Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December Tour: Chocolate, more chocolate and even more chocolate—say Hallelujah!

’Tis the season for offering great, big, decadent boxes of chocolate. And one little stretch on Faubourg Saint-Honoré in the eighth arrondisement serves up a gorgeous selection of the best bonbons.

Starting with Neuhaus (189 Faubourg Saint-Honoré). For over 150 years, this Belgian chocolatier has been peddling its pralines, and they happen to be some of my favorite treats in the world. So rich and creamy, so nutty and thick, each one is a magnificent dessert. If only I could stop at one…

It’s not much easier to resist the temptations at Patrick Roger’s fourth boutique in the city (199 Faubourg Saint-Honoré). House specialties include chocolate-covered caramelized almonds, cubes of rich praline nougatine, and pristine bonbons made with cheeky ingredients like basil, oatmeal, tonka bean and Creole rum.

Keep going up the street to the granddaddy of Parisian chocolate shops, La Maison du Chocolat (225 Faubourg Saint-Honoré). While you could sink your teeth into a sumptuous chocolate éclair, chocolate tart, or chocolate macaron, hop in line and order up a customized box of ganaches and pralines. And don’t miss the plain truffles.

After all that exertion, reward yourself with a lovely dessert across the street at Mariage Frères (260 Faubourg Saint-Honoré,). The Happy Day cheesecake is made with their classic Wedding Imperial tea and caramelized apples. The Russian Kiss is panna cotta with Russian Kiss tea, dark chocolate mousse and a gelée d’orange. But, given the season, I’d go with the Hallelujah!, a dark chocolate fondant cake infused with their special Christmas teas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yuletide logs

They are everywhere here in Paris: Christmas logs of individual and ginormous proportions. Christmas logs of mocha, vanilla and raspberry. Christmas logs adorned with butterflies, mushrooms and children’s balloons. They are France’s Bûche de Noel and they are something to behold (and dig into).

The traditional dessert is generally made with Genoese sponge cake, flavored with liquor and covered with butter cream. And, as you can, the pastry chefs go to town with the decorations: mushrooms made of meringue, holly made with marzipan, fresh berries and macarons, powdered sugar to create a snowy effect…

Often the bûches are served with cake cut off from one side and set askew to resemble small branches. They can actually be a little garish. But they’re still delicious.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Spot on cupcakes and dessert

I flew 3600 miles for one of Pichet’s cupcakes. And was richly rewarded with cheesecake, chocolate ganache and semifreddo.

I was crushed when Batch and p*ong closed. Crushed. My favorite cupcake in the world, the carrot salted caramel cupcake, gone. Ovaltine, lychee and huckleberry surprises on the dessert menu, no more.

But say hallelujah. Pichet opened a new dessert bar in the East Village, Spot, and I was so happy to catch him there when I was home in New York.

I dragged Bennie along with me; my perfect partner in crime. As soon as we sunk our teeth into the cupcakes, he said, “Forget the flavors—the cupcake itself is so much better than a Magnolia cupcake.”
Of course he’s right. We sampled the mocha maldon salt caramel and the vanilla caramel Vietnamese coffee cupcakes (along with the coconut macaroon nutella almond bar, just for kicks. Anything with Nutella is a must-try).

The cake was so moist, the flavors were potent and the frosting was super generous. Pichet’s cupcakes never disappoint.

But he wouldn’t let it rest there; he sent out other goodies to try.

The soft cheesecake, elegantly spilling out of a highball, with huckleberry compote, crushed walnuts and lemon foam.

The white miso semifreddo, a surprising, sweet-savory plate of moist cake, flavorful olive oil, raspberry sorbet and almonds.

And lastly, the uber rich chocolate ganache cake, served with green tea ice cream, crackly caramel crunches and Pichet’s patented malted chocolate (also on the cupcake) bits.

Maybe I’ll have to fly back again for the imminent opening of Village Tart.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Baby brownies

Best brownie ever? I surely wouldn’t go that far. But when your hotel offers turndown service with a nice two-bite Fat Witch brownie, you can’t complain. At least I didn’t.

I was surprised and a little sad that, instead of going across the street to City Girl Café for their decadent Valrhona brownies, 60 Thompson scoops up these babies from across town at the Chelsea Market.

So in addition to testing out new chocolate chip cookies and indulging at Pichet Ong’s new dessert bar, Spot (more on those later), I plunked myself down for a few bites of baked goodness every day during my short but sweet stay at the hotel.

The brownie fared better than the blondie with a dense, undercooked middle (the way I like ’em).

The blondie had the chocolate chip bonus, but were a bit on the dry, crumbly side.

Next time I’m in town, I’ll have to give some of the other flavors—available only in full size—a shot.

It's only fair that I try the walnut, caramel and spicy brownies before denying Fat Witch the best brownie title.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Parisian douceurs, New York style

The grass is always greener and the sweets, sweeter, when you’re away from your home territory. Here are five sweet spots in New York where I’m indulging in Parisian douceurs.

Michel Cluizel
The master is back in NYC after closing shop in ABC last year. Now you can sink your teeth into a cup of cocoa or a grand cru chocolate bar at his new boutique at Fifth and 47th.

Or scoop up some artisinal chocolates instead. Kee Ling Tong puts the same meticulous care into her insanely delicious bonbons as she does her homemade macarons. You just can’t go wrong.

Ceci Cela
Anyone who’s ever had a croissant from this Nolita darling—be in butter, almond or pain au chocolat—knows they’re the real deal.

Butterfield Market
Payard, lost and found! While the patisserie sadly closed earlier this year, you can still get Francois’ exquisite French éclairs—or go whole hog with the buche de Noel—at this Upper East Side market.

Thé Adoré
I love this little spot on 13th that always goes under the radar. Once you step inside the narrow salon de thé and get a gander at the pretty fruit tarts, you might as well be in Paris.

Monday, November 30, 2009

November Tour: Rue Montorgueil’s Embarrassment of Rich-Riches

I don’t mean to boast, but I chose my neighborhood well. At the one end of rue Montorgueil, you have Deliziefollie. At the other, Eric Kayser. And in between, it’s a sheer embarrassment of riches.

Let’s start with Deliziefollie (7 rue Montorgueil), the Italian gelateria. They have dozens of decadent flavors to ogle, from the savory (hazelnut) to the spicy (cinnamon); from fruity (mango) to boozy (rum raisin) to just plain sweet (strawberries and cream). And if a frozen dessert on an autumn day doesn’t cut it, you can get a piping hot Nutella crepe from their stand out front.

Just a couple doors up, Charles Chocolatier (15 rue Montorgueil) is a heavenly oasis of artisinal treats. The long-standing chocolate shop (since 1910) offers lovely dark chocolate bonbons and tablettes, plus killer hot cocoa.

Does Stohrer (51 rue Montorgueil) have the best chocolate éclair in the city? Despite the obscene number of times I’ve been in this gorgeous little patisserie—a historic gem, founded in 1730 by King Louis XV’s pastry chef, Nicolas Stohrer—I still haven’t tried one. Although Stohrer has received city’s best honors from Le Figaro, I can’t seem to get beyond the puits d’amour, tartelette aux figues or Neptune cake, which is like a giant Rocher chocolate.

I know Paul (63 rue Montorgueil) is a chain, and I can be a world-class snob when it comes to chains. But besides their heavenly baguettes, Paul makes a perfect pit-stop for pain au chocolat, tartes aux citrons and those pepito loafs that are chock full of chocolate chips and sweet pastry cream.

My love for dried pineapple is no secret. Nor should it be a surprise that A la Mere de Famille (82 rue Montorgueil) is my supplier. Beyond their luscious bins of dried fruit is a cute little store filled with caramels, marzipan, lollis, marshmallows and chocolates.

My incredibly rich mocha birthday cake this year came from Maison Collett (100 rue Montorgueil) so I have a soft spot for this patisserie.

Despite having all these delicious options, I will often walk by them to get to Eric Kayser. Another master breadmaker, Kayser also knows his sweets. With goodies like the chocolaty Opera cake, beautiful raspberry pistachio cake, and strawberry bressane—a round, flat pastry topped with cream, sugar and berries, from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes—wouldn’t you?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nante's candy bins

Not only did I try the caramel kouignette from Larnicol in Nantes, but I went back twice to load up on the chocolate bonbons by the kilo.

How could I not, with such a bright and tempting selection?

Dried pears dipped in milk chocolate? Praliné, inside dark chocolate, inside a crispy candy shell?

Technicolor macarons in flavors of the rainbow?

It's no wonder that I went straight into one of my mini sugar detox programs after my weekend getaway.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The great Breton kouign amann

There are two desserts that I’m sort of obsessed with, though I rarely eat them: upside down cake and bread pudding.

I like them both for different reasons. But I guess what they share in common is that heaviness and density that means your belly is going to be nice and bloated, along with a gooey stickiness that I find absolutely irresistible.

So it’s been with excitement and envy that I’ve been stumbling upon great reading and recipes for all things sticky and sweet lately.

First, there were the posts by Dorie Greenspan and David Leibovitz (can I please have their lives??) about kouign amann. No, this pastry/cake (depending how you want to look at it) is neither upside down nor a pudding. But it has same gooeyness that covers your tongue and sticks to your teeth and the same heft that feels like a happy bullet in your gut. All kouign amann is is pastry dough, baked with copious amounts of butter and sugar so that the butter and sugar do their chemical magic and caramelize and congeal and make it sweet and sticky.

I tried my first kouign amann in Nantes last month (the pastry originates in Brittany). Actually, it was a mini version called a kouignette. This candy store where I got it had all kinds of flavors from chocolate to apple, coconut to caramel. As I had anticipated and hoped, it was sugary, sweet and sticky. But sadly, it lacked the omigod factor.

What I’m looking for is something like Molly Killeen’s St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake that Melissa Clark wrote about last week. “A treacly mix of corn syrup, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla”?? Yes, please! Or this week’s Minimalist ode to a maple pear upside down cake: “Then pour this syrup over the cake, making it tender, sweet and gooey.” It’s almost enough to make you forsake the macarons and pains aux raisins. Almost. But not quite.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Prelude to a birthday cake

Rich mocha cake from rue Montorgueil’s Masion Colett. Potent and fudgy, but oh-so refined, just a little sliver was all that was necessary to sate my wicked sweet tooth.

100, rue Montorgueil

Friday, October 30, 2009

The dessert course at Cafe Panique

To say that Paris knows its desserts is like saying King Louis XIV had a tendency for flamboyancy. Just when you think you’ve been wowed by one patisserie window, you stumble upon another with more elaborate pastries, more vividly imagined cakes, more mouth-watering puffs of prettiness and decadence.

I don’t often order dessert when I go out for dinner. Usually, I snack on so many pastries during the day that I’m just not able to indulge in another sweet course. But I recently ate at Café Panique, an adorable and delicious restaurant in the 10th arrondisement that offers only a three-course menu at dinner. So I was forced into dessert. Totally against my will. It was horrible.

I had two dining companions and we took pains to all order something different. Each was divine. And through too gorgeous to eat, we did just that.

There was the praliné and raspberry sablé.

Poached pear with fresh cream and vanilla.

And caramel tiramisu.

I loved this dessert not only for its generous portion and rich creaminess. But the Carambar wrapper that adorned it was the perfect example of the sophisticated playfulness that made Café Panique such a wonderful experience.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cakes to cheer you up

Ten years ago, Arnaud Delmontel opened on Rue des Martyrs. In 2006, he won Patisserie of the Year, followed by Best Baguette of the Year in 2007. Michael told me this right when I moved here this past spring and we were catching up over dinner at Hotel Amour, just down the street. Proving to be both a good neighbor and an astute business, Hotel Amour serves Monsieur Delmontel’s bread. So smitten and curious was I that I immediately journeyed to the patisserie to properly explore its cakes and viennoiseries.

I first fell for the patte d’ours (bear claw), a fresh, flaky pastry filled with pistachio almond paste. The pain au chocolat isn’t so bad either. Tasty macarons, too. I’ve sampled many pastries there over the past seven months. But not once have I indulged in one of his exquisite cakes.

Not the raspberry, the cassis or the yuzu cube.

Not the white chocolate, dark chocolate ganache or pistachio.

Not the tarte tatin, tarte citron or the millefeuilles.

Most days, it’s enough to just go in the patisserie and admire. But one of these days soon, I’m going to have to decide which one of these lovelies comes home with me.

39, Rue des Martyrs

25, Rue de Levis

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweet Freak’s irresistible cookie diet

Six cookies a day, plus steamed vegetables for dinner? Sounds totally sensible to me.

For anyone looking for a local alternative to Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet, it’s your lucky day. Be sure to follow this highly addictive New York regimen—don’t be afraid to walk, jog or bicycle from bakery to bakery—and watch the magical transformations occur.

1. For your first, most important meal of the day, Sweet Freak recommends you start with something substantial in your belly. Like a six-ounce dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookie from Levain.

2. Do good for the environment as your do good for your waistline. Birdbath’s coconut cookies are refreshing, buttery, delightful reinforcements.

3. Bigger is better. Thus the cookie diet, friends. Sashay up to Petrossian for a chocolate chunk cookie as big as your head.

4. Momofuku’s compost cookie. With “everything” inside, you’ll ingest extra vitamins and other good stuff.

5. Craving chocolate? Go ahead, you’ve earned it! Go straight to Max Brenner for a rich, chunky double chocolate chip cookie.

6. The protein inside City Bakery’s peanut butter cookie will give you that little stamina push you need to fight the mid-day slump.

7. Seeing as you have a sensible dinner ahead of you, keep things light: skip the dairy. This Chick Bake’s vegan ginger molasses cookie is spicy, cakey and oh-so-delicious.

And now you have dinner to look forward to.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Be still, my beating…

Voila, Le Coeur from Coquelicot.

This little heart-shaped, strawberry-flavored dense and delicious cake is one of my favorite things in the City of Looooove. Who knows what makes it so dense and pink and full of flavor. I have a feeling it’s one of the few desserts here in Paris that’s filled with ingredients I’d rather remain ignorant of.

All I know is that whenever I’m in Montmartre, I find an excuse to stop by the Rue des Abbesses bakery and indulge.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October Tour: Saint-Germain’s rich and dreamy chocolate trail

In honor of the Salon du Chocolat (which I didn’t go to this year) this month’s walking tour takes you to some of Saint-Germain’s best chocolatiers. After all, you can toss an M&M in any direction in the sixth arrondisement and hit a world-class chocolatier—especially now that Patrick Roger has opened two new boutiques there.

Start at one of them, 91 rue de Rennes, and see what magical window displays the creative chocolate genius has whipped up. After admiring the fantasies and inhaling the smells, select a few of his unusual bonbons to sample—perhaps the Jamaica, made with ground Arabica coffee beans; the Jacarepagua, a blend or tart lemon curd and refreshing mint, or the Phantasme, made with oatmeal.

A fun and under-appreciated spot awaits just around the corner. The tiny and whimsical Jean-Charles Rochoux (16 rue d'Assas) is cluttered with chocolate figurines and sculptures—everything from fist-sized bunnies, squirrels and alligators to imposing nude busts. While Rochoux works in his basement kitchen, a lovely vendeuse, donning a lace glove, will pluck the pralines, nougats and truffles of your choice. Don’t miss his signature Maker’s Mark truffles.

A quick jaunt east, you’ll find Christian Constant (37 rue d’Assas), a small but slick shop filled with decadent cakes and fragrant teas. In a case tucked along the right-hand wall, you’ll find delicious chocolates with spicy and floral notes such as saffron and ylang ylang.

On your way back into the heart of the shopping district, skip the long line snaking out of Pierre Hermé (72 rue Bonaparte). While his macarons and cakes are to die for, his chocolates, try as I might, aren’t as good as the others. Instead, make your way to another Pierre—Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini (89 rue de Seine).

Marcolini’s boutique is as elegant and refined as a luxe jewelry store. Study the display cases to choose your bonbons of choice. My recommends: the Pavé de Tours Fondant, an uber thin milk chocolate, filled with sugared almonds, hazelnuts and puff pastry cake, and the Coeur Framboise, dark chocolate ganache with raspberry puree, enrobed in white chocolate.

Is there anything better than chocolate??

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumn is pear season

This I know because I went to Maison Baron-Lefèvre in Nantes and had pear crumble for dessert.

Crumbles are one of my favorite things to eat. (But for the record, what is the difference is between a “crumble” and a “crisp”?). This French version had the added bonus of a thick eggy custard in addition to the delicious pear morsels, the sweet crumbles and the light vanilla bean ice cream.

With every bite, I kept promising myself that I wouldn’t finish (this dessert was the third course of a very decadent meal, after all). But, what can I say? It was too delicious. It being pear season and all.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Gelato for all moods

I have no problem paying six euros for an exquisite pastry or gateau, no matter what its size. But I can also be horribly cheap.

The other day, I was feeling sorry for myself and wanted to throw a big ole pity party with a little bit of ice cream. But just a little. So when I saw the petit, petit carton of Ben & Jerry’s—basically the size of those Dixie cups of vanilla and chocolate you used to get in grade school—at the corner robber, I grabbed a container of chocolate fudge brownie and brought it to the cash register with glee. Until he rang it up for five euros. Five euros?! That’s $7.31. For about 8 ounces of ice cream. Trop cher pour moi.

Especially when you can go to a gelateria like Deliziefollie and get two homemade scoops of rich and decadent flavors for half that price. Don’t get me wrong—I love my Ben & Jerry’s. But I also love my hard-earned centimes. And pressing my nose against the glass display case of such deliciousness.

Rum raisin, cinnamon, hazelnut...

Mango, mint chip, banana...

Fleur de lait, black cherry, toasted almond...

Gelato: the ultimate mood enhancer.

7, rue Montorgueil

Friday, October 02, 2009

Two bites to euphoria

I’ve learned the most essential trick to pastry euphoria in Paris and maybe even the secret to happiness in life: When you go to a boulangerie, ask which pastries are still “un peu tiede.” It’s as simple as that.

If a pain au chocolat—with infinite layers of buttery, crispy pastry dough and just a touch of dark bittersweet chocolate—is a thing of wonder, then a warm pain au chocolat is a joy for life.

Monday, September 28, 2009

11 ice cream sandwiches for the books

Emily Luchetti, pastry chef and lucky author of such books as A Passion for Desserts and A Passion for Ice Cream, is having an ice cream sandwich creation contest. It got me to thinking about the possibilities… all the wild, wonderful, over-the-top possibilities. No wonder she wrote a book about it.

Since I don’t really bake, I drew inspiration from my favorite New York and San Francisco cookies and ice cream. The more I thought about it, the harder it became to pick just the right combination. But I think I have some winners. In order from most refined to the most ridiculous, here are my 11 submissions to the contest:

• Il Laboratorio del Gelato lavender gelato sandwiched between two light, airy sugar cookies.

• Ruby & Violette champagne strawberry chocolate chip cookies sandwiching tangerine sorbet.

• Jacques Torres double chocolate chip cookies sandwiching raspberry sorbet.

• Tarallucci e Vino pignolli cookies with vanilla rum gelato and a swirl of caramel.

• Two macadamia and white chocolate chip cookies, sandwiching Grom gianduja ice cream.

• Salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery in between two thin, crisp ginger snaps.

• This Chick Bakes vegan ginger molasses cookies with rum raisin ice cream.

• Bi-Rite Creamery roasted banana ice cream with a spoonful of Nutella, sandwiched between snickerdoodles.

• Chocolate peanut butter chip cookies sandwiching Bi-Rite malted vanilla with peanut brittle and milk chocolate pieces ice cream (hurt me).

• A chocolate chip whopper—either the walnut chocolate chip cookie from Levain or the wheatgerm chocolate chip cookie from Specialty’s—with the middle scooped out, an oversized dollop of toasted walnut gelato dropped in, and then the cookie bit placed on top again, like a dainty little chapeau.

• Momofuku compost cookies (pretzels, chips, coffee grinds, toffee bits, chocolate chips) sandwiching Ben & Jerry’s triple caramel chunk ice cream, dipped and frozen in chocolate.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

September Tour: Giant palmiers, fleur du lait gelato and a double shot of chocolate

The residential eighth and seventeenth arrondisements get bad raps for being stuffy and boring. But right where the two neighborhoods meet is a sensational oasis of sweetness that’s pretty exciting, if you ask me.

Case in point: a small gem of a salon de thé/bakery/chocolatier, La Petite Rose, is just a couple doors down from one of the dozen + city locations of the famed patisserie Lenotre (11 & 15, blvd de Courcelles, respectively). This modest spot currently has beautiful fresh fruit tartlettes (apricot, raspberry, apple). Or you can save your pastry appetite for a millefeuille at Lenotre and leave La Petite Rose with a pretty pink and brown box of chocolate bonbons for later.

Once you cross the boulevard to rue de Levis, you enter the 17th arrondisement—and a long stretch of sweet possibilities.

At the tip of the street (6, rue de Levis), the charming Beaux Arts façade of Le Moulin de la Vierge will beckon you inside the pocket-sized bakery that packs in all of the classics: individual baba au rhums, tartlette aux noix and the palmiers the size of your head.

There are only twelve gelato and sorbet flavors at Pozzetto (21, rue de Levis), but still, you’ll have a hard time deciding. How could you not with options like fleur de lait, gianduja, peach and melon?

Personally, it’s all but impossible to walk by an Arnaud Delmontel (23, rue de Levis) and not get something. I devil dog dare you to look in the window and skip one of his bright and shiny fondant-frosted cakes or lemon-raspberry financiers.

Once you leave rue de Levis and go a little further into the 17th, you’ll be rewarded with a double shot of chocolate. The sustainable, artisinal chocolate salon, Puerto Cacao (53, rue de Tocqueville) offers multi-course chocolate indulgences (a pot of hot cocoa to wash down that chocolate-drenched tartine?). Or you can pop across the street where La Petite Chocolatière supplements its chocolate bonbons with freshly made macarons.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

And the angels sang

There I was, walking down rue du Cherche-Midi, ogling all the shoes in the shop windows.

When I saw the window of Polaine, bathed in the autumn sunlight.

It was as if the clouds had parted from the heavens above to shine light on the most beautiful brioche and tartlettes in the city.

8, rue du Cherche-Midi

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dreamy pastries

La Patisserie des Reves really is the stuff you dream about.

Philippe Conticini’s new patisserie opened while I was in New York (eating cookies), and it’s rich, gorgeous, inviting, exquisite and inspiring—it’s Willy Wonka meets Cartier, and surely going to become the city’s next sweet addiction (or at least mine).

The cakes are magic, and, under the glass domes, it’s as fun picking the perfect treat as it is window shopping in Place Vendome.

Some are classics, like the lemon meringue, apple crumble and tarte tatin.

Some are clearly the work of a pastry master—they are divine inspiration. The chocolate éclairs and Saint-Honoré are like none other you’ll find in the city.

There are also viennoiseries—chausson aux pommes, brioche, financiers—for more modest pleasures.

With exquisite cakes like these, Pierre Hermé, watch your back!

93 rue de Bac