Archive for Eating the Big Apple

Jacques Torres Chocolate Meetup

Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven tour

If it weren’t for some New York Times food writer, there wouldn’t have been a Jacques Torres chocolate shop in New York. In 2000, the famed pastry chef decided to make his own chocolate for quality control purposes. This was a huge undertaking, since there are only about 10 chocolate makers in the U.S., as opposed to chocolatiers (aka chocolate melters or re-packagers).

When Times writer Florence Fabricant got wind and asked Jacques when his store would open, he threw out a random date in December. He never intended to welcome visitors; he situated his factory in seedy DUMBO (“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge” in Brooklyn) because rent was cheap, and he could easily transport his wholesale chocolates to other storefronts. But when you have Ms. Fabricant on the phone, you do your best to impress.

During the construction process, Jacques literally had to babysit equipment that was dumped on the sidewalk. He had asked for outside delivery because it was $1,000 cheaper, but it didn’t seem like a bargain as dusk approached. Jacques and about five other guys couldn’t get the machinery to budge. Then he desperately started pulling out $20 bills from his pocket.

“How many of these do I need to give so you can help me move my equipment?” Jacques asked strangers. He finally got a dolly/lift and has accepted in-store delivery since then.

Jacques renovated much of the store himself, armed with a pastry bag and an off-set spatula. He piped out cement (or caulk, or whatever constructors use) from the bag and smoothed it out, just like icing on a cake.

On “opening day,” Jacques placed some chocolates on display and hid an empty shoe box behind the counter as a makeshift cash register. After his first customer bought $20 in chocolate, Jacques did the happy dance. In the following months, customers thanked him for his charming shop. Jacques couldn’t understand why people were handing him money and thanking him for it.

In 2004, he opened a second storefront in Manhattan, Chocolate Haven. I visited on Saturday, during a private tour for the NY Metro Discover Chocolate Meetup.

Jacques Torres showing us behind the scenes in his factory
Jacques Torres showing us behind the scenes in his factory

candied oranges and other pastry equipment
Candied oranges are boiled in syrup for so long that all the moisture is replaced by sugar.

chocolate melter
Chocolate melter

candy wrapper

wrapping machine
This machine wraps more than one bar a second, if I recall correctly.

During the tour, Jacques talked about the history of his business and how to choose chocolate for eating. When he first made truffles, Jacques blended Valrhona Manjari and a 70% chocolate (probably Le Noir Amer). While the materials and technique were good, a pastry chef friend told him that the truffles tasted horrible. As noted in my chocolate database, both of these bars have fruity and spicy undertones. These strong flavors are fine for plain eating, but they’ll muddle the flavor of say, coffee truffles.

tasting chocolates
We compared the 60% house blend, the fruity Peru, and the earthy 72% Ghana.

For most of his truffles, Jacques now uses his own neutral 60% blend. This way, the said flavors explode and don’t interfere with the chocolate. For his passion fruit truffle though, he can get away with using fruity Peruvian chocolate.

As for when to use cocoa powder versus chocolate, Jacques only puts chocolate in his hot, frothy drink. Cocoa leaves the throat feeling dry, since it doesn’t have cocoa butter. Also, since cocoa powder is the unfinished ground bean, it doesn’t have as much flavor as chocolate that’s been conched (stirred) for several hours. That’s not what a low-fat baker wants to hear, but it has interesting implications. If a cake recipe calls for butter and chocolate, try keeping the chocolate and reducing the butter, rather than keeping the butter and swapping in cocoa powder.

One and a half years ago, I thought Jacques’ chocolates were very good for the money. Now I think they’re very good, period. Before, I felt that the presentation was good, but I could hardly distinguish one truffle flavoring from another. On Saturday, the Hearts of Passion went “POW!” and the Heavenly Hazelnut tasted like a European Reese’s peanut buttercup. The couvertures (base chocolate) also tasted stronger and had a thick texture. Jacques said he hasn’t changed his recipes, but he did refine his techniques. One secret was vacuuming all the air out of his ganache (truffle filling), so the aromas won’t evaporate.

Jacques conducts free demos in his Chocolate Haven store every couple of months. It’s always worth a trip to meet this enthusiastic story teller and teacher. He’s like a kid in a grown up’s body. That’s what a lifetime of chocolate does to you!

Jacques Torres
Jacques savoring his own chocolate.

Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson at King Street (1 block South of Houston)
New York, NY 10014
212-414-2462 phone

Jacques Torres DUMBO
66 Water Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718-875-9772 phone

Related posts:
Chocolate Haven Tour
Chocolate Christmas tree demo

Video interviews from Epicurious
Chocolate with Jacques Torres (Food Network show)
Passion for Dessert with Jacques Torres (Food Network show)
Blue-Chip Cookies for the NY Times

Dessert CircusDessert Circus Dessert Circus at HomeDessert Circus at Home

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Food calendar: Free ice cream, chocolate and more

You know I love freebies, so check out these NY and nationwide events:

April 10
6:30–7:30 p.m. at Whole Foods Market Culinary Center, 95 E. Houston St. Between Bowery and Christie St., New York, NY 10002

Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking From the Spice Islands Of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore Demonstration & Book Signing

James Oseland, Editor-in-Chief Saveur Magazine, will take you on a culinary journey to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, the tropical archipelago that lies between Thailand and Australia. Native home of nutmeg, cloves ,galangal and turmeric and some of the most lavishly spiced dishes on the planet — these countries have lured spice seekers for millennia. For two decades, Oseland trekked through rice paddies, shopped in open-air markets, slurped noodles in food stalls, and became friends with the finest home cooks and street vendors! In this book, Oseland shares his passion for regional cuisine, the colorful people, majestic places, and unforgettable food!

April 11
7:00–9:00 p.m. at Whole Foods Market Culinary Center, 95 E. Houston St. Between Bowery and Christie St., New York, NY 10002

Chocolate 101 (Demonstration)

Chocolate is best enjoyed with all of your senses. Robert Hammond of Moonstruck Chocolates will show you how to make the delicious, natural chocolates that have won him worldwide renown. At the end of the class, you take home truffles made with your very own hands.

April 13
Last day to redeem this free scoop coupon at Baskin-Robbins. Valid only at participating locations in CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, and RI.

April 17
Ben & Jerry’s free cone day. Check the website for participating locations. Last year, I went to two places before I got my free scoop.

Back to Nature mail-in rebate – Back to Nature has a “Total Taste Promise;” if you don’t like their products, fill out this form and get a refund. I’ve tried their chocolate chip cookies and Oreo knock offs. I like how they’re vegan and there’s no weird ingredients. No high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats or artificial flavorings. Unfortunately, they use very coarse sugar, so the texture is off. Also, their cheese crackers are a pale comparison to Cheez-its. I wouldn’t buy their snacks again, but I think they’re worth the price of free. Their cereal is very good though. Offer expires 11/15/08.

Free appetizer or dessert at Zen Palate – Only valid at their new location at 104 John St. (Financial District in Manhattan). Zen Palate has deeply divided opinions, but I love their food. Coupon expires May 31.

Free Soyjoy nutrition bars (3) – I’m usually suspicious of protein bars, but at least these have whole soybean powder rather than soy protein isolate. Here’s Lagusta’s Luscious’ explanation of soy protein isolate:

The worst vegetarian protein source is soy protein isolate. Unfortunately, it’s an ingredient in many “foods.”

  • Soy protein isolate and anything containing it (fake cold cuts, processed soy ice cream, “breakfast links,” some veggie burgers, most soy cheese, soy based whipped toppings, and so much more — read labels!). A truly horrifying and omnipresent product that is just about as refined as a product can be and still be “edible.”
  • A soybean consists of proteins, carbs, and fat. In order to make get only the protein (the soy protein isolate) from the soybean, which is what’s in TVP, TSP, and other processed sources of soy protein:
  • First step: the fat is taken away using hexame solvents – very bad stuff, unless it’s been expeller pressed, which is better but still rather terrible.
  • Then the carbs are taken away by bathing them in acid solutions, base solutions, and alcohol.
  • What’s left is the protein. Practically no nutrients are left. It is an almost completely empty food. Used to make soy cheese, ice cream, etc. – all nontraditional, weird foods.
  • For TVP and TSP the isolate is spun at high heat into soy protein chunks and artificial color, flavor and synthetic nutrients are added, to make up for all the nutrients that were lost during the intense processing that it went through. Yum!
  • Soy protein isolate increases nitrates and carcinogens (the things that cause cancer) in your body, and it increases the need for vitamins A and D.

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Quick Bites: Wii Love Free Yogurt Gelato

Photo: Mark Peterson/New York Magazine

Yolato, a new store selling yogurt gelato, is offering two chances for free dessert. Sign up to receive news and get a coupon for a free regular-sized yolato at their West Village location. Or stop by their new Upper West Side store on March  9 and 10 14 for a taste. It should be delicious, since gelato is like ice cream amplified to the nth degree, and real frozen yogurt is making a comeback in New York. For the record, that L.A. transplant, Pinkberry, tastes like grainy frozen ice milk because they reportedly use 7-UP.

120 Macdougal St., New York, NY 10012
nr. Bleecker St.

2286 Broadway
nr. 82nd St.

In other small news, check out Avenue Food, an NYC blog with street credibility. Last Saturday, Sarah hosted a Wine, Cheese and Wii Party. I don’t know what was better: the crusty mac and cheese, gruyere/caramelized onion pizza or the workout on the Wii. Sarah posted videos of us playing (it’s more entertaining watching the player than the TV screen itself). Unfortunately, the video of me had some technical difficulties.

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Come Falai With Me

Caffe Falai
Photo: Steven Sunshine/NY Daily News

During my first year in New York, my best friend from high school mailed me a bright orange sweater for my birthday. She wanted me to stay warm and bring some Californian attitude to dreary New Yorkers. The truth was, I already fit in with my charcoal-hued clothes. I hardly wear bright colors, because I’m afraid of looking disastrous. For example, one St. Patrick’s Day I wore a fluorescent green parka, which I’ve never worn since. People literally said, “Ouch, you’re blinding me! Turn your windbreaker inside out!”

That’s why I was mortified when the picture above appeared in the New York Daily News‘ review of Caffe Falai. Last Saturday, I had just finished working out (playing on a trapeze and hula hooping!) and needed to refuel. Too lazy to change into street clothes, I stumbled into a pristine white restaurant wearing a ratty orange T-shirt. The scene was something straight out of Sex and the City: posh food and people who looked like they just stepped off a runway. To add to the glamour, there was a photographer snapping pictures. I was afraid that I would be refused service, but I figured I had a right to experience chef Iacopo Falai’s food.

Falai, the ex-pastry chef from Le Cirque (where Jacques Torres also worked), now has three restaurants in the city. Each serves carefully crafted Italian food, but the desserts are French. Each location includes my three favorite foods: bread, olive oil and chocolate.

Caffe Falai didn’t disappoint. I had the stewed figs with fresh DiPaolo ricotta and almonds. The figs were bursting with a caramelized wine sauce, and the ricotta was like unsweetened ,room-temperature ice cream. The almonds weren’t just a garnish; they were made into almond brittle to contrast the soft cheese. It exceeded all my expectations. My only complaint was that the sauce was so sweet that you needed a lot of cheese to tone it down.

Also on the menu were fresh salads (about $6), brûléed eggs (about $10) and panini ($7). Each table came with freshly grilled housemade bread and olive oil.

All of Falai’s restaurants are comparable in quality, but Caffe Falai is the easiest to get to. The original Falai is the fanciest but also the most expensive and has the smallest portions. Falai Panetteria has the heartiest food: fresh whole wheat lasagna with Bolognese sauce and polenta with wild boar ragù.

I can’t believe the Daily News ran that picture. Maybe it’s because I let the photographer hang around; I sympathized with his plight. Or maybe it’s because the orange t-shirt made me stand out, just like my best friend would have wanted.

Caffe Falai
265 Lafayette Street (between Prince and Spring), Soho; (917) 338-6207

Falai Panetteria
79 Clinton Street (Rivington Street), Lower East Side; (212) 777-8956

68 Clinton Street, Lower East Side; (212) 253-1960

More info:
Daily News review of Caffe Falai
The First Bite is the Sweetest (Caffe Falai video from Gridskipper)
One Dessert, Many Flavors, Even Sweet (NY Times article with recipe)
Star Chefs profile of Iacopo Falai

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Mason of Chocolate

Pushing Chocolate Forward sign

Butter, sugar, flour and eggs are the building blocks of dessert. These four simple ingredients can create cakes, cookies and meringues. Now, thanks to restaurants such as New York’s wd-50, locust bean gum and carrageenan are the new staples.wd-50 is a play on words alluding to its owner, location, and the chemical compound, WD-40. Unlike the cleaning product though, everything at wd-50 is edible, all the way down to the fried mayonnaise and chocolate consomme (broth).On Oct. 7, wd-50’s former pastry chef, Sam Mason, made chocolate desserts at the French Culinary Institute’s Pushing Chocolate Forward event. Mason, who will open his own yet unnamed dessert bar at 525 Broome St. in SoHo in November, made his “classic” gelled desserts. Gelatin is typically used to set desserts, but there’s a myriad of other agents.

Agar (most commonly used in Chinese and Japanese custards/jellies), for example, sets at room temperature. However, it can also get crumbly and brittle, as I witnessed when I made vegan cashew cheddar “cheese.” Locust bean gum (derived from carob treas) and carrageenan (from red algae) are creamier. These ingredients sound scary, but they’re no more unnatural than gelatin. (You already eat locust bean gum and carrageenan if you eat commercial ice cream.) The only difference is that gelatin is widely available to home cooks.

It takes an experimental chef like Mason to figure out their applications. He takes into account flavor release, rigidity and tolerance to temperature. He even developed an eggless lemon curd with gellan so the eggs don’t get in the way of flavor.
Now that Mason has conquered gels, the next frontier is starches. Just like with gels, the Asians have already made good use of starches, specifically potato, tapioca, wheat and corn. They’re usually not used in Western desserts though. Mason is also excited about the new vacuum dryers, which allow cooks to fry food at 100 F. This device makes it possible to fry chocolate, which burns at 120F. Also, fried skittles turn into puffs.

Hopefully we’ll see these experiments at Mason’s new dessert bar, which will feature eight savory and eight dessert plates, a la carte. There will also be three or four five-course tasting menus.

During the Pushing Chocolate Forward event, Mason made soft chocolate gel with chocolate soil and bitter chocolate consomme with butternut squash gel. The chocolate was provided by E. Guittard, the artisan division of a family-owned San Francisco chocolate company.

E. Guittard is not to be confused with Guittard. The latter is the mass-market line available as chocolate chips and bulk bars (with cheap butterfat added). See’s Candy in California uses Guittard for their couverture (chocolate covering). It’s a workhorse chocolate but not artisan. E. Guittard, on the other hand, makes single-origin chocolates. My favorite is the Ambanja 65% from Madagascar, which tastes like sour cherries. Suprisingly, I didn’t like the 65% Sur del Lago from Venezuela as much. So much for my chocolate tasting map. E. Guittard makes tasty chocolate (Christopher Norman in New York uses their couverture), but I find the flavor to be one-noted and short, a common problem amongst lower end single-origin chocolates.

Below are the recipes from the demo. They are in grams and mililiters, since they’re more exact than cups. I’ll work on converting the measurements. Check out Foodite’s primer on molecular gastronomy (the innovative method that Mason uses) for more info on the space age-sounding ingredients.

Soft Chocolate Gel with Chocolate Soil

chocolate gel

by Sam Mason

The gel is magically creamy and solid at the same time. A topping that resembles crushed Oreo cookies provides a textural contrast. If you really want to walk on the wild side, sprinkle the top with salted pumpkin seeds. I’m not a fan of salty chocolate, but Mason believes that dessert should border on savory.

For the gel:

530 g cream
500 g 64% chocolate, chopped into small pieces
120 g sugar
600 ml water
1.6 g locust bean gum
1.6 g kappa carrageenan

Scald the cream and pour it over the chocolate and sugar. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

In another bowl, add the water, locust bean gum and carrageenan. Use a hand blender to combine thoroughly. Boil the mixture.

Whisk the hot gel and chocolate mixture together. Pour it into an 8″x8″ pan lined with plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours to set.

For the soil:

250 g sugar
250 g almond flour (very finely ground blanched almonds)
150 g all-purpose flour
102 g cocoa (can substitute coffee or freeze-dried corn powder)
5 g salt
125 g butter, melted

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Then stir in the melted butter and till the mixture looks mealy. Bake in a greased or parchment-lined 12″x8″ pan (also known as a half-sheet size pan) in a preheated 300 F oven for 15 min.

For the chocolate oil:

100 g dark chocolate
100 ml oil
15 g cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and oil over low heat. Stir in the cocoa.

For the garnish:

Deep-fried or toasted pumpkin seeds
Salt to taste

To assemble:

Slice a piece of gel that’s 2 1/2″ x 1″ large and about 1/3″ thick. Sprinkle the top with chocolate soil, pumpkin seeds and a couple grains of salt. Garnish the edges with chocolate oil.

Bitter Chocolate Consomme with Butternut Squash Gel

chocolate consomme with butternut squash jelly

by Sam Mason

Chocolate consomme is chocolate-flavored water that has had its solids removed, resulting in a clear drink. Whisked egg whites draw up the “impurities.” After long simmering, the eggs whites are scooped away and the end product can be sipped like tea or used as a base for translucent sorbet.

clear chocolate consomme

For the consomme:

6 L water
1 kg chocolate
60 g cocoa
650 g egg whites
65 g cacao nibs

In a large pot (allow for at least 2″ of head space, or the mixture will boil over), whisk the water, chocolate and cocoa over low heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and cacao nibs till frothy. Temper the whites by pouring a little of the hot chocolate mixture over the egg whites and whisk vigorously. Add the egg white mixture into the pot and heat it so it’s just hot enough to hold your finger in there, and it barely bubbles around the edges.

Sam Mason about to boil over the consomme

simmering chocolate consomme

The egg whites will set and bring impurities to the surface. Continue cooking for 2 hours. Strain through a cheese cloth or coffee filter. Then ladle off any remaining fat.

For the butternut squash gel:

600 g water
200 g rum
3.8 g low acyl gellan
5.7 g high acyl gellan
1620 g squash puree (Roast a squash in the oven and sweeten with maple syrup and cinnamon to taste)

Add all the ingredients except the puree in a pot. Use a handblender to mix thoroughly and boil. It will get really thick and then become more liquidy again. Then add the squash puree. Pour the mixture into an 8″x8″ pan lined with plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours to set.

For the garnish:

Toasted hazelnuts
Fresh taragon

To assemble:

Invert the squash gel onto a cutting board and cut into 3/4″-cubes.

Sam Mason slicing the jelly

Place in a small bowl and ladle in 1/4 cup of the consomme. Garnish with a hazelnut and sprig of taragon.

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Free Christopher Norman Chocolates Tasting

Christopher Norman Chocolates
Photo: Christopher Norman Chocolates

Did you know? Christopher Norman Chocolates regularly hosts free tasting events in NYC! Thanks to Chocolate in Context for the tip.

As pulled from their website:
What will the theme be? We don’t know yet! We’ll sort it out soon and update the site with more information. What do we know? The date, for sure!Please join us at our store on Tuesday, September 19th From 6-7:30pm

60 New Street Between Beaver Street & Exchange Place New York, NY 10004

This event is free of charge and open to the public. No reservations are accepted, as we do our best to accomodate all of our guests. If you have any questions, or would like to be added to our email list to be informed of future events, please feel free to contact us via email at: [email protected]

This date is subject to change, please check back with the website periodically to confirm.

About Christopher Norman:

Christopher Norman Chocolates is a company founded in 1994. John Down, the Chief Chocolate Officer, uses his distinguished background in painting and the arts, to create a unique artistic quality in the taste and feel of all his chocolates.

Distinctive boxed collections, hand painted & sculptural truffles, and innovative flavors are all essential elements in Christopher Norman Chocolates. It is our mission to create extraordinarily luscious and sensory-provoking confections that encompass the quintessentially classic flavors, as well as unique and fresh taste experiences. Only the finest all-natural ingredients are used in our truffles and chocolates. Each piece is made by hand, here at our New York City factory.

We invite you to stop by our Gallery Shop, a charming storefront at the head of our factory, where we can offer you our freshest chocolates made on the premises in addition to hand-pulled Espresso, Cappuccino, Hot Cocoa, and Coffee. You can look into the factory where the chocolate is being made, from a window to the street, although most of our visitors seem to prefer the view from inside of our tantalizing truffle case.
FYI, professional chocolate critic Clay Gordon will lead a chocolate tasting at Christopher Norman on Thursday, Sept. 21 as part of the monthly NY Metro Chocolate Meetup. You can hit Christopher Norman twice in one week! I previously went to the Chocolate Meetup’s tour of the Tumbador chocolate factory in Brooklyn, and I highly recommend their events! Clay is super nice and knowledgable. If you’re interested, register at

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Oh! Gelato!

Photo: Lotus Head/Wikipedia

When the weather warms up, the ultimate comfort food is ice cream. A little lick, an instant melt, and a smooth slide down your throat provide a simple pleasure.

When I was in elementary school, eating ice cream was a celebrated weekly occurence. Fridays were my favorite day of the week, becuase my mom was able to get out of work early and pick me up from school. On the way home, we’d always stop for ice cream at Thrifty Drugstores (RiteAid bought them out in 1996). For 35 cents, I got my scoop of ice cream and quality time with Mom.

Then I had an epiphany two years ago. While visiting Italy, I tasted gelato for the first time. Technically, gelato is Italian for ice cream, but if you have real gelato, you will never confuse it with mere ice cream. Gelato tastes as strong as the flavor itself, and it has a silky smooth texture like soft-serve. Ironically, these qualities make gelato lower in fat than ice cream.

Gelato is made with whole milk instead of cream, as fat coats the tongue and mutes flavors. Super-premium ice cream, like Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Daz, have 15-20% butter fat. By FDA standards, the cheapest plain ice cream can have 10% butter fat. Gelato, on the other hand, contains 3-10% fat.

The cheapest ice cream is half air, or 100% overrun. That’s why generic supermarket ice cream comes in large yet light containers. The overrun in gelato is much lower, around 20%. Because gelato is denser, it’s served at a higher temperature, which also intensifies the flavors.

In my quest to replicate the Italian experience, I’ve trekked all across Manhattan to find the best gelato and sorbet, another mainstay of gelaterias.

il Laboratorio del GelatoIl Laboratorio del Gelato
The gelato is shockingly flavorful, soft and smooth, just like it is in Italy. My favorite is the chocolate gelato, but creator Jon Snyder rotates exotic flavors, like black sesame and lavender. The sorbets are also super flavorful, but some, like the coconut, are icy and crumbly.
Verdict: Best gelato
photo: il Laboratorio del Gelato

Otto's olive oil gelatoOtto Pizzeria
Mario Batali’s restaurant serves mildly flavored gelato, up to three flavors in a cup. Their signature olive oil gelato is very subtle. It gets better as you finish it, because the flavors take time to accumulate. My favorite is the ricotta, which tastes like fresh cheesecake.
Verdict: Runner-up for best gelato
photo: Foodite

ciao bella valrhona chocolate gelatoCiao Bella Gelato
Despite its name, sorbet is Ciao Bella’s strongest point. The chocolate sorbet is so rich and creamy that you won’t believe it’s dairy-free and has one gram of fat per serving. The fruit sorbet is also very good. Blood orange and raspberry pair wonderfully with chocolate, but the mango and apple are delicious too. The gelato is high-quality ice cream, but not on par as gelato.
Verdict: Best chocolate sorbet, runner-up for best fruit sorbet
photo: Oyatsu

This bakery serves divine fruit sorbet only in the summer, so take full advantage of their mango, raspberry and cassis flavors. The mango sorbet tastes like the ripest fruit imaginable, just like in Italy.
Verdict: Best fruit sorbet

il Laboratorio del Gelato’s bitter-chocolate sorbet
Ciao Bella’s mint gelato and blackberry-cabernet sorbet
Olive oil gelato
Otto’s lemon gelato

il Laboratorio del Gelato
95 Orchard St. (between Broome & Delancey Sts)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 343 9922

Otto Pizzeria
1 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10003
(212) 995-9559
An outdoor cart is also in Washington Square Park (Waverly Pl. at MacDougal St.) from April to Nov.

Ciao Bella Gelato
various locations nationwide, including Grand Central Station, Mott St., 92 St. and the World Financial Center (opening soon)

166 Chambers St.
New York, NY 10007
(212) 566-8933

55 Spring St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 274-9179

Definition of ice cream
Ice cream v. gelato

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Levain Bakery Cookie Recipes

Levain Bakery chocolate chip cookie
picture courtesy Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

When it comes to my stomach, I like to walk on the wild side. I don’t mean eating exotic foods like iguana or chicken feet (which I’ve enjoyed), but foods that border on sanitary. I’m talking about raw eggs in the form of cookie and cake batter. I’ll risk getting sick if food tastes good.

That’s why the chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery appeal to me: New York magazine dubbed them “borderline raw.” Yum. Sounds like a cookie that’s soft and chewy.

I’m not one to spend $3.50 on a cookie that weighs nearly half a pound (it’s deadly for my wallet and waistline), so I dug up Levain’s legendary recipes from Art Culinaire magazine. Note: I approximated the weights into volume measurements.

Ginger Valrhona® Cookies (Yields 1 dozen cookies)

by Connie McDonald & Pamela Weekes

For a copycat of Levain’s famous chocolate chip cookies, omit the ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Add one cup of toasted walnuts. Several people have asked about the molasses and the high proportion of white sugar. One cup of brown sugar is actually equivalent to one cup of granulated sugar and 1/4 cup molasses. Lisa, a faithful commenter, also developed a popular recipe with slightly different measurements. I tested the recipe and still prefer my old standby.


8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
3 ounces (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) brown sugar
2 eggs
4 ounces (1/3 cup) unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
18 ounces (4 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces (2 cups) Valrhona® extra dark bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks


Preheat oven to 350° F. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugars until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well incorporated, then add molasses, flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chunks. Transfer dough to clean work surface and divide into 12 equal portions. Place each on sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake in oven 12 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Let cool on rack and store in airtight container.

Dark Chocolate Coconut Cookies (Yields 1 dozen cookies)

by Connie McDonald & Pamela Weekes

For Levain’s Chocolate-Peanut Butter Chip cookies, try the recipe that Lisa, a commenter, adapted.


8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
10 ounces (1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 ounces (1/2 cup) Dutch-processsed cocoa powder
10 ounces (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
Pinch of Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 1/2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
3 ounces (1 cup) large walnut pieces
3 ounces (1 1/8 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut


Preheat oven to 350° F. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugar until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well incorporated, then beat in cocoa powder. Mix in flour, salt and baking powder until just combined. Gently fold in remaining ingredients. Transfer dough to clean work surface and gently mix dough by hand to ensure even distribution of ingredients. Divide into 12 equal portions and place each on sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in oven 12 minutes, taking care not to overbake. Let cool on rack and store in airtight container.

For true Levain fans, here’s their recipe for oatmeal raisin scones, provided by the Food Network. They are not half raw.

Levain Bakery
167 W. 74th St. (near Amsterdam Ave.)
New York, NY 10023

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Pieville is in Westville

chocolate-marshmallow pie from Westville

For retro desserts in New York, head West, past the impossible-sounding intersection of 10 and 4 St., to Westville. Nestled in the crooked streets is a small, humble restaurant that features pastry chef Ivy Tack’s creations.

New York magazine named Ivy’s pear-cranberry pie as one of the 8 Best Thanksgiving Pies, and her blueberry pie was a Best of New York Weekly Pick. Her crusts are magical: they’re as multi-layered as puff-pastry without a hint of sogginess or greasiness. Each flick of the fork flakes off crumbs that you want to finish with your fingers. Best of all, they’re made with all butter, not shortening or lard.

Look at the artistry in the crust!

Westville pie crust

Her chocolate cream pie with marshmallow frosting is probably the best pie I’ve had in my life. Yes, even better than pies from the New York institution, The Little Pie Company (while their products are decent, they use lard, and their crusts hunky, not crispy).

The filling has a melt-in-your-mouth smoothness that can only be achieved with the cocoa butter in chocolate. The lightly sweetened topping strikes a balance between oozy and stiff. It’s the perfect pie for the chocoholic and kid in everyone.

Other goodies include the Lil Devin (oatmeal cranberry cookie sandwiched with cream cheese frosting), homemade Oreo, Chocolate Magic Cake (double-layer chocolate cake with ganache filling), and Chocolate Fudge and Hazelnut Brittle Cake. For homestyle desserts, forget Magnolia Bakery and its offshoots: Buttercup Bake Shop, Billy’s Bakery and Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Ivy makes desserts that you wish your mom could make.

While you’re at Westville, don’t forget to try the brunch. Baked French toast with strawberries, toasted bread to soak up runny sunny-side-up eggs, and sausage are all part of the hearty fare. Service is slow but friendly.

You can also buy Ivy’s desserts at Jack’s Coffeeshop and direct from Ivy Uppercrust Pastry. Pies run $25-30, considerably more than the supermarket variety, but you get what you pay for.

In all fairness, I should disclose that Ivy is a friend of a friend. The association brought me to Westville, but the quality will bring me back. The only time I’ve met Ivy was in competition, during the annual Battery Park City apple pie contest. Guess who won?

Below is an approximate recipe for her chocolate and marshmallow pie. I’ve combined my favorite pie crust recipe (as discussed in the tarte tatin post), seven-minute frosting, and a ganache filling from a knowledgable chocoholic.

For a shortcut, substitute frozen puff pastry dough and bake according to the package instructions. Dock the dough with a fork: you want lots of layers but not the mile-high puff.

Chocolate Cream Pie With Marshmallow Frosting

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the crust:
Adapted from a Sunset magazine cookbook

You will only need half a batch for a single-crust pie.

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg, well beaten
1 Tbsp vinegar
4 Tbsp ice cold water

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Add butter and cut into flour. You may use a pastry blender, two knives or your hands. Keep smooshing the butter till the biggest pieces are pea-sized and the smallest pieces resemble bread crumbs.

Combine egg and vinegar in a small bowl and add to the flour mixture. Add water 1 Tbsp at a time, just until the crust just begins to come together. Smoosh the dough together so it forms a solid mass. You should still see large striations of butter.

Divide dough in half and press each half into a round flat disk, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably for several hours and for up to two days before rolling. This step lets the dough relax so it won’t get tough. The dough can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 6 months; thaw completely before rolling.

If you refrigerate the dough for more than a couple hours, let it warm up on the counter for about 15 minutes so it’s pliable. You want the dough to be cold, so the butter doesn’t melt. But if it’s too cold, it will be stiff and crack when you roll it.

Roll the dough on a floured surface (a wax-paper lined counter works well). Lean into a floured rolling pin and roll from the center out, stopping just short of the edge. Keep rotating the dough 90 degrees to ensure that it’s not sticking and to shape it evenly. If the dough cracks or tears, push it back together. If the shape is uneven, cut off a portruding piece and patch it on the short side with cold water. If the dough becomes too soft and starts sticking, slide it on top of a rimless cookie sheet and refrigerate until it firms up. It is not unusual for all these things to happen. The crust should be about 1/8-inch thick and one inch wider than the pie pan on all sides.

Ease the crust all the way to the bottom of the pan. Trim off the excess and flute the edges.

Prick the crust with a fork and blind bake (cover the shaped crust with foil and weigh it down with dried beans, rice or metal pie weights) in a preheated 425F oven for 12 minutes. Remove the foil, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for a few minutes more, until the crust is golden brown.

For the filling:
Adapted from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich

1 cup half-and-half
2 Tbsp sugar
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly whisked

In a small saucepan, bring the half-and-half and sugar to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate and stir until completely melted and smooth.

Just before the crust is done, whisk the egg into the chocolate mixture.

When the crust is ready, remove from the oven. Turn off the oven. Pour the hot chocolate filling mixture into the crust. Return the pie to the turned-off oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, or just until the filling begins to set around the edges but most of the center is still liquid when the pan is wiggled. Set the pan on a rack to let the filling continue to set.

For the marshmallow (aka seven-minute) frosting:
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes 2 cups

2 1/2 tbsp water
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg white
1/2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla

Have the egg whites at room temperature, 68-70 F. Whisk everything except the vanilla together in a large stainless-steel bowl. Whipe excess sugar off the side of the bowl, as it will be difficult to dissolve later.

Set the bowl in a wide, deep skillet filled with about 1 inch of simmering water. Make sure the water level is at least as high as the depth of the egg whites in the bowl.

Beat the whites on low speed until the mixture reaches 140F on an instant-read thermometer. Do not stop beating while the bowl is in the skillet, or the egg whites will be overcooked. If you cannot hold the thermometer stem in the egg whites while continuing to beat, remove the bowl from the skillet just to read the thermometer, then return the bowl to the skillet. Beat on high speed for exactly 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the skillet and add the vanilla.

Beat on high speed for 2-3 more minutes to cool.

Spread the frosting on the cooled pie. It is best eaten on the day it is made.

210 W. 10th St
New York, NY 10014-6411
(212) 741-7971

Jack’s Coffeeshop
138 W. 10 St. (between Greenwich Ave. and Waverly Pl.)
New York, NY 10014-3103
(212) 929-0821

Ivy Uppercrust Pastry

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Michel Cluizel: Chocolate with a missing ingredient

Michel Cluizel single-origin chocolate bar

Purists insist that dark chocolate should only have five ingredients: cocoa mass (aka chocolate liquor or paste), sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and an emulsifier (usually soy lecithin). Is there butter or vegetable fat in your chocolate, as in Godiva’s? That’s a travesty: substitute fats don’t quite melt in your mouth. Is there vanillin, an artificial flavoring, instead of vanilla? That’s another chocolate no-no.

Chocolat Michel Cluizel of Normandy takes chocolate purity one step further and eliminates soy lecithin. Lecithin makes chocolate smooth, since it evenly disperses the solids and fats. Thanks to Chez Pim’s Menu for Hope II raffle, I won three single-origin bars of Michel Cluizel’s chocolate, sent by Pascale of C’est moi qui l’ai fait (or “It is me who did it” as translated by Google).

Michel Cluizel’s prestige line, 1er Cru de Plantation (translated roughly as “1st Vintage of Plantation”) featured beans from just one plantation to create distinct flavor profiles. Due to variations in climate, soil and harvesting, beans from around the world taste different. Some say that single-origin chocolates allow tasters to appreciate the nuances. Others, like Jacques Torres, say that chocolates with many types of beans have a greater range of flavor. Most chocolatiers blend beans to insure against a bad crop. For more info on single-origin v. blended chocolate, check out Love’s Cool.

Michel Cluizel Tamarina chocolate

The first bar I sampled came from the Tamarina plantation in Sao Tome. At 70% cocoa solids (the upper limit for most people), this chocolate was the strongest of the bunch. It had an earthy flavor like my favorite chocolate, the Valrhona 70% Guanaja. There were notes of orange and raisin. Then it turned acidic, making the flavor unrefined. Since I’m not an expert at describing flavors, I’ll include the package description: “It expresses notes of a fertile, volcanic marine soil, which blend, in a superbly lingering delight, with subtle, grassy and liquorice aromas.” It was apparent that the chocolate didn’t have emulsifiers, as I had to coax it with my tongue to make it melt.

Michel Cluizel Concepcion chocolate

I then switched to the mildest chocolate, with Venezuelan beans from the Concepcion plantation. It had a minty aroma and milky flavor. The product description read, “…discover hints of vanilla, honey spice cake and caramel in a remarkable lingering aroma with hints of mixed dried and black fruits.”

Michel Cluizel Los Ancones chocolate

The 67% Santo Domingo chocolate had just 1% more solids than the previous bar, but it had noticeably more chocolate flavor. It tasted most like what I associate with pure chocolate. This was the smoothest melting bar, but the acidic finish snuck in once again. The product description said, “…aromas of liquourice wood, then red berries and green olives with a lingering flavour of currants and apricots.” This one was my favorite.

Each bar had a unique flavor profile, but the acidity was a distraction. Although the bars were pre-scored, they didn’t break evenly, probably because of the missing soy lecithin. The chocolate also tended to melt in spots. Don’t get me wrong: the texture was better than 80% of the world’s chocolate, but at $6 for a 3.5-ounce bar, it should have been near perfect. My favorite chocolates are still the Valrhona 70% Guanaja and El Rey 70% Gran Saman, both of which are cheaper.

Michel Cluizel chocolate is available online, at fine food stores, a dessert bar in New York, and a flagship Paris store.

Chocolat Michel Cluizel
@ ABC Carpet & Home
888 Broadway (at 19th Street), 1st floor
New York, NY 10003
(212) 477-7335

201, rue Saint-Honoré
75001 PARIS
+33 (0)1 42 44 11 66 – company info – online store

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