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By Carly DeFilippo

Fans of the documentary Kings of Pastry are likely well-acquainted with Philippe Rigollot, who heroically was named Meilleur Ouvrier de France despite the demise of his sugar showpiece during the final moments of the competition. Yet what fans may not know is that Philippe’s wife and business partner, Elodie, a chocolatier by background, is an integral part of his work at the couple’s local pastry shop in Annecy, France. The pair first worked together at Maison Pic, the only three-Michelin-star restaurant in France that is owned by a woman. In anticipation of Philippe’s upcoming hands-on advanced pastry course at ICE, Dessert Buffet, we reached out to Elodie to learn more about the couple’s work.

pr pastry

Pastries from Pâtisserie Philippe Rigollot, in Annecy, France, courtesy of

You trained in France — what was your or Philippe’s training like?

Philippe trained in the traditional fashion — a pre-apprenticeship at the age of 15, followed by two years of apprenticeship and a Brevet de Maîtrise or “Master’s Certificate” which took an additional two years. In fact, Philippe won a regional medal for being the youngest apprentice to earn his certificate.

When did you decide you were interested in competitions, in particular the M.O.F.?

Having grown up around Paris, Philippe frequently passed by the windows of Lenôtre, where he dreamed of working one day. After earning his master’s certificate, he was successfully hired at Lenôtre, which also housed a school of professional development for pastry professionals, in which the majority of classes were taught by MOFs. It was through his introductions to the MOF that Philippe first started thinking about competitions, and in particular, his goal to become an MOF himself.

Courtesy of Thuries Gastronomie Magazine

Elodie (second from left) and Philippe Rigollot at their shop, courtesy of Thuries Gastronomie Magazine

What advice would you have for students or working pastry chefs who want to compete?

To be a patissier is a profession based on passion, but also a profession that demands skill and precision. There is a proverb in France that says, “It’s through metal-working that one becomes a blacksmith.” To progress, you have to master the basics, train, familiarize yourself with your materials — in short, work as if every day is a day in the MOF competition.

How do you go about creating new flavors and recipes?

You have to be curious, enter into discussions with others, read…and gradually the ideas come to you. I experiment, I taste and I share those experiments with my spouse, my “right-hand man”.

What have been the biggest lessons you have learned opening your own business?

The most important lesson as a business owner has been that, no matter the level of skill of the person making an individual cake, it is important to ensure that throughout the year, all the cakes are created with the same level of precision and consistency. As for plated desserts, which are more unstructured, that is a different matter from the pre-made desserts sold in the boutique.


Philippe Rigollot, courtesy of

The best surprise has been to interact with our regular clientele — they come into the shop to share with us their friends’ and family’s reaction to our desserts. It’s a heart-warming experience and valuable encouragement to hear that your work is appreciated.

What will you be teaching the participants in your class at ICE? 

At ICE, Philippe will work with students to create a variety of his signature entremet cakes and tarts, macarons and petits gateaux, including recipes from Patisserie Philippe Rigollot.

Speaking of which, what’s next for you at Patisserie Philippe Rigollot?

For us, it’s simply to maintain our quality and consistency.

Space is limited — register today for Philippe’s advanced pastry course at ICE.

By Jenny McCoy — Chef Instructor, School of Baking & Pastry Arts

If you are not familiar with clafoutis, please make yourself acquainted. It is one of the easiest desserts to make, not to mention an absolute showstopper.

Like a soufflé, this dessert puffs to great heights and begins to deflate moments after being removed from the oven. However, unlike a soufflé, clafoutis batter is super simple to make — just whisk the ingredients together and voila! There is no need to fret over under-whipped egg whites or over-folded batter. Clafoutis is made with whole eggs and yolks, plus some flour to bind the batter, making it foolproof to execute.

summer fruit clafoutis

Summer is the perfect season for tucking into a freshly baked clafoutis. Many clafoutis recipes, particularly at this time of year, highlight cherries. This is because the clafoutis was first created in Limousin, France, a region celebrated for its black cherries. While I do love the classic cherry clafoutis, I find that clafoutis is even better suited for fruits with more tart and acidic qualities, like raspberries, blackberries, plums and apricots. I also enjoy topping it with chopped nuts and turbinado sugar, to give it a crunch to contrast its soft and delicate texture.

And don’t desert this fruity dessert after summer passes — it’s glorious at any time of year, particularly in the autumn when baked with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples or cranberries. 

Summer Fruit Clafoutis
Makes 8 servings


Softened unsalted butter and sugar (for the ramekins)
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 pinches salt
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
¾ cup heavy cream
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups fresh fruit, such as berries or sliced stone fruit
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
¼ cup chopped pistachios, optional

summer fruit clafoutis


  • Place a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350° F. Lightly butter and sugar eight ramekins.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar and salt together. Add the eggs, yolks, cream and lemon zest and continue to whisk until smooth. Slowly whisk in the melted butter.
  • Divide the batter evenly among the ramekins, evenly scatter the fruit over the top of the batter, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar and pistachios.
  • Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until puffed, set in the center and light golden brown (about 15 to 20 minutes). Serve warm, and with ice cream if desired.

Want to master seasonal desserts and more with Chef Jenny? Click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

By Jenny McCoy — Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

The strawberry shortcake — one of the most quintessential American desserts – has seen an evolution like none other.

It started out as a dessert made in the springtime to celebrate the strawberry harvest season. Made of layers of crumbly biscuit or shortbread-like cakes, sweetened cream and strawberries, it was a simple dessert with a gorgeous composition of textures and flavors — soft and creamy, a bit crisp, a bit acidic and ever so sweet. Over time, as chemical-leavening agents such as baking soda and baking powder became more popular in cake recipes, the shortcake used in some recipes became more cake-like, eventually becoming anything from a pound cake to a sponge cake.

strawberry shortcake bars

I’ve tasted many variations on the strawberry shortcake, from a fancy entremet with precisely even layers of white chocolate cake, whipped mascarpone, strawberry gelée and strawberry sorbet, to strawberry shortcake-flavored OREO cookies. However, my absolute favorite of the less-than-traditional interpretations of the dessert is the Strawberry Shortcake Dessert Bar made by Good Humor. Growing up, when the ice cream truck rolled through my neighborhood, they were always my first pick. I would enjoy eating the sweet crumbly coating of the bars first, then slowly work my way to the electric pink strawberry ice cream center.

So this spring, I decided to recreate my childhood treat from scratch. Instead of the original strawberry ice cream center surrounded by vanilla ice cream, I decided to marry the two. I swirled homemade strawberry jam in churned vanilla bean ice cream. The result is downright delicious. And as for the cake part of the ice cream bar (which is actually more like cookies), I ground up freshly baked sugar cookies with freeze-dried strawberries and melted butter, to make what is almost like a hot pink cookie piecrust, and generously coated the ice cream bars by rolling them in the mixture.

What’s your favorite version of the classic strawberry shortcake — biscuits or pound cake? Or do you deviate completely from the original and love something crazy like strawberry shortcake-flavored chewing gum? Try out my take on strawberry shortcake ice cream pops and let us know what you think.


Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Bars
Makes about 8 servings


1 batch Strawberry Swirl Ice Cream Pops (recipe below)
1 cup sugar cookie crumbs
1 cup freeze-dried strawberries
4 tablespoons butter, melted


  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place in the freezer.
  • Combine the cookie crumbs and strawberries in a food processor and drizzle with butter. Pulse a few times to mix. Spread the mixture on a large plate.
  • Remove each ice pop by dipping molds briefly in hot water or let stand at room temperature for a few minutes. Quickly remove one ice pop at a time from the mold and dip in crumbs, turning over to coat and pressing to adhere. Transfer the ice pops to the baking sheet in the freezer and let them set until firm, at least 20 minutes. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to one week.strawberry shortcake bars

Strawberry Swirl Ice Cream Pops
Makes about 1 quart 


1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup granulated sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean, split and seeded
6 large egg yolks
½ to ¾ cup strawberry jam (recipe below)


  • In a medium pot, bring the milk, cream, salt, vanilla bean and ¼ cup of sugar to a boil. Turn off heat and let steep at room temperature for 10 minutes; return to a rolling boil.
  • Whisk the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and yolks in a large bowl until smooth. Gently temper the yolks by slowly adding hot cream mixture while whisking constantly. Once completely combined, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Place the bowl of ice cream base over another bowl of ice water and stir until cool.
  • Churn the ice cream base mixture in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer the churned ice cream to a large mixing bowl, layering large dollops of strawberry jam in between large spoonfuls of ice cream. Fold once or twice to swirl the jam into the ice cream. Divide the softened ice cream among ice-pop molds, insert sticks and freeze until firm, at least four hours or up to one week.

Strawberry Jam
Yield: Makes about 2 cups


½ pound strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1 cup granulated sugar
2 pinches salt
1 ½ teaspoons pectin
2 tablespoons lemon juice


  • In a medium saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar and salt. Mash the berries until they are crushed. Sprinkle the pectin over the top of the mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and let stand at room temperature until cool. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Sugar Cookie Crumbs
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of cookie crumbs 


1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt


  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs and mix until combined. Reduce the mixer to low speed and slowly add the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • Divide the dough in half and roll out onto a floured surface until about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the sheet of dough to a baking sheet. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Bake until light golden brown and set, 14 to 18 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet until room temperature. Break the dough into small pieces and grind in a food processor until crumbs. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Want to take your pastry skills to the next level? Click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

This St. Patrick’s Day, try your hand at an Irish-inspired sweet — no baking involved! Chef Sarah Chaminade shares her boozy take on cheesecake, with a buttery, chocolate cookie crust and a creamy filling accented by Bailey’s Irish Cream.


No-Bake Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheesecake
Yield: One (nine-inch) or four (four-inch) cakes


200 grams chocolate wafer cookies
100 grams unsalted butter, melted
200 grams heavy cream
150 grams Bailey’s Irish Cream
10 grams powdered gelatin
500 grams cream cheese, softened at room temperature
150 grams sugar
50 dark chocolate pearls

bailey's cheesecake


  • Process the chocolate wafer cookies in a food processor until they resemble fine crumbs.
  • Transfer crumbs into a large mixing bowl and stir in melted butter. Mix until combined. Press the mixture into the bottom of a parchment-lined cake pan or ring molds, and place them in the freezer while you prepare the filling.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or with an electric hand mixer, whip the heavy cream to medium peaks and set aside in your refrigerator.
  • In a medium bowl, add the Bailey’s Irish Cream and sprinkle the gelatin over. Set aside for two to three minutes.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Over a double boiler or in a microwave, heat the gelatin-Bailey’s mixture slowly until gelatin is dissolved and liquid is smooth. While still warm, pour the gelatin mixture into the stand mixer bowl with the cream cheese mixture and mix together at low speed until combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream, reserving a small amount of whipped cream for decoration (see next step).
  • Fill your prepared cake pan or molds with filling to the top. Using a piping bag filled with reserved whipped cream, pipe rosettes of whipped cream around the edges of the cake and top with chocolate pearls.
  • Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least four hours or preferably overnight before serving.

bailey's cheesecake

Master baking with Chef Sarah in ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program — click here for information. 


At ICE, we’re falling for fall. The cozy knits, the bounty of apples, the fall-spiced beverages and, of course, the pumpkins—what’s not to love? The below pumpkin-centric dessert comes from chef and cookbook author Melanie Underwood, who will be teaching the upcoming recreational baking course, Fall Desserts, at ICE. The kitchen classrooms, which are outfitted with BlueStar ovens, are the perfect playgrounds for recreational cooking and baking. Says Chef Melanie, “BlueStar ovens are beautiful and they work great in home kitchens.”

Students in Chef Melanie’s autumnal baking course will try their hand at this recipe for pumpkin whoopie pies. “Pumpkin and maple are two of my favorite autumn flavors and they pair wonderfully with this fun, easy dessert that both kids and adults love,” says Chef Melanie.


(credit: Melanie Underwood)

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Servings: makes about 30 2-inch pies


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
1 ¼ sticks (5 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin purée
2 cups filling (see recipe below)


  • Preheat oven to 375º F.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  • Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and zest until light and fluffy (on medium speed, about 5-10 minutes).
  • Add the eggs one at time and mix until combined.
  • Turn off mixer, add ⅓ of the dry ingredients and mix on low until mixture comes together. Add ½ of the pumpkin purée and mix until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and pumpkin, ending with the last ⅓ of flour.
  • With an ice cream scoop, scoop mixture (about 2 to 4 tablespoons, depending on the size you like) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 12-15 minutes (when done, they should spring back when lightly touched).
  • After the “cookies” cool, spread or pipe the filling on the flat surface of one cookie and top with another cookie, pressing together lightly.

For the filling
Yield: about 2 cups


1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
½ stick butter (2 ounces), room temperature
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Using an electronic mixer with a paddle attachment, combine all of the ingredients together and mix until smooth and creamy.


Click here to register and check out all of the cooking and baking classes at ICE this fall. 

 Jenny McCoy—Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Did you know that the history of the s’more dates back as far as the early 1900s? Or that marshmallows were being roasted in the late 1800s? Or better yet, that the marshmallow is a confection that has been around for over 200 years? If you’re the average marshmallow consumer and not a food historian, that can be hard to believe. The commercially made and mass-produced treats that seem to have a never-ending shelf life feel like a product of the 1950s to me, right alongside Cheez Whiz. However, there’s more to the history of marshmallows.

Jenny mccoy smores

In the briefest way, I shall now tell you the history of the marshmallow:

It began with a plant called “marsh mallow,” which happens to grow in swampy, marshy regions of the world, and has a super sticky, thick, white sap. The sap was mostly used for medicinal purposes, often as a remedy for sore throats. Over time the root of the marsh mallow plant was combined with sugar, making it sweet and perhaps the first rendition of a throat lozenge. Fast-forward many, many years (maybe even centuries), the French decided to transform its purpose as cure into confection. The marsh mallow sap was whipped with egg whites and sugar to create what we now know marshmallows to be—a super sweet, soft, fluffy and, when melted, deliciously addictive gooey treat.

According to Tim Richardson’s account in Sweets: A History of Candy, this mild illness remedy turned fancy French confection occurred in the mid-1800s or so. By the late 1800s, the mallow sap was replaced by a less expensive and more readily available ingredient—gelatin. The gelatin was used as the gelling agent in marshmallows to hold their shape—just as they are made today. This replacement reduced the price of the sweets, making them easily procured by all. Marshmallow roasts became popular activities and groups would gather to enjoy these sweet summertime festivities.

But, who could just stop there? As roasting marshmallows became popular, so did the exploration of their uses. Enter: the s’more.


Loretta Scott Crew dubbed s’mores as “Some More” in 1927 in Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. (If that’s not enough to sign your daughters up for the Girl Scouts, I don’t know what is—so clever, those little darlings!). The recipe directs readers to roast marshmallows on a stick over a campfire and press them between two graham crackers and a piece of a chocolate bar, like a sandwich. The recipe also says something like, “while the recipe is called ‘some more,’ eating one is enough.” (Clearly, the author and I have never met.)

So there you have it. S’mores have been around for a looooooooong time. Still, the original method of making a s’more remains the same. The only thing that has changed, really, is the spelling of its name. I can’t say that for a lot of desserts. So mark your calendars and please raise your twigs in their honor, because Wednesday, August 10th is National S’mores Day.

For a fancier twist on s’mores, grab a copy of my latest cookbook, Modern Eclairs: And Other Sweet and Savory Puffs, for a yummy s’mores eclairs recipe!

Want to study with Chef Jenny? Click here to learn more about our award-winning Pastry & Baking Arts program.


When it comes to dessert, nothing says “classic” like a decadent chocolate cake. Yet in the hands of James Beard award-winning pastry chef and ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis, a chocolate cake becomes anything but.

Featuring a wide range of dinnerware from Front of the House, Chef Michael reimagines chocolate cake in three beautiful presentations:

  1. A three-tiered cake with glossy ganache and modern garnishes
  2. A layered verrine of various creams and textural elements
  3. A “deconstructed” cake, plated in a contemporary fine dining style

Click here to learn how you can study advanced pastry with Chef Michael at ICE.

By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director

After learning the fundamentals of cooking and acquiring a firm grasp of technique, it is our instinct as chefs—and often, a professional requirement—to develop variations on the most iconic dishes in the culinary canon. In truth, even the dishes we create “from scratch” seldom evolve in a vacuum; it is often the reinvention of a well-established dish that provides the best template for personal expression. Even when our interpretations of codified dishes evolve into something truly unique, the greatest reward of recreating the classics is often rediscovering what made them great in the first place.laiskonisdemoAmong the many staples of fine pastry, I’ve been obsessed with pâté à choux off and on for several years. Even after years of experimentation, I feel there is much more to harness from this understated preparation and more to refine. When done well, there are few better pastry-based vehicles. But therein lies the problem: often viewed as “just a vehicle” for whatever is inside of it, choux pastry rarely gets the attention it deserves.

No matter the variation, the basic ratio of ingredients in pâté à choux doesn’t vary all that much—and, in fact, hasn’t strayed from the technique developed by Carême (1784-1833), who is regarded as the author of the modern recipe we use today. Given that the standard formula of liquid, fat, flour and eggs is fairly constant, I get the impression that few chefs ever adapt beyond the first version of the recipe they acquire as a student or young cook. That’s a shame, because there is quite a bit that can be discovered and understood by making subtle tweaks to fine-tune the recipe and raise the bar for choux.

crunchy choux dessert

Applying a crunchy exterior to traditional choux pastry

Small adjustments in milk fat and nonfat solids can alter the texture, flavor and color of choux dough. Sugars—and sometimes salt—can be omitted outright. And varying the choice of flour, from cake to bread, provides small adjustments in the overall protein content that can significantly affect the final structure and exterior appearance of choux pastries. Last but not least, the time and temperature of the preparation matters at each step: how long to cook the roux, at what temperature should the eggs be added and so forth. For me, a huge revelation came with developing a technique for applying a crunchy exterior to the finished piece. This textured surface is a sablée of sorts, but closer in proportions to a streusel—roughly equal parts of fat, sugar and flour—that is tender enough to expand with the choux, where a conventional dough would set too quickly and restrict the pastry’s puff. Curiously and counterintuitively, I found that the sablée-draped choux rises up to twice as much as an uncovered one; in short, the sablée slows the drying and setting of the choux surface, allowing it to expand that much more.

Beyond playing with the technical elements, it’s interesting to explore the emotional connection we have with classic desserts—especially how feelings of nostalgia can inspire personal revision. Case in point: the tres leches–inspired dessert that I developed several years ago for Le Bernardin’s dessert menu. This dish was born in conversation with Jesus, one our youngest cooks in the pastry kitchen at the time. On the surface, it was an exercise and a challenge that I had posed to the team: how do we refine and transform a rather pedestrian dessert into something worthy of a four-star restaurant? What new techniques can we apply to the original concept? Once manipulated, how do we maintain that reference back to the classic, with—or, preferably, without—an overblown sense of irony? So before we did anything new, our team dedicated ourselves to making the best version of the original dessert, without any bells or whistles.

As we tucked into the wet, spongy tres leches, I asked Jesus how it made him feel. Born and raised in the Bronx, he made frequent visits to his grandmother in Mexico as a child. It took a lot of coaxing, but Jesus shyly began to describe many memories connected to the tres leches his grandmother would buy from the bakery in her small town. He remembered her plates and sitting at her kitchen table. Visiting the shop itself was part of the ritual, and he began to recall the sweet smells and even the color of the shop’s walls. “That,” I said, “is what we’re trying to do!” No matter how much we add our clever contemporary spin, through technique or ingredients, that nostalgia is what we, as chefs, should be trying to access when creating any dessert. No matter the age of our guests, whether six years old or sixty, the potential in tapping those memories can be incredibly powerful.

michael laiskonis latvian desserts Rupjmaizes-Kārtojums

A modern interpretation of rupjmaizes kārtojums

This philosophy, however, begs the question, “How do we approach classic desserts that we did not grow up with?” For example, I recently applied the same thought process to rupjmaizes kārtojums, a Latvian dessert that I neither grew up with nor had any professional reference point for. Traditionally a kind of rye bread trifle composed of cream and berries, I reworked the basic flavors and textures of this rustic dish to create a highbrow nudge toward inventiveness and presentation, while still nodding to its homespun origins. Conceptually, the dessert came full circle for me: through its interplay of new and old I realized that one person’s nostalgia can be an opportunity for discovery of another. Most importantly, I was committed to not varying the dish so dramatically from the classic idea as to render it unrecognizable. In fact, I even prepared my version for a group of chefs in Latvia to positive reviews!

Caramel Without Maillard Recation Michael Laiskonis

White peach caramels from the ICE Chocolate Lab

Creative reinvention isn’t limited to highly refined plated desserts; I just as frequently seek inspiration from the candy aisle. I’ve been spending a lot of time reworking caramels of late, adjusting recipes and cooking methods to find just the right textures and flavors. Here, technology has propelled the possibilities for creation. With the small batch vacuum cooker installed in the ICE Chocolate Lab, I have been experimenting with caramels that have no caramel flavor at all. Cooking under a vacuum, we achieve the hallmark textures of a soft caramel at temperatures far below the Maillard reactions, which result in that characteristic caramel flavor. Instead, I have created a neutral “white” caramel base upon which I can build other flavors that might otherwise be obscured. To this blank canvas I’ve been adding bright fruit flavors like raspberry, peach and apricot—impossible without the aid of technology and a grasp of the underlying confectionery science.

Improving on the classics can be a tricky business; it’s easy to stray and lose sight of what makes them great in the first place. Ultimately, the true value of the creative urge to deconstruct is in finding a path towards thoughtful reconstruction.

Click here to learn more about ICE’s professional pastry program.
Visit our Advanced Pastry Studies page to learn about continuing education classes with Chef Michael. 

James Distefano
By Carly DeFilippo

When it comes to innovation in the restaurant world, few challenges have been as important as the public’s growing interest in nutrition and wellness. Of all the New York City kitchens to respond to this call for healthier cooking, few have gained as much attention as the Michelin-starred Rouge Tomate. As the executive pastry chef for this groundbreaking restaurant, James Distefano spent six years translating the principles of classic pastry into award-winning healthy desserts. Today, as a chef instructor in ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program, James is sharing that passion for innovation with the next generation of game-changing chefs.

Growing up, James’ passion for food was sparked by his time in the kitchen with his Italian grandmothers, and he dreamed about studying cooking in Paris. By the time he was a senior in high school, his ambitions had strayed. “I was mostly interested in playing guitar and was passively considering a future in teaching,” James explains. Luckily, James’ mom recalled his childhood passion and encouraged him to enroll in a local culinary school. Suddenly everything changed.

“In high school, I was late every day,” says James, “but in culinary school, I was hustling—getting out of bed every day at four to make my six a.m. classes. I became that super-engaged kid, the one constantly asking questions—a total sponge.” That enthusiasm carried into the first years of James’ career, working at a local New Jersey restaurant with an overflowing herb and vegetable garden. The experience instilled a love for quality ingredients that would shape the rest of his career.James Distefano Pastry Chef Rouge Tomate Pastry Classes NYC

Through his first chef, Steve Santoro, James was introduced to Vinnie Barcelona, the executive sous chef at the River Café in Brooklyn. Vinnie and Steve encouraged James to pursue the big time in both New York and Europe. The pair also helped him land a position at a popular David Burke restaurant, the Park Avenue Café. “The day I called Vinnie about job opportunities in New York, he had a spot for me to fill that night,” says James. “A lot of succeeding in the restaurant industry is about knowing how to jump when the right opportunity arrives.” After a short stint as the garde manger cook at Park Avenue, James was offered a role under pastry chef Richard Leach and pastry sous chef Joe Murphy (currently the executive pastry chef at Jean Georges), sparking James’ future in the sweeter side of the kitchen.

Working at Park Avenue provided James with connections to France, rekindling his childhood dream of studying abroad. “Chef David Burke had an incredible amount of connections, and when international chefs were in town, he helped us find opportunities to volunteer with them,” James explains. Among those chefs was Alain Rondelli, a famed San Francisco-based chef with French roots. Alain helped James secure an apprenticeship under Georges Blanc in Vonnas, France, where James worked every station in the kitchen, as well as at Blanc’s boulangerie.

When he returned to New York, James found a position with his former colleague, Joe Murphy, at Blue Fin as the pastry sous chef. On opening night—New Year’s Eve—the restaurant served 1,000 covers. “I had never cooked on that scale before,” says James. “We were quadrupling our batch sizes for everything—making 6-7 gallons of crème brulée base at a time and flying through it.” When Murphy left the restaurant five months later, James stepped into the executive pastry chef position, where he stayed until he received a call from David Burke.Pastry School Instructor Tattoos Institute of Culinary Education“It’s funny how your reputation stays with you throughout this industry,” James notes. “You end up working with the same chefs time and time again.” Burke recruited James to serve as the executive pastry chef for an 80-seat restaurant on the Upper East Side, davidburke & donatella, which quickly became the hottest ticket in town. From there, James’ connections allowed him to juggle positions at a luxurious upstate property, Harvest on Hudson, and 360, a small French restaurant in Red Hook with an innovative wine program focused on biodynamic and natural wines. Then James received a call from a former Blue Fin colleague that would change his career forever—an invitation to present a tasting for Rouge Tomate Executive Chef Jeremy Bearman.

“As a thirty-something chef in the industry, you start to become aware of the impact of what you eat on your health, so Jeremy’s call came at the right time,” says James. “What’s more—when you’re told to use less butter, white flour and processed sugar, you have to start looking elsewhere, and that’s where creativity starts.” From olive and avocado oils to alternative grains like sorghum and buckwheat, James was charged with adapting stereotypical “hippie food” into Michelin-starred desserts. Over six years at Rouge Tomate, James saw dietary restrictions like gluten-free or vegan transformed from inconveniences into his daily inspiration.

Today, as a chef instructor at ICE, James shares his enthusiasm for discovery and experimentation with a fresh generation of aspiring chefs. “What I love about a culinary school environment—versus training staff on the line in a restaurant— is that the opportunity to learn is so much greater. In a school setting, you can make mistakes, which is the best way to learn. In a restaurant, the goal is always to minimize mistakes, and thus, you eliminate those key teaching moments.”

Eager to study with Chef James? Click here to get free information about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

By Victoria Burghi—Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

The holidays bring out a little extra style and glamour in all of us. In the same way we like to decorate our homes and dress up for our celebrations, we should create festive desserts to match the allure and the magic of the season.

When deciding what to serve at a holiday gathering, I take into consideration a few factors: how easy it is to prepare a dessert, flavors I want to highlight, my budget and—of course—how much I want to impress my guests!


In terms of flavors, I like to keep holiday desserts within the seasonal range. Nothing says the holidays like cranberries, pumpkin, sweet potato or eggnog. After all, we have the rest of the year to make apple pie, don’t we?

Holiday celebrations are also the time to splurge on expensive ingredients that we might avoid otherwise, from nut pastes (pistachio, almond and praline) to expensive chocolates or liqueurs. As far as impressing guests, a beautiful presentation is key. There are some obvious options, like silver and gold dragées, but with a few easy tips, you can make any sweet more glamorous and festive.

If you would like to learn first-hand how to create show-stopping desserts, I will be teaching a Holiday Baking class at ICE on November 14th. In anticipation of the class, I’m sharing one of my favorite creative holiday treats: White Chocolate Bûche de Noël with Cranberry Marmalade.

The sweet nature of white chocolate provides the perfect blank canvas to showcase the tart flavor of cranberries. Cocoa butter is the main ingredient in white chocolate, a vegetable fat found in the cocoa beans of the cacao tree. This recipe uses melted white chocolate as the primary fat in a sponge cake, the base for a rolled cake or “roulade.” To create the roulade, the cake is layered with a thin coating of cranberry and clementine marmalade and filled with a white chocolate mousse. For a final touch, this bûche de noël is decorated with red and white buttercream, silver-dusted holly leaves and candied cranberries.

Cranberry Bouche de Noel 2

White Chocolate Bûche de Noël with Cranberry Marmalade

White Chocolate Roulade (yields 1 rectangular 18”X12” sheet pan)

  • 170 g white chocolate
  • 56 g butter
  • 6 g vanilla
  • 30 g water
  • 320 g eggs
  • 150 g sugar
  • 122 g AP flour
  • 1 g salt
  1. Gently melt white chocolate and butter over a bain-marie. Add the water and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth. Set aside and keep at room temperature.
  2. Whisk together the sugar and the eggs in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer set over a bain-marie and heat until warm and all the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Transfer the bowl to the machine and whip on medium-high speed until very thick, fluffy and increased in volume (ribbon stage)
  4. Fold in the sifted flour and salt by hand. Mix a small amount of the batter with the white chocolate mixture and then fold in the rest of the white chocolate.
  5. Spread the batter onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  6. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes.
  7. Once the sheet cake has cooled for 5 minutes, run a knife around the edges, dust with a small amount of granulated sugar and flip over a piece of parchment paper. Peel off the back of the paper attached to the cake and gently roll up the sponge cake. Allow the cake to cool rolled up until ready to use.

White Chocolate Plastic (for holly leaves)

  • 75 g white chocolate
  • 30 g corn syrup
  1. Gently melt the chocolate over a bain-marie or in the microwave until completely melted and smooth.
  2. Add the corn syrup and mix only until the mixture thickens and is well blended.
  3. Wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. When ready, knead and roll the plastic and cut the holy leaves.
  5. Dust the leaves with silver or pearl dust.                             

Cranberry and Clementine Marmalade

  • 200 g cranberries
  • 200 g sugar
  • 200 g clementine segments
  • 100 g water
  1. Simmer all the ingredients together (low heat), stirring to avoid the mixture from sticking to the pan.
  2. The mixture will be ready when all the water has evaporated and the fruits have disintegrated.

White Chocolate and Clementine Mousse

  • 50 g clementine juice
  • 2 gel sheets
  • 150 g milk
  • 200 g white chocolate
  • Grated zest of one clementine
  • 200 g heavy cream (whipped to soft peaks)
  1. Soak the gelatin leaves in the clementine juice and keep refrigerated for 5 minutes.
  2. Place the white chocolate and the zest in a bowl.
  3. Bring the milk to a boil and pour over the white chocolate.
  4. Add the soaked gelatin and the clementine juice to the white chocolate and whisk to blend into a smooth mixture.
  5. Refrigerate until slightly thickened.
  6. Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks and carefully fold it into the white chocolate mixture.
  7. Refrigerate the mousse for one hour before filling the roulade.


  • 225 g butter, softened
  • 450 g confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 100 g clementine juice
  1. In the bowl of a Kitchen Aid, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar until very light and fluffy.
  2. Slowly begin to add the clementine juice and continue to cream the butter until all the juice is incorporated and the buttercream is smooth.


  1. Unravel the roulade, but keep the paper underneath. Spread the cranberry marmalade over the entire surface.
  2. Spread the white chocolate mousse over the marmalade, leaving a ½” space all around the edge without mousse.
  3. Carefully pick up the edge of the parchment paper and begin to roll up the cake.
  4. Place the roulade on a cardboard with the seam down and freeze it until ready to finish it with the buttercream.
  5. To create a swirled effect with the buttercream, first brush a couple of lines of red food coloring inside the pastry bag previously fitted with a star tip.
  6. Fill the bag with the buttercream and then pipe rosettes all over the surface of the roulade.
  7. Decorate with the holly leaves and cranberries.

Click here to sign up for Chef Victoria’s holiday baking workshop and visit for even more pastry classes.

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