Saturday, September 10, 2011

My love affair with Jaques Torres

It all started in December of 2000 when my boss took me to a holiday lunch at a newly renovated Le Cirque 2000.  I can't remember what I ate for the appetizer or the main course, but I will  never forget the dessert -- a wonderful chocolate layer cake that was all gussied up to look like a chocolate-covered stove, complete with two little chocolate pans on top, one with raspberry sauce and the other one with passion fruit.  Wow! I think that was the first time I realized that food could be fun and playful, not just flavorful.

Years later, I stood on line at the Jacques Torres store in DUMBO to buy a hot chocolate, but I will admit to getting distracted by confectioner stores closer to home.  I recently "rediscovered Jacques" and I'm hear to tell the tale.

Kate and I were invited to sit in on a demonstration at the French Culinary Institute, and we were lucky enough to hear Jacques Torres speak.  He was charming and delightful, just like his food.  During the demonstration, he showed us how to make delicious caramel popcorn, and then he gave us an into to the movie, Kings of Pastry, which is a documetary of a French pastry competition -- think PhD in pastry making.  We had already seen the movie, but it was really fun to watch it with a classroom full of budding chefs and to watch their reactions to the movie.  (We also were treated to samples of caramel popcorn topped with chocolate -- not your typical movie popcorn!)
Now that we're closely alligned with all things Jacques, I felt that it was my duty to take the kids to his store on the Upper West Side Amsterdam, between 72nd and 73rd.  After we finished some Labor Day back-to-school shopping, we stoppped in at Jacques Torres for a treat.  Kate had the "Wicked" ice cream sandwich -- gobs of creamy chocolate ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies that are enhanced with rich spices.  Dash opted for a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of strawberry ice cream. The ice creams are incredibly rich -- made the old-fashioned way, with real cream and eggs as a base, and reminded me of the times I took a turn at a hand crank to make ice cream at home when I was a kid. (Note, the ice creams are made in the store downtown, and are only available during the summer months.

While Kate and Dash ate their snacks, I looked through a couple of JT cookbooks -- I showed them a picture of the chocolate stove, as well as his famous sugar dome.  (I think I may get a JT cookbook for Christmas this year!)  One of the employees brought us over samples of frozen hot chocolate -- very refreshing, especially since it was wonderfully chocolatey, without being sweet.

Wanting to prolong the experience, I bought one of the JT mixes to take home and cook later.. I debated between the decadent brownies, and the French Kiss Cookie Mix (Torres' version of a chocolate chip cookie.)  The box says that the world's best chocolate and the world's best flour (King Arthur Flour) have joined forces. I'm here to tell you that these are the most decadent chocolate chip cookies I've ever had -- and probably the most delicious.

We just finished baking these wonderful cookies. At the first bite, they are reminiscent of good old fashioned Nestle Toll House cookies, but then reality sets in.  First, the dough is perfect -- not so sweet that it overhelms the chocolate, and just cakey enough to hold together.  But here's the kicker -- the chocolate does not come in little "chips", but in quarter-sized heavenly bitter-sweet chocolate disks. And they are abundant -- each cookie has three or four chocolate disks.  For chocolate lovers, need I say more? 

The mix was incredibly easy to make -- add butter and an egg to the dry mix, then stir in the disks, scoop on to a tray and bake.  Dash says they're perfect with a glass of cold milk.

I can't wait to try the brownie mix next!

Thank you, JT, for doing what you love.