Entries from April 27th, 2008

Pandan Cheesecake Pops – An Alluring New Flavor

April 27th, 2008 · 66 Comments · Custards, Events, Recipes

Pandanpops

Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell, two blogs I totally adore, picked something quite playful and adorable for this month’s Daring Bakers – cheesecake pops from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor.

Elle and Deborah gave us quite a bit of leeway in customizing our pops, which I’m sure has resulted in a dazzling display of creativity among all the Daring Bakers. For my part, I found this recipe an opportunity to play with an interesting new addition to my pantry: pandan leaves.

Pandan leaves, or screwpine leaves, as they as also called, come from Southeast Asia, and are used in a variety of ways, from flavoring savory dishes to scenting jasmine rice. Pandan possesses a uniquely nutty, floral flavor, quite unexpected from the leafy green fronds. This subtle sweetness also makes pandan a natural for baking: one classic dessert is pandan chiffon cake, a fluffy, angel-food like concoction distinguished by its spring green hue which comes from the pandan leaf juice itself.

So where are pandan leaves found outside of Asia? Surprisingly, they were almost under my nose – frozen pandan leaves are often carried in Asian supermarkets, and I actually found fresh ones in Chinatown! Another reason why I love living here – there’s always something new to uncover. If you can’t find pandan leaves, there is also pandan extract and pandan paste – in fact, many recipes will often call for these substitutes instead. Having found both at the supermarket, I purchased them to do a little comparison baking in the kitchen.

Pandanpops2

Onto the recipe itself: I must confess that this was not my favorite recipe. The cheesecake was easy enough to make and set nicely, but I had difficulty forming it into balls for dipping. The cheesecake was a little too soft to work with, although I think it was an excellent texture for cheesecake: if I had baked it longer, I think it might have turned rubbery. So it was a good cheesecake, but I just had trouble getting it into its final form.

Dipping the cheesecake balls in melted chocolate proved not too tricky either, but I think these pops might store better in the freezer than the refrigerator. Storing them in the fridge kept the cheesecake centers a little too soft so the wooden skewers did not stay in very securely. Ultimate verdict: this is a nice recipe, and very nicely adaptable, but I think I enjoyed it more for the chance to experiment with flavors than actually making them.

In working the pandan leaves, I wasn’t convinced at all initially that these long leaves would actually work as described. They had a grassy smell (naturally), and after blending them with some water to get pandan juice, it still smelled grassy – and tasted that way too. I was certainly glad I had some pandan extract at this point!

I added the juice to half the batter, which fortunately did not change color – I was afraid I’d be breaking the challenge rules! Apparently it takes a lot of pandan juice to add color to a dish – many recipes call for food coloring or pandan paste in addition to achieve the verdant hue. Pandan extract and pandan paste usually have food coloring that will most certainly turn whatever they’re added to quite green!

I added a teaspoon of pandan paste to the rest of the batter and sure enough, it immediately turned bright green. Here’s an image of the two cakes for comparision:

Pandanpops3

Tastewise, I had yet another surprise. Both cheesecakes tasted very similar. I was so certain the one with pandan juice would taste grassy, but in fact it somehow transformed in the oven into a smooth, creamy cake with an elusive, sweet flavor almost like a floral vanilla – and it no longer smelled like grass. The cheesecake with pandan paste tasted a little stronger, perhaps because of the amount of paste I added, but the flavor itself was quite close. What a pleasant discovery! So I can recommend using pandan extract or paste if you can’t find leaves, as the results are close enough to be indistinguishable.

I’ve almost used up the leaves, but the paste will last me a long time – and now I’m curious to keep playing around with this intriguing new flavor!

Thanks for another fun Daring Bakers Challenge!

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops   

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks 

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening   

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) – Optional   


Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed.  Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) afte r each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.   

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.   

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.   

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.   

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

 

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For Love of Lychees

April 24th, 2008 · 31 Comments · Cakes, Fruit, Recipes

Lycheecake

When I visited Amai Tea House in New York, one of their treats I sampled besides their tea cookies was a moist lychee brownie. The brownie was pleasantly thick and fudgy, but it didn’t have quite enough lychee flavor for my taste – I am quite fond of the fruit, so perhaps I hoping for a bit more punch.

I carried the thought back with me to San Francisco, and last week when I picked up some of the season’s first strawberries, it all came together – a light lychee butter cake with strawberries and rose cream.

Lychees are surely a fruit for the sweet-toothed – with their honeyed, floral flavor and ambrosial fragrance, they are nature’s bonbons, albeit in a prickly-than-usual package. Lychees aren’t quite in season yet; they are found in abundance during the summer months at Asian markets, and a frosty lychee tapioca drink is one of my favorite thirst quenchers on a hot day. However, canned lychees can be found year round; they’re usually packed in sweet syrup, much like many canned peaches, which can render them even more shockingly sweet. In this cake though, I found the syrup can be used advantageously to boost the lychee flavor.

Lycheecakee2

The cake is a sunshiny cloud of happiness – I was aiming for a looser, fluffier texture rather than a tight, pound cake-like crumb. Gorgeously golden, it promises rich buttery flavor and delivers, along with a dose of fruitiness from the bits of lychees sprinkled throughout and laced into the cake batter. The lightness and delicacy of the cake helps showcase the lychees instead of competing against it like a heavier, more intense cake might. I also found that using the syrup from the canned lychees really helps boost the flavor – as well as making the cake irresistibly fragrant! If you’re a little uncertain as to how sweet you want your cake, you can always decrease how much syrup you add in. Also, dry off the lychees before you add them to the batter – that will also get rid of more syrup and prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.

In pondering what to serve the cake with, I first thought of some obvious tropical companions like coconut or macadamias, but I really wanted to use those strawberries – they were too tempting to ignore. So really, this dessert ended up being a minor riff on the Ispahan – raspberries would be wonderful with the cake too, as their tartness would match well with the sweetness of the lychees – but I think the strawberries, draped with a spring-pink rose-scented cream, fit the bill just fine.

Rosestrawberry

The strawberries are adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert, but I added some rose syrup to the whipped cream to intensify the flavor and give it color. If you can’t find it, rosewater will work just as well, but if you do get your hands on some rose syrup, it’s a fun ingredient to work with; it’s jewel-pink color never fails to bring a smile to my face.

It’s awfully windy and blustery out here in San Francisco, but the bright skies and lengthening days tell me that spring is definitely here. And when strawberries start showing up at the market, who am I to disagree?

Lycheecake3

Lychee Butter Cake

1- 14 oz can lychees (about 1 cup lychees, reserve the liquid)

2 cups (240g) flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (160g) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup (160 g) sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 baking pan.

Drain the lychees and cut into small pieces; set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla. Mix to combine.

Add in about 4 -6 tablespoons of the reserved lychee liquid slowly. Mix between additions to fully incorporate before adding more.

Toss the lychee pieces in the flour mixture to coat (this will help keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter).

Add flour and lychee mixture to the batter and mix to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack before serving.

Strawberries with Rose Cream

adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

makes about 6 to 8 servings

3 pints ripe strawberries

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon rose water

2 teaspoons rose syrup

Wash the strawberries. Hull and cut them if desired.

In a stand mixer, whip the cream, rose water, and rose syrup into soft peaks. Do not overwhip.

Serve over strawberries.

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On Being a Traveler

April 16th, 2008 · 33 Comments · Cakes, Recipes

Datepuddingcake

I’ve only traveled alone a few times before in my life – circumstances have usually provided me with company, whether obligatory (read: family) or chosen (i.e. friends), on my travels, and I generally enjoy having someone to share my explorations with.  However, the few occasions I’ve had to voyage solo have yielded some of my most interesting and memorable experiences, and this trip was no exception.

Philadelphia was a wonderful, too-short blur. I hardly got to see the city at all, which was unfortunate. I spent most of my time in the studio having my cookies photographed (No, the photo shoot was not for pictures of me, as many have asked!) I am not taking my own photos for my book, which is actually a good thing, as the writing and baking parts are already consuming way too much of my time! Instead, I’m very lucky to have a very talented photographer taking really fantastic shots of my stuff. I learned a great deal just watching him photograph in lighting conditions that would have defeated me, and he very patiently answered all my neophyte queries. I got to preview the final photos after I got home, and I can say I’m pretty excited about how they’ll look in the book! Things are really starting to come together – I’ve been furiously working on the manuscript in the last couple of weeks, which has made blogging a little tricky, but things will be coming to an end soon. In a few months I’ll be able to divulge more details about the book – I’ll be really excited to share them when the time comes.

I took the train from Philadelphia to New York, which I’m really glad I did instead of taking the bus or driving (I had my taxi driver in Philadelphia offer to drive me to New York; the prospect of taking a multi-hour taxi ride across several states utterly boggling this California girl). I think there is no other mode of transportation so dreamily evocative as the train. The rhythmic clattering of the wheels on the tracks, the conductor carefully punching your ticket and sliding in into the slot on the front of your seat, the land unspooling before your eyes outside the window – only on a train are you not surrounded by the endless blue ether of the sky or the grey carpet of asphalt crowded with other vehicles. It’s just the train, going onward, through the landscape itself, taking you somewhere. Traveling.

Without music or book to curl into, I sat against the high-backed vinyl seats and watched New Jersey speed by me. Bare-branched trees made hatch marks against chilly blue sky. Deep, still lakes appeared and disappeared. Neighborhoods unfolded, opened before me, rows of houses, baseball fields, stores with unfamiliar names. I watched people get off the train, into towns I’d never seen before and might not pass again for a long time. It was the weekend before Easter, and many passengers were obviously kids going home for the holiday, with suitcases full of dirty laundry to wash at home or cell phones flipped open, in search of friends and the location of that night’s party. I watched the dusty gold sunlight of late afternoon slant in through the train windows, suffusing everything with that timeless, crystalline quality. I was aware, at that instant, of pulling memory out of a moment seemingly ordinary and uneventful, but a moment worth remembering nonetheless. It made me quietly happy that I was "there" to experience this – not tuned out or oblivious, but present.

I’m glad I was able to carry this frame of mind for the rest of my trip, from wandering wide-eyed through New York’s multitude of neighborhoods, to eating a slice of cake in a tiny, tucked-away cafe, to chatting with friendly strangers in a restaurant, to watching pastry cooks assemble precise, perfect plates in the kitchen. The best thing about traveling, particularly when you’re alone, is how it reminds you to open up all your senses to the new and unknown.

Datepuddingcake2

Pichet Ong’s ginger date pudding cake is another experience where I was very glad to be in the moment. I called this dessert the definition of soul-satisfying in my previous post, and I still can’t think of a better description. It’s elegant and sophisticated without being pretentious; the many components in it blend together to a harmonious whole, weaving together seamlessly and subtly, without 20-word long descriptions or 6 different separate piles on the plate needed. It just plain tastes delicious, which to me is the biggest criteria for dessert. The first bite of the cake will be one of those indelible memories: a warm, soft, spicy cloud unfurling in my mouth, the perfume of ginger and toffee, and a lingering desire for just another bite.

I know this looks more like a fall or winter dessert – I happened to arrive in New York right when all the restaurants were switching over to their spring menus. I’m sure if I had been able to stay another week I would have gotten to try a whole new round of desserts – alas for the missed opportunity. If you’re not in the mood for a warm, cozy blanket of a dessert, be sure to save it away for when autumn returns; this cake is well worth it. The texture is amazingly light, yet the flavor is delectably rich and moist, especially after the cake soaks up the rum and toffee sauce. Definitely serve this cake warm, preferably as fresh from the oven as possible – cooled, it just isn’t the same.
 

Datepuddingcake3

A last couple of announcements: I was very surprised to find myself mentioned in Nick Malgieri’s Washington Post article on food blogs. There is some truly illustrious company on Malgieri’s list, so it’s a big honor for me to be included!

Finally, if you live in the Bay Area, consider participating in Dining Out for Life 2008. This event aims to raise funds for the STOP AIDS project by inviting diners to eat at participating restaurants on April 24, 2008. If you dine at one of the restaurants on that day, 25% of your food bill will go to the project. Visit the site to see the list of participating restaurants. It’s a great way to indulge in great food and help a worthy cause.

 

And now, the long-awaited recipe!

 

Ginger Date Pudding Cakes with Rum Walnut Toffee Sauce

adapted from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot

makes 8 servings

Cake

6 dried dates, pitted

1 1-inch piece ginger, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out and reserved

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (254 g) unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup (133 g) sugar

1/3 cup (45 g) candied ginger, finely chopped

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 1/2 (223 g) cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 large egg

Sauce

1 1/2 cups (149 g) walnut halves

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (133 g) unsalted butter

1 cup (227 g) heavy cream

1 1/3 cups (254 g) dark brown sugar

1 1-inch piece ginger, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out and reserved

2 tablespoons dark rum

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter eight 4-oz ramekins, or butter and sugar eight 3" high by 2 1/2" diameter ring molds.

Place dates, ginger, salt, vanilla seeds and pod, and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil on high heat and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and add in the baking soda, and cook for another 3 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, take out ginger slices and vanilla pod from the mixture, and set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, candied ginger, and orange zest until light and fluffy.

Add in the dates and the cooking liquid, and mix until the dates are broken into small pieces and the mixture is well combine. The mixture may turn a funny grey or greenish color from the dates but don’t worry, the cake will turn out nice and brown!

With the mixer on low, add in the flour and baking powder. Mix until fully combined.

Add in the egg and mix until combined.

Divide batter among the prepared ramekins or ring molds. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Be careful not to open the oven too often to check the cakes as this will make them deflate.

Cool cakes on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before unmolding. Let them finish cooling as you make the sauce.

To make the sauce: Combine butter, cream, brown sugar, ginger, salt, vanilla seeds and pod, and 3 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.

Reduce heat and let simmer until it becomes a thick sauce, about 10 minutes.

Remove ginger slices and vanilla pod. Stir in the walnut halves and return to a boil. Let simmer until it becomes thick and sticky, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rum. Let cool slightly before using.

To serve, pour sauce around cakes. Serve immediately.

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The Sweet Side of New York

April 11th, 2008 · 24 Comments · Sweet Spots, Travel

Nybuildings

I’ve been trying to pull together a report on New York City all week, and finally came to the conclusion that I’d have to split in two -there’s just too much to talk about!

Here, then, the first part: a report of all the sweet spots I visited during my time in the city. I mentioned in an earlier post that this trip pushed my sugar-ingesting capabilities to the limit – it’s hard to rein in indulgence in a place where temptations are not only omnipresent but of the quality and caliber that earns them the label, "Only in New York." When there are so many wonderful places to try and desserts to taste, made by some of the most talented people in the industry, restraint and prudence and skinny jeans all get pushed to the side.

I made it through four consecutive nights of multi-course dessert tastings, experiencing the dazzling spectrum of pastry in New York, from classic French to globally inspired to avant-garde. I also visited enough bakeries, chocolate shops, and candy stores during the day to fill one of my suitcases for the trip home. Although I came perilously close to sugar shock, my only real regret is that I couldn’t stay longer to try all the other places I missed out on!

Flowers

As a note, for all the restaurants below, I did not have a full dinner at any other them, choosing to focus my attention (and appetite) on the desserts. I also, unfortunately, don’t have many pictures of the desserts I tasted either, out of consideration of the low light conditions of most of the places. I do hope my descriptions will help you envision the creations I tasted – or entice you to try them yourself!
 

Chanterelle_2

Chanterelle

Dining at Chanterelle is like having dinner with an old friend – one with impeccable taste and style. Chanterelle is a New York fixture, and its history shows; from the moment you step in the door you are treated with an effortless grace and surety that comes from long experience. The dining room is classy and refined – warm-lit walls, high ceilings, sweeping flower arrangements – but the atmosphere is  intimate and cozy, never snooty. Chanterelle is, of course, home of Kate Zuckerman’s desserts and I was thrilled to finally get a chance to taste what her desserts were like made out of her pastry kitchen.

Favorites: I was thrilled to find so many of Kate’s creations from The Sweet Life on the menu. Her Madagascar Vanilla and Brown Butter Cake, which has been embraced by many a blogger, is a slice of warm buttery bliss, with a tantalizing crisp exterior giving way to a soft, velvety vanilla center – divine, especially with the crème fraîche ice cream. The Goat Cheesecake in Hazelnut Brittle also made an appearance  – about as far from the traditional New York cheesecake as you can get, her refined rendition is almost soufflé-light, the slight tang of goat cheese set off by the sweetly crunchy hazelnuts and a piquant marmaladed kumquat sorbet. My other favorite was a coconut-cardamom rice pudding packaged in a crispy wrapper like a bonbon, drizzled with rose syrup, with a scoop of pistachio ice cream nestled nearby. This gorgeous interplay of colors, tastes, and textures made me wish Kate had included the entire dessert in her cookbook – she does give the recipe for the rice pudding, and it’s certainly moved up several notches on my to-make list.

2 Harrison Street
(between Hudson Street and Staple Street)
(212) 966-6960

www.chanterellenyc.com

Pong_2
photo from www.p-ong.com

p*ong

Chanterelle may be classic New York dining at its most elegant and gracious, but p*ong is as modern and eclectic as its name, a funky, downtempo lounge of a place, with sleek white banquettes and a sweeping, angled bar – the preferred place to sit so you can watch the servers make your cocktails or plate your dessert.

Service was efficient, but the highlight, needless to say, was Chef Ong himself, who would materialize in the dining room like a mercurial firefly to exchange a friendly word or two with guests before vanishing again. We discovered that he had just opened his new bakery next door that morning – poor guy! But despite the stresses of opening day, he kindly took the time to show the bakery space to us and told us to come back the next day when they would be restocked. I must disclose here that I adore Pichet. He recounted how they opened the bakery at 11 in the morning, worried that no one would come. No one come to Pichet Ong’s bakery? Hmm, right. In reality, they sold out by 1 in the afternoon. More on batch later. But Pichet is charmingly modest and slyly funny. Be warned, he has a habit of stopping by and checking on the progress of your dessert decimation. "Why didn’t you finish the cake? Is it bad?" "No, of course not, it’s delicious!" we’d demur. "Oh, well, you should really finish it. It’s a special cake!" I don’t think he’s praising his own desserts so much as he’s espousing the old Chinese virtue of cleaning your plate, which all my relatives always had me do. Of course, none of my relatives ever told me that I had to finish my dessert – so advantage to Pichet, I’d say!

Favorites: One of my favorite desserts from my trip came from p*ong: a warm date and ginger cake in a pool of rum toffee sauce, sprinkled with walnuts. It’s like a cross between sticky toffee pudding and the best gingerbread I’ve ever had, the very definition of soul-satisfying. I liked it so much that I had to make it when I returned home. Other desserts that tickled the tastebuds included a chevre cheesecake and walnut croquette, a bit richer and earthier than Chanterelle’s, and a grilled pear "steak" with hazelnut and caramel – again, desserts hitting that elusive combination of unexpected and intriguing and utterly satiating.

150 W 10th Street
(between Greenwich Avenue and Waverly Place)
(212) 929-0898

www.p-ong.com

Wd50_4  
photo fr om www.wd-50.com

wd-50

It seemed fitting that I’d visited the MOMA earlier in the day before I went to wd-50. An afternoon of high-concept art followed by an evening of high concept food. Be prepared to go with an open mind and you’ll be rewarded with some amazing, thought-provoking plates. wd-50 is surprisingly low-key and mellow for being a high temple of molecular gastronomy; my friend and I were seated at a row of two-tops placed so closely together that by the end of the evening we felt more like we were sitting at a communal table. It was amusing to see the diners seated next to us darting sideways glances as a new feat of whimsy was placed before us, just as we could not resist doing the same to them. Eager to experience as many of Alex Stupak’s creations as we could, we chose the five-course dessert tasting, but be warned: each person at the table has to order the tasting, so it’s a whole lot of sweets. Make sure you leave enough room!

Favorites: Needless to say, these were some of the most exactingly plated dishes I saw on my whole trip. Every dessert was a Japanese rock garden, little hills and dunes of cake and cream in a sea of sinuous curves and undulating swirls, amidst carefully calibrated scatterings of crunchy flourishes. The desserts that not only struck me with their art-museum aesthetic but also their successful exploration of the unusual and offbeat included a delectably soft cornbread pudding in a lemongrass sauce with prunes; it was homey and exotic at once and most importantly, delicious. Another winner was a gianduja dome with ice milk ice cream, fennel, and little chocolate truffles that oozed warm hazelnut filing when you cut into them. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with chocolate and hazelnut, but the flavors were used in such untraditional ways that it made the dessert interesting and new, a pleasure to explore. The little chocolate covered chicory ice cream petit fours were scrumptious as well.

50 Clinton Street
(between Rivington Street and Stanton Street)
(212) 477-2900

Other sweet spots

Having only five days in New York City and one stomach, I could only visit a fraction of all the bakeries, pâtisseries, dessert bars, chocolate shops, and other sweet spots the city had to offer. New York demands your return, anyway, with its kaleidoscopic, ever-changing aspect – even if I’d visited 50 dessert places I’m sure another 50 will have opened by the end of this year. Here, some of the places I did get to try:

Amai Tea House
Tiny, but warm and serene.  I love that all the display cases look like they came from an old Chinese apothecary, a perfect setting for all the Asian-inspired desserts. Although their green tea cookies are their signature item, I really like their white tea and strawberry cookies, which have a touch of ginger and peppercorn, and the red vanilla cookies, which are laced with rooibos tea.

171 3rd Avenue
(between 16th Street ad 17th Street)
(212) 863-9630

www.amainyc.com

Batch

batch

This place was literally a day old when I walked in, but it already looks like it has its own quirky personality. I recognized many of Pichet Ong’s creations from his The Sweet Spot cookbook – the Dragon Devil’s Food Cupcakes were there, as well as the coconut-lemon cupcakes and chocolate tarts. There are also puddings, cookies, brownies, and other delights by the batch. There’s Pichet serving the customers; I also got to meet one of the bakers there – hi, Betty!

150b W 10th St
(212) 929-0250

Ceci-Cela

In the excitement of visiting new dessert places, I didn’t have much time to spend revisiting ones I’d been to before, but I knew I really wanted to go back here. So narrow that customers are basically sandwiched between the wall and the display case, nevertheless I love this place because of the tiny dining room in the back, a brick-walled oasis plastered with vintage posters, resembling a cross between speakeasy and secret clubhouse, where you can tuck into your tart and coffee far away from the city bustle.

55 Spring Street
(between Cleveland Place and Lafayette Street)
(212) 274-9179

Financier

A perfectly apropos name, as all three branches of this pâtisserie are located in the Financial District. With its celery-green and cream-yellow decor and rattan chairs, you can almost think you are eating your pain au chocolate in Paris – until you see the skyscrapers outside the window.

35 Cedar Street
(between Pearl Street and William Street)
(212) 952-3838

 

Kee’s Chocolates

Barely more than a storefront on a SoHo street, Kee’s Chocolates is nevertheless a window into chocolate heaven. Kee Ling Tong’s creations are masterpieces of flavor and texture, chocolate brought to a spellbinding zenith. I’ve never had any chocolates where the shell almost dissolves in your mouth to the filling inside – dreamy. Flavors I loved include passionfruit, lavender, and hazelnut praline.

80 Thompson Street
(between Broome Street and Spring Street)
(212) 334-3284

www.keeschocolates.com

Kyotofu

There are plenty of Asian-inspired desserts on menus nowadays, but Kyotofu the balance tips the other way, with Asian desserts just tempered with a French/Western edge. Their signature item is their homemade sweet tofu, which is light, silken, and refreshing, especially with a black sugar syrup poured over the top. Other sweets I liked included the chocolate matcha cupcake, sake cheesecake, and coconut-yuzu macaron. Different, and definitely worth a visit.

705 9th Ave
(between 48th Street and 49th Street)
(212) 974-6012

Payard

You can’t get closer to a Parisian grand café in New York than François Payard’s pâtisserie and bistro. Go to admire the gorgeous Belle Époque decor, all high ceilings, coffee-colored wood, and blown-glass fixtures. Stay as you try to choose from dual counters filled with cakes, tarts, macarons, chocolates, and cookies of every sort. Or perhaps the ice-cream cart is calling your name?

1032 Lexington Avenure
(between 73rd Street and 74th Street)
(212) 717-5252

www.Payard.com

 Well, that’s about it! I wanted to include a recipe for the Pichet Ong’s date cake that I loved, but this post is already running long so it’s going to show up in part 2! Stay tuned and have a good weekend!


Datepuddingcake3

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