Billy’s Bakery – A Chelsea (Trick or) Treat!

Billy’s Bakery. Yes, a cupcake bakery. Shut up, I like cupcakes more than ever now that they are uncool again.

Just like jeggings.

I haven’t been here for quite some time, and wow…I miss it!

The Chelsea shop is diminutive – just a counter, a few fresh faced employees, and a couple of tables and chairs. Feel free to take your seat outside on the bench or bring it back to your casa. Be prepared for an influx of  kids if you go after school, but the scent of chocolate and sugar makes everyone a little kid-like, right?

Red Velvet

These cupcakes really are so good. They are just what you want in a red velvet cupcake – dense and a little chocolatey with a tender, moist crumb. The icing atop is tangy, smooth, and cream-cheesy. I could eat it by the spoonful and I’m honestly a little bummed that I can’t get a cupcake totally enrobed in icing.

20141030_154737Vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting

Ugh, what a departure from that lovely red velvet cupcake. This cake is cottony and dry with nary a waft of vanilla. The frosting is good – very chocolatey and not at all greasy or chalky – but it can’t make up for that wretched cake. Maybe I got a bad one, but wow…this isn’t tasty.

20141030_154656Icebox cake

Where have you BEEN all of my life?! Creamy, soft filling with a slight, pleasant tang. Deep, dark, chocolatey cookies that are tender and sweet. It’s like cheesecake-whipped cream-oreo filling-cookie goodness. This is incredibly rich – I couldn’t finish more than half of it, and I really gave it my all. I would get this again yesterday.

 

Billy’s is a small but generally wonderful bakery. The treats are fairly priced (that is to say, too expensive, but you are willing to pay it), most of the cupcakes are delicious, and the icebox cake is really craveworthy. Enjoy your weekend and make it a cupcake filled one!

Happy Halloween!

The Far Eastern Side of France at Paris Baguette

When I saw a Paris Baguette going up right near my house, I got excited. After all, wasn’t this the Korean owned, French inspired bakery with things like bulgogi sandwiches? We really need more Asian food up this-a-way, so I was pretty excited.

This, however, is much more continental version of the mini chain.

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The minuscule shop (only 4 seats in the whole place) is pristine and filled with the scents of yeast and butter.

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By looking at the overflowing pastry cases, filled with loaves of fresh bread and beautiful cakes, you might as well think that you were in France.

Until you get a little closer.

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Curry croquettes? Franks in Danish dough?

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And what the hell is hash brown bread and why am I not eating it right now?

This is the Asian influence…love it!

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Roasted veggie and goat cheese sandwich

My decidedly un-Asian offering was finger-lickin’ good. The bread is thick enough to house the garlicky pesto and creamy goat cheese without crumbling, yet the crust is very pliant so it breaks easily under your teeth. The vegetables are super fresh – no limp lettuce or green tomatoes here. And the house roasted tomatoes are wonderful – plump and spiced with oregano and olive oil. They are so soft and juicy that they are almost confit style – really something else! The sandwich is filling and properly sized – no afternoon naps needed to recover.

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Pistachio macaron

Satisfies the craving but not much more. The cookie is a little soft and the ganache is a little on the sweet side. It’s still nutty and delicious, but it’s not the best in town.

Paris Baguette is a nice spot if you are in the mood for a quick pastry or sandwich, but it isn’t destination worthy. It’s pricey and the seating is so limited that it isn’t really good for a leisurely meal.

Come on, banh mi place, open up near me!

Decadent Desserts at Payard

When I happened upon Payard with some of my friends last weekend, I could have just walked right by and gotten some frozen yogurt down the block.

Fro yo is healthy, it’s tasty, and it’s cheap.

But then you would have had to check my body for foreign hosts because there is of course no way in HELL that I would ever pass up pastries for frozen yogurt.

Francois Payard isn’t just some flash in the pan. He is the man who created perhaps the world’s most sought after flourless chocolate cake, the man who brought fine French pastries to the masses before cronuts were even a twinkle in a rat’s eye, and the man who would not let a rent dispute shutter his much-loved cafe.

The newer version of his eponymous restaurant and bakery is sleek and bright, with a friendly, casual atmosphere that belies its pedigree. We dined there with a family with kids,a couple on a date, and our rag-tag foursome – it’s really one size fits all.

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Macarons

Sadly, these don’t measure up to my favorite macarons or even those at Francois’s more casual outlet, FPB. These must have been made in the morning and are a little dried out and chewy – not the airy, crackly, rich confections that I prefer. However, the flavor is dead on. The passion fruit chocolate is fruit forward and tangy with smooth, creamy chocolate ganache in between the cookies. I would try these once more, but only if they were freshly made.

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Tarte Dulce de Leche

Oh, so THIS is why the man is a living legend. Buttery, nutty crust that reminds me of an especially rich, refined version of those addictive almond cookies at Chinese restaurants. It’s covered in gooey caramel that is more like buttery toffee and less like the rather bitter, burnt stuff that sometimes passes as caramel. Atop THAT is whipped cream so light and fluffy that it seems like a health food. It’s fragrant and lightly flecked with vanilla beans…perfect with a couple of crunchy candied almonds on top. This is elegant, varied in texture, and delicious.

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Geroge V

A grown up Milky Way candy bar. Dark, sticky, rich, dense. Creamy, chocolatey, shiny, and moist. Decadent in every way, but I could only eat about 2 bites before I cried uncle. This is all chocolate and caramel, with just a hint of nuttiness at the very end of the bite.  This is incredibly rich and heavy. Just the way I like ‘em.

Come here for some wonderful, elegant desserts, but get them to go. The service is worse than bad. It’s scattered, uniformed, and very sloowwww. However, the desserts are really special. I would get them for any dinner party or elegant event. I could probably wreck one of those tarts all on my own, but I’m not supposed to admit that, right?

So glad that I never choose the fro yo.

Doughnut Plant – The Best Part of Winter

First, the bad news:

It’s cold. We are talking miserably, nose freezing-ly, don’t want to leave your house after 7 pm-ing-ly cold.

Now, the good news:

It’s perfect doughnut season.

Hello, Doughnut Plant.

IMG_20131122_102209_087The Chelsea branch of the original gourmet doughnut shop (that’s right, cronuts weren’t the first fancy doughnuts in town) is much larger and nicer than the original. The Lower East Side location is literally a metal box with a shelf. The Chelsea spot has cute doughnut decor, a long bench with many tables, and a counter where you can get not only doughnuts but coffee and other treats, too. IMG_20131122_102224_470 When you walk in, you are positively slammed with the almost overwhelming scent of sugar and yeast. It will shoot you straight back to middle school, when you used to buy those cheap doughnuts at morning break with money that was supposed to be spent on lunch. It’s nostalgic and yummy.

Sorry to use the word yummy…but how else can you describe doughnuts like these?:
IMG_20131122_103640_931Salted peanut

So intense that I couldn’t finish this if I tried. And yet…it’s wonderfully, insanely, completely awesome. It’s a cake doughnut, which means that it is rather dense with a tight crumb. It is almost savory because it is so incredibly nutty. The sugary, crunchy glaze adds the necessary sweet component. This is for peanut lovers only – obviously, I fit the description. IMG_20131122_103650_658 Valrhona Chocolate

The gourmet chocoholic’s doughnut. Also a cake doughnut, this one is filled with a tunnel of creamy, sweet chocolate pudding. The doughnut itself is very dark and has notes of coffee and currants – it’s a really rich, complex taste. It’s coated with cookie crumbs that Oreos hope to one day become. I love this doughnut – even though it is so dark and intense, it is one that I can easily eat by myself – preferably with a glass of milk. IMG_20131122_103705_997Apple cinnamon

The doughnut to end all doughnuts. Yeast doughnuts are light and airy – the very soft, squishy kind. My favorite kind. This is just unreal. It tastes so light and pulls apart in airy tufts. The glaze is cinnamony and sugary, with bits of real, soft apple. The apple really grounds the flavor profile, giving it fresh and even earthy tones amidst the sticky sweet goodness of the glaze. My favorite doughnut of the group.

I didn’g even get to blog the ethereal tres leches doughnut. Or the springtime fresh fruit doughnuts. Or the almost sinful creme brulee dougnut – that’s right, a creme brulee filled doughnut. These doughnuts aren’t cheap, but they are actually special enough to serve instead of a fancy cake at a dinner party. The service is great and the flavors are really special.

And, it’s winter. So get out those stretchy pants and load up on every flavor. The best part about winter may just be the food.

Summer Lovin’

And here, a few tasty treats I have recently enjoyed:

avocado toastAvocado toast

So, this isn’t something I ate at a restaurant, but it’s something I have been eating nonstop. The tomatoes are not quite at their peak yet, and in lieu of my favorite tomato sandwiches, I have been eating avocado like it’s my job. Right now, avocados are so buttery and lush that it’s criminal not to eat them. I prefer them a little firmer vs. softer, and if you get some less ripe ones, you can just put them in a paper bag for a day and they will ripen right up for ya. The onions (Vidalia!) are also still so sweet you can almost eat them like apples. Spread the avocado on toast (sourdough or multigrain), top with diced onion, cilantro, salt, and a little hot sauce, and you will be in heaven.

huHu hot and cold buffet

So, those pay by the pound places in midtown generally don’t do it for me. Trays of gloppy orange chicken, picked over Caesar salad, and lumpy mashed potatoes aren’t what I crave…ever. However, Hu is totally different. It’s a paleo style restaurant, where no gluten or dairy is served and grains are limited. That probably makes it sound gross, but it’s actually…kind of great. Think rare roasted venison, stuffed peppers with fresh veggies and ground beef, lentil salad with vinaigrette, and a dynamite Thai chicken stew. It’s all really good for you, really tasty and yes…you guessed it..pretty expensive as a by the pound buffet goes. But, on the upside, it’s less pricey than buying a bigger pair of pants to accommodate your cheeseburger loving thighs. So…win? Yes, a major win – once you try that Thai stew, you will know why I say that!

magnoliaMagnolia Bakery’s coconut cupcake

It’s not my favorite cupcake place in the city, but in a pinch, it will do. And the coconut cupcake is especially great. It’s light and fine crumbed with a moist, coconut scented interior and sticky, sugary boiled icing. I just love it.

What have you been loving lately?

Magnolia Bakery on Urbanspoon

Frozen S’mores – The Next Cronut?

I’m posting this blog just in case this becomes the next cronut.

I want it on record that I had it (almost) first.

Dominique Ansel, about whom I have raved before on this blog, obviously took the world by storm with the cronut.

I haven’t tried one of these croissant/doughnut cream filled hybrids yet because I have NO desire to get up at 4:30 AM for a chance to eat one of these things (no,that is not an exaggeration. And on my recent visit to the bakery, they sold out of cronuts a few people before me in line, and those people had been online for 3 hours. Another girl walked in and proudly pronounced that she had just sold her cronut for $30. Really?!). There are imitators popping up all over the world, it has been featured on TV and the radio, and it’s poised to become the next queen of the world.

Obviously, the future king is George.

So, now that Ansel is the darling of the culinary world, I listen when he creates something new. And I go try it.

At 10:30 AM, because no time is a bad time for s’mores. 

pix 015After you order your frozen s’more, you wait for it to be torched to crispy, brulee-d perfection.

pix 017Frozen S’more

Here she is, in all of her sugary beauty. A huge, sticky marshmallow burnished to a nutty, caramelly finish. It isn’t as dark or bubbly as most marshmallows toasted over an open fire, but it intensely buttery and sweet. It’s also quite thick – you will have to chomp through a bit before you get to the filling.

pix 018The filling…layered with deep, crunchy chocolate wafer crumbles around frozen custard. The vanilla bean flecked custard is rich and creamy next to the sweet stickiness of the marshmallow. The finished effect of the perfect bite of this is crunchy, sticky, sweet, creamy, cold, and hot.

Try saying that three times fast.

The frozen s’more is a fantastic treat! It’s a little pricey, but it’s made to order with quality ingredients and the thing is huge – it comes to you on a foot long skewer! I really do miss the melty, ooey-gooey component of warm chocolate, but there really isn’t a way to do that without the whole interior melting.

And this IS called the frozen s’more.

And when these start selling on the black market for $40 a pop, remember…you saw it here (almost) first!

Dominique Ansel’s Dreamy Caneles

I’m going to Paris this summer and I can’t wait. The sights, the streets, the shopping…and the food. Oh the food. There is nothing like eating in France. You can cook the same recipes here in the US, but the ingredients just aren’t the same. Sometimes, though, when I am lucky, I taste something that really reminds me of Paris.

pix 025Like every single thing that I ate at Dominique Ansel Bakery. This tiny bakery, with a few tables and backyard garden, is the namesake of the baker who made his name with Daniel Boulud. He is known for his rich, authentic Parisian pastries and delicious desserts. He is also known for his croissant-doughnut mashup called the cronut, but I didn’t wake up early enough to snag one of those.

pix 026In fact, lots of his pastries run out early in the day, so set the alarm clock if you have your heart set on something particular. Don’t worry, the bakery sells made to order madeleines throughout the day.

pix 027Blackberry Pavlova

Frankly, this is wonderful. Airy meringue sandwiching rich pastry cream, tart blackberries, and some concentrated syrup so sweet and jammy that it is a pure burst of summer. This is light but very sweet. Elegant and fulfilling, ideal after a rich lunch. 

pix 029Flourless chocolate cookie

This is just an excuse to eat a personal sized cake. Dense and fudgy with gooey chocolate chips melting even at room temperature. It’s sweet, but not overly so. It has a warm, deep flavor that only comes from truly high quality chocolate. It’s decadent but not too much to handle on your own.

pix 028Canele

Do you like bread pudding? If you do, then you will love this canele. The thickly burnished crust is sugary but not just sweet – it also has a slightly bitter edge that makes it really complex and interesting.

pix 030The interior is eggy and soft, almost melting in the mouth in contrast to the stiff outer crust. It is heady with vanilla and the faint backnote of rum. It isn’t overtly alcoholic tasting or heavy  - it’s light and custardy, a wonderful blend of different tastes and textures. This is better than many caneles I have had in Paris and was the hit of my visit. 

Dominique Ansel is a slice of Paris right in Soho. It is fairly priced (though not cheap) and the  pastries are just perfect. I would absolutely go back, and plan to.

It might just hold me over till summer vacation. 

Dominique Ansel Bakery on Urbanspoon

Buttercup Bake Shop’s Wickedly Delicious Cupcakes

I know that the cupcake craze has come and gone. I know that it’s much cooler now to be into gelato or homemade pies or single origin chocolate bars with cacao nibs and organic coconut.

But when have I ever claimed to be cool?

 

Buttercup Bake Shop has some of my favorite cupcakes in the city. It’s one of the few places for which I will travel to the east side – crosstown is not my favorite way to travel, but it’s worth it for these classic American sweets like banana pudding, chocolate cake, and brownies. It’s run by one of the women who started Magnolia Bakery, but unlike Magnolia, this place hasn’t jumped the shark by opening shops all over the city (sorry, Magnoilia, but only the original location seems to cut the mustard.)

The shop is long and narrow, with only a few small tables and stools at a counter. Be prepared to take your cupcakes home or fight for a seat on a Sunday afternoon, but during the week you can almost always find an empty chair.

The pastry case is full of the kind of treats you would want at Grandma’s house – rainbow frosted cupcakes, towering layer cakes, puddings, trifles…the list of classic goodies goes on and on.

The hummingbird cake is moist and cinnamon-y, with juicy pineapple and tangy cream cheese frosting. The chocolate cupcakes are rich and sweet, like the best milk chocolate bar on the planet. The rice krispy treats are at least 3 inches high and the banana pudding is nothing less than classic – creamy and sweet. But when you come here, this is what you get:

Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting

The best vanilla cupcake in town – I’ll say it. The cake is fine crumbed and moist but not falling apart – it holds up well and has a clean, vanilla-y scent. It’s more buttery than sweet so that it acts as a backbone for the frosting.

That frosting. It’s the Samson to my Delilah…it WILL be my undoing. 

It’s so sugary that it makes those little hard sugar cracks when you firs bite into it. Underneath it’s thin, hard sugar topping, it is sweet and light within, like whipped butter. It isn’t greasy and it isn’t applied sparingly. This is really the most outrageous frosting…ever. I could eat a gallon of it,and if they offered it by shot glasses, I would eat it all on its own. It really is sweet, so if you aren’t in the mood for a little sugar coma, this isn’t the treat for you. The vanilla on vanilla is just the best thing in the shop, and possibly on the entire east side.

Oh, and THIS is how you eat a cupcake. I saw it on Buzzfeed, so I know it’s how the cool kids do it.

Though we all know that I’m still not cool. 

Porto’s

I always try to fly into the Burbank airport when I visit home (which is the valley…yes, I am actually a valley girl…BLECH). It is closer to home, the luggage always comes off of the plane faster, and it is right across the street from some of the best Cuban treats on the planet.

Porto’s has been around since my mom was a kid, and not much has changed since then. It calls itself a bakery and cafe, but it is really a veritable amusement park for those who love Cuban and/or fried food.

The store is huge, with two sections to order food and a large seating section, but there is always, at all hours of the day, a humongous line. Don’t be deterred, as the line moves very quickly and the servers are all competent and courteous. Just go to the line, wait your turn, and order at the counter. Then pay at the register and collect your goods!

Though you can order Cuban sandwiches or other cooked to order items, those in the know go straight for the stuff in the case. Just point to it and take it to go. Many pastries don’t have names, so just point at them and ask what is in them.

It doesn’t get much better than this, folks.

Chicken Croquette

Dense rather than airy, with a pronounced salty and garlicky taste. Heavy with bechamel and lightly golden brown, these are heavenly little gut bombs. Chicken nuggets on creamy crack…that’s what these are.

Mashed Potato Ball

Imagine, if you will, fluffy mashed potatoes – not too creamy or thick, just airy. Then, stuff them with a juicy, cumin-filled filling of ground beef and other Latin American spices. Lightly fry the whole thing until it is crunchy outside and steaming hot inside. This is a handful of Shepherd’s Pie – hearty and comforting, while being zesty from the Cuban seasonings.

Meat Pie

This doesn’t have as much taste as the other meat-filled goodies. The pastry is wonderful – flaky and buttery – but the ground beef is a little bit plain. This would be more at home in a pub than at this Cuban eatery.

Chorizo Empanada

Bright orange grease stains the inside of the thick, probably lard-enhanced pastry, but miraculously does not bleed outside. The inside is chock full of chorizo, garlicky and sweet at the same time. This is chorizo at its finest and any fan of sausage should not miss this.

Chicken Empanada

Even better than the chorizo version. The chicken is stewed until very moist, then mixed with green peas, onions, garlic, and what must be sofrito – an herby, earthy spice blend. Juicy and flavorful, this manages to make usually mundane chicken a standout.

Guava and Cheese Pastry

Dessert is not an afterthought here. Incredibly flaky and airy puff pastry surrounds sweetened cream cheese and bright, tropical-tasting guava paste. An unexpected take on the classic breakfast Danish.

Best of all, the food here is VERY cheap. Come here with $10 and you will leave with a stomach full of hearty, fried, spicy food.

And you won’t have to fight so much traffic on the way home.

It’s a win all the way around.

Porto's Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Martha’s Vineyard Must Eats

A few dishes to be sure to try on Martha’s Vineyard:

Grilled Edgartown Oysters at Henry’s

This Harborview Hotel restaurant has a casual pub room where you can get a glass of beer and an order of these oysters. Broiled with spicy garlic butter, these have a smoky, herby taste and the oysters themselves are bursting with liquor. A lighter version of Oysters Rockefeller, these are not to be missed.

Menemsha Cafe has delicious homemade soups and daily specials (The lamb stew, made with local lamb, is especially delicious), but you come here for the…

Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Freshly baked, hot, and gooey. One of these and you will need a food nap.

Head to this local butcher shop for exotic ingredients like ostrich, cold cut staples, and…

The Cuban Sub.

This unconventional Cuban sandwich, made with bacon, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, spicy mustard, and some other ingredients, is a gut bomb of a sandwich. Salty, savory, hearty, and served on the most delicious freshly baked bread. This is everything indulgent in a handheld package.

That’s what she said.

The Scottish Bakehouse.

You know what to get here, right?

Everything. Especially the most luscious lemon bar I have ever had, with smooth, tart filling atop incredibly buttery, crumbly crust.

You may get sunburnt during your time on Martha’s Vineyard, but you surely won’t go hungry!