Monday, August 30, 2010

On a tear in New York City

It was a gluttonous return to New York, that’s for sure. Lucky for me and my ass, it was also brief. Sadly, for my psyche, it was not oh-my-god gluttony.

But I tried.

There was the red velvet cupcake from Amy’s Bread. So moist (and pretty, dontcha think?), the cake crumbled into pieces beneath the light and sweet whipped buttercream. Good but messy.

And put to shame by Sugar Sweet Sunshine’s “sassy” version. Why so sassy? The red velvet cake was topped with chocolate almond buttercream frosting.

And if you’ve ever had, say, the Ooey Gooey cupcake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine you know sass = heaven.

Speaking of sassy, I watched the froster at Billy’s top off the little morsels of cake with vanilla buttercream.

But I didn’t succumb to a cupcake there. Two new treats caught the eyes of Amee and me. The cookie sandwich…

Beautiful in theory, but just not the right balance of cookie to cream. Nor was the vanilla cream thick or distinctive enough to heed the call of satisfaction.

The peanut butter chocolate bar, on the other hand, did.

Weighing in at about eight ounces, the layers of chocolate cookie crust, dark chocolate and peanut butter were sinful and hit the spot.

There were, of course, the chocolate chunk banana bread at Arlo & Esme and Clinton Street Baking Co’s banana chocolate chip muffin.

That was a power breakfast if I ever had one.

And the cherry scone, olive oil muffin, pain au chocolat and glazed croissant from Maialino.

Yep. I put all four of those down in one sitting. There’s no shame in that.

I boycotted Momofuku Milk Bar. Not because I wanted to. God knows, I live for their cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip cookies. But can you imagine how much cellophane they go through daily to individually wrap every cookie and dessert?? Totally unnecessary and gross.

But since I love a good cookie, and had to walk by this sign every day on my way into my apartment, I finally succumbed to trying Milk & Cookies at their espresso bar inside Kiehl’s.

I wanted to try the S’mores cookie. What’s not to love about chocolate and marshmallow and graham crackers, all inside a single cookie, right?

But the barista said it was a “kid’s cookie”; he didn’t recommend it. Instead, he lobbied for the chocolate chip, the peanut butter chocolate chip or snickerdoodle.

So I got the peanut butter chocolate chip: a nicely chewy texture, gritty with butter and sugar and punctuated with peanuts and chocolate chips. Another good, not great, grade. Sigh.

But happily, there was one spot in the city that made my heart twitter and my knees shake. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The four-pastry breakfast

When Bennie advises me on food, I stop and listen. Usually with an enormous appetite.

So when he suggested breakfast at Maialino, the Danny Meyer restaurant in the Gramercy Park Hotel where they make their own pastries, I readily agreed to an early morning date.

While I’m usually not an Italian pastry girl—too crumbly and tasteless—the Cestino di Dolci basket actually skewed more French, jammed with pain au chocolate and a glazed croissant, alongside a cherry scone and olive oil muffin. Yes, an olive oil muffin.

So let’s start there. God knows how many cups of olive oil go into this budino. I don’t think we want to know. All that’s important is how dense and moist and delicious it is, calories be damned.

As were the viennoiseries. The pain au chocolat wasn’t sick with chocolate. But the little pieces that were in there were rich and heavenly.

And the croissant? Another impressive example of moistness, grace à beaucoup butter.

As usual, I told myself I wouldn’t clean my plate.

But I found it pretty hard to abide by my own rules.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One killer breakfast

Sheesh. Is Clinton Street Baking Company really so good as to warrant a line at 10 a.m. on a Thursday? Try as I might, I still have never gotten in for breakfast.

So, never one to accept defeat, I took a banana chocolate chip muffin to go.

But then I stumbled upon the lovely little Arlo & Esme, which had plenty of sunlight and free space on a weekday morning.

And thick slabs of chocolate banana bread from Blue Sky Bakery.

Muffin or bread?

Bread of muffin?

Because you know I had both.

The bread was heavy and dense, moist and chocolaty. A breakfast bomb if there ever was one.

The muffin was lighter but almost even naughtier. With gooey bits of banana and rich, melty chocolate chunks, it was the perfect companion to the uber thick cake.

(Breakfast like this is not recommended for Sweet Freak novices.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nectarine tart for lunch

As much as I love the Parisian salons de thé, chic patisseries and British influences in the city, sometimes I miss the shabby-chic coffeehouse vibe of New York and San Francisco.

So imagine my glee when I stumbled upon Le Loir dans la Thieiere in the Marais.

Worn out leather club chairs are paired with antique-y wood tables. One wall is covered in art posters while across the room, there’s an Alice in Wonderland mural.

Wood floors, antiques, kind servers, and…

Pies and tarts galore!

I could have had apricot clafoutis…

… a big, chiffony slice of lemon meringue….

Chocolate crumble tart or chocolate mint millefeuille

For me, it came down the plum or nectarine tarts.

Nectarine won out.

A thick eggy custard base sandwiched between a sweet crust and sliced nectarines…

There’s nothing wrong with calling this lunch, right?

3 rue des Rosiers, 4eme

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Provencal tarts

I mean, how perfect is this? You couldn’t stage a display of freshly baked fruit tarts from the South of France any better if you tried.

There I was, strolling through Avignon, minding my own business, when I saw this.

Rhubarb, pear, chocolate hazelnut, deliciousness.

Look at this sea of blueberries. Hubba hubba!

The strawberry tart didn’t look so bad either.

Little slices of sunshine, aren’t they.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pierre Hermé versus Ladurée: An American Smackdown in Paris

“I definitely preferred Pierre Hermé when I came, and now… I’m a Ladurée girl. And I’m not comfortable with that.”—Jo

“I had heard so much about Pierre Hermé’s flavors, but… they kinda freaked me out!”—Karin

For years the debate has raged on: Who has the most sublime flavor-combinations? Who has the richest ganache? The creamiest buttercream? The perfect balance of crisp to chewy to melty? Whose is the prettiest?

Just exactly who has the best macaron: Pierre Hermé or Ladurée?

This was the question. But trust me, it’s not so easy to answer.

Even after the American Smackdown in Paris.

Nine tasters, ranging from macaron newbies to diehard aficionados.

That would be Karin and Sion

Sarah and Jo

Sylvia and Lionel

Top-notch pastry chef Rachel Khoo, experienced macaron taster Erica Berman, and myself.

Two flavors went head to head: rose and chocolate. (The others were just there because—pourquoi pas?—you can never have too much macaron carnage.)

And what do you know? It was a draw.

Rachel helped set things up and point out what we were looking for...
...What was the sheen like on the shell? Is the “foot” ragged or smooth? Does the shell crack like a baby bird’s egg? (Okay, that last one is my professional contribution, but it’s important, no??)

Although the numerical results would indicate Pierre Hermé won the Smackdown, it’s just not that easy. At the end of the night, four attendees confessed to preferring Ladurée overall—two of these were converts. Yesss!

So why is it a draw? Because I’m such a wuss, the ninth mouth, and I still can’t decide.

But here’s what we do know:

What we like about Pierre Hermé
The appearance: both the macarons themselves and the image of the brand
That they’re hand-assembled
The flavor combinations

What we don’t like about Pierre Hermé

A little too dense & heavy

What we like about Ladurée
The flavors
The fillings
The crisp shells

What we don’t like about Ladurée
That they’re assembled by machine
The stodgy image

Specifically, we pitted rose for rose.

It was a very close call. Out of a possible score of 15 (5 for appearance, 5 for texture and 5 for flavor), it was 11.875 to 11.222, Hermé’s favor. Ladurée tasted “just like a rose!” while Hermé had “a titch of savory creaminess”—which, with the comments on sugar and sweetness is probably what tilted the scales.

The results for the chocolate macaron were greater but, again, misleading.

Numerically, Hermé was the top scorer (12.5). But verbally, most people preferred the Ladurée option (which scored 11.33), citing that Hermé had “too much filling” and was “too cocoa-y”. Tasters likened it to eating a brownie. Pierre Hermé was “fudgier” versus Ladurée’s “creamier”.

So au final, who is the best?

Karin said it best and half agreed: Give me the appearance (and image! Piped Jo and Rachel) of Pierre Hermé but the flavor of Ladurée (which got big love from Erica).

In other words, the debate (happily) goes on.