Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Tour: A hop, skip and a cupcake

One street, three must-eat sweet spots. But since three seems a bit of a gyp compared to the gluttony of other months (well, it is January my friends, the month of great, big healthy intentions), all you have to do is pop around the corner for one last take-home indulgence—the icing on the cake, if you will.

Start at 35, rue Rambuteau. If you know your chocolate makers, you’ll know this is Pralus not by the claret red storefront but by the rainbow of colors of the chocolate pyramids (why they’re called pyramids instead of blocks, I’m not sure, seeing as they consist of 10 squares) and pink-spotted brioche (the famous “praluline”) in the window. The chocolate bars’ colored wrappings correspond to the origin of the cocoa beans. Aqua is from Cuba, violet, from Ghana, mustard yellow is from Indonesia. The pink in the brioche is from the (dyed) Piémont hazelnuts and Valencia almonds that are roasted, crushed and then baked into the sweet, buttery brioche. With either treat, it’s not the colors but the taste that matters (duh), and the flavors are indeed vibrant and delicious.

Speaking of color, a few doors down (23, rue Rambuteau) is the brash cupcake maker, Berko. They weren’t the first to seize the American trend in Paris, but they’re certainly the loudest. Crimson red, hot pink, florescent green, polka dots, gumdrops, chocolate swirls, cookie chunks—these cupcakes cause strollers to suffer from whiplash on the sidewalks every day. Other treats are equally colorful (and sinful), including cheesecake, custardy tarts and caramel-doused shortbread bars.

Jump to the other side of rue Rambuteau, where another patisserie creates sidewalk bottlenecks. Pain de Sucre, which was opened in 2004 by two pastry chefs, is the haute patisserie of the street. Great big, square tarts of rhubarb and raspberry are accented with rosemary; tablettes of chocolate are studded with wild strawberries or whole hazelnuts; and the perfect rows of macarons include flavors like elderflower, lime, chocolate mint and cherry-pistachio.

To bookend this short but sweet tour in chocolate, turn right onto rue des Archives for a visit to Jadis et Gourmande (39 rue des Archives). More gimmicky fun than serious artistry, this Parisian chocolate shop (one of five in the city) has chocolate Eiffel Towers, chocolate plaques that spell out P-A-R-I-S as well as delicious disks of milk and dark chocolate that are topped with dried fruit or nuts.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The incredible, all-too-edible, cakes of Lille, France (part II)

Yes, between Meert’s window dressings and the dangerous, seductive visit to Patisserie Charle, there were other sweet diversions in Lille.

Aux Merveilleux was perhaps the most unique. Rustic, I’d call it. Borderline dated in a Renaissance Fair sort of way, but still charming and delightful.

These are cakes you’re more likely to see in America than France: meringue-coated chocolate whipped cream, rolled in chocolate chips sprinkled with icing and sugar and topped with whipped cream. (I mean, seriously??)

Nearby at Luc Olivier, the dazzling jellies and macarons stood out louder than the pastries.

But what I was most excited about were the chocolates.

Valrhona bonbons in flavors like Tahitian vanilla, Cointreau, lavender, pear and praliné.

I stopped short of buying myself a box of 25, the smallest offered, and instead took a modest 10 home in a cellophane bag.

But it was Patrick Hermand who took the cake. Right?

These little cakes were arresting.

Absolutely exquisite.


Too pretty to eat, almost?

I’d eat one though. Hell, I'd probably eat eight.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The incredible, all-too-edible, cakes of Lille, France (part I)

Pierre, Gerard and Arnaud, eat your hearts out.

I trained up to Lille, in north-northeast France and discovered Paris isn’t the only place where patisserie is prized. I was dazzled by cakes at every turn.

I sought out Meert, a celebrated and historic tea salon. Sure, the millefeuilles, rochers, operas, baba rhums, tarts, muffins and cakes looked good.

But then I kept exploring. Besides Patrick Hermand, Aux Merveilleux and Luc Olivier, I discovered Patisserie Charle.

Incredible creations of pineapple and coconut, pears and salted caramel...

...apricot and pistachio, vanilla and raspberry...

white, milk and dark chocolate...

Too much beauty and temptation for one day.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Moulin de la Vierge

Voila. Just one of Paris’ classic patisseries. (Roughly translated to “The Virgin Mill.”)

Behold, the Art Nouveau façade.

Inside, things only get prettier.

And, presumably, more delicious.

I could only try one treat (which broke my week-long sweets embargo, I might add).

There were so many amazing choices.

Tarts, éclairs, macarons, millefeuilles,…

I thought a breakfast pastry, it being 11 am, was the most appropriate.

So I went with the pain aux raisins.

Not the cupcakes.

Not the pizzas or savory tarts.

It was a good choice.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brown and white and absolutely sublime

You really haven’t had hot chocolate until you’ve had hot chocolate in Paris. Not to be a snob, but it’s sort of true.

I was reminded of this on my most recent visit to Jacques Genin.

This chocolatier/salon de thé is as exquisite as they come. It’s just a year old; a grand and beautiful space in the Haute Marais, with pristine tarts, millefeuilles and éclairs.

Like the space and pastries, the service is, as the French say, nickel (“neeeee-quelllllle”).

The chocolat chaud is served in Villeroy & Boch porcelain….

And the thick creaminess of the melted chocolate is just beautiful against the stark white china…


Until, carnage!

We obliterated our individual pitchers of chocolat, leaving irrefutable proof of a lovely afternoon spent.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why not, biscotti?

Biscotti is hardly the stuff that my dreams are made of. It’s not gooey or chocolaty or rich and creamy. It doesn’t ooze pastry or almond cream or stick to the roof of my mouth in heavenly defiance. So when Niels suggested we go to Bis.Co.Latte for a snack, my expectations were as low as a short-stack from Clinton Street Baking Co.

Little did I know how cute this joint is. Never did I dream biscotti could be so fun and exciting.

A tasting bar displayed the world of flavors this sweet café cooks up.

Cherry apricot, caramel walnut oat bran, fig and date, Kahlua espresso bean, lemon poppy seed, chocolate ginger, fennel almond, white chocolate lavender, Reese’s pieces… the list goes on. And on! 50 handmade varieties of biscotti, as a matter of fact. There's even a Goober biscotti.

Accompanied by a café au lait or chai latté, this little Hell’s Kitchen café just might be what some dreams are made of.

667 10th Avenue at 47th