Magazine, Arrested Development.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Obsession of the week: peanut butter

It was a rich and creamy week. Bouchon's Nutter Butter: nice. Hill Country's PB&J cupcake: not great. Today's Sweet Revenge signature cupcake of peanut butter cake and frosting with a chocolate ganache center: more on that soon.

Still, City Bakery's simple little peanut butter cookie is on the pedestal.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

PB&J for dessert

You know when you have things that are so disgusting, they’re good? I don’t think it’s so much a guilty pleasure as that inexplicable rubbernecking-at-an-accident compulsion. I had that today. In the form of a cupcake.

I went to Hill Country, a big barbecue joint with self-service meat and trimmings stations (I know, so not my style, but it’s for an article). It just so happened that I seated myself near the dessert station, where they had these great, big trays of homemade cupcakes.

The place definitely gets points for presentation: the giant cupcakes are decorated really prettily, the peanut butter and jelly one being topped with fluffy caramel-colored frosting and orange and brown Reese’s Pieces. Who can resist? Apparently not me, even after putting down a slab of barbecued meat.

The PB&J cupcake has peanut butter frosting and a jelly center, which brings me back to the disgusting-but-good part: There was so much jelly — grape Welch’s type jelly — that it was soaking through the bottom. I had to eat it with a fork. The frosting was a lighter, sweeter version of straight peanut butter. There was not much cake to the cupcake. It was like eating a sugared-up version my childhood lunch sandwich, except with a fork. And for dessert. Disgusting. But good.

Hill Country
30 West 26th between Broadway & Sixth

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The mixing bowl: Three Tarts

The tarts at Chelsea's Three Tarts are pretty awesome. And we're talking about Marina and Marla, and pastry chefs Sandra and Kiyomi. That these ladies call themselves tarts to begin with shows that their personalities are as lovely as their minature treats made with ingredients like wildflower and yuzu.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Sandra: Chocolate brooms (marshmallows coated in chocolate on a stick).
Kiyomi: Strawberry shortcake.

My favorite sweet now is:
S: At home, ice cream; from a dessert menu, anything with fruit.
K: Anything with almonds.

My personal favorite from Three Tarts:
S: Salt and pepper biscotti; rosemary marshmallow.
K: Yuzu marshmallow.

What I love about Chelsea is:
S: My seven-minute walk to work.
K: The strong sense of community.

Truffles or pralines:
S & K: Pralines

White, milk or dark:

S: We have a number of truffles that are 1/2 dark, 1/2 milk that I love, but for plain chocolate, always dark.
K: Dark

Caramel, ganache or cream:

S: Cream
K: Caramel

The perfect pairing:

S: Berries & sabayon
K: Salty & sweet

We'd love to create a flavor for:
S & K: Adventurous eaters.

Kitchen essentials:
S: Calculator, clogs and a sense of humor.
K: We have these plastic guides for rolling dough that we got in Chinatown.

Style essentials:
S: Clean, classic, unfussy.
K: Flats and sunscreen. Comfort first.

Pastry chefs I admire:
S: In town: Deborah Racicot, Michelle Tampakis. Out of town: Lincoln Carson, Bill Corbett.
K: I am most inspired by a line cook or an intern who is working hard and determined to become a chef. It reminds me why I am doing this.

I'm most inspired when:
S: Collaborating with Kiyomi.
K: I am in the company of the people I love.

How much is too much?
S: There is nothing more unappetizing to me than a giant dessert.

Favorite movie snack:
S: Popcorn and peanut M&M's
K: Nachos

Guilty pleasure:
S: Potato chips — plain or salt and vinegar
K: McDonald's french fries

Other favorites:
S: Aimee Mann, The Roots, Yorkshire pudding with gravy, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, anything by Paul Auster, Hannah and Her Sisters, Wings of Desire.
K: Hip-Hop, rice, any documentary, vacationing alone to exotic locations.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Finally. I can check Bouchon’s Nutter Butter off my list.

I love the concept of gourmet interpretations of trashy sweets, even if it gets a little pretentious. Bouchon’s Nutter Butter has been on my radar for a long, long time. The opportunity to indulge and the availability of the cookie finally aligned last night, a fine summer night.

In classic dessert for dinner form, I brought this creamy beast to the Philharmonic for my picnic dinner with Kev. As well it should, Bouchon's reincarnation takes the treat to a whole new level.

The monstrous double-decker is made with two soft peanut butter cookies that are chock full of peanut chunks and oats. They’re good. Totally different consistency than City Bakery’s heavenly specimen, but good. What elevates it is the creamy peanut butter filling. It’s whipped and airy, almost like peanut butter frosting, so there’s none of that stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth thickness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But, for this treat, the delicacy of the center is what makes this a sophisticated splurge.

Time Warner Center
Third Floor

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The perfect chocolate chip cookie

Naturally I noticed the New York Times article on the perfect chocolate chip cookie the other day. So far, it's inspired nearly 200 comments, and a recipe for chocolate chip cookies (by Jacques Torres) is their second most emailed story. I'm not alone in my obsession.

While cookies are my favorite thing to eat, my Sweet Freak coverage and especially photos have admittedly been weak. How nice it was, then, to discover two great blogs as a result of theNYT article: Joy the Baker and Bakers' Banter. Their responses were baking experiments and even a tad of ridicule, but the photos are to die for.

The mixing bowl: Rhonda Kave

Rhonda Kave has been churning out bonbons for over 20 years, but it was only last winter that she started selling her imaginative truffles and now her latest, Pig Candy — chocolate-covered bacon — from her downtown shop. Though buttercrunch is her trademark, coconut is her favorite.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Coconut candy strips, watermelon slices or Tastykake butterscotch krimpets.

My favorite sweet now is:
Still anything coconut — cake, candies, etc.

My personal favorite from Roni-Sue:
Fresh coconut truffle, buttercrunch or whatever I'm currently working on.

What I love about the Lower East Side is:
The cultural mix & that there's always something going on, day or night.

Truffles or pralines:

White, milk or dark:
Mostly dark

Caramel, ganache or cream:

The perfect pairing:
A glass of sherry or port, some nice cheese and my Portly Fig truffle.

I'd love to create a flavor for:
My son Corwin's restaurant (when he's ready to open his own!).

Kitchen essentials:
Salad spinner, whisk, espresso pot, KitchenAid mixer & food processor.

Style essentials:
My collection (vintage & non) of hats, handbags & jewelry.

Pastry chefs I admire:
There are so many — all those who cook from the heart! I do love Carole Walter for her dedication to all things pie related.

I'm most inspired when:

I'm in the shower — or when I discover a new & unusual ingredient.

How much is too much?
Who knows? Keep pushing the envelope!

Favorite movie snack:
Popcorn, no butter & Jr. Mints.

Guilty pleasure:
Chile rellenos @ Shopsin's & the occasional bag of cheddar cheese/pretzel Combos.

Other favorites:
Jazz, Mexican food, science fiction, Harold & Maude, Paris, and community organizing/social justice work.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

5 best smells in the city

New York gets a bad rap for its summertime stank. But I always manage to find pockets where it's nice to inhale reeeeeallly deeply. Here are five.

Kee's: Getting smacked in the face with the scent or her chocolate truffles being made.

Billy's Bakery: Even being outside on the sidewalk when the cupcakes come out of the oven is heavenly.

Amy's Bread (and Fat Witch and Sarabeth's) at Chelsea Market: Bakery after bakery exuding their dreamy fresh baked smells? Dee-lish.

Dunkin Donuts: Every night, my whole neighborhood smells like jelly doughnuts. I will cave some day and get one.

Levain: Mmmmm…. huffing a bag of dark chocolate chocolate chip cookies does the trick every time.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

From Paris with love

I worked hard on my skat in the City of Light. If not for the Velib bicycles on which I shot around for miles and miles, and the 10 p.m. sunsets that allowed me to squeeze an extra two hours of walking into my days, I would return to New York a blob.

Here’s a tally of the damage:

Chocolate bonbons: 15 — Varying degrees of richness and outrageousness, including bite-sized pavé´s from Michel Chaudun and a chocolate bar-sized caramel buche from the gorgeous Jean-Paul Hévin.

Macaroons: 8.5 — A new indulgence for me, I sampled chocolate, praline, vanilla, pistachio, rose, fleur de sel, mango coriander and 1.5 raspberries (Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki’s was too jammy for me). The best? La Duree’s vanilla, Jean-Paul Hévin’s mango coriander and Pierre Hevin’s rose.

Croissants: 7 — 2 plain, 2 almond, 3 pain au chocolat. My morning staple.

Chocolate cakes: 2 — Green tea Bamboo from Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki and the caramel Plenitude Individual from Pierre Hermé. I should have sat down to more of these indulgences.

And 1 of each of the following: chocolate éclair, chocolate chip drop, lemon pastry, cherry cake, pear-apricot-pistachio tart, and a Nutella & banana crepe.

Pas mal. Kind of gross, but, trust me, it could have been a lot more ridiculous.