I found myself on the Upper East Side, killing time with the kids on one of those arduous, winter breaks in the city with nothing to do. What’s a girl to do when she’s feeling glum while everyone else is off skiing or sunning with their loved ones? Eat cake of course! It struck me like a ray of sunlight on a gray winter day. Off we went to Lady M.

Lady M is one of those dainty, elegant shops that are perfect to take a friend to for coffee and a little treat while catching up on a load of gossip. What I enjoy so much about it is that they take the classics and somehow reinvent them, striking the ideal point between enormous coffee shop monsters and overly dainty French confections. They are fun and interesting to look at while still being elegant. Plus, they are light as a feather in your mouth, even when they look like they will be quite filling. I was slightly disappointed to find the selection was full of chestnut cakes. Chestnut is one of the top offenders on my long and boring list of do-not-eat-or-spend-the-day-in-the-emergency-room allergy foods. But never the less, I persevered and managed to find four lovely slices without chestnut to take home. More…

As I tend to be a bit obsessive-compulsive about things, I recently found myself possessed with the idea of getting to Paris after learning about a bakery that specializes in what is the equivalent of a French version of the Hostess snowball. It was all I could think about.

To curb the insanity, I find myself trying to recreate the experience. I made and ate those French snowballs every day for two weeks until I couldn’t stand them anymore. I needed a fix, and bad. So when I heard about this new French pastry shop that had opened downtown, well I knew it was on my to-do list. Cooler bag in hand, I made my way to Mille-feuille Bakery. It is a tiny sliver of a shop in the Lupa neighborhood, hardly where one would expect to find perfect French pastries. When you walk in the first thing you will notice is the incredibly heady smell of butter, real butter, not the fake popcorn butter smell that perfumes the Food Emporium bakery at 8:30 am on any given morning. The display of available pastries is very small but just a few feet from you is Chef Olivier in his kitchen, preparing whatever deliciousness is at hand. Now, I’m a bit of a cleanliness freak, so I can appreciate seeing exactly how my food is prepared (again, the obsessive-compulsive in me comes out). More…

Last night, ICE hosted Dessert Professional’s 18th Annual Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America event. The annual awards honor ten amazing pastry chefs for their contribution to the industry. This year the honorees included Antonio Bachour of Quattro at Trump Soho and Solea at W South Beach, Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez of PRINT at the Ink48 Hotel, Tariq Hanna of Sucré, Sylvain Leroy of Paris Gourmet, Francisco Migoya of the Culinary Institute of America, Jerome Landrieu of Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy, Yoni Morales of Ark Las Vegas Restaurant Corporation, Oscar Ortega of Atelier Ortega, Ron Paprocki of Gordon Ramsay at The London and Jean-Francois Suteau of The Beverly Hills Hotel.

The evening also included an award for Jacquy Pfeiffer, the co-founder and owner of the The French Pastry School in Chicago. Pfeiffer was one of the stars of Kings of Pastry, the acclaimed documentary about the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. More…

Now that Valentine’s Day has come and passed, I would be remiss to forget my one true love in chocolate. Many years ago, when La Maison du Chocolat, founded by Robert Linxe, first opened in Manhattan, I went in having no idea of what to expect. I purchased a few of those precious gems and left, curious to see what they tasted like. Strolling down Madison Avenue, chocolates in hand, I fell in love. I don’t mean a crush or some cheap infatuation the likes of the Tim Tam cookie — I mean true, devoted love. If you have ever had one of those truly life changing moments, then you can understand. Standing there on Madison Avenue I found Nirvana — a chocolate experience the likes of which I had never had before and his name was Roméo. He was a coffee cream au beurre (butter ganache) draped in dark chocolate. A truly original piece, intensely flavored and rich yet light all at the same time. To this day, no other chocolate (and I have tried quite a few) has been capable of coming close, let alone rivaling this master.

I was so enamored that at one point I took one of the tasting classes that they offered at La Maison, with Monsieur Linxe himself and asked about the magic that Roméo held. Alas I was denied any answers, although a lunch date and a stage in France were offered instead. Monsieur Linxe knew that those pretty little babes held a secret that could never be revealed or it would break their spell. Desolate, I left with only the consolation of a bag of those beauties. My pain was assuaged. More…

My youngest son loves ribs. In fact, that is an understatement. Let’s just say he seems to have been born part caveman (definitely his father’s side). He will gnaw the life out of any bone as long as it’s dripping in some kind of barbeque sauce. He is also a bit of a “rib snob,” as he has barefacedly told a certain barbeque chef that he didn’t like his over peppered sauce. Needless to say, we have eaten at every rib joint in town several times over and Blue Smoke ranks up there as one of our family favorites. So when I heard that they had opened a bakery, I was excited, because as much as I like a good rib, I would much rather have a good slice of pie.

Blue Smoke Bake Shop, overseen by Pastry Chef Jennifer Giblin, is a cute little annex at the front of Blue Smoke. It is a cornucopia of classic American desserts with a daily selection of cookies, brownies, cupcakes and most importantly, mini pies, the true highlight of the menu. On my visit, I sampled the Bourbon Pecan, Pear Crumble and my favorite, the Tollhouse Cookie Pie. What can I say — to me, fruit is just a health food trying to pretend its way into dessert, but chocolate chip cookie dough pie, now we’re talking. The crusts are flaky and tender and at $3 a pie they are perfect to guiltlessly enjoy. The only thing that would be better was if you could get those pies à la mode. More…

Each of ICE’s Chef Instructors is a treasure trove of knowledge. Chef Instructor Nicole Kaplan is an ICE alum who worked in the kitchens at Eleven Madison Park and Del Posto before joining the team at ICE. Working in these award-winning restaurants, she earned praise for the desserts and dishes she designed and created for the menu. She brings that expertise to her classroom to share with her students, but now she will also be sharing it here on DICED in a recurring feature, “Sweet Treats.” She’ll sample pastries and desserts from around NYC and report back here. In the first installment, she tells us about canelés and how to find authentic versions.

A few years back, when I was working at Eleven Madison Park, I found myself fascinated with the canelé de Bordeaux (a.k.a. cannelé bordelais), a wonderfully unique cake with a rich custardy interior enclosed by a thin caramelized shell. Canelés (pronounced can-el-eh) originated in Bordeaux about 300 years ago. They’re made by pouring a crepe like batter into a copper mold that has been lined with beeswax and are then baked until they are almost blackened in color. At the restaurant, we ordered molds from Dehillerin in Paris and brought in beeswax from our local beekeeper and away we went. Well, my team and I lost a few years of our lives, but we managed to figure it out and after two weeks of blood, sweat and a whole bunch of tears (mostly mine) we came up with the most beautiful cakes imaginable. Surprisingly, none of them quit. We were all proud as we handed them out to our departing guests every night. Unfortunately, they wound up being a bit misunderstood and were eventually shelved to make way for brioche with candied orange and sour cherries, but they will always be one of my favorite projects.

Happily you can now get some wonderful little canelés of your own from Les Caneles de Celine, French Miniature Pastries by Celine Legros. I picked some up at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market where they have had a stand, but you can pre-order them to pick up or have them delivered to you. I got an assortment of canelé including vanilla, orange and grapefruit and some financier, another classic French cake, baked in the shape of a gold bar. The canelé were almost everything that I was hoping them to be. They had the delicate glow of beeswax on the outside and the soft delicious, custardy goodness inside. If anything, I prefer my canelé baked a bit longer so they are a coppery golden hue all over, but color on canelés seems to range from pale golden to blistery brown. On a curious note, the ones that emerge pale on their tops have a special name that delightfully translates in English to “white asses.” For those who are curious, the financier were also delicious and rich and came in traditional, almond, chocolate chip, praline and raspberry.

I have sampled a handful of canelé attempts here in NYC over the years and have been disappointed up until now. These are the real deal and worth the indulgence so run out and get some. Or if you are daring, try this recipe… More…

Last week, ICE employees were able to step out from our corporate offices into the kitchen. Usually, our Chef Instructors are busy teaching aspiring chefs and culinary enthusiasts about the tricks of the trade, but last week ICE staff made up the students in two special classes. Chef Instructor Nicole Kaplan taught a group about making and decorating cupcakes, while Chef Chad Pagano taught another group about the ins and outs of making pizza. See the photos of what the groups created. Perhaps we need a few more to make the grade… More…

If what lies beneath is important in making cakes, it is appearance that counts in plating desserts. In the last few lessons of Module III, our class broke down into four groups and tackled plated desserts from legendary four-star restaurant chefs such as Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernandin and our very own Module I Chef Instructor Nicole Kaplan, formerly of Del Posto and Eleven Madison Park. Each team was assigned desserts and made up a production plan. We were expected to present 14 identical plated desserts to the class when all components were ready.

This type of class was different from all the other lessons we have had up to this point. Yes, we have presented in the past. We presented our soufflés and crème anglaise for our practical in Module I and our cookies just a few weeks ago, but with so many aspects going into the finished product, teamwork was essential. It was important to review the items that needed the most preparation time and get those done first in order to be as efficient as possible. Once all of the ingredients were ready, it was time to set up our desserts for presentation to the class.

As I saw the first batch of plates go down on the table and each component being added as if on an assembly line, I felt a surge of energy. Watching the pieces of a puzzle come together into an elegant dessert was really exciting. Our first assigned dessert was Michael Laiskonis’ Chocolate-Peanut Tart with Lemon Confit, Praline-Citrus Sorbet and Peanut Butter Powder, creating a perfect balance of salty and sweet flavors. On the second day of plating, we were assigned a Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Grapefruit, Avocado and Basil Foam, also from Chef Laiskonis. The experience of assembling this dessert on the plate made me realize how much plating can determine the appeal of food. The flavors Chef Laiskonis put together were fresh and brilliant, but we were less sure about how to best present the various components. We tried several possibilities, but seeing the less-than-thrilled faces of those we were presenting to, it was evident that we hadn’t quite perfected the presentation and what’s on the surface does matter. More…

Daniel Executive Chef Jean François Bruel and Pastry Chef Dominique Ansel with Chef Instructors Chad Pagano, Karen Schley and Sabrina Sexton

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As you would expect, the staff and management at ICE has interest, desire and appreciation for great food. Sometimes great food is simple and inexpensive, and other times it is elaborate, complex and well, not inexpensive. Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant Daniel, one of the most celebrated restaurants in New York and America, fills the later category. Among the restaurant’s many accolades, Daniel has earned four stars from the New York Times, three stars from Michelin and four different James Beard Awards. ICE has always had close ties with Daniel. Boulud sits on our Chefs’ Advisory Board and many ICE students have gone on to extern in their kitchens after completing their in-class work.

ICE Chef Instructors Seated at the Table with Chef Daniel Boulud and ICE’s Director of Education Richard Simpson (seated) and President Rick Smilow

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On the evening of November 30, ICE’s Director of Education, Richard Simpson and I treated eight of our esteemed Chef Instructors to a memorable nine-course, five-hour meal at Daniel. It was a way to say thank you to these key personnel here at the school. At the same time, it was a wonderful opportunity for many of the experts who teach our students to see culinary and pastry and baking arts performed at the highest level. This was a meal where the guests could comment all night about precision knife cuts, delicate flavor profiles, pristine ingredients, gorgeous plating concepts and adventuresome wine and food pairings. More…

How do we define the creativity of chefs? This week over 1,000 savory and pastry chefs, restaurant managers, sommeliers and other industry professionals gathered at The Park Avenue Armory for the 3-day International Chefs Congress (ICC), organized by StarChefs.com. I had the opportunity to attend two of the many presentations that discussed this year’s theme, an exploration of the debate Craft vs. Art.

I attended a presentation by “Shock-o-latier” Dominique Persoone (The Chocolate Line) and gastronomical scientist Bernard Lahousse (Sense for Taste, FoodPairing) about how emotions and memories affect taste, as well as El Bulli’s Albert Adrià’s presentation taking us deeper into the contents of his books Natura and A Day at El Bulli. What did I take away from these two presentations? Both, at the core, focused on three things: Simplicity. Technique. Fun.

In terms of simplicity, what these chefs shared was completely in line with my lessons in the Pastry & Baking Arts program at ICE. Chef Nicole advised us to use only three flavors maximum in a dessert. “Keep it simple,” she said. Adrià also shared, “If I can only put three, I’m not going to put six.” Chef Scott reminded us how important it is to choose a color that makes sense for your dessert. Adrià agreed, “If it’s pistachio, and it’s not green, there’s something wrong.” When it is the same color as the product, the aroma and the taste to follow will be in line and good. More…