Archive for the 'Reviews and Announcements' Category

cookie bar 2.0

Monday, February 14th, 2011

You could say I’ve had cookies on my mind lately. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to meet baking idol Dorie Greenspan in person, and to actually try her cookies, so I couldn’t miss Cookie Bar’s second appearance in New York. As if that weren’t reason enough to trek into the City (well, just over the Hudson river for me), I happened to hear of a blogger meetup this past Friday, February 11, so it seemed like the perfect time to go.

Josh Greenspan, Sarabeth, and Dorie Greenspan

I sent my husband, who was in the area the day before, to scout out and purchase some cookies, just in case they happened to sell out by the time I got there. By Thursday mid-afternoon, they had indeed sold out of the more chocolate-y cookies and he brought home a blondie, espresso-chocolate sablé, a coconut-lime sablé, and a pear-pineapple jammer. I almost had a hard time opening the sealed package Dorie had apparently packaged herself. Almost.

I could not wait for my turn to procure these coveted cookies and meet Dorie in person. Dorie is as gracious, genuine and sweet in person as she seems and signed two books for me (Baking, From my Home to Yours, and Paris Sweets). I mentioned she had judged my entry for a bittersweet baking contest I participated in a few years back at thekitchn.com. It was a vegan cake because I was feeling experimental and ambitious at the time.  She replied that she was always interested in trying to create vegan desserts.

Fortunately, I was able to get some of the varieties I was especially keen on trying – the strawberry-raspberry jammer, world peace cookie, and chocolate chunker (she was selling out quickly during the blogger meeting and by early afternoon, was completely sold out!). While I enjoyed all the cookies, my personal favorites were the chocolate chunkers and jammers.

Dorie hands over the very last of her cookies from cookie bar 2.0 to one lucky guy!

Despite selling out in the early afternoon, Dorie would dutifully remain until 5pm to face the unenviable task of breaking the sorry news to  customers that all the cookies were gone. In the meantime, she chatted with us bloggers. One of the great things about doing this Cookiebar, according to her, was opportunity to meet “the people”. Dorie, we’re so glad to meet you too!

The other highlight of my little jaunt was the unexpected treat of meeting Sarabeth “Goddess of Bakedom” herself from Sarabeth’s Kitchen as well as some wonderful bloggers. Thanks to The Peche and One Tough Cookie for organizing the meetup!

Dorie and Me!

what i’ve quietly been up to…

Monday, January 11th, 2010

i am blatantly aware of how long it’s been since my last post, how i’ve quietly retreated from the blogging world without explanation. you see, i had been gestating this beauty for 38 weeks…

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our first child arrived in December of 2009! while my pregnancy was mostly uneventful, thankfully, it was also fraught with dietary concerns as i was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. this meant that two fundamental ingredients of baking – flour and sugar – needed to be severely restricted. fortunately, through careful moderation, my baby was still delivered naturally at a birthing center in Manhattan with a healthy birth weight of 7lb 10 oz.

the journey into parenthood has and continues to be an amazing growth experience. how this affects my blogging and baking remains to be seen as i take things one day at a time, trusting my instincts as i go along, as i have been all along…don’t worry, i won’t be depriving my little one (who is thankfully clear of diabetes himself) of sweets and look forward sharing with him a lifetime of special baking occasions…

peace and happy new year to all.

janet

Desserts Class with Johnny Iuzzini from Jean Georges

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

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Johnny Iuzzini teaches students to “respect the curves of the fruit”

ICE‘s catalogue has some choice offerings this session, including (but definitely not limited to!) classes with chef Michael Laiskonis from Le Bernardin, and this recent class I took with Johnny Iuzzini from Jean Georges restaurant. Iuzzini is a James Beard award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year, and has trained with Francois Payard, Pierre Herme, among others. He’s also made TV appearances on Paula’s Party, Top Chef as a quickfire challenge judge, Martha Stewart and, oh yeah, also happened to be twice voted NY’s sexiest chef in a Daily News poll. Iuzzini’s book, provocatively entitled Dessert Fourplay, has just been released, so the desserts in the class were based on his book.

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Iuzzini is quite a rock star in the pastry world, so I was a bit starstruck meeting him and some members of his team at Jean Georges, who were on hand to assist students throughout the class (they were all so great and helpful, by the way!). I just got a new camera lens a few days prior to the class which I am not yet accustomed to, so I feverishly snapped away throughout class hoping to get a few decent, in-focus shots – in between chopping fruit, piping cake batter, flambeeing bananas, etc.

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Various stages of creating the Polenta-Pineapple Cake, from caramelizing sugar, filling with pineapple and piping cake batter; akin to creating flan or an upside down cake.

Chef discussed his dessert quartet concept used at Jean Georges, or how a single element is carried out in a complementary plating of four mini desserts. We would be working in teams to create the numerous components to ultimately plate our own “fourplay” (har, har).

I really liked this peanut phyllo crisp, for example, with a peanut flour/sugar layer, which was later used to garnish one part of the quartet. After an initial baking, a layer of confectioner’s sugar is dusted and the phyllo crisp is reheated, allowing the sugar to caramelize (though unevenly in the second photo below – you want to avoid that). This creates a delicate, flaky crisp, which is later broken into shards and used for garnish.

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Peanut phyllo crisp

One of the other quartet components was the flambeed bananas with rum and coke ice cream, which Iuzzini is demonstrating below.

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Fire and Ice: flambeed bananas and rum and coke ice cream quenelle

After working in groups the whole night, we each had the opportunity to plate our own desserts. Here’s Iuzzini’s plated demo. I loved the way he balanced and delicately offset the quenelles atop the phyllo crisp/bananas. He also created carrot foam using fresh carrot juice and an immersion blender.

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Clockwise from left: Chef Iuzzini’s plated demo of pain perdu (brioche French toast) with cream cheese ice cream and papaya lime compote, pineapple polenta cake with pineapple spice sauce, mango lhassi with diced fruits and carrot foam, flambeed bananas with rum and coke ice cream, peanut phyllo crisp and caramelized peanuts.

Wow, I hadn’t realized all that we accomplished in class until I just detailed all the components in that lengthy description. The class was really well-orchestrated in this respect. Also, while the components are certainly numerous, none were especially difficult. We were all left to plate our own arrangements using the desserts we created in class.

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My plating arrangement with overfilled lhassi, deflated carrot foam, half-assed melting quenelle, sans specialized, compartmentalized Jean Georges dinnerware.

In perusing my copy of Iuzzini’s Dessert Fourplay, I’m quite surprised by the relative accessibility of the recipes. Though I haven’t tried them yet outside of class, I think they would appeal to a wide range of pastry cooks. The recipes and flavor combinations are really quite compelling and I imagine this will be a great go-to book. I particularly like how each of various elements of the quartets can really stand on their own, should the idea of creating four mini desserts at once be daunting, as I imagine it would be to many. Also, the desserts are beautifully photographed, which is always appreciated.

My one minor complaint was that I wish there were a little more of a color contrast in the final dessert – but this is more of a personal photography issue (though the photo of the same dessert in the book is quite stunning). Class was a blast and the mere hours spent there were inspiring, edifying. Iuzzini was a really charismatic, generous and playful instructor, even poking fun at students who burnt their caramelized sugar (tsk, tsk). Good times!

Culinary Demos from the Chocolate Show

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

I’m still getting over my sugar rush from this weekend’s 11th Annual Chocolate Show. Now that the chocolate dust has settled a bit, I wanted to post some pics from the culinary demonstrations. Some might regard the demos as secondary to all the chocolate samples from the show, but personally, I think they are valuable experiences in themselves. And you get desserts at the end!

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Pictured above are François Payard and his domed layer cake with chocolate ruffles. I caught the tail end of this demo so unfortunately, I’m not sure what the actual creation was. The recipes from the show are supposed to be up on the Chocolate Show site soon.

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Jacques Torres is always a popular attraction. Here he is making a chocolate bowl, dipping a balloon in chocolate in a tulip-like pattern to create the bowls pictured below. They were filled with a chocolate sauce and chocolate caramel popcorn. The man works with such lightning speed, he also demonstrated this tiered chocolate cone with two-toned shortbread cookies. (Pieces were assembled beforehand, of course, but I’m still in awe over what he accomplished in under an hour.)

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On Sunday, a representative from the Italy based Amedei presented a guided tasting of some of their chocolates. Amedei is regarded as some of the best chocolates in the world, and is relatively difficult to find in the US. It was created by quality-obsessed brother-sister team Alessio and Cecilia Tessieri, with Alessio scouring the earth to source the best cacao and Cecilia creating the chocolate.

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We were instructed on the proper way of tasting chocolate: 1. Look at the piece -the color should be uniform with no trace of grey, or cocoa butter separation 2. Snap – there should be a sharp snap. 3. Smell the aroma. 4. Taste

Some of the aromas/tastes evoked from the various chocolates were tobacco, green tea, forest, exotic fruits, spices, nuts, etc. The Madagascar chocolates are one of Amedei’s more exotic types, with traces of minerals from the volcanic soil from which the cocoa is grown.

Another highlight was watching Rich Capizzi from Bouchon Bakery and famed restaurant Per Se. He demonstrated an uber-sophisticated “Chocolate S’mores” dish. In the photo below, he is making marshmallows and gauging the temperature of the boiled sugar by dipping his hand in cold water, and then into the melted sugar which he rolled into a ball to test its pliability. I think I’ll just use a thermometer, thank you.

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Rich brough a very generous sampling of five of Bouchon Bakery’s cookies: Nutter Butters, TKO’s (Thomas Keller Oreos), Oatmeal, Shortbread, and Chocolate Chip. (It wasn’t until we were halfway into the cookies that I remembered to take photos, as you can see.)

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Afterwards, we sampled the exotic s’mores plated dessert. There are several components here including a chocolate brownie, graham cracker crunch, marshmallow, chocolate cremeux shaped into quenelle and dipped in “magic crack” or chocolate shell, cocoa nib coulis, and chocolate emulsion. Phew – I hope I got it all. I’d say the cost of the desserts we sampled in this demo alone were equivalent if not more than the entrance fee to the Chocolate Show.

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I also managed to squeeze in one more demo from Kate Zuckerman from Chanterelle restaurant in New York, and author of The Sweet Life. Kate demonstrated a chocolate caramel tart with crushed caramel decorations.

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A very edifying and inspiring show! Now that I’m about armed with all this new found knowledge and inspiration, I’ve got to make use of the ahem, over 20 pounds of couverture that I purchased from the show…

NY Chocolate Show Opening Night & Fashion Show

Friday, November 7th, 2008

On Nov. 6, the opening night/fashion show for the 11th Annual Chocolate Show was held in New York, an event to benefit the Susan G. Komen foundation for the cure. The show has switched locations from the Metropolitan Pavilion to Pier 94, on 55th St. and 12th Ave. Pier 94 is a more spacious venue, which will hopefully better suit the large crowds. Here’s a preview, though this is probably the least populated you will see it:

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A handful of vendors were set up for the preview/opening night. Among them were Éclat Chocolate, who displayed  cocoa sticks (below, left), which are melted in hot milk to create hot cocoa. They also had some spicy peppercorn chocolates shaped in disks. Oliver Kita had some fashionista chocolate shoes (below, right) adorned with what appears to be crystallized violets.

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Two booths that you will not want to miss are Mary’s from Japan (below, top and bottom left) and the Italian Confederation which is comprised of several Italian vendors (below, top and bottom right). They both have some amazing chocolate available to purchase only at the chocolate show (outside of Japan and Italy, of course). Mary’s green tea truffle samples were a big hit last year and kept flying off their counter. The chocolates from the Italian Confederation table are also notable. I sampled some salted chocolates, Gianduja, and chocolates topped with lemon rinds (wow), which were excellent.

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Keep in mind there will be many more vendors at the actual show, including Amadei, Jacques Torres, John & Kira’s, Valrhona (among others), and you can find the full list and more info here.

On to the chocolate fashion show! This year, former Project Runway designers and celebrity pastry chefs joined forces to create pieces under the theme of Superheroes! Here are some pieces from the show:

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Left: “Villain to Mother Nature (Oil Spill) by Renee Masoomian & Vedika Webb and Right: “Viracocha” made by Steve Evetts of the Marriott Marquis and designed by Brian Bustos.
Fierce and fiercer!    

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Clockwise, from upper left: “Black Phoenix” by Kit Scarbo, Fritz Knipschildt, and Torben Bang, “Ironman” by Faith Drobin and Michelle Tampakis, “Barbarella” by Gregory Fale, Richard Capizzi & Grand Marnier, “Batgirl” by Michael Plosky & Martin Howard, ”Storm” by Vanessa Greeley and Dina Sadik, modeled by Sophie Deni.

The actual Chocolate show takes place this weekend, Friday to Sunday November 7-9, 2008, and will include demonstrations by some top pastry chefs (which itself is worth the $28 price of admission), activities for children, book signings from pastry chefs, as well as  the full roster of chocolate vendors. For more info on the show, click here.

Note: Please contact me at janet@prettytastycakes.com if any pastry artists/designers were not credited appropriately.

A Class with Pichet Ong from P*ONG

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Last Thursday was a bag of mixed emotions. It was an unseasonably humid autumn day in New York, I hadn’t slept well, I was physically not feeling great and in generally groggy spirits. Whining aside, I hauled myself over to the ICE to take this class I had registered for a while back.

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As soon as I saw Pichet Ong‘s smiling face, my mood was instantly uplifted. Pichet is such a personable man. So cute! He spoke about his background at Jean Georges, La Folie, Spice Market, etc. and how his experience in savory cooking has influenced his desserts in both flavor profiles (his desserts often play with salty/sweet flavor combinations such as the apple hand pie with bacon caramel) and his creative development process. He uses more of an instinctual approach, spontaneously creating, tasting, then revisiting the creation a second time to record the measurements used for any given dessert. Pichet regarded this instinctual approach in admittedly generalized terms as a vaguely “Asian” approach. I found this interesting and personally inspiring as I’ve come to regard baking as less and less of an exact science based on precise measurements and timing and learning to hone my instincts instead.

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Apple Hand Pie with Bacon Caramel (my handpie chosen for plating demo!)

The class was divided in two. As much as the Apple Hand Pie with Bacon Caramel intrigued me, I’m actually allergic to bacon (or rather, the nitrates) so I quickly opted to join the Stilton Souffle, Walnut, Basil and Arugula Ice Cream group. At least we all got to shape a few hand pies. This cheese souffle (picture below) was quite savory, counter-balanced by the light, cool arugula ice cream.

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Perhaps my favorite dessert of the class (and also the least savory) was the Carrot and Salted Caramel Cupcake, which is sold at Batch Bakery in New York. This cupcake was moist and oh so delicious.

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Another delicious item was the Chevre Cheesecake Parfait with Huckleberry, Walnut, and Maldon Salt. The base of the dessert is a walnut cookie crust, a very nice crunch that contrasted the airy parfait.

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This class was so much fun. I purchased Pichet Ong’s book The Sweet Spot and am so inspired by the exciting and unusual flavor combinations. Pichet is also working on a second book, though I’ll be “digesting” the knowledge I’ve acquired from this class for a while…

Live from the Martha Stewart Show

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

We’re here! My husband and I are on the set of the Martha Stewart show. The audience members are filing in, and getting seated for this special blogger’s audience show. This show will air live today, Wednesday, September 17 in some parts of the country, and will air on NBC at 11am EST. The laptop brigade is out in full force!

This is a real test of multitasking (blogging, listening and photo-taking/editing at once – phew!) We happen to be sitting next to Rachel and Matt from Coconut and Lime and met Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake. Joey’s doing his intro now, so be back soon!

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Martha just came out. She looks great! Other blogs in attendance are Cute Overload and Smitten Kitchen.

Yum. Mattbites is showing us how to make alfajores, South American cookies filled with dulce de leche. I tried these for the first time in Argentina and have always been interested in making them. They are vaguely like macarons in their assemblage process of two cookies sandwiched together with a filling.

We also got to see Martha judge / eat her way through a hot dog contest (to be aired at a later date). Now that was amusing/entertaining, but also somewhat torturous to watch as we approached lunchtime.

That’s all for now! Check out the show!

Parisian Patisseries 2007

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

My husband Bob and I made our second winter trip in a row to Paris over the holidays. This trip inevitably turned into a feeding frenzy of French food. Our first stop was Pierre Herme’s store at St. Germain des Pres. I was kicking myself for having missed it during our last trip, so we were eager to make our first visit. Also, this past year, I had obtained a copy of his book Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, specifically because I had heard there was a recipe for macarons in there (more on that later). Anyway, there was a bit of a line, which gave me an opportunity to photograph and salivate over the the artfully presented desserts.

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The longer log cakes pictured above are the modern French-style buche de noel. This style is more popular in Paris than the rolled jaconde with buttercream that I made over Christmas (the rolled version is apparently a more old-fashioned version) and requires a special trough-shaped mold which I was very tempted to buy.

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The beautiful shot glass filled with fruits and creams and decorated with a violet was called an “emotion exotic” and was composed of pistachio creme brulee, pineapple seasoned with lime and coriander, coconut, and tapioca. mmm…

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In the background of the picture above, you can see some of Pierre Herme’s macarons, the cookies adored by Parisians. The store had some rather exotic macaron flavors as balsamic vinegar and truffle.

We had to save some room for Sadaharu Aoki, pictured below. It was a favorite from our last visit, and just a few blocks away from Pierre’s boutique.

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The “bambou” green tea cake was as delicious as ever, and we sampled a few different flavors, as well, including black forest and raspberry (no, not all on the same day).

We also went to Dalloyau for this amazing fruit pastry. Just look at all those layers! It looks like the cross-section of some geological formation. I don’t know exactly what was in it, but it was tart and delectable.

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And last, but not least, was Laduree…To give you an idea of the popularity of Laduree’s macarons in Paris, we were able to get into Versailles and the Louvre faster than we were able to place an order for macarons. The line went out the door. Of course, we probably went there during a peak time of day at a peak time of year. The store clerks would not allow me to photograph inside, but I managed to get a few pics from the store window. There were some new flavor offerings, such as “rouge diva” (with chocolate, red fruits and spices) and gingerbread, and praline, in addition to the classics such as caramel with sea salt, pistachio, mocha, and so on.
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Pictured below are the pastries called “les religieuses” (pink) and “les Saint Honore” made from profiterole-esque choux pastry. We didn’t get to sample those, as our stomachs could only handle so much sugar, so we happily feasted with our eyes.
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This trip has inspired me to try making macarons, and Bob fortuitously came across a cookbook in Paris entirely about macarons! It is also entirely in French and suddenly I was thankful I had taken so many years of French in high school into college – to be able to read a darn French cookbook.

10th Annual Chocolate Show in New York

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

This weekend, my husband and I attended the 10th Annual Chocolate Show in New York City. Over sixty chocolate vendors offered samples of their selections, as well as items for sale. I had every good intention of being very discriminating and consuming only the most appealing chocolates. But those plans went awry quickly the minute we stepped into the highly caffeinated and charged atmosphere and what ensued was a veritable feeding frenzy of chocolate.

Perhaps the most frenzied and visited booth was that of Mary’s, hailing from Tokyo. Their green tea, black sesame and caramel coffee truffle samples flew off their bento box displays the minute they were replenished. To the side, you could observe the artisans carefully hand piping exquisite designs onto individual chocolate squares. Mary’s offers unusual Eastern inspired flavors such as wasabi, sake, and purple sweet potato chocolates.

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John and Kira’s was recently featured on the Martha Stewart show for their adorable “pumpkins” of whisky clove ganache-filled figs coated in orange-colored white chocolate. When I saw the pumpkins on TV, I thought the concept was quite cute and unique in itself, but the taste actually surpassed my expectations. Though I only sampled a slice, the ganache was velvety smooth and the taste was not too figgy, but sophisticated.

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My husband had purchased chocolates for me from Romanico’s in Miami before, so we really looked forward to visiting their booth. Delicious as ever, they offer flavors such as guava and cream cheese, creamy coconut, and white pistachio.

Although I didn’t sample their chocolates (it was towards the end of the show and I really couldn’t take another bite), Cosmic Chocolate had a very hip and visually appealing display with cocktail inspired flavor pairings of limoncello ginger, champagne peach, and cointreau caramel.

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After all the chocolate consumption, we were relieved to be able to watch some culinary demonstrations from some top chocolate/pastry chefs. We observed two demos, Chef Alessandra Altieri from Payard demonstrated a caramelized hazelnut tart with chocolate chantilly cream. The audience received copies of the recipes, as well as mini-samples of the final version! The shell and caramelized nuts were a crunchy contrast to the cream and the combination just sang in my mouth.

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Later on, we watched a demo by renowned Mr. Chocolate, Chef Jacques Torres. He charmed the crowds with an inaccessible but entertaining demo of a seasonal life-size chocolate turkey in a white chocolate crate with white chocolate hay and marshmallow eggs. Pictured below is Jacques piping the marshmallow into egg molds, as well as the final product.

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The highlight of the show for me was having my photo taken with Jacques Torres himself!

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The infamous chocolate fashion show was held on Thursday, November 8, but the fashion collection was still on display. Pictured below are some of this year’s creations.

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more chocolate fashion…

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By the end of the show, I could barely even look at photos of chocolate in my brochure, a sure sign it was time to go. Good thing the show comes to New York once a year.

the pleasures of parisian pastries

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Last week, my husband and I vacationed in Paris; it was the perfect opportunity to sample all the delectable pastries the city has to offer. Our hotel was dangerously within walking distance of Dalloyau, one of Paris’ top patisseries, where we grabbed some baguettes and pistachio croissants for breakfast…

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Here is a closer look at the window display, and the dessert we took home that night, ‘la religieuse’. It’s a classic French pastry with an eclair-like round topped with another.

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Laduree receives high praise for their ‘macarons’, so this tea salon was an obligatory stop. ‘Macarons’ are not to be confused with the chewy, coconut ‘macaroons’ that we know in the US. Perhaps my experience with the latter tainted my expectations of how these would taste, and I was admittedly skeptical of the flavor of these deceptively simple looking cakes. However, one bite of these ethereal creations blew me away. We sampled mini versions in flavors such as bitter chocolate, coffee, pistachio, salted butter caramel, rose petal, hazelnut praline. Ah…sublime…

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I have to admit, though, that my favorite pastries were from those of Sadahari Aoki, a patissier who developed his superb skills in both Japan and France.

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The green zen-like cake pictured above was my absolute favorite, called ‘bamboo’ (then again, I am a huge fan of match green tea). It was composed of what appeared to be alternating layers of green tea cake, chocolate cream, and matcha green tea cream – simply heavenly. Below that was a passion fruit cake, light, and refreshingly citrus-y and also delicious. The aesthetics and presentation of both were gorgeous.

Looking at the photos makes me regret not sampling all the other creations, but alas, there is only so much sugar one can consume within a week, even if you ‘partager avec’ your sweetie…

And at last but not least, I leave you with a befitting shot of kitsch from the animated window displays of Les Galeries Lafayette (looks like Marie Antoinette meets Disney, non?):

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