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By Steven Li on 2006-11-23

November 23, 2006


On Friday afternoon I was wandering around Soho after a lunch of xiao long bao at Joe Shanghai. It was a dreary day and rain started to pour down as I turned onto Spring Street, forcing me to duck into the Balthazar bakery for shelter. Once inside, the inviting smell of pastries lured me in closer and closer to the counter (not that there’s much room to walk inside :) until I found the words, “a cannele, please,” floating out of my mouth. I tell you, it’s like I am possessed!

It looks burnt doesn’t it? But it’s not! It’s all part of the magic. I could tell you what it tastes like, but this quote I found off pastrysampler.com probably does a better job, “a magical bakery confection, a cake endowed with a rich custardy interior enclosed by a thin caramelized shell…Nearly black at first sight and bittersweet at first bite, the crunchy burnt sugar shell makes an exquisite complement to the smooth sweet filling fragrant with vanilla and rum.” The crackly shell has the sweetest taste of caramel and as I bit into it, I feared that the interior would be not at all custardy. In fact, it was almost dry! It was not until I reach the deep center of the cannele that I encountered a custard-like cake, pudding with body and crumb. A rich vanilla with a faint scent of rum flavored the cake and while it was not the most exquisite pastry I’ve had, it was a particularly delicious experience, nibbling on my cannele under the rain.

You know how some people eat when they’re depressed? Or when sad? Or hungry? I unfortunately suffer from all three, but what worse is that I have a desire to eat when I feel any emotion. I eat when I’m sad, eat even more when I’m sick, eat a whole ton when I’m tired, but most of all I eat when I am happy. I tend to eat a lot when I’m happy. So while I’m grateful that I’m happy in general, being happy tends to make me very hungry.

Which explains why I felt an urge to walk across the street to Ceci-Cela after the cannele. It was as if the cannele made me so delighted that to further and continue my happiness I had to indulge in another sort of pastry.

More precisely, the Almond Croissant. I’ve haven’t yet found a single spectacular almond croissants in both LA and SF and I’m starting to wonder if it is because I haven’t found a right one of if it is because I simply don’t like almond croissants and don’t yet know it (gasp!) Ceci-Cela’s version turned out to be another added onto my list of, good-but-not-yet-wow-almond-croissants. But it comes the closest to Clotilde’s definition of Croissant aux Amandes. A day old croissant split into two, dipped into simple syrup and filled with a sweet almond paste mixture. I found Ceci Cela’s version too sweet and the flaky layers of proper croissant sunk into a sugar syrup mass. The almond mixture was quite good though, enough buttery fluff to encompass the sweet almond blended with sugar and eggs. I’m still hunting for one perfectly filled and glazed croissant that I will fall in love with. Hopefully that day comes soon.

It was a rainy day and I don’t know if the counter girl felt sorry for my water drenched hair or the million rain soaked shopping bags, or both, but as she packed my almond croissant, she stuck in a little treat.
“You’ll like it, it’s a puff of air dusted in sugar.”
Who was I to refuse? After I finished the almond croissant, I popped the single bite bit into my mouth. And just like that, the sugar crystal adorned pate choux disappeared. Like a puff of air.

Balthazar Bakery

80 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-1785

55 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 274-9179

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