Archive for Eating the Big Apple

Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America 2012

Sometimes I’m a glutton for punishment. Last night, Dessert Professional presented the 19th annual Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America awards. This ain’t no Oscars, where you sit back and clap; you get to eat all the creations. Since they’re overachievers, some chefs presented more than half a dozen desserts. It was enough to make the biggest sweet tooth go rabid.

Indeed, that happened. Guests crowded around a server carrying savory food, toppling h’ordeuvres over the poor guy. This was my version of a wild night. And I’m thankful some familiar faces joined in the debauchery: Robyn and Max from Serious Eats (two sweet people), fellow dessert nerd Niko from Dessert Buzz, Kempie from Gourmet Live, Melissa from The Spatula Queen, and Kirsten from the Food Network.

Here’s tasting below (several desserts were so complicated they were only known by their components). Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Marc Aumont, The Modern, NYC

The pistachio cake with milk chocolate layers was an architectural wonder, each layer giving way to contrasting textures.

The citrus(?) “boats” with cream and crispy shells offered a tart contrast to other rich desserts. The space-age caramel verrines in the back faded in my memory. Too “ordinary.” Ha!

Aumont’s assistant has a death-grip handshake.

Sally Camacho, WP24, Los Angeles

A complicated contraption of sorbet, cookie crumbs, chocolate cream, and mango-passionfruit jelly, and lychee-passionfruit sorbet

Craig Harzewski, Naha, Chicago, IL

Milk chocolate complexite, molten milk chocolate beignets, pinot noir, and cocoa.

Nathaniel Reid, Norman Love Confections, Naples, FL

Petit pastries

Sandro Micheli, Daniel, NYC

Deceptively simply looking, this almond dacquoise, milk chocolate parfait, salted caramel tuile was my favorite. It struck the right balance of textures and flavors.

Chris Hanmer, The School of Pastry Design, Las Vegas

Refreshing tapioca, pineapple confit, lime, passion and mango cremeux, and lime coconut creme. Complete with a syringe.

Angela Pinkerton, Eleven Madison Park, NYC

Lavendar meringue with cocoa sorbet and orange

Damien Herrgott, Bosie Tea Parlor, NYC

Mini pastries infused with tea and macarons

Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar, NYC

Tosi’s desserts are satisfying the way bar food is: fiendish and salty. The pretzel and chocolate chip cake truffles overpowered me last night, but they’re suited for a late-night snack.

The 10th chef, whom I sadly have no pictures of, is Jean-Marie Auboine of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier, Las Vegas.

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Lake Champlain/Fairway Chocolate Review

Lake Champlain Chocolates hazelnut bar

A rite of passage for any New Yorker is experiencing the wonder of Fairway. Its shelves are stocked with esoteric products: imported $12 bottles of fruit soda, “The World’s Best Brownie” (it doesn’t live up to its name, but what would New York be without its hyperboles?), and matzoh crunch ice cream. It even has the old New York staple: rude customers. If you’re lucky, you’ll scrape by as people run you over with their carts and don’t even acknowledge your presence, much less apologize.

Or things can get more personal. I once saw a customer at the olive oil sampling area, dousing his prepackaged salad with a bottle. “I think you’re supposed to pay for that,” I said.

“You’re stupid!” he said and glared.

Fortunately, you can now experience Fairway without the ‘tude. In December, it launched an online store, stocking spices, sauces, pasta, and olive oil that hasn’t been touched by miserly men.

Lucky for me, they sent samples of chocolate bars, which have been repackaged from Lake Champlain Chocolates. Better than Hershey’s but not quite gourmet, they’re like grown-up candies.

The short, stubby bars are the highlight, with well balanced, not too sweet flavors. My favorite by far was the chocolate-hazelnut bar (pictured), which is like a hunk of sophisticated Nutella with hazelnut pieces and crushed Pirouline-like cookies. The tartness of the dark chocolate, raisin, cherry, and pecan bar is also enjoyable. I only wish the fillings were smoother and resembled truffles.

Lake Champlain chocolate-raspberry truffle bar

As of now, I only see the candy bars as part of small and large gift boxes (you can always go to Fairway and get whatever combo you want though). The larger bars are like filler. The chocolate itself is one dimensional and too thick on the truffle bars (pictured). Although Lake Champlain and Fairway don’t specifically advertise it, the couverture (base chocolate) is from Callebaut, the only “Belgian” chocolate maker who would manufacture on such as scale. I’m not a huge fan of their flavor profile.

For the casual chocolate lover though, these bars are a value (the little ones are $2.69 versus Lake Champlain’s $3.75) and would make a fun gift.

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in New York

chocolate chip cookies

These are not from City Bakery (too crispy and marzipan-y). Nor Jacques Torres (too sweet). Not Bouchon (too buttery) either. After making Levain Bakery copycats, eating the real deal and amassing 310+ comments, those are close but no cigar.

My favorite chocolate chip cookies are not from a bakery per se. I’ve been telling people about them for years, but it hasn’t caught on. So now I’ll shout it out for everyone to hear.

First, some criteria. Chocolate chip cookies should not be the size of your face. Bouchon, you sophisticated French bakery, what were you thinking? Maybe you can take a page from French Women Don’t Get Fat about portion control. Second, CC cookies should not be crispy. Then they’re just like crackers and what’s the point? Lastly, CC cookies cannot have nuts. It totally disrupts the texture. Okay, I’ll let the nut people put nuts in their cookies, but not mine.

Times Square Hot Bagel

The magical place I speak of is Times Square Hot Bagels on W. 44 St. and 7 Ave. (Update: they closed in Nov. 2012. RIP!) They’re one of the few places in New York that makes traditional bagels, but never mind that, we’re talking cookies here. They’re pliable, toffee-esque (probably from brown sugar) and chock full of chocolate CHUNKS. One will set you back about 80 cents (they’re $12.50/pound). You can eat one or two and be satisfied without feeling gross afterwards. Since they’re at the crossroads of the world, you don’t have an excuse not to try them.

I first heard about these through church. After service, there was a huge table of humble-looking cookies. I was wowed and only had these clues: a checkerboard logo and some name with “Times Square.” Eventually, I tracked down the store.

A little caveat: sometimes the cookies from the shop are a bit hard. They can easily be fixed with a sprinkle of water and 10 seconds in the microwave. The only guarantee of getting a fresh cookie is to attend the evening service at Redeemer church. Try it: you might like the cookies. And the service. Senior pastor Tim Keller is like a modern day C.S. Lewis. He randomly speaks throughout the day, but he’s always at the 6:00 service at the Hunter College auditorium (69 St. between Park and Lex). Well actually he’s on vacation (no doubt reading more philosophical material) till Aug. 16, but you get the idea.

Times Square Hot Bagels
200 W. 44 St. (by 7 Ave.)
New York, NY 10036

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The Best Strawberry Ice Cream

Blue marble ice cream flavors
Photo: Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

In the frozen dessert department, frozen yogurt and Van Leeuwen ice cream (which seriously sucks) have over-saturated my taste buds. But there’s a small shop in Brooklyn that I’ll never grow tired of. Everything about Blue Marble, from the countertop to the ice cream, is sustainable. During a time when “organic,” “farm fresh,” and “fair trade” are often just marketing terms, Blue Marble lives up to its image.

chocolate ice cream
If you think the chocolate ice cream looks good, wait till you try the strawberry. Photo: Danny/Food in Mouth

The fresh strawberry ice cream is amazing. No icy shards, just sweet and tangy fruit. Not like those giant, bland Driscoll’s berries. These strawberries taste like the kind from the farmers market. The fair trade chocolate ice cream is very good, but even a chocoholic like me would rather have the strawberry. It’s that good.

Blue Marble Ice Cream
Boerum Hill-420 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn
Prospect Heights-186 Underhill, Brooklyn

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Frogurt Alert 2: Times Square


My favorite brand of plain frozen yogurt (not Pinkberry) has just arrived in Times Square! One month ago, A Zest Cafe started serving Frogurt, the ultra-smooth and refreshingly tangy treat. A small is $3.50, a large $4.50. It doesn’t get any better than this, unless you make your own.

Another landmark, Grand Central station, has Frogurt too, but not the plain flavor. Also, watch out for the warm machines, which makes the yogurt melt quickly. Maybe someone should ask them to calibrate their machines.

The cheapest place for Frogurt (only $2.50) is at Zabar’s Cafe, but it’s all the way on the Upper West Side, and they close at 7:00 P.M. While you’re there, you can also try the frozen custard, but never order the babka muffin, which wins the award for driest muffin.

A Zest Cafe, 1441 Broadway (by 40th St.), New York, NY (212-398-9378)

Ben & Jerry’s/Oren’s Daily Roast, Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY (212-953-1028)

Zabar’s Cafe (sold as Zaberry), 2245 Broadway (at 80th St.), New York, NY (212-787-2000)

Photo: Zabar’s

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Chocolate Show Gripes

Bloomsberry chocolate

It’s hard to believe that chocolate can make someone grumpy, but that was the case at New York’s 10th annual Chocolate Show last Friday. The show has declined in recent years, with cheap-o brands slowly taking over the artisan booths. Of course there were stand-outs, but do you really need another cliche “chocolate is delicious” wrap-up? Instead, I’m going with the more entertaining (and arguably more useful) Worst in Show.

Greedy if you ask me!

$2 water
Photo: Niko/Dessert Buzz

When the Chocolate Show first began, it only cost $5 to get in and sample chocolates from all over the world. Two years ago, the admission ballooned to $25, and this year, it again rose to $28. In the words of a fellow chocolate lover: “Greedy if you ask me!” Upon entering, the coat check costs $2 (you can’t really skip out on this in chilly NY), and water costs another $2 (you need something to wash all that chocolate down). You’ve just spent $32 without eating a single piece of chocolate.

Sample Snobbery

A note to the booths: please stop hiding your samples. Visitors just spent $28 on admission and are entitled to a taste. They don’t enjoy inquiring about a possible sample, hearing a long sales pitch and then getting their requisite treat at the end. Ironically, the more the vendors gushed about their chocolate, the worse the product tended to be.

cacao beans
Photo: Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

Some vendors offered samples up front, but they came with tweezers and little spoons. I understand we’re all concerned about cleanliness, but when there’s 20 people waiting in line, using chopsticks to pick up pebble-sized chocolates is hardly efficient. At the very least, please offer more than one spoon per bowl. And when vendors slice a piece of a truffle and insist on handing it to me, I just think, “I’m perfectly capable of picking up my own chocolate!” True, there are some people who horde samples in plastic containers, but it’s not fair for the rest of us.

matcha truffles
Shiki Matcha Crunch truffles, why must I pay $2 to sample you?

The worst policy is not even offering samples at all. I think the chocolates should sell themselves, and if I can’t try them, I won’t buy them.

The Bad and the Irrelevant

Being a chocolate show, you’d think that every booth sold something related to chocolate. Let’s just say that this year’s show offered one-stop shopping, so you could get a Capitol One Visa card, a subscription to the NY Times and book a Marriott vacation.

so-called French truffles
Photo: Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

Two booths sold cocoa-rolled truffles that were ostensibly from France and had hydrogrenated vegetable oil. The French would roll in their graves if they had to eat these!

Mars chocolate
Photo: Niko/Dessert Buzz

Mars also had their own booth. Not only were they out of place, but they pretended to be up to par with the prestige chocolatiers. They bragged about selling 100% real chocolate, but did you know that they’re part of the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association, the same trade group that wanted to replace cacao butter with shortening in chocolate? Last month, Mars turned around and said they’d only sell chocolate with 100% cocoa butter, as they always have. That’s not true. Dove dark chocolate (which I admit tastes pretty good) has milk fat and technically isn’t pure chocolate.

Bueller, Bueller, anyone?

The same chocolate lover above reported that some exhibitors had no idea where their cacao beans came from or whether they were bought for a fair price. Call me a snob, but how and where cacao is grown makes a world of difference in the finished product. When vendors don’t know their product, it’s unattractive to the consumer.

Gobo's vegan chocolate cake

In another puzzling case, Gobo restaurant demoed a vegan chocolate cake, which called for vegan flour and vegan cocoa powder. It pains me to say this, since Gobo and its sister restaurant, Zen Palate, are among my favorites in the city (and the owners are really nice), but I almost laughed at those ingredients. Flour comes from a plant. Cocoa comes from a plant. When are animals involved? If you can find me animal-derived cocoa, I’ll give you a lifetime supply of vegan cocoa as a consolation.

For the Chocolate Show highlights, visit Dessert Buzz and NYCnosh.

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Raising the bar on candy

Tumbador chocolates

Pastry chefs differentiate between chocolate and chocolates — the first is a pure ingredient, while the second is a confection. Think of it this way: you savor chocolate like fine wine, but you hand out chocolates during Halloween.

To illustrate the difference, New York magazine had renowned pastry chef Francois Payard taste 14 chocolates a couple years ago. The results were entertaining but very telling.

Payard on Junior Mints: “I know these are meant to be refreshing. I wouldn’t say it tastes like toothpaste, but something like that.”

On Ferrero Rocher: “Ewgh, no, this is terrible.”

On Cadbury Dairy Milk: “No, this one is not good; it’s too dense, too thick with sweetness. This is like Belgian chocolate; it tastes very fatty. There’s no interesting character. You can’t even enjoy the cocoa liquor in it.”

If you’re like me and love Halloween candy but not its overwhelming sweetness, you can make your own PB Cups, Almond Jays, Twixts and Snickles, thanks to! They even have diagrams, videos and printout candy wrappers.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble, here’s some store-bought options in New York.

La Maison du Chocolat's roche
Photo: Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

La Maison du Chocolat – This premiere shop sells giant roches and nougats, all with their proprietary blend of Valrhona chocolate.

Tumbador Chocolate s'more bar

Tumbador Chocolate – Jean-Francois Bonnet, formerly of Daniel restaurant, now has his own chocolate factory in Brooklyn. For a classically trained chef, he’s surprisingly playful with the s’more and PB&J candy bars. You should try these not just for their deliciousness, but because he’s a really nice guy. I only wish the base chocolate weren’t Callebaut, which has a weak flavor. Available at Fresh Direct.

Lion Bar – This candy bar is a mix between a Kit Kat and a 100 Grand: crispy, crunchy and caramely. Because it’s from the UK, it’s also less sweet than American candy. Available at Economy Candy and Fairway.

Of course, you can always get a free bag of generic candy at KMart. Coupon expires on Halloween.

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David Lebovitz’s Scooper-Duper Meetup at City Bakery

David Lebovitz and me

David Lebovitz, author of The Perfect Scoop, was at New York’s City Bakery last Sunday for a delicious meet-and-greet. For more than a year, I’ve been reading his blog for the chocolate posts, recipes (try the kouign amman, a caramelized croissant-like cake) and humor.

The last time I was at the City Bakery was when Adam, aka the Amateur Gourmet, celebrated his blog’s second birthday. That was my first time trying the bakery’s legendary chocolate chip cookies and tarts.

pretzel croissant
Photo: The Wandering Eater

This time, I passed another rite of passage: eating my first pretzel croissant. Oh. my. goodness. The outside had that magic shatter factor and a healthy dose of salt. I think Dunkin Hines cakes are too salty, so if I like salty dessert, it must be really good! The inside had a whisper of sweetness, hefty chew and lots of grease (in a good way). Some people complain that City Bakery croissants are too bready, but it worked here.

Also in attendance were Adam (now author of a book memoir), Julie (from A Finger in Every Pie) and Deb (from Smitten Kitchen). I previously met them at various food blogger events, so it was nice to see old faces again.

We (mostly Deb) tried to decode the pretzel croissant’s secret. After careful examination, we guessed that the dough was made with bread whole wheat flour and malt syrup (also found in New York bagels). To get the dark brown pretzel shell, it was probably boiled in lye solution for a couple seconds and sprinkled with salt before baking. According to David, The City Bakery’s recipe is a closely guarded secret, just like that of their hot chocolate.

Julie, several other bloggers and I recently split a 24-pound order of Valrhona chocolate. Her share is still in my apartment. Um Julie, can I just eat it? 🙂 It’s okay that you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet.

Adam was a sweetheart. Fame hasn’t changed him. Actually, he was even nicer now than when I met him two years ago. He remembered my food service trip to New Orleans and was proud of the work that CulinaryCorps was doing.

David Lebovit'z autograph

David was easy going and funny, just like on his blog. At one point, the group talked about being unphotogenic, and David’s motto was, “Does it really matter?” Nice.

I admit that I was a mooch that day. The catch about socializing in New York is that nothing’s free. If you meet somewhere, you’re supposed to support the business and buy something. I rushed into the bakery and went straight to the signing because I could only make it at the end of David’s appearance. In between chatting, I forgot about everything else. As I left, I meant to buy something, but they were packing everything away. Now I have to go back and buy my own pretzel croissant.

City Bakery
3 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011
(212) 366-1414

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Frogurt Alert in Grand Central

Frogurt frozen yogurt
Photo: Anisa/Food and Whine

The other day, I thought I hallucinated when I saw a woman carrying a cup of swirly soft-serve from Ben & Jerry’s in Grand Central Station. Could it be? Did Ben & Jerry’s finally replace its synthetic Tasti D-Lite with real frozen yogurt? Yes, not only was Tasti out, but the best brand of frozen yogurt took its place: Frogurt.

Frogurt is smooth and thick, almost like frozen custard. If you’ve had the misfortune of tasting Pinkberry, give the plain Frogurt a try. It’s my favorite out of all the brands I’ve tried, including Columbo, TCBY, Yolato and Canada’s Yogen Fruz. It’s also the most economical option at Ben & Jerry’s for $2.75 for a small. Pinkberry is $5 for an icy mound with a hole in the middle.

Up until recently, Frogurt was the foodie’s secret at 40 Carrots Cafe in Bloomingdale’s. The problem is, the “small” can feed two ravenous people. But I might have to frequent Bloomingdale’s, since Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t stock the tangy plain flavor.

Here’s other locations to get plain Frogurt. Or, try making your own.

40 Carrots at Bloomingdale’s
59 Street & Lexington Avenue
1000 Third Avenue (Upper East Side)
504 Broadway (Soho)

Zabar’s Cafe (sold as Zaberry)
2245 Broadway (at 80th St.), New York, NY 10024

Cafe Lalo
201 W 83rd St (between Broadway & Amsterdam)

Lord and Taylor
424 Fifth Ave. (at 38 St.)

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The Treats Truck: No Tricks, Just Sweets

Treats Truck crispy squares, oatmeal jammies, brownies, creme sandwich cookies and chocolate chip cookies
Photo: Robyn Lee/Serious Eats

As a dessert lover, I get hankerings for cookies a lot. The only thing is, I don’t want to bake a batch and finish them all by myself (which happened when I recently ate my friend’s homemade birthday present). The other option is going store bought. In New York, that means getting something affordable but disturbingly unnatural from Au Bon Pain, Pepperidge Farm and Entenmann’s. Or, spending $2 to $3 for a cupcake at Magnolia, Buttercup and all those other retro bakeries. But seriously, a cupcake for $3? They’re not that good…

Enter the Treats Truck, a bakery on wheels! They started dispensing fresh goodies from their environmentally friendly truck, Sugar, this June. A portion of their proceeds also goes to charity.

The early reviews on the Midtown Lunch blog sounded suspicious:

“It’s true, the peanut butter cookie is not very good. Sure, it looks tasty and delicious but it’s actually POISON! So, um, don’t buy any ok? Thanks.”

“I can confirm that the PB sandwich cookie is just awful. And the standard chocolate chip cookie and the sugar dots were also quite heinous. I hated every luscious, highly caloric bite.”

Hmm, it was worth an investigation. An undercover reporter at Court TV brought back the bounty to our office. Read the blog for the verdict and a blurb about yours truly. (Full disclosure: one of the bakers is a fan of Court TV, but I’ve never met her.)

savoring the Treats Truck goodies
Photo: Susie Felber/Court TV

If you’re too lazy to click there, here’s my thoughts. What I like about the Treats Truck is they don’t pretend to be something they’re not. If I were to describe them in one word, it would be honest. “Not too fancy, always delicious!” proclaims their slogan. Their $1 cookies aren’t gourmet, but they’re satisfying. There’s none of that $3 “Oreo” madness (for one cookie!), like at Bouchon Bakery. Their peanut butter cookies actually taste like peanut butter, and their other goods are buttery and tender. I don’t know how their “competitors” manage to make cakey, shockingly sweet or biscuit-like cookies.

It’s worth a stroll to make a purchase or try one of their many free samples. Their staff is super nice. Check their web site or call for their locations. Since there’s only one truck, it can be difficult to pin them down. Twice, their site said they’d be near my work, but they weren’t. 🙁 Now I programmed their number into my cell phone for the latest updates. Hopefully they’ll develop a regular schedule.

Treats Truck

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