Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Tag Archives: coffee

New York City 2012: Dominique Ansel Bakery

DSC_0037

The sidewalks of Soho are seasoned by the pounding footsteps of thousands of tourists and locals alike, filtering into fashion boutiques like the tributaries of a constant river. Soho is, first and foremost, a shopping district, and the Broadway strip is a haven for lazy shoppers who needn’t so much as think as to forge forward in a Zombie March under the sheer influence of brands the likes of Zara, Aldo, H&M, and more. It’s too easy to ping-pong straight along the avenue, completely missing the quieter streets to the left and right – and overlooking Dominique Ansel Bakery at the end of Spring Street. Balthazar, Dean & Deluca, and other big-named (unfortunately over-hyped) dining establishments usually manage to suck in the strays that wander from the main shopping belt. Needless to say, famished and bleary-eyed shoppers don’t wander very much, and certainly not far enough.

That suits me just fine. While every other bistro, restaurant, and chichi café is packed, the five blocks of walking distance from Broadway means that Dominique Ansel usually ends up being relatively quiet no matter the time of the day. The best pastries would still be sitting in their displays.

DSC_0598

It’s a little ludicrous that I’ve even been there thrice, at every opportunity that I had found myself in Soho – reliable food does that to me. Its consistency may have something (or everything) to do with how Pastry Chef Dominique Ansel used to work for Daniel Boulud at his 3-Michelin-starred restaurant, Daniel. You can be assured that the quality is strict, and the pastries no less stunning than his star-studded background.

DSC_0033

The DKA, which sounds like a cross between an underground criminal syndicate and a weapon of mass destruction, was at the top of my list. Dominique’s Kouign Amann ($5.25) looks like an actual explosion of liquid gold happened in the tiny confines of a muffin cup, got flash-frozen in the nick of time, and was tipped over unto a plate and served.

Read more of this post

New York City 2012: Four & Twenty Blackbirds

DSC_0565

I was just talking to a friend about pies the other day, about how there seems to be a dearth in places selling traditional hand-made pies – pies the kind your grandmother would make (if she was American). Good ol’ crusty, buttery, rustic pies, crimped unevenly at the edges with quick fingers and filled to the brim with filling. Grandma would roll out supple pastry sheets speckled with butter, tuck the edges into a snug pie pan, layer yet another sheet on top to sandwich it all, and then slip everything into a toasty oven to brown and to perfume the home with the heady scent of Pie.

I think it’s about time we all got American grandmothers of our own.

DSC_0558Of course, I thought of Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a cafe in the Gowanus neighbourhood of Brooklyn that specialises in double-crusted, wholesome pies that I popped into during one of my rare Me-times. I’d heard about it, and about the two-sister team that courageously decided to move their tiny pie-baking business out of their apartment and into a proper bustling cafe. They have been selling out their pies faster than they could make them ever since.

I remember taking a step inside the cafe and getting cocooned by a gentle commingling of warm aromas. It smelt like home.

Read more of this post

New York City 2012: Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company

DSC_0538

Since I started on bagels, I might as well go the whole nine yards.  I’m aware that my less-than-qualified commentary on New York’s bagels is like dancing across a field of land-mines. Naked.

But in my defense, I’m a bread-snob, so it follows that I should know a thing or two about bagels. I have tried making bagels a couple of times since I got back. Let’s just say that I will try again.

Bagels may or may not have salt and malt added into the dough, but they are almost always boiled in water (sometimes containing baking soda, the science of which I will leave for another time) before baking. The New York bagel is almost always salted and malted, giving it its characteristic chew.

DSC_9735

My first and proper New York bagel was at Brooklyn Bagel. To be precise, my first half bagel was at Brooklyn Bagel. I had to share. A bagel here is the diameter of a three-month old child’s head. If I threw a bagel at you (I’ve got a sexy right lob), it would at least stun you, if it didn’t bruise. These are traditionally dense New York bagels, and –  just to put things into perspective – the equivalent of six bowls of rice, or so the rumour goes. That said, I’ve been to a number of bagel shops and can assure you that the Bagel of Massive Proportions is only found here, at Brooklyn Bagel. They sell mini bagels too, which I assume are regular-sized ones, and still about two bowls of rice I’m sure.

But these bagels pack a crunch and chew that blew my mind, and the maddeningly generous fillings almost landed me in a near-catatonic state.

DSC_9831

They have some of the freshest and most flavourful cream cheese spreads around – sweet, savoury, tofu spreads, flavoured butters, low-fat cream cheese, hummus, peanut butter…

Go wild. But don’t hold up the line. I don’t have any particular bagel and cream cheese combinations to recommend, but sweet bagels go with sweet cream cheese, and so on. This above is a Wholewheat Bagel with White Fish spread and Sun-dried Tomato cream cheese.

Personally, toasted bagels are the way to go, but some purists insist that if you’re in a bagel shop early enough, the freshest bagels needn’t ever be toasted. The buns stay warm enough to still give the cream cheese that semi-melty gorgeous texture.

Speaking of going early, I’ll be forthright and say that no one should ever have a bagel past noon. I’m not saying this for puritanical reasons, but for practical and scientific ones.

DSC_9829Studies have shown (actually, just one, and not even rigidly scientific at that), that a bagel’s half-life is no more than half an hour. The freshness of a bagel deteriorates exponentially from the moment it leaves the warm embrace of the oven. It is aptly coined the Heisen-Bagel Uncertainty Principle by the Serious Eats team in their search for New York’s best bagel, in which “The act of transporting a bagel to a second location produces fundamental uncertainties in its inherent qualities, such that determining a true “best bagel,” in a head-to-head face-off, becomes impossible.”

Or, in simple English, that merely means that the best tasting bagel is one in which you get up early for. I can vouch for it.

Pseudo-scientific principles aside, oddly enough, this doesn’t apply as strictly to other bread products, but I’ll hypothesize outside of this post.

Oh, and one last word of warning: Stick to two filling combinations at the very most, unless you’re willing to fork out more than USD$10 for breakfast. These are delicious, but pricey, bagels.


Address: 

286 8th Ave
(between 24th St & 25th St)
New York, NY 10001
Neighborhood: Chelsea

Hours:

Mon-Sun 7 am – 10 pm

Website: http://bkbagel.com/

Brunetti – an Italian café experience

I figure I should test the waters of the current state of my writing, because unlike investments, it’s not going to appreciate by just festering in a corner over 3 months. So let’s start of with what I had for tea.

I was introduced to Brunetti – one of Melbourne’s most iconic Italian cafes – just this week, 2 days before it opened it’s first branch here in Singapore on the 29th of September. It came as a recommendation, for Italian coffee, pastries, gelato and the whole shebang. And trust me when I say that Brunetti is your one-stop wonderland to almost every Italian treat from biscotti, to millfoglies, hand-made chocolates, paninis, cornettos, espressos, straciatella gelato, and pignolos. Hand your wallet over to someone reliable, because you’re your own worst enemy in the face of at least 10 metres of glass displays with glistening pastries so shiny and vibrant you’ll need shades to gawk.

Brunetti has been around in Melbourne for more than 30 years now, and diehard fans of the outlet at Carlton have been anxiously waiting ever since there was news that it would open its doors here at RWS. But thank goodness it’s Tanglin Mall they’ve decided on instead of Sentosa. I can’t imagine having to go out of my way for a good cup of Italian roast or what could be the closest experience to sitting in an authentic Italian café.

It’s the tiled floor, the mosaic pieces, the black and white photographs of people sipping coffee, the sheer amount of sweets, and the smell of deep, smokey coffee that slows time down, draws you in and teaches you that a cappuccino should last a good, long conversation instead of having it taken-away and chugged down as you’re walking. There’s an otherworldly charm about Brunetti. It whisks you off to another time and place, and if you tried hard enough, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to hear the staccatos of rapid-fire Italian over the buzz of the cafe. You won’t have to try as hard for Singlish though. Just saying.

Read more of this post

Dark Rye Bread with Raisins

Dark Rye Bread with Raisins

My first introduction to rye breads came in the form of pumpernickel bread, those dark brown, unimaginably dense bricks (not loaves) of bread made with coarsely ground rye grains and rye berries. I hardly think of them as bread. In fact, I placed my mug of iced tea on a slice lying on the table thinking that it was a coaster, and it was only after my mom picked up another hefty slice to slap me away – I suffered oblong bruises – that I realised I just ruined her snack.

I didn’t take to pumpernickel very well. The musky earthiness, sweet-sour tang, grainy bits and coarse texture made me feel like I was gnawing on rabbit food. Suffice to say, dark rye breads didn’t get much of my attention as well.

And then I started getting my bread geek on, and all of a sudden, I saw how unearthly beautiful the dark rye fissures in a misty blanket of white looked on the loaves I saw occasionally in Cold Storage or Carrefour. I wanted them. I wanted to craft those crevices.

And then, I couldn’t find dark rye flour (because what demented person would want to bake artisanal breads at home? I mean, sheesh!).

Dark fissures.

Read more of this post

Canelé – Les Petits Gateâux

Le Royale

There is no better chocolate cake.

I don’t care what you say about Awfully Chocolate, because like all the times that I’ve commented on how they aren’t awfully-chocolatey enough (except maybe for the Super Stack Cake), I’ll say it again – they can’t hold a candle to Canelé’s Le Royale.

Of course you’ve got the main contenders: Rive Gauche’s Guanaja and Sheraton Tower’s Crunchy Chocolate Praline Cake.

But neither of those have the depth and bitter-sweet fullness, courtesy of a crackling bottom layer of hazelnut feullitine, a thick 66% chocolate mousse center layer, almond success (I don’t know what that is, but since I like it, I suppose it’s a success anyway), and a chocolate genoise tier soaked with rum. You can see it, can you? That thick, obscene layer of mousse? And what I would do to get my hands on the recipe for that crusty base.

Read more of this post