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As I looked into the display case and noticed that the top shelf was quite noticeably empty, my heart sank. And then I started to laugh at myself. I had stopped into the newly re-located Madeleine Patisserie on 23rd Street; it had just moved two doors down from it’s original address. I discovered Madeleine Patisserie for myself about a year ago after reading a blurb about the then newly opened shop a few weeks earlier in The New York Times. I was just walking around during a lunch break… Oh, a bakery! Needless to say, I just had to check it out as soon as I noticed it’s blue awning and semi-subterranean storefront. Once I descended the small set of stars and entered the shop, my eyes were immediately drawn to the big display case. On the bottom shelves was a colorful and enticing selection of fruit tarts, but what my eyes and taste buds were focusing on were the trays of French macaroons on the top shelf. It was a veritable rainbow of colors and flavors – at least twenty different varieties. Although macarons seemed to be the specialty of the house, this bakery/cafe does sell some fine examples of their namesake madeleines. They also come in a variety of flavors, all of which seem to be perfectly concocted so that the natural muting qualities of butter don’t overwhelm the essences and flavorings that infuse those two- or three- (or one-) bite "little French cakes". The espresso-walnut one I sampled today was… Oh, where was I? Oh, yes – I was laughing at myself.
While I walking around Chelsea a few weeks ago, I had noticed that the original location of Madeleine Patisserie had shuttered. As I looked into the windows, I took in the the absence of the comfy chairs, the tables, the shelving and that display case. Thankfully, there was a sign taped to the door indicating that they were moving two doors down. Well, I walked two doors down and found no sign of a nouvelle Madeleine Patisserie. I walked two doors down the other way, no pastries there either. I guessed that they were still in the process of moving. Actually, I hoped that they were still in the process of moving. With the ever volatile real estate market in New York City, Chelsea could very well have been deprived of yet another source of baked indulgences.
Since I ended up with a longer than usual lunch break today, I decided to go on a follow-up stroll. I first came across the new occupants of 128 W. 23rd, an African Art Gallery from what I could tell. Then I shifted my gaze east, two doors down, and, happily, my hopes were not dashed. I noticed the familiar blue awning with it’s familiar lettering. I quickened my pace and found myself standing in front of their new storefront a few steps later. The new digs were a bit smaller, narrower than their previous location, and it appeared that the seating was reduced to a few perfunctory tables and chairs. I opened the door and entered with a bit of hesitancy. Would their offerings be reduced too?
I first encountered the baskets and trivets filled with baguettes, batards, croissants, pains au chocolat, financiers, and various other puff pastry creations; the small, individual jars of jams and jellies, and the white, pink, yellow and blue packets of sweeteners for your coffee and tea. A few feet away was the display case. My eyes quickly scanned the shelves. The familiar selection of impeccably assembled fruit tarts were on the bottom two shelves. On top of the case was a row of jars filled with today’s selection of madeleines (six flavors), meringues (plain and coconut), and generous rounds of gallette bretonne (French shortbread). When I started concentrating on the top shelf, at first I thought my eyes were deceiving me. All I saw was a span of mirrored steel. It was empty. Nothing. That’s when my heart sank. And that’s when I laughed at myself.
My heart sank because of a macaron! Rather the lack of a macaron. How foolish is that? How stupid? How third grade! How wonderful! But wait! It gets better!
With a hopeful suspicion that the macarons were being kept in the back somewhere, I asked Maria if they had any today. She informed me that they did not have any today, but would, hopefully, have some by next week. It turned out that they had just completed the move this past Sunday, and today (Tuesday) was only the second day they were re-opened for business. Of course, hearing "Yes, we have no macarons today," and that it would be at least another week before the top shelf of that display case would be filled again did nothing to raise my spirits. I believe I even frowned. And then I giggled.
Yes, there are more serious, more adult sources of disappointment – and joy! – but as I immediately assessed my reaction, I could not help but laugh at my own folly. I’ve always known that I love food, but was it really possible for me to miss food? I guess so. And at what point in my life had a craving become an object of my affection?
Since I was not able to enjoy a cassis or lemon-chocolate or lilac macaron today – and since I was not going to walk out of there empty-handed – I decided to sample a trio of today’s selection of madeleines: Chocolate, Espresso-Walnut and Rose. Maria placed them in a small white paper bag, rang up my order at the register, and I headed back out on to 23rd Street. It wasn’t too long before I opened the bag, stuck my hand in and selected the Espresso-Walnut one. As I took that first bite, in my mind’s eye I could see that simply satisfied smile coming over my face; and I knew that if a camera was on me, it would capture the glint in my eye, the slight filling out of my cheeks, and my buttery-crumb-coated goofy grin. If I had happened to be walking with a friend, I would have immediately broken off a small bit for him to sample, or least have exclaimed, "This is really good! You should definitely try one the next time you go there!" But since I was walking by myself, I did not have to make that decision.
Next up was the Chocolate one which gently and sufficiently satisfied my daily chocolate quotient. Finally, the Rose. Many times, floral flavored and scented sweets can end up leaving me feel like I’ve just consumed a bit of furniture polish, dishwashing detergent or a votive candle instead of a lilac pastille, an orange blossom gelée or geranium sorbet. I had not tried a Rose one before, but, frankly, I was in the mood to be slightly adventurous today. I sniffed it before I placed it in my mouth. It smelled like a Rose. I then took a bite of it. It tasted like a Rose. Well, at least what I imagine what it would be like to bite into a long-stemmed American Beauty. Again, that goofy, can-it-really-be-this-good? smile came across my face, and, again I fully suspected someone to come up to me and capture my expression on camera. There just had to be some sort of documentation of my glee!
I looked at the remaining half, and was sort of taken aback by the very pronounced pink-red color of the cake. It wasn’t exactly unnatural, just unexpected. I nibbled slowly at what was left of that combination of butter, flour, sugar, rosewater(?) and a few drops of food coloring. I wanted to make it last as long as possible; at least until I had returned to the studio for the second half of my day. By the time I had reached the lobby of the building, I had indeed finished the madeleine. I had consumed all three of them during the course of my walk down 23rd Street, up Seventh Avenue, and back across 26th Street. As I entered the lobby, I became aware of the chill in my fingers. It was a bit colder today than I had thought, and I had not included my gloves as part of my outerwear selection for the day. Even though the end of meteorological Winter just a few days away, I had already experienced a harbinger of Spring. In fact, I had just tasted it.
I ended up back at Madeleine Patisserie after my afternoon session of auditions had finished. Alas, still no macarons gracing that top shelf of the display case – Hope springs eternal! – and it looked like they had done a pretty brisk business since my last visit a few hours earlier. There were just a few plain croissants left in the baskets behind the counter, and the display next to the register was a fraction of what was there during my first visit of the day. I also noticed a sign taped to a curtain that lined what I thought was the back wall of the new space: "Seating Area Coming Soon". For today’s final selections, I chose a coconut meringue and two chocolate chip financiers the size of a truffle (or a chocolate covered cherry, whichever you prefer). Since I had ordered two of them, I first sampled the financier. Again, I was smiling uncontrollably as I took that first bite. A true perfect bite of the usual baker’s staples with the addition of ground almonds and a sprinkling of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Then came the coconut meringue – all crunch, sugar, air and toasted coconut. I imagined that this is what coconut-flavored cotton candy would taste like if it had a hard candy shell. Once I had finished the meringue, there was no sense in saving the remaining financier for later. And by that time, I had managed to walk all the way up to 44th Street where I proceeded underground to hop on the A Train for the rest of my trip home. As I wondered if my fellow riders had any idea why I smiling so much, I made sure to check the front of my coat for any traces of meringue dust and cake crumbs.
Well, the other night, we finally had some true, real snow fall here in New York City. Alas, it was not a record-setting storm like we had two years ago around this time, but it was snow, and it did not melt when it made contact with the sidewalks. Yes, it did eventually turn into sleet and freezing rain, and then into basically an all-day rain event the following day, but for a few hours, the City was covered in a layer of frozen white fluffy stuff. And I was smiling and happy.
Trust me, I’m smiling in that picture.
While walking the snow-covered sidewalks of the Upper West Side, I just happened to come across the recently opened branch of Magnolia Bakery. Needless to say, Cupcakes and Snow made for a very nice Winter Evening.
Truth be told, I passed on the cupcakes this visit. However, the slice of Coconut Layer Cake was a more than worthy substitute.
Oh… If you happen to observe, celebrate such things… Happy Valentine’s Day!