Dessert Mania Wasn’t Just About Cronuts
For a moment, let’s ignore Dominique Ansel and his half-croissant, half-doughnut Internet sensation, the Cronut. All you have to do is join the riotous mob of chocolate-babka freaks who form most mornings around the counter at Breads Bakery, off Union Square, to know that it’s been a bumper year for first-class pastries and desserts. The babka in question glistens with sugar on top and is riven with seams of dense dark chocolate in its soft interior. Its architect is a master baker from Tel Aviv named Uri Scheft, and he and his staff also bake trays of golden, puffy croissants every morning, great loaves of peasant bread studded with walnuts and figs, and thousands of twirling rugelach shot full of chocolate. The baguettes are world-class, too, and so are the olive-and-cheese bread sticks, threaded with Gouda, which I like to purchase by the bag and snack on as I waddle down the avenues on my gastronomic rounds. But the Scheft creations I dream the most about, when sitting chastely at the computer or grimly beginning one of my periodic, doomed diets, are the palmiers, which are flaky around their edges but get more sugary and brittle as you work your way toward the middle, just like the palmiers in the grand patisseries of Paris.
Marc Forgione’s inventive, pepper-caked pastrami rib eye has its charms, but the dish I couldn’t stop eating at his new Tribeca steakhouse, American Cut, was the populist, crowd-pleasing Cracker Jack sundae, which is made with a strangely addictive substance called “popcorn ice cream” and laced with kernels of freshly popped caramel corn. This year’s healthiest dessert in town is the soothing Icelandic yogurt specialty called skyr, which the cooks in the Icelandic-themed restaurant Skál down in Chinatown enliven with bits of beetroot, a spoonful of bracing sorrel granita, and dissolving shingles of meringue.
Pastry chef Mark Welker’s exotic, caramel-dipped lemon tart is my favorite new item on the always interesting dessert menu at The Nomad, in the Nomad hotel adjacent the flower district, and if you have the cash and the fortitude to sit through the slightly laborious, Scandinavian-influenced omakase menu at the new Tribeca tasting atelier called All Good Things, you will be rewarded at the end with another delicious lemon-curd creation, this one tastefully arranged by the pastry chef Amadou Ly under a cap of meringue, with huckleberries and a scoop of goat-milk sorbet on the side. There are also plenty of elaborate lemon and non-lemon confections to admire behind the glittering counter at Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho, should you not feel like standing in line at 7 a.m. for your Cronut. After my first unsuccessful Cronut attempt, I enjoyed one of the classic chocolate éclairs, and the next time it was a festive-looking pavlova tinged with litchis. When I finally did get my fat fingers on Ansel’s famous pastry, it was the chocolate-Champagne edition, made, as you may have heard, with the finest Valrhona. Did it live up to the fabulous hype? Sort of, provided you enjoy gouts of custard cream in your doughnuts, which I don’t. Was it worth the hassle? Of course not. So try the weirdly named Kouign Amann (“DKA”) instead, which is a kind of popover muffin, made of dense, buttery, caramelized croissantlike dough. They’re sold by the bucket at Ansel’s bakery, you don’t have to wait in line, and unlike the Cronut, it’s impossible to eat just one.