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This meringue snowman is hollow: Fill it with
ice cream, sorbet or mousse. Photo courtesy
For New Yorkers and visitors to town, there’s a new attraction a block and a half from Rockefeller Center: Pomme Palais, Michel Richard’s bakery cafe in the Palace Hotel. It’s at 30 East 51st Street between Madison and Park Avenues, and is open daily from 6:30am-8:00pm. Since today is National Pastry Day, head there immediately!
Those who know the French-born chef from his acclaimed former restaurants Citrus, Citronelle and currently, Central in Las Vegas and D.C., might be surprised to hear that he’s a pastry chef.
The boy who learned to cook at age 7 was advised a few years later by a friend of his mother’s that if he wanted to be a chef, it would help to learn how to bake first. You can question that advice, but by age 14 young Michel was an apprentice baker at a hotel in Reims. His major experience came as a young adult at the famed Maison Lenotre in Paris, helmed by the great French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre. After just a few years, Lenôtre chose the young pastry chef to open a New York branch.
In his cookbook Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts, Chef Richard explains why the New York City shop was short-lived:
“In France, when you are invited to someone’s home for dinner, you often bring a great bottle of champagne and the prettiest pastry you can afford. This is not so much the custom in America. People are as likely to make desserts as they are to buy them. This was bad for Mr. Lenôtre’s venture….”
Chef Richard invites you to reconsider the French style, and to look at his lovely selection of specialty cakes—exceptional confections to bring to holiday parties, dinners and other special occasions.
Michel’s Snowman (photo above) is a memorable holiday gift: a hollow meringue vacherin to be filled with ice cream, sorbet or mousse. It can be enjoyed as a centerpiece before dessert; and unlike cakes, which must be fresh, it can be kept and enjoyed for several days before filling and consuming. The meringue is soft and toothsome, and covered with sanding sugar that glistens like snowflakes. The bakery says it’s “sized for two,” but it can serve four or more, especially after a big meal. We’re buying several for home and gifting: It’s just $20!
The other cakes, mostly $42, include:
Charlotte Cake. This lovely confection, ringed with lady fingers, is topped with fresh fruit and filled with passionfruit yogurt mousse—an inspired choice that adds a tart contrast to the sweetness. Ruby red raspberries and tiny accents of green pistachios made this cake especially Christmassy; the lady fingers are garnished with tiny rice cracker balls that add a merry, confetti-like touch.
Lemon Eggceptional Cake. Chef Richard turns the American favorite, lemon meringue pie, into a sponge cake (genoise) with layers of lemon curd filling. It is topped by the airiest meringue imaginable. All will delight in the decoration of white chocolate eggs with yellow-colored yolks.
Opera Cake. Chef Richard‘s version of this classic French layered cake of coffee, chocolate and almond flavors is the best we’ve ever had. It’s a coffee lover’s delight, and melts in your mouth.
The Macaron Cake, garnished with gold leaf, is one of the festive options. Photo courtesy Pomme Palais.
Orange Crème Brûlée Cheesecake. This charming cheesecake is mis-named: The airy orange-flavored cheesecake is topped with the soft caramel topping of flan, not a hard, crackling brûlée. But whatever the name, it’s delicious and elegant—the lightest option.
Chocolate Fleur d’Automne and Macaron Cake (photo above). Those wishing a rich chocolate mousse experience should turn to these two beauties. The Chocolate Fleur has layers of chocolate mousse and almond meringue, covered in chocolate and topped with a huge chocolate “flower” that spans the entire top of the cake. The Macaron Cake, perhaps the prettiest of the group, layers chocolate mousse with almond vanilla sponge cake and decorates it with colorful macarons and gold leaf.
Tarte au Pomme. To us, the simplest dessert was the most luscious. Paper-thin sheets of puff pastry are slowly baked for a long time, transforming them into super-crisp crust topped by the most delicious pastry cream and caramelized apples. All of the other cakes are more glamorous in appearance and more complex; but this was our favorite, and Chef Richard confided that it is his favorite, too.
On-the-go breakfast options: Have a brioche, croissant or pain au chocolate with cafe au lait or other coffee choice.
Light lunch favorites, such as French onion soup and goat cheese Caesar salad.
Individual pastries: a large pastry case full of tempting éclairs, fruit tartlets, napoleons and many others, including the wonderful tarte aux pommes and the best Gâteau St. Honoré we’ve ever had, both available by the slice.
Sophisticated treats: cookies, dragées, chocolates and a wondrous Christmas pairing of pink and green pistachio tuiles with raspberry meringues.
Far beyond fancy cakes, Pomme Palais has luscious options for every part of the day.
For more information, visit the Pomme Palais website.
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