Table Talk: New Orleans’ Sweet Side

This month I pushed back from the dining room table and stepped up to the counter for some confections and baked goods, as February in New Orleans offers a lot of temptation for those with a sweet tooth. With Carnival shifting into top gear and Valentine’s Day right smack in the middle of the month, bakers and pastry chefs work double-time to provide the treats for both.

The contemporary and ambitious dessert destination Sucré opened its second location at Lakeside Shopping Center in December. Coupled with its flagship store on Magazine Street, this new shop offers far more retail space and serves as a template for future expansion.

“For Lakeside, we took everything we’ve learned from Magazine and applied it to the new location,” says executive pastry chef and partner Tariq Hanna. “Along the way we’ve gotten a better understanding visually of the products’ appeal to customers. For example, we’ve realized that items that were never in the ‘original’ program, such as cupcakes, had become very popular. Consequently we had given them better positioning at the new store.”

The new store, while larger, maintains the distinctive look and feel of the original. Airy spaces, cheerful mod colors and carefully considered packaging please the eye. Signature entremets, such as individually sized cakes and dessert servings, beckon from the case. Chocolate lovers will delight in the Xocolat, a sculpted mousse with chiseled lines and intense chocolate flavor. Lakeside also marks the return of their breakfast pastries, which had been previously discontinued. “We are making our croissants in a few iterations – classic butter, sour cherry frangipani,” Hanna says. “We are doing a crème au chocolate – sort of a nod to the Boston crème donut. It is basically croissant dough with a pocket of Gianduja and pastry crème. Compared to the standard pain au chocolate, it has a creamier, almost pudding-like texture to it. Really delicious.” Also returned are some savory items, including a croque monsieur brioche featuring Black Forest ham, Mornay sauce and a blend of Gruyère and Asiago cheeses.

For Valentine’s Day, look for a new white chocolate and raspberry macaroon featuring a mousseline of white chocolate and raspberry marmalade. “For Mardi Gras, we do a macaroon with gold and green shells with a purple ‘king cake’ filling made from cinnamon butter cream,” says Hanna.  This is augmented with their popular King Cakes, whose simple proportions and sleek metallic lamination set them apart from the pack.

Ten months ago Maple Street Patisserie opened its doors and business has been booming ever since, says co-owner Patricia-Ann Donohue, who operates the bakery along with Ziggy Cichowski. Donohue, who originally hails from New Jersey, met Cichowski while serving as general manager and executive chef at the LSU Medical School dining service. At the time, Cichowski was the force behind La Louisiane Bakery and Donohue would source pastries from him. Their relationship blossomed, both in life and work, and they decided to open their own place with a focus on European simplicity and a direct connection to their community and customers.

“Ziggy and I are partners in life and partners in the bakery,” says Donohue. “We saw there was no other place in New Orleans that was doing pastries like Ziggy does. They are very European. He is both a master pastry chef and a master baker. There are very few of those – usually, you are one or the other. Ziggy can do both.”

At the shop, Cichowski does what he does best – baking the good stuff, freeing Donohue to handle the rest of what a small business entails – the bookkeeping, the front of the house and design. Cichowski is old-fashioned in his approach, using simple, high-quality ingredients to create his wide range of offerings. “I use butter, never shortening,” he explains. “It is old-fashioned, but I believe it’s much healthier.”

His freshly baked breads include pumpernickel and European rye, either with or without seeds. Sweet stuff comes in the shape of pretty little glazed fruit tarts, mini lemon-meringue pies, donuts and more. Cichowski’s breakfast pastry options are especially strong, with excellent butter croissants and other more savory versions such as ham and cheese. They have recently expanded their offerings to include sandwiches, along with
hand-dipped caramels and other candies. The expansion complements the bakery’s evolution, as the casual and welcoming space has steadily filled up with cases and wares as their busi-
ness grows.

For Mardi Gras, look for their King Cakes, with filled versions including praline, raspberry and apple. They also do custom birthday and wedding cakes. “Most wedding cakes are really pretty but people don’t want to eat them,” says Donohue. “These both look and taste fabulous.”

If you’re seeking cakes and chocolates, pay Bittersweet Confections a visit. Owner and pastry chef Cheryl Scripter has been hand-rolling a decadent assemblage of truffles since she opened her doors, fittingly enough, on Valentine’s Day, 2008. In her cozy shop you can sit and snack as you watch her and her assistants at work, turning out themed offerings such as the four-piece Royal Street truffle collection, featuring ganaches flavored with 74 percent über-dark chocolate, ginger, Indian Chai and Earl Grey tea. Each truffle is finished with a signature garnish such as an intensely concentrated raspberry or dark cocoa powder. Other truffle flavors include drunken pear, crème brûlée and Meyer lemon. For Valentine’s Day, guys should remember her Martini Glasses filled with chocolates. “The presentation is really pretty,” Scripter says. “Also, I like to do long-stem chocolate-dipped strawberries, depending on availability from local farmers.”

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