Archive | Sweet things RSS feed for this section

Cookie Bar and beyond

12 Feb

The term ‘Pop Up Cookie Bar‘ should be enough to get any self respecting sugar addict excited.

Cookie Bar Pop Up (Window design John Crash Grafitti Artist)

Well I was and while my first thought was that it was not conducive to my healthy eating plan I decided that since it was the last  day of the event I was in little danger of a relapse irrespective of how good the cookies were.

The next term, ‘the early bird catches the worm’ is one of those meaningless clichés that only comes up when someone wants to say I told you so. In this case myself. It is like many a cliché, so obviously true that when someone points it out the only normal response is a punch in the face.

Having got to the cookie bar literally just in time to watch the last cookie being handed over I decided that to then punch myself in the face as well would be adding insult to injury, and instead I should lick my wounds and head somewhere else for cookie therapy. I would add that I was consoled in the best possible way by Dorie Greenspan (whose pop up it was) when her husband seeing the disappointment on my face rummaged around to find the last albeit slightly damaged cookie and offered it to me free of charge.  It was the best all butter cookie I have ever had, so I left happy with a rueful smile thinking of how things could have been had I got up earlier…..or not gone to the gym!!!

Since I do not travel into Manhattan all that often it seemed to make sense to at least make the most of it. The Pop Up  Cookie Bar was on 59th and Lexington in a hair salon of all places, and I know of two good sweet spots that way. One is Dylan’s Candy Bar which I am sure I will come to in another post and the other is the ever reliable Bouchon Bakery. For my money they serve the best cookies in NY barring pop ups….It is Thomas Keller after all who is according to many one of the greatest chefs ever.

The Bouchon Bakery is in the Time Warner Centre and while not exactly cheap it is the only way to sample his food without shattering the bank balance. There is a simple cafe where you can enjoy fancy salads, sandwiches and soups and then a take out bakery counter where all manner of sweet treats beckon. They even sell Foie Gras doggy biscuits, pretty distasteful to my mind but not enough to start boycotting the place.

With sweet fix in hand I decided to check out ‘Wichcraft, Tom Colicchio’s sandwich place. Colicchio has a small empire of upmarket restaurants across NY, but ‘Wichcraft is his attempt to offer the same guiding principles behind his food at a lower price point. This concept mirrored in Keller’s Bouchon is something that is missing in the London eating scene.There are simply too many high-end restaurants who do little to widen their reach, short of the excellent Fino-Barrafina connection I cannot think of any.

They offer gourmet sandwiches priced slightly above the normal take out joints but not dissimilar to if you were ordering in a restaurant ($9-$11). My  free range chicken and cauliflower with olive aoili was generously filled and with interesting flavours. The chicken was perhaps a little dry having been warmed up, and it was unfortunate that the curried cauliflower was fridge cold not making for a great contrast. However overall it was a good sandwich with excellent ciabatta roll. They have many locations across the city, many take away only but if you are nearby The Lincoln Center they have a branch with plenty of seating.


Mast Brothers Chocolate Tour

14 Dec

I took this tour as I was inspired by a blog that my former boss posted about the Mast Brothers Fleur De Sel chocolate bar that he had bought from the chocolatiers Paul A Young in London. Whilst I had known of the Mast Brothers fame and had bought several of their bars as gifts for people back home I had done little to investigate their growing empire. First alerted to these beardy wonders back in 2008 in an Edible article, they were the first people to start bean to bar production in New York. They have steadily grown and are now to be found in many gourmet shops, several hip clothing stores and even top restaurants such as Thomas Keller’s Per Se.

The tour itself was of the short and sweet variety. Admittedly the production facility is fairly small, with a roasting and conching room, a tempering room, some storage and admin space and then the store front which also doubles as the packing room. What is amazing is how quickly the business has expanded since 2007, now producing upwards of 1000 bars per week. Even as they have grown though they have stayed small, their mentality is to create not just a product but a community that includes the farmers, the chefs, the packaging designers and the customer. The very fact that their storefront is part of the factory ties you into the experience, as you see the bars being packaged and smell the beans being roasted.

The little tasting we did at the end of the tour brought home the uniqueness of the different bars. We tried three single origin bars, Venezuelan, Dominican Republic and Madagascan, all with their own flavour profile ranging from very dark, tobacco like flavour to sweeter citrus notes. Of all single origin chocolate the Madagascan has always been my favourite and The Mast Brothers version was no different, with strong hints of berry and citrus fruit.

You can taste all of the different flavours in the store where the patient girl behind the counter will happily offer you samples. These were my picks, mainly as gifts but with a Madagascan tucked away for my own eating pleasure, be warned the Serrano pepper bar certainly packs a punch……..

I would definitely recommend the tour ($10 at Paper Tickets) if you are interested in the process, but do not expect too much in-depth info, the main advantage is that at the end you are in the store where the bars are reasonably priced at $7 each or 3 for $20.

Some more links to Mast Brothers info, good photos….

They are going on an amazing sounding trip taking a 70 foot hand-built Schooner to Dominican Republic to buy 20.000 pounds of cacao, really doing their bit to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, totally wind powered journey. Sounds awesome, I offered my services but was politely declined…..…video blog

Brooklyn Farmacy

29 Nov

The 'Jerk' on the servers t-shirt referes to the action of jerking the soda fountains pump.

The Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain is one of a growing number of old school soda fountains that are slowly repopulating New York, albeit on a small scale. This classic institution remains etched into New Yorkers memories and while the Soda Fountain died in the 1970’s the memory lives on.

The grand age of the soda fountain began in the early 1900’s with the advent of the Liquid Carbonic Co. founded in 1888 by Jacob Baur. Being a Pharmacist he marketed the Carbonic Soda Fountain to the people he new best, hence the connection between drug stores and soda fountains. From here it was the Prohibition of 1919 that really gave impetus to this burgeoning trend-“The bar is dead, the fountain lives, and soda is king!” (John Sommerset 1920, Drug Topic).

Without beer and liquor it was the Egg Cream, Cherry Lime Ricky and the Root Beer Float that helped to fill the social vacuum left by Prohibition. The Pharmacies soon became a place for people to enjoy a guilt free treat while socialising with friends and family.The Brooklyn Farmacy has sympathetically recreated the tradition.

The store was in fact previously a pharmacy, hence many of the features are original. With it being common place for the drug store shelving to be filled with the remedies of the day, they have cleverly swapped pharmacuticles for many of Brooklyn best known food producers. Hence you can find products from several different Brooklyn pickling companies, P&H syrups, Good Batch Waffles, the Brooklyn Salsa company, and Early bird granola. Many of the ingredients in the classic drinks and dessserts are also supplied by Brooklyns finest.

So after the history what about the product?

This to most New Yorkers probably borders on sacrilage, but it has to be said. Milk (0r any dairy product) and soda should never be mixed. It is a ghastly combination, something that is more akin to a joke shop dare than a tasty beverage, so all those egg creams and root beer floats are best avoided. The desserts however fare much better, an ice cream sandwich made with caramel waffles and topped with caramel sauce tasted as good as it sounds. The ice cream sundaes were equally as appealing. The menu contains many classic American treats and on my next trip I look forward to trying the pies and house made Twinkies.

The Brooklyn Pharmacy is a great window into the past yet manages to support the cornerstone of ‘The New Brooklyn Cuisine‘ that is the mantra of farm to table, local, seasonal and sustainable food.

My advice is if you want to see a real piece of New York cross the bridge and check out one of the many excellent restaurants in Brooklyn and then head over to the Farmacy for a sweet treat and a true piece of nostalgia.


26 Nov

This was the Apple and Salted Caramel Pie from Four and Twenty Blackbirds that got me out of bed at 6.30am.

and YES! it was worth it.

It was a delicious pie and the perfect end to a meal and a day. This being my first American Thanksgiving it seemed only right to keep it traditional. We spent the day at our friends place eating, drinking and being entertained by eighteenth month old Beckett. The turkey was great having been brined the night before, (although I did not notice much difference) and then steamed in ‘Turkey bags”. We had all the traditional trimmings, mashed potato, greens, gravy and sweet potato. I should mention the sweet potato was a Southern version cooked with candied pecans and vanilla, nice but more like a dessert than savoury side. I also baked some bread in the  morning, check out the interesting shapes.

The bread baking was all a bit hurried as I ran out of time and space in the oven. The S-shaped bread came out really well, unfortunately one of the breads slipped as I was putting it in the oven, hence the hook end. The straight one was upsetting as it came out perfectly until I rested it on the bottom of the oven and burnt it. Luckily they all tasted good and were perfect for using up left over turkey as sandwiches.

On the run

25 Nov

This is my first mobile blog, not something I was planning on, but it’s 7.30 am and I have been queueing for about 40 minutes to get our Thanksgiving pie.

Not sure how but I have WiFi and while I know I am definitely going to get one of the first come first served pies they do not open the doors for another 30 minutes.
I ve read the depression inducing news of the first day of the Ashes, soaked up the euphoria of Spurs qualifying for the knock out phase of the Champions League so now to blog.

You may have read about the Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in an earlier blog. If not these two sisters are nuts about pies, making everything from scratch to their grandmothers recipies. In their wisdom they decided not to take orders but sell on a first come first served basis, hence the line.

I got here about 6.45 am and am 12th in line. They helpfully posted on their website that they had sold out in 2 hours the previous day with the line starting at 7am so I judged correct.

As soon as I get home I will post picture of said pie.
Oh the smugness as every person who arrives, surveys the line and contemplates Thanksgiving with no pie!


21 Nov

This post was originally meant to be about Baked one of New York’s top bakeries, but it got somewhat hijacked by my rediscovering the area known as Red Hook in Brooklyn. I set off to discover what sweet treats Baked had in their actual store having been eating their Chocolate cloud cookies and brownies which they wholesale throughout the city. My only other previous visit to Red Hook took place on a sweaty August evening last year when i was less than enamoured by the industrial landscape i was forced to trek through to get to our dinner reservation. Having moaned most of the way there (we were going to The Good Fork, an excellent New American restaurant deep in the Hook) i remembered passing the shuttered bakery and noting that i had to return in daylight hours to see what magic they were creating in their own place.

It’s still very pretty here in New York at the moment, the sky is a lush blue and the biting cold of winter is being held back by the low winter sun, although step into the shade and you are quickly reminded that it is late November. It’s a good couple of miles down to Red Hook and although there is a bus i prefer the walk. I worry i am becoming a believer in the idea that the journey is more important than the destination, that said, right now i have all the time in the world to enjoy the journey so the destination becomes a little less meaningful. Along the way i realise what it is that attracts people to this somewhat ugly and remote part of town.

It is true that there is an Ikea in Red hook but for me this is another glaring warning to avoid the area. Can anyone tell me they long to live near an Ikea store?!? The only other amenity is the Fairway store down by the water. Normally large supermarkets are eyesores of the highest order but this one is housed in the most amazing Pre-Civil War warehouse. Its right on the water and the bay looks out onto the Statue of Liberty.

Its pretty special for a supermarket. I couldn’t help but take a look around, the place is vast and has all kinds of sections, including ‘British Favourites’ where i found some treats to remind me of home.

Anyway, supermarket and Ikea aside, on the surface there is little of use or beauty in the area, however i think that this is what attracts me. The place is definitely residential in the sense that lots of people live here, but it retains a very urban and industrial feel to it. The docks are still working and every street off of Van Brunt (the main drag) is full of warehouses, work shops and small businesses. The scattering of restaurants, galleries and up market wine stores are heavily outnumbered by the daily activities of working men and women.

So photo tour of Red Hook over i will come back to Baked the original destination of my journey. The bakery is pretty well-known throughout the country having had the Oprah seal of approval, backed up by two cookbooks full of amazing recipes and pictures. My blogging friend over in Berlin Foodieinberlin will testify as she is baking her way through, me, i prefer  just to eat.

I mentioned the cloud cookies, a kind of puffy double chocolate chip cookie with chewy centre, and the brownies are excellent, but i wanted to try some of the things only available in store. I ordered a small hot chocolate which when it arrived was in fact the largest beverage i have ever seen, it was very rich and reminded me of the most incredible hot chocolate in the world from Cafe Angelina in Paris (this blog post says it all), although not quite to the Parisian standard. I also took away some apple pie bar, which was very good, and brookie which is a cookie baked in a brownie, which probably sounds better than it was.

All in all the journey was greater than the destination, but this should not detract from the bakery which sells some of the best cakes in all NYC, and if you are looking for a gift for a pastry baking friend i can recommend either of their books.

The Niche

26 Oct

The London eating scene is quite different from here in NY. It is certainly not that London lacks good food but that too much of it is concentrated on appealing to the masses.

Here they exploit the niche market so well. I do not know if it is because New Yorkers love food more than Londoners but it certainly seems that the chefs and entrepreneurs are much more willing to indulge in their own tastes. I really believe that more often than not if the people behind the business truly love what they produce it will taste better. Just in the last week i have visited three places that concentrate on doing very few things, but doing them exceptionally well.

Doughnut Plant

These are doughnuts of the finest quality, all handmade in the bakery behind the tiny counter that makes for the shop front. I have never been to the Doughnut Plant on a Saturday before and probably won’t make that mistake again, but as you can see people are very willing to stand and queue for great products. As with many of these kind of businesses the idea came from the  founders (Mark Israel’s discovering his grandfathers old recipes) desire to recreate a genuine product that had been bastardised by mass production techniques.

The results are amazing as i have told everyone since i discovered the place on a visit in 2008. The three doughnuts above are my favourites. The Creme Brulee is a small but perfectly formed little bomb. It has a sugar glazed top that is has the crunch of its name sake and then filled with delicious custard. The Tres Leche is a masterpiece made with milk, evapourated milk and condensed milk. The light dough is covered in the evapourated milk glaze and filled all the way round with condensed milk cream. Finally the strawberry jam filled doughnut. This is the first time i have seen it and it did not disappoint. Mark keeps things interesting by rotating through seasonal fillings so there is always something different to try.

(A note to all you London doughnut lovers, forget Krispy Kremes and head to Spitalfields on a Sunday morning. St John Bread and Wine make their own amazing doughnuts with either raspberry jam or custard fillings. They sell out and it maybe worth calling ahead to check they have them but i promise you will not be disappointed)

I also recently returned to Porchetta a tiny place dedicated to the Pork sandwich, they really pare it down. The sandwich comes with pork and only pork, no condiments no greens and it does not suffer for it. Just the delicious crunch of the crispy pork shoulder and lots of flavour from the garlic, fennel and rosemary. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are in the East Village and need a snack.

My latest discovery in the simple concept idea is Four and Twenty. This place was opened by two sisters devoted to all things pie. It’s not in the nicest part of town situated on 3rd Avenue near the Gowanus Canal. By all reports you do not want to be hanging around the canal on a hot day as the smell can be quite overwhelming….

The cafe is a pretty uninteresting square space with no decoration beyond the original features of the room. The main event though was the pie and it seemed perfect that apple was on the menu. To be precise apple and salted caramel. It was amazing…….a revelation, homemade all butter crust layered with perfectly cooked apple and caramel, a large slice of heaven..


Perfect apple pie


Being greedy and making sure that i was not missing out on anything i decided to get a slice to take home. I tried the buttermilk and maple custard and was again not disappointed.

This is my new favourite place. Now if only it was closer to home i would be very happy and a lot fatter…..