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

Friday, September 18, 2009

A warm one for the road

If there is anything better than a chocolate chip cookie, it is a warm chocolate chip cookie. This is something Jacques Torres knows.

On my final day of New York City binging (until December, that is), I wanted to follow up my Momofuku, Max Brenner and Dishes cookie sampling with a classic. So I went to Mr. Chocolate.

The plate of giant chocolate chunk cookies looked perfect. But perfection was realized with the warming griddle, on which a half dozen cookies were waiting to go. Genius.

Big, buttery, sweet and veeery chocolaty. It was clear the rest of the cookie was there just as the vehicle for eating melty chunks of dark chocolate.

I love New York.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I went in for the brownies

I mean, how could I pass them up after seeing this sign on the door of City Girl Café?

But I surprised myself; I didn’t get a “homemad” Valrhona brownie, even though they looked so fudgy and decadent and insanely delicious.

Because I saw the peanut butter balls.

Peanut butter balls?? “They’re like peanut butter cups, only more delectable,” the thoughtful barista told me. Sold. I plunked down my $2.50 for this seemingly small morsel of thick, gritty peanut butter covered in dark chocolate and bits of peanut. It was the snack that kept on giving: bite after bite of rich, savory, stick-to-your-molars chocolaty goodness.

Next time, I have to try the in-demand brownies. But the peanut butter balls will be hard to pass up.

63 Thompson Street b/w Spring and Broome

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Late night ice cream

How is it that I lived four blocks from Sundaes and Cones and didn’t develop a nasty little ice cream habit? This stuff is otherworldly.

I debated a lot between the lychee and black cherry and pondered the sesame. I skipped the tiramisu and hazelnut, and I sampled the banana ice cream. It was incredible. But finally, I opted for a scoop of strawberry. It just looked so creamy and whipped to perfection, with big chunks of strawberries hiding inside. Otherworldly.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I heart NY, too

I don’t know which is cuter: this darling mobile truck named Pearl, or the driver named Max.

Yet another mobile concept, this one feels really fresh and fun. Amee and I were too stuffed from lunch at Balthazar and dessert from Baked by Melissa, so we didn’t sample the ice cream and candy treats from around the world.

But everything about Hearts Challenger is too cute to pass up a second time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

50¢ a bite

It’s not always easy to quantify how much your sweet tooth costs you. But at $3 for three two-bite cupcakes, Baked by Melissa, makes it all but impossible not to.

It’s genius, really: selling mini cupcakes in volume (the price goes down, the more you buy) is a great way for Melissa to ensure she sells high numbers and makes more money. And it makes us feel like we’re not really being bad. Two bites? There aren’t really calories in two bites, are there?

Who knows the calorie count, but they hit the sweet spot.

Tie-dye, s’mores, peanut butter cup—they’re over the top like Crumb’s, that weird Duncan Hines goodness like Out of the Kitchen, bite-sized like Kumquat, and yet totally original.

Paris’ answer to Magnolia Bakery

Pierre Hermé, please don’t have a movie made in which an adorable movie star devours your beautiful macarons while talking boys with her best friend outside. Your reputation for the best macarons in the city is already persuasive enough. The magnetism of your Saint-Germaine boutique is already plenty irresistible. The lines snaking down the block are already plenty off-putting, making even a Sweet Freak like me flee for healthier snacks (or, shhhh, to your rue Chabon or Publicis Drugstore locations that are thankfully never mobbed like this).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Chocolate chip cookie hunting

After my dalliances with Momofuku’s day old cookies, Max Brenner’s double-chocolate chip cookie, and my own mom’s white chocolate chip and macadamia cookies, I figured why stop now? Might as well cram as many chocolate chip cookies as I can in my maw while I’m here in New York as I can. God knows, there’s a sweets shortage in Paris.

So it was that I found myself giving into the big, buttery chocolate chunk with walnut cookie at Dishes in Grand Central Station.

I’ve always loved Dishes’ savory salads. But I had never seen their arresting cookie selection. They have chocolate chunk cookies, with or without walnuts. There’s a classic oatmeal raisin, along with an oatmeal-hazelnut-chocolate chunk cookie (next time…). The gluten-free dark chocolate cookie also seemed a delicious option. But I thought a nice chocolate chunk with nuts would hit the spot.

In the grand scheme of chocolate chip cookies, this one would never move the earth but it was decent. It tasted similar to the Tollhouse recipe, and the walnuts—though I’m not usually a nuts in my baked goods kind of girl—were especially delicious. It could have used a minute or two less baking in the oven to give it extra doughiness.

Then again, I could have done with a half a cookie less—especially if I’m going to keep up this pace.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Double chocolate is double joy

When one of your favorite pastry chefs insists that you try a cookie, you try a cookie. That’s how I found myself with a 10-ounce “very dark and full of chocolate chunks” cookie from Max Brenner in my hand.

Pichet Ong, pastry chef of the once-was, soon-to-be-again delicious bakery Batch, is currently revamping the dessert menu for the international chocolate chain. After a much-too-healthy lunch together, he kept insisting that I try a dessert. I was honestly stuffed and kept demurely declining, but on the way out, I was finally persuaded (Shocking, I know). I opted the double chocolate chip cookie, and it was nothing short of heaven.

It was as rich and chocolaty as you’d expect. But the texture—at turns melty and crunchy—was better than I ever could have hoped for. Lots of chocolate chunks, indeed.

Luckily I had Alex’s help to power through this beast. It’s a beautiful cookie, but a bit much for one belly, no matter how well versed in rich chocolate it is.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Momofuku day-olders

Are we really that insatiable that we eat up every last cookie, cupcake and fudge brownie that a bakery pulls from the oven every day? Even with my own bottomless stomach, I doubt it.

So what do they do with all of those buttery, sugary, eggy baked goods? At Momofuku, I was thrilled to see them pawning a big bowl of day-old cookies, individually wrapped in cellophane baggies and selling for just 85¢ each.

It immediately pushed me into that psychotic bargain mentality where the only thing that mattered was taking advantage of a good deal. Did I need four cookies? No. Did my butt? Hell, no. But did I buy four? Yes. Because four ginorous, butter-laden baked goods for less than $4 was just too good to pass up. I had to have them.

Ostensibly, two were for Bennie (blueberry and cream and the compost) and two were for me (same flavors). But Bennie only wanted one. Which left me with three.

What’s a Sweet Freak to do? It’s been six looooong months without a Momofuku cookie—not that I’ve been hurting for sweets. But I sure was eager for my first hit of Momofuku.
It probably wasn’t the wisest choice to break the drought with day-olders. Bennie and I agreed that you can taste a difference. Not so much in the flavor, but in the texture. They’re predictably harder and less melt-in-your-mouth buttery.

And yet, they’re still delicious. Heavy, dense, chockfull of butter and other naughty bits, to me, they’re true New York icons.