Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A pop-up sweet stop

Bon Appetit is running with the pop-up shop trend. Since last week, and through Friday, they're hosting a "Supper Club and Café" on 57th Street where you can park it at a communal table (or loungey seat) and nosh a $9 Charlie Trotter salad or $8 Batali sandwich, all the while watching, say, Cat Cora do a cooking demo. It's a decent deviation from your everyday routine.

The savory bits looked good but, naturally, I went for the sweets.

They've imported seven desserts from Claudia Fleming (North Fork Table and Inn), Johnny Iuzzini (Jean Georges), Pichet Ong and Francois Payard. I sampled two.

I've never been to Jean George, but I can now lay claim to fandom for Johnny Iuzzini. (For his sweets, not his sexiness.)
His pineapple polenta cake with ginger does that delicious merging of sweet and savory. The firm, spiced cake has marbled caramelized edges and ginger-y pineapple. Beautiful.

Claudia Fleming's triple chocolate brownie cookie ain't so bad either. (How could it be with a name that includes chocolate, brownie and cookie?) Indeed, it's shaped like a cookie, fudgy like a brownie, and three times as chocolaty as it has any business being. It's another heavenly case of throwing in some nuts to balance out the chocolate intensity. Get the recipe here.

221 West 57th near Broadway

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

5 best (boo!) pumpkin treats

If you don't want to stuff your gullet with candy corn and mini Snickers this Halloween, get in on these rich, spiced baked goods.

Pumpkin cupcakes at Amai and Batch:
You can't go wrong with either Kelli or Pichet's elegant recipes.

Pumpkin scone at Alice's Tea Cup:
The sisters usher in autumn with their caramel-glazed moistest scone.

Pumpkin pie at City Bakery:

A rich and spiced slice from a man who knows his pies and tarts.

Pumpkin cheesecake bar at Baked:
Creamy, savory, heavenly.

Pumpkin custard at Dessert Truck:

Topped with maple syrup, marshmallows and caramelized pecans. Enough said.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A tart for a cookie

Maury, do you know what it’s like to look forward to peanut butter cookies all weekend and then to show up at City Bakery, and they’re not there? It’s cruel. So cruel.

But at least I was prompted to try something new: the open apple lemon tart. Which enabled me to rebound from my bitter disappointment.

Piled high, the tart, lemony apples have just a little bite, yet are soft and chewy. Big crunchy crystals of sugar are the yin to the tart apples’ yang. And beneath it all is a beautiful thin crackling crust.

Alex took solace in a wonderfully sweet oatmeal raisin cookie. I wouldn’t say either of us was forgiving the denial of a much needed peanut butter cookie fix but, like true champs, we made due.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Mixing Bowl: Jerome Chang

Most Sweet Freaks know the Dessert Truck makes a mercilessly rich and deliciously spongy chocolate bread pudding. But here, Jerome Chang tips us off to a new mobile must-eat—figs with lavender syrup and marscarpone (omg!)—and shares his tools for making the magic happen.

Growing up, my favorite sweet was:
Trix cereal. They were round when I was growing up, and they bummed me out when they switched to the fruit shapes. But I think they’re round again.

My favorite sweet now is:

The figs from our chef Bill’s yard in New Jersey, with lavender syrup and mascarpone.

My personal Dessert Truck favorite:
See above

What I love about being mobile is:
Driving the truck on the wide, open highway with everything rumbling around inside… just like a video game.

Truffles or pralines:
Truffles for long conversations. Pralines for quick snacking.

White, milk or dark:
I won’t choose. Milk and dark chocolate can work amazingly in concert. White chocolate can be awesome with certain fruit flavors.

Caramel, ganache or cream:
Cream can be essential to both.

I'd love to create a flavor for:
My girlfriend

Kitchen essentials:
Immersion blender, Vitamix blender, scales.

Style essentials:

Shower daily.

Pastry chefs I admire:

Any whose egos don’t get in the way of putting good flavors on the plate.

I'm most inspired when:
Autumn rolls around.

How much is too much?

When you start getting an ulcer.

Favorite movie snack:
Junior Mints

Guilty pleasure:
Eating a boatload of soup dumplings.

Other favorites:
I love Philly & most of Spain.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bananas foster french toast

This is just… wrong!

Eschewing the 90-minute wait for brunch at Prune, Bennie and I journeyed down to newcomer JoeDoe. I think I have a new favorite restaurant.

The space is tiny, the staff, friendly, and every bite smacks of rich flavors. I changed my order to the french toast after seeing the guy next to me tuck into his whipped cream- and syrup-saturated plate of carbs (Seriously, granola? What was I thinking?). It was heaven, delivered on a plate.

I hate to say it, but watch your back, Prune.

45 1st Street b/w 1st and 2nd Aves

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chocolate chip heavyweight

I'm back on the chocolate chip cookie hunt. I really want to find someone who can take down City Bakery and Levain. Not that I have anything against them. God, no. But it just seems so obvious that these are the best. Certainly, there are other contenders?

Today, I hit up Petrossian. With its Armenian/French heritage, it seems an unlikely candidate. But they are not kidding around with the American classic.

The edges are nice, thin and crispy. The middle, and it's a giant one, is chocolaty, caramely and nutty—you might as well be eating a Tollhouse pie. And you can taste the eight pounds of butter.

There's no way to eat this monster without getting your fingertips covered in chocolate—the whole bottom of the cookie is melted chocolate, hardened again. And it's high quality, rich as all hell.

I'm normally not into nuts, but I understand why they add pecans: for the faint of heart, they cut the chocolate excess. It may not be the best in the city, but this cookie is no joke.

911 Seventh Ave b/w 57th & 58th

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Doughnut heaven

Having just enjoyed the fist-sized apple cider doughnuts with maple whipped cream at Hearth (hurt me), I was thinking that fried dough with some form of creamy accompaniment just might be the most amazing thing in the world. Or at least one of them.

But a girl can only eat so many doughnuts. That's why I was thrilled to see Kathy Chan's Guide to the Best Doughnuts in New York, in which she enlisted a second gullet to devour and rate a crazy number of options throughout the burroughs.

I can't decide if I start with the ricotta fritters at Abraco, or the raspberry jelly doughnut from Park Slope's Trois Pommes. The list is pretty exhaustive and will take awhile. At least I have Doughnut Plant and Balthazar taken care of already.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Peanut butter. And some jelly.

I was pretty sure that Violette & Ruby made a pb & j cookie and that Baked had a pb & j brownie. Either one of those would have kicked Hill Country's pb & j cupcake. (Oh my, remember that??)

But, sadly, I was mistaken. Still, I can't get pb&j off the brain. At least there are other rich, savory snack situations. To wit…

Peanut butter sandwich cookies from the Treats Truck and Bouchon Bakery.

Peanut butter brownies at Baked, and peanut butter hot cocoa at Jacques Torres (um, since apparently it's winter already).

Peanut butter cupcake (with a chocolate ganache center) from Sweet Revenge.

And the best ever: City Bakery's peanut butter cookie.

To tart up the nuttiness, there are even jammie treats. Like Chocolate Bar's raspberry jam Retro Bar. And the raspberry brownie from the Treats Truck.

And for the truly gluttonous: fried pb & j at Mama's Mudsliders.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Treats Truck on top

Congratulations, Sugar and Kim!

Treats Truck won the Best Dessert Vendor at the '08 Vendy Awards. If I were a betting girl, I'd say it was those oatmeal jammies

Sunday, October 19, 2008

This week’s obsession: 5 pounds

It was a heavyweight week. The kind that I’ll notice, and chide myself for, every time I pull my jeans on next week.

There was the ooey gooey Sugar Sweet Sunshine cupcake with Alex. I had to do chocolate chip cookie recon. I was treated to Michel Cluizel dark chocolate ganache truffles. Dried pineapple from Commodities. Four courses of dessert, baked with Pichet Ong. And a sugary sweet liege waffle.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Warmly, waffles

Wafels & Dinges is nice sidewalk fare. But it’s an irrefutable pleasure to walk into a café and be smacked in the face with the smell of warm Belgian waffles.

When Amee suggested that Julie and I meet her at Petit Abeille for brunch, I knew I could count on my two dear friends to help me get my daily sweet fix. We split a classic liege waffle.

So dense and springy, the texture was lovely and saturated with a sweet vanilla flavor. The syrup on the side was totally unnecessary, with crunchy bits of granular sugar inside, and a soft shake of confectioner’s sugar on top.

44 West 17th between 5th & 6th Aves

My very own batch

Look at this gorgeous carrot and salted caramel cupcake. Delicious, no?

Instead of just inhaling it, I made it.

I had the fun and honor of baking with Pichet Ong the other night. We made chevre cheesecake parfait, apple tartlettes, stilton soufflés with basil and arugula ice cream and, my favorite, the cupcake, which in addition to its beautiful caramel frosting tinged with vanilla and coffee, had a lime cream cheese filling.

The cupcake was then sprinkled with Maldon salt—as are many of Pichet’s desserts. His philosophy? “When you add salt, your mouth is watering and you can taste everything a little more.”

A few other kitchen tips I learned:

• Instead of dumping your spices into the dry ingredients, like most traditional baking recipes advocate, add them to the fats—the butter and oil—so the flavors are absorbed and more pronounced in the finished good.

• “Only use unsalted butter. Salted butter doesn’t have the full potential of flavor; it tastes flat.”

• The longer you cream your buttercream frosting, the fluffier it will be.

• On the act of frosting: “I start with a lot and then remove,” Pichet says. He also likens it to “the ultimate spa experience—it’s therapeutic, you can have intimate conversations while doing it, you can listen to Madonna…”

The class was through ICE, but Pichet’s promising to offer his own, so keep your eyes and ears open. And, while you’re at it, be on the lookout for his limited edition pumpkin cupcakes. He also promised that they’re delicious, and I have no reason to doubt him on that.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sweet Freak Smackdown: Bread Alone v. Our Daily Bread

I walk through the Union Square Greenmarket at least once a week, and have been known to get a loaf of whole wheat levain and eat it in a day. Sure, that shows a basic lack of self-restraint. Unless you consider that when I'm purchasing my loaf—either at Bread Alone or Our Daily Bread, my two favorites—I deliberately ignore the cookies, muffins and scones waving at me while the vendors are making change.

But now on this chocolate chip cookie craze, I decided it was time for a Greenmarket smackdown: Bread Alone versus Our Daily Bread.

The cookies are sized similarly (and generously) - about 4" diameter, though Bread Alone is a titch bigger. A little more expensive, too, at $1.50 a pop. Our Daily Bread bundles cookies into threes, sold for $2.50. Bread Alone offers only oatmeal chocolate chip; Our Daily Bread does the classic—no oats, no nuts. Both use organic ingredients, including unbleached flour.

So they're similar. But different. How do they compare?

Bread Alone
This is one tough, little cookie. It's firm and textured. With the density of the batter and plentiful oats and chocolate chips, you get the sense that it's good for you—like a health nut would serve it up.

Our Daily Bread
Light and cakey, this one is a more nostalgic variety. Like the neighborhood mother hen baked it.

Such different chocolate chip cookies, it's a tough call. But there's something pleasingly satisfying about the oatmeal chocolate chip from Bread Alone. While Our Daily Bread's cookie is everything you imagine it to be—simple, chewy batter punctuated by sweet chocolate chips—Bread Alone ekes out winning points for its dense, chockfull texture.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sugar sweet omigoodness sunshine

I've heard so much about Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Everybody loves Sugar Sweet Sunshine. How is it that I only just went for the first time?

The cupcakes are sublime. Moist cake. Not-too-sweet frosting. Delicious flavors. The frosting-to-cake ratio errs just slightly on the ridiculous side. And at a $1.50 a pop, they're one of the city's best bargains.

Alex got the Pumpkin Spice. True to form, I got the “Ooey Gooey,” chocolate cake with chocolate almond buttercream frosting. Uh-mazing.

Alex loves their cupcakes.

Pigeons love their cupcakes. (What don’t they like, though.)

Labs, too. This one’s name was “Chowder.”

Now I understand why everyone loves Sugar Sweet's cupcakes.

126 Rivington at Essex

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Breaking for cream puffs

Remember when there were lines out the door to get a Beard Papa Cream Puff?

Four years later and as many outposts, the craze has been eclipsed by other sweet imports like Grom. But when my friend Tanya wrote from San Francisco, “We’re eating our first Beard Papa cream puff,” I knew it was time to pay it another visit.

It’s not like Beard Papas are now barren. Locals come in to buy them by the dozen, and tourists stand around, pondering whether to get the classic vanilla cream puff, or to go with the daily flavor, like chocolate or strawberry. All in all, it’s a Willy Wonka-ish experience, in a wacky Japanese sort of way. Great fun.

The airy puffs are baked in small batches.

The creamy custard is pumped inside each puff using these steel contraptions that look like coffee urns with protruding pistols.

And then they’re dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

The result? The puff is really light—barely there—and yet crunchy.

The cream is ridiculously generous. Nice and egg-y with flecks of vanilla.

Now that ice cream season is largely over, it’s time to start adding on the winter layer of fat, cream puff by cream puff.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sweet on the tongue

Sweet, acid, salty and bitter. With those four camps of taste buds, it’s no wonder we are Sweet Freaks. Who wants to say they gravitate towards bitterness?

Of course these four tastes work in harmony and the reason why sweet tastes so good is that it’s all a fine balancing act. For example, good chocolate has both acidic and bitter notes. We’re just not used to attributing those undertones to something “sweet.”

I like that sweetness will always be on the tip of my tongue.

This is how the other half lives.

Salty flavors linger longer than sweet. Which may be why all those other freaks prefer their chips and fries to our beautiful crème brulée truffles and red velvet cupcakes.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Another day, another cookie

The chocolate chip cookies from ChikaLicious were thin, chewy and buttery. And they got me thinking about other chocolate chip cookies. There are so many beautiful variations out there. It's important to try them.

So I went to Amy's Bread and picked up one of theirs. I was admittedly wary. The cookie was on the brown side of golden brown. It was thick and big. I thought it was going to taste like a stale Italian cookie that hooks you its perfect looks only to be hard and crunchy and taste like absolutely nothing.

But Amy's are good. Soft and chewy. A nice almost savory flavor with warm buttery, sugary undertones. And generous semisweet chocolate chips. I like this project, tasting chocolate chip cookies.

Slipping toward gluttony

One word for the banana cupcake at Batch:

Monday, October 06, 2008

More, more, more... Magnolia

Pastel sugar bombs! Magnolia strikes again!

Their third location is officially open in midtown.

You know you want one.

1240 Sixth Ave at 49th St

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Too close to home

Despite its proximity to my apartment, I’ve managed to give Dessert Club, Chikalicious a wide berth. I have a habit of bringing home adorable cupcakes the way crazy old ladies scoop up stray animals.

I was there months ago when they just served bread pudding. Now they’ve added eight different kinds of cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies… I am in trouble.

I’ll have to go back with a partner in crime to sample multiple cupcake flavors. (See? I can show a little, if not restraint, then at least decency.). But it was easy to rationalize taking home a cookie.

The catch is, they sell them in threes. It’s three cookies for $1.95. Sure, I could have paid the same (reasonable) amount and just taken two. But that would go against all of my gluttonous principles.

So I got three.

And ate them. One…

…by one.

By one.

204 East 10th Street