© Eric Biermann
Tariq Hanna and his blue cake
As one of the few people in the world not caught up in the saga of Jon & Kate Plus 8
, I don’t usually watch TLC on Monday nights. Tonight, though, and for the rest of the season, I’ll tune in to TLC—and that’s because the network is airing a sneak peek of an addictive new show, the Ultimate Cake-Off
. As addictive as Jon & Kate
, which is on right before it? Definitely, if you’re obsessed with wedding cakes that look like a replica of the gazebo where he proposed. Contestants, who run the gamut from housewives to professionals, have nine hours, a bunch of power tools, and every food coloring in the rainbow at their disposal to make a cake that’s a minimum of five feet tall. At the end of each episode, a client picks the winning cake, with input from a panel of star judges. My friend, the extraordinary cake designer Margaret Braun
, is one of those star judges, and she says the show is amazing. “You see cakes that run the gamut from really scary to great,” she says. So far, all I’ve seen is the bright turquoise blue cake from Tariq Hanna
and I can’t wait to see which category—scary or great—it falls into.
My good friend Andrew Sessa, senior editor at F&W's sister magazine Departures
, has a sweet tooth that rivals my own. A brilliant baker, he recently decided to make a cake for a colleague’s birthday: a s’mores cake
combining chocolate cake
, a graham cracker crust and crumble and a marshmallow frosting
he planned to char with a mini blowtorch. But when he discovered his colleague’s favorite childhood cereal was Cinnamon Toast Crunch, he channeled cereal-obsessed pastry chef Christina Tosi
of NYC's Momofuku Milk Bar and used Cinnamon Toast Crunch instead of graham crackers. Definitely Milk Bar
Yesterday the F&W
staff got a big treat. San Francisco über-chocolatier Michael Recchiuti
came by with tons of candies for us to taste, from his classic, epic sea salt caramels to his new dragée line (the Peanut Butter Pearls are killer) to his coming-in-October Peppermint Thins, made with multiple varieties of mint. (If you're not in the Bay Area, you can find his chocolates at recchiuti.com
.) Michael also talked about this summer’s groovy Taste Project
, a series of multi-sensory tastings he's doing at his factory and other sites, including an intriguing beer-and-chocolate event with Magnolia Pub (MR said his obsession of the moment is hops; I wouldn't trust anyone but him on this tasting). And there’s more: Michael is also working on the outline for a genius book based on baking disasters, and how to recover from them. “Whenever you’re baking and something goes wrong, the recipe is cross-referenced somewhere else in the book, but you have flour and egg on your hands and you can’t turn the page,” he said. As someone with plenty of stained cookbooks at home, I hope he gets to work on this book fast.
It’s raining today in New York City, but that doesn't matter because it’s National Doughnut Day! This morning I stood in line with 30 other people to get a free chocolate-glazed doughnut at my local Dunkin' Donuts
is giving them away all day, too), and I might buy a mid-afternoon crème brûlée version from Doughnut Plant
(last Friday, I saw three New York City police officers on horseback outside the store—wish I’d taken a picture).
I might even keep the celebration going this weekend by making the Doughnut Holes with Raspberry Jam
(pictured) from F&W’s July issue and bringing them to a friend’s potluck on Saturday night.
to find more amazing recipes, like Doughnuts in Cardamom Syrup
, Spiced Cake Doughnuts
and Fluffy Yeast Doughnuts
I love cupcakes, and I love that they continue to be so popular—I was worried the trend would die out, but it's still going strong. This weekend, I attended an event called Taste of the Upper West Side and had what could be my favorite new NYC cupcake, from Joanne Gregory, the new pastry chef at Citarella. Joanne served mini versions of four cupcakes: coconut, red velvet, chocolate with fresh strawberry frosting and chocolate with chocolate frosting. Each cake was moist and light (the style I prefer) and capped with a thick, fluffy swirl of excellent, not-too-sweet frosting. For the sake of research, I will have to go to Citarella and buy some full-size cupcakes. If they're as good as the ones I had this weekend, they may be right up there with the incomparable cupcakes from awesome pastry chef Jennifer Giblin at Blue Smoke as Manhattan's best.
© Photo Courtesy of Meg Connolly
Sandro Micheli creating chouquettes
Baking can be pretty intimidating—the precision and delicacy required to craft things like pâte à chou and soufflés leave many home cooks ambivalent about giving pastry a try. This past weekend, though, I got to see how simple and satisfying dessert-making can be with pastry chef Sandro Micheli of Adour, Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in New York City’s St. Regis hotel. He led a class of 10 through the basics of French pastry, from financiers to pâte de fruit. Even though the creations we ended up with appeared precious, Sandro showed us the (relatively) easy steps required to make them, taking much of the mystery out of the process. When our chouquettes came out of the oven puffed and airy, I knew I would be making them again within the week.
While Sandro takes the summer off from classes, expect him to return in September with more, focusing on fall sweets like pies and fruit tarts. Call Adour for details starting in late August, 212-710-2277.