Thursday, August 28, 2008

Two scoops, please

How often do you meet an enterprising 24-year-old who's adorable, gracious and a talented ice cream maker?

Meet Ben Van Leeuwen. He used to drive a Good Humor truck, but this summer got his own wheels. Now he has two creamy-colored trucks from which to peddle his creamy-rich ice cream.

He talks in a singsong voice, with a smile, and believes in quality and sustainability as much as making you flip over dessert. His custard base is made with hormone- and antibiotic-free milk and organic eggs and sugar. The cups and spoons are made from sugar cane husk and corn husk, respectively. Perfect.

And then there are the ingredients. Most ice cream makers wouldn't invest the time to research and source the freshest, most flavorful ingredients, nor would they pay for them. But Van Leeuwen uses stuff like Michel Cluizel chocolate, Piedmont hazelnuts, fair trade Columbian coffee, and oak barrel aged vanilla.

It makes all the difference. The ice cream is dense, the flavors are pure, and the quality is unmistakable.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back at Batch

There is a powerful magnetic force at Batch. Any time I am in the Willage, it pulls. And the closer I am to 10th Street, the stronger the force, the weaker my resistance, and I end up standing out front, staring in the window like a sad puppy in the rain. The place renders me pathetic.

This weekend I duped a couple friends into going with me so I could sample more cupcake flavors. (I can even post their photo since they won't be reading this.)

As much as I wanted the strawberry rhubarb cupcake that I fell for a couple months back, I went with the chocolate green tea. AJ demonstrated her loyalty to banana cake by ordering a banana cupcake. And Ben got the carrot salted caramel, which made me happy because there are few things better.

Pichet's cake is always perfectly moist, and the frosting is generously and gorgeously spread on without overpowering the cake. I will say I prefer the cupcakes at room temp, so give yours some warm-up time after emerging from the refrigerated display case. And eat a chocolate chip cookie while you wait.

150B West 10th Street

Monday, August 25, 2008

Payard talks

I'm partial to my Mixing Bowl questions, but Nick Fox has a nice Q & A chat with Francois Payard in the Times today. Of special note are his references to Pierre Hermé, Pop Rocks and crunchy worms.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vampy cupcake

When the gals at Daisy May's told me their red velvet cupcake had won a blind taste test conducted by The New York Times, I was swayed. I had to order one (barbecue chicken and bourbon peaches be damned!).

What the gals didn't tell me was that their top honors, clinched from a sampling of 19 bakeries, were shared with Make My Cake — reminding me that I have to get to Harlem for one of their amazing cupcakes, some of the best I've ever had.

The Times' piece explores the history of red velvet cake, its recent rise in popularity and some of the tricks to baking it right (beets to make it red, not food coloring). It's an enlightening article. But what makes it really great is its descriptive language: "clouds of snowy frosting," "rich fluff," "vampy allure," "the Dolly Parton of cakes." Awesome.

Back to Daisy May's: their red velvet cupcake is more about the taste than the presentation. It's served in a plastic tub. But the cake is moist and slightly crumbly. The frosting, super thick and creamy. The combination of the two, "rich" and "vampy."

Daisy May's BBQ USA
623 11th Avenue at 46th

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The mixing bowl: Kelli Bernard

Amai Tea & Bake House landed in my neighborhood last fall. Which is a good and bad thing. It's good because Kelli Bernard and her crew are super friendly and talented... which is bad because it's way too tempting to stop by for a morning croissant, afternoon cupcake or anytime brownie.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Brownies. Rich, dense, chewy chocolate. It can’t get any better than that as a kid.

My favorite sweet now is:
Anything that someone else makes for me. And brownies.

My personal Amai favorite:
In the morning, it is our chocolate and walnut scone. In the afternoon, it’s our matcha (green tea) cupcake. Many people think that the green tea cupcake has chocolate and/or food coloring in it, which isn’t true. The cake and buttercream are flavored entirely with a really nice matcha.

What I love about Gramercy is:
The people. Everyone is so down to earth and friendly, and they really appreciate quality. It has a very neighborhood feeling to it. Many residents have lived in the area for 10+ years, and there is a wide range of ages and types of people that come in the store. The East and West Villages get a lot of attention, which draws tourists, but Gramercy is for the locals.

Truffles or pralines:

White, milk or dark:

Caramel, ganache or cream:

The perfect pairing:
Malty assam tea and a plum almond tart.

I'd love to create a flavor for:
Kids. Most Amai customers are adults, and it would be fun to spend some time making all-natural sweets for children.

Kitchen essentials:
Bowl and bench scrapers and, of course, a Kitchen Aid (6qt+).

Style essentials:
Simplicity. Clean lines and smooth edges. Natural materials.

Pastry chefs I admire:
All pastry chefs who start their own business.

I'm most inspired when:

I have slept a full 8 hours.

How much is too much?

Always leave wanting more.

Favorite movie snack:
Kettle corn. I love sweet and salty.

Guilty pleasure:
Chikalicious Dessert Club’s S'mores cupcake. It is one of the best I’ve ever had!

Other favorites:
My favorite city is Lucerne, Switzerland. Lakes, hills, charming’s so relaxing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The new croissant diet

If it's true, if Patisserie Claude will no longer be as of 2009, then I am eating at least one croissant and one pain au chocolat every week for the rest of the year. That's just how devoted I am to the higher calling of eating New York's best of the very best.

I'll also do it for my friend Mary Ronan. She turned me onto Claude a few years ago, but now she lives in China. She's going to be sad that Claude won't be there next time she swings through town. Maybe she'll sleep easier, knowing I'm eating for both of us.

187 West 4th Street near Sixth Ave

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mercy! Marcolini

Many chocolatiers, here and abroad, are all about experimenting with flavors as of late. Others are keeping it real.

I’m all for the outrageousness of chili or cardamom, the delicacy of violet or lavender, or the sweetness of fig or kumquats in my dark chocolate ganache. But after snacking on a couple bonbons from Pierre Marcolini, I’ll stick to the classics.

Like the Pavé de Tours Fondant: uber thin, filled with sugared almonds, hazelnuts and puff pastry cake, and coated with milk chocolate. A divinely crackly-creamy-melty experience. Mercy.

The Coeur Framboise, one of his most popular bonbons, is dark chocolate ganache with raspberry puree at its center, enrobed in white chocolate (the better to see the pretty red color). Just sweet and heavenly.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Missing Kee's

It’s been so long since I’ve been to Kee’s it makes me kind of sad.

This city is just too big, filled with too many bakeries and chocolatiers, to get regular fixes of your favorites. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Behold, the macarolat

In case there was any doubt, I'm obsessed with Paris. Almost as much as I am with sweets.

When I was there in January, I had an amazing bonbon at Michel Cluizel that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. So I did a little recon at the Manhattan outpost and discovered it was a macarolat — a chocolate replica of a macaroon.

Instead of pastry, it has a chocolate shell (I love chocolate!). Inside, it's filled with almond hazelnut praline, ground coarsely so there's a little crunch (crunchy praline? Yum!). With Cluizel's quality, it's formidable.

Although it's summer, and they make summer flavors like raspberry, passion fruit and lime, they had only two winter flavors: caramel and dark chocolate.

Regardless, they were divine. Little pieces of Paris.

Dessert Studio inside ABC Home + Carpet
888 Broadway at 19th

Monday, August 04, 2008

The mixing bowl: Alison Nelson

I've been a fan of Alison Nelson's chocolates since I tasted her peanut butter caramel Retro Bar. Dee-lish. But now that she's moved the original Chocolate Bar from the West Village to my 'hood, the East Village, there's some fresh sampling to be had.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Charleston Chew

My favorite sweet now is:
PBJ Truffle

My personal favorite from Chocolate Bar:
Spicy brownie with vanilla gelato.

What I love about the East Village is:
It’s still funky and a little bit edgy.

Truffles or pralines:
Pralines, if done well.

White, milk or dark:

Caramel, ganache or cream:

The perfect pairing:
An americano with salted caramel truffles.

I'd love to create a flavor for:
Dolce & Gabbana. I own nothing of theirs and would never qualify to wear anything of theirs. But I love their style, the risks they take and their overall brand.

Kitchen essentials:
Whisk, scale, measuring cup & spoons, and a saucepan.

Style essentials:
Great-fitting jeans, wife beaters and ballet flats.

Chocolatiers I admire:
Gustaf Mabrouk, Ilene Shane, Andrew Shotts.

I'm most inspired when:
I walk my dog in Chelsea early morning or late night. My brain clears out and just goes into dream/creative mode.

How much is too much?
Cheese only belongs with chocolate if it’s chocolate cheesecake.

Favorite movie snack:
Junior Mints

Guilty pleasure:
Guinness with peanut butter and dark chocolate on toast.

Other favorites:
Right now, loving the Flobots and the new Cold Play CD. Elliot Smith and Cake are my all time favorites though. Can’t live without pasta, hot pastrami on rye, or cheese. Favorite books are The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald and Ham on Rye by Bukowski. Favorite movie is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And I am totally guilty of watching America’s Next Top Model with my kids (ages 5 and 2).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sweet tarts

Basil marshmallows?

Yes, and they're delicious.

It all started when Three Tarts' Sandra Palmer and Kiyomi Toda-Burke made a chocolate banana parfait. The sweet little dish called for marshmallow sauce and mini marshmallows for the top, which the pastry chefs made themselves. “We thought, ‘Oh, we can make all sorts of flavors,’” Sandra explains. So they took the marshmallow project into a six-month test kitchen period and now have more than a half dozen gorgeous flavors.

“Most people go with vanilla because that’s what they’re most familiar with,” Sandra points out. Indeed, the vanilla marshmallow takes you back to camp days when you scarfed down handfuls of these things.

But the other flavors are where the Tarts’ marshmallows get interesting. The mango pops with high tropical flavor. The yuzu is sharp and tart. And the basil is like a nice summer day: herbaceous, light, and frothy. Still to taste: chocolate, raspberry and passion fruit.

164 Ninth Avenue at 20th