Epicerie Boulud: is this the best bakery north of 14 Street?05 Mar 2012, Posted by Épicerie Boulud, Reviews in
After the arrival of Dominique Ansel Bakery last September, Dessertbuzz has been rediscovering French pastry. So we thought it would be fun–and a service to our readers–to do a deep-dive review of Epicerie Boulud, owned by Ansel’s former employer.
I made five trips to Epicerie Boulud in February and also deputized a number of civilian, i.e., non-foodie friends, as Dessertbuzz tasters (it wasn’t hard to find willing recruits). After tasting nearly two-dozen different items, I’m happy to report that nearly everything here is excellent and many items are simply outstanding. There are definitely some signs of Ansel’s time here which makes sense given that he helped them with their initial menu.
One of my favorite pastries from EB is also one of their simplest–the chocolate hazelnut sandwich ($4.50). Two layers of devil’s food cake with a layer of hazelnut gel and and equal-sized layer of chocolate mousse. This tiny pasrty is all about great flavors and a uniformly soft texture throughout. Biting into this cake is like biting into a tea sandwich with the crusts cut off of the bread so you can bite straight through with no resistance. The hazelnut gel is immensely flavorful and delicious–a “must try” for anyone who loves Nutella or hazelnut.
The gateau chocolate caramel is the heaviest and most involved chocolate based pastry we tried. In this review I have described many pastries from EB as small, light, simple–this is not one of those desserts. This rectangular pastry contains a thick, dense chocolate ganche top and two layers of equally dense almond cake. In the middle is a perfect layer of caramel cream with a thin layer of bittersweet dark chocolate mousse on top of it. [in your best Yoda voice] Light this dessert isn’t–delicious and satisfying this dessert is!
If you’re looking for a non-chocolate pastry, perhaps one that provides the yang to chocolate’s yin–the passion mascarpone cake is for you. A thin slab of mascarpone mousse surrounds a rectangular base of almond cake and a vein of passion fruit gelee. The passionfruit is sweet but also a bit tangy and goes perfectly with low-sweetness mascarpone. $6.00
Epicerie Boulud’s 100% whole wheat bread definitely flies a bit under the radar–especially compared to the more famous bread bakeries in NYC. However, this whole wheat bread when fresh is as good as any I am aware of in NYC. A sharp and firm crust and a soft, but textured inside with a bit more saltiness than is common, make this a winner for $5.00. I’m surprised it’s not more popular among the bread-happy Upper West Side.
There aren’t too many places in the city to buy caneles but EB sells a very nice one with a slightly crunchy outside and and a soft eggy inside–this canele bears a striking resemblance to those at DAB. $3.00
The eggy inside of the canele.
Another very small pastry that I highly recommend is the chocolate tartelette ($5.00). This tiny tart packs a great dark chocolate flavor via a low-sweetness ganache. However, what sets this tart above the rest is the crust. It’s perfectly crumbly and the tart doesn’t explode when cut into it with your fork or teeth. Real gold leaf adds a touch of class in case you’re bringing them as a gift.
On one visit I noticed a sign above the pastry counter that said “Plat Du Jour: Coq Au Vin”. It was $18 but I love coq au vin so I split it with one of the anointed Dessertbuzz tasters. We both agreed it was excellent. The chicken (or rooster) was thoroughly soaked with the flavors from the reduced sauce of red wine, lardons, mushrooms and possibly blood (!) It was easily enough food for both of us–especially since we were planning on having pastry afterward.
I’ve already covered EB eclairs in depth in my eclair roundup–but I would be negligent if I didn’t mention them here. Available in dulce de leche, chocolate and coffee $5.00.
Another worthy non-chocolate pastry is the orange tartalette $4.75. This tart shares all the excellent texture aspects of the chocolate version but instead of a dark chocolate interior it has a very nice orange flavored filling and some peeled orange slices on top. The orange flavor in the filling is subtle but easily distinguishable as orange.
If you just want a quick snack or don’t want to drop $7.00 on a single pastry, there are a host of excellent small items available for under $3.00. If you want to channel Provence, the blueberry financier is moist and looks like a flower box with some lavender growing out of it ($3.00); the Palmier (or elephant ear) is a crispy, glazed, puff pastry made without the yeast ($3.00); the mini-brioche is just a tiny sugar coated brioche–sold in a tin ($2.00).
The cinnamon pound cake should not be mistaken for an American style “crumb cake”. If you make this error you will be disappointed as this cake is not nearly as sweet as crumb cake and the top layer of crust is not thick or burnt with brown sugar that scratches your teeth as you bit through it. If you’re looking for a less-sweet pound cake that’s on the denser side with a hint of cinnamon–you will enjoy this.
In addition to the Plat Du Jour there are many other worthy savory items available at EB. All the prepared sandwiches are excellent and one of my tasters loved her “DBGB” dog for $6.00–and she had it without any fixings.
Is there anything readers should avoid at EB? That’s a tough one. There is really nothing that missed the mark so badly that I would steer readers away. If I were nitpicking–I’d call out the opera cake and the macarons. They were both solid especially the flavors in the opera cake. But the uniformity and texture of my slice were not as good good as Payard’s–which is world class. When I tried to cut mine in half the top layer was not soft enough to put my knife through–it ended up snapping in half, destroying the rest of the piece.