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Tracey Zabar loves doughnuts–from today’s Wall Street Journal

By RALPH GARDNER JR.

 

Ramin Talaie for The Wall Street Journal

An arrangement of doughnuts at the Doughnut Plant

I’ll bet this has never happened to you: You’re on your way to Brooklyn to visit a donut shop whose donuts Tina Fey has compared to sex when, of all things, you receive an email from Tracey Zabar, a cookbook author and member of the first family of gourmet epicureanism, praising the donuts at the Doughnut Plant in Chelsea and suggesting a visit be scheduled as soon as possible. “Just make sure you eat the crème brulee donuts upside down!”
What’s going on here? When did donuts become the darlings of the food world? And a crème brulee donut? What’s next: caviar and crème fraiche?

I don’t want anybody to think I don’t like donuts. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m a connoisseur. Aren’t we all? That’s the beauty of them: It doesn’t take an advanced degree from the French Culinary Institute to know you’re doing something right when a honey-dipped fresh out of the oven—or fryer, or wherever donuts are given birth—hits your taste buds.
I have a lousy memory. If somebody asks me what yesterday’s column was about I couldn’t say. However, I vividly recall a still-piping glazed Dunkin Donut I had around midnight in Burlington, Vt., one day in the fall of 1972.
I relayed that experience to the owner of the Doughnut Plant, Mark Isreal, when I made it to his West 23rd Street shop a few days later. I thought of it as similar to presenting your credentials at the Court of St. James.
“If a donut has to be hot to be good,” he sniffed, “you’re just eating greasy sugar.”
Duh! I thought that was the whole point. The glory of donuts is that they have absolutely no redeeming social value. They’re the last bastion of carefree cardiac self-indulgence. It’s the pleasure centers of your brain giving the finger to, in no particular order, exercise, political correctness, sophistication and taste. To quote the bard: “I got nothing, ma, to live up to.”

Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal
The Black & White doughnut at Baked By Butterfield
But before I go further, a word about Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop in Greenpoint, my destination when that Zabar email hit my inbox. I went there with my kids and we sampled the Bavarian crème, coffee cake, apple crumb, honey dip and chocolate cake donuts. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m in a position to judge their product fairly because we arrived around 4 p.m., when the shelves were three-quarters empty and the donuts seem to have been made hours earlier.
That’s the thing about donuts: They’re like mayflies or catching lightning in a bottle. The window of peak freshness is quite small. If you were serious about it, you’d probably camp out overnight on an air mattress to make certain you received them at their best. I’d go so far as to say there are few things on Earth as disappointing as stale donuts.
The terror is that you generally can’t tell until you bite in. Sitting on the shelf, behind the cashier, a chocolate-frosted donut (the money donut, as far as I’m concerned) that’s so stale and lifeless that you toss it in the trash after one bite, and only resist demanding your money back because you can’t see through your tears, and also because it’s your own damn fault for buying a donut beyond noon—that donut appears no different than one so fresh and tasty it triggers visions of puppies and rainbows and running through fields of wild flowers.

Before I made it to the Doughnut Plant, I also visited Baked by Butterfield, a new donut shop on the Upper East Side that’s part of the estimable Butterfield Market, a few doors up the street on Lexington Avenue in the 70s. Butterfield definitely has its presentation down pat. One resists the temptation to describe pieces of fried dough as objects of beauty, but their Black & White, and the Caramel with Sea Salt—the color of the Sahara at sunset—come close.
There’s only one problem with them: They’re baked, not fried. They’re more like cakes in circular form. “That’s like a cupcake in a different shape,” Mr. Isreal stated when I reported on my visit. I’d have to agree. And I’ve got nothing against cake: All in our 50s, my brothers and I will still come to blows over the piece of birthday cake with the flower on it. But the true magic of a first-class donut is that it’s counterintuitive. It’s lighter and fluffier than it appears. It’s playing hide and seek with your senses. It’s like biting into a cloud, second cousin to cotton candy.

Dustin Drankoski/The Wall Street Journal

The exterior of Peter Pan Donut
I can’t dismiss Baked by Butterfield outright. Indeed, I’ve since been back. But it’s playing in a different league than makers of authentic donuts. Which brings me back to the Doughnut Plant and Mr. Isreal. He started making donuts in the basement of his Lower East Side apartment building 18 years ago, and selling to the likes of Dean & Deluca, Balducci’s and Zabar’s, delivering them on his mountain bike. These days, he has two locations in Manhattan—the one in Chelsea that I visited and another on Grand Street where the donuts are manufactured. He also has a shop in Tokyo and grand ambitions. He said he sells 3,000 donuts a day.

“I was interested in taking the donut and elevating it with my own ideas,” he explained. “I was also interested in making it as healthy as possible.”
Elevating it? Making it healthy? He was already starting to lose me.
“We mix the finest fruits and nuts in our glazes,” he went on. “That was my idea. No one had ever done that before. I’d buy the fresh fruit from the farmer’s market. We make our own peanut butter and jam. I buy the peanuts straight from the farm and roast them. I learned how to break open fresh coconuts fast from some Indian guys working for me.”
Mr. Isreal also invented the square donut, he contends, and the crème brulee. “If you see a crème brulee anywhere else, it didn’t exist before we made it.”
Enough already, let’s try them. Mr. Isreal produced the crème brulee. I forgot Ms. Zabar’s admonition to eat them upside down. They still tasted delightful, though I’ve never quite understood the fuss over jelly donuts, or donuts with any filling at all. I find the filling a distraction. A great donut should be able to stand on its own.
The peanut butter and jam was also excellent, as was any and everything else I tasted at the Doughnut Plant. The problem is that excellent isn’t good enough when it comes to donuts. You want an experience that forces you momentarily to lose consciousness, that overloads the senses rather than flatters them.

I’m not saying I won’t be back. But it’s not that I saw blinding light after biting into his crème brulee and never plan to buy another Krispy Kreme donut at Penn Station again.
Now there’s a donut: Its Chocolate Iced are the way donuts were meant to be! I’d say they’re maybe too sweet, except all that sugar coating seals in freshness and, in a pinch, allows them to remain highly edible the next day.
—ralph.gardner@wsj.com
A version of this article appeared April 17, 2012, on page A18 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Many Beauties of Fried Dough

TWD–Baking with Julia #6

TWD–Baking with Julia #5

TWD–Baking with Julia #4

New York Times article by Lynn Yaeger

 

Collect Call | Tracy Zabar’s Charm Bracelets, Snowglobes, Santa Mugs, etc., etc.

CULTURE

 

By LYNN YAEGER

 Tracey Zabar in her Upper West Side apartment with her collection of panoramic photographs (some are family heirlooms, others are not). Flora Hanitijo

  • Her collection of wedding cake-top figures.
  • Vintage cookbooks.
  • Her snowglobes number roughly 350.
  • The porcelain lamb planters.
  • Zabar, who is the author of “Charmed Bracelets,” has more than 60 of them.
  • Her daguerreotypes form a collection that Zabar says is museum-worthy.
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“The poodles are always getting caught in the underpants,” Tracey Zabar says, untangling the charms on a vintage bracelet — one of oh, maybe around 65, that she possesses.
It’s no surprise that Zabar, the author of the delightful “Charmed Bracelets,” has these bibelots, but in fact her exquisitely curated collectibles roam far beyond jewelry.

Because it is so well ordered, you may not at first realize the wealth and depth of the collections she keeps in the Upper West Side home that she shares with her husband David, grandson of the renowned gourmet-grocery founder. A panoply of panoramic photographs hangs over the sofa (some authentic Zabar family heirlooms, others imaginary ancestors acquired at the flea market); a kitchen shelf offers a flock of lamb planters (originally centerpieces of baby-gift floral arrangements); drawers open to reveal a welter of wedding cake-top figures (bought as party favors for a bridal shower, but then no one took them home). “At one point I was going to do a book of vintage photos of ugly brides and bridegrooms, but I decided it was too mean,” she confesses.

Zabar, an author, jewelry stylist and baking fanatic, says that she accumulates like a maniac in a particular category, then considers the project closed and moves on, and that these days, she isn’t really buying anything at all. (But can this be true? If so, then why is there a still an eBay search for “Flow Blue china” in Zabar’s computer? And why does she say with a shrug, “If I walk in somewhere and someone has an amber type, it’s not like I’m not going to buy it.”)

There was a sea change in her habits when the family (they have four sons) moved to this apartment four years ago. “Moving was seismic! I wanted everything to be very organized here. Now I’m crazy about closets.” Opening a cabinet, she reveals 20 or so Santa mugs — “I like multiples”; a group of signed baseballs her boys used to love; a trove of silver baby cups with other people’s names on them (she has also authored a book entitled “Best Loved Baby Names”) and a complete set of Charlie Brown drinking tumblers because, “how could you not buy them?”

Another case holds a vast array of daguerreotypes, many depicting little girls, a collection that Zabar, who is not at all a braggart or a showoff, quietly describes as museum-worthy. Less rarefied but equally beloved are the contents of a splendid breakfront in the dining room: roughly 350 snow globes — all 50 states and other locations, including an ultra-rare Cuba. (Just as well that this collection is completed, since you can no longer bring these things on a plane.)

Unlike so many collectors, Zabar isn’t afraid to edit. Her cookbook collection — her own most recent book is “One Sweet Cookie” — used to run to 500 volumes. “I still buy cookbooks every week, but for every one I buy I give five away. I’ve given 600 away already!”

On the other hand, she isn’t in a rush to part with an enormous cache of flimsy vintage recipe pamphlets, a century’s worth of supermarket giveaways. “I have close to 100 booklets. Sometimes when I get them I am a little grossed out because they sort of smell,” she admits, fondling their faded covers. “But I always have this fantasy that they are going to have great recipes.” And do they? “Never.”

TWD–Baking with Julia #3

Wall Street Journal article

URBAN GARDNER
FEBRUARY 22, 2012
A Zabar Does Cookies
By RALPH GARDNER JR.

I was somewhat concerned when Tracey Zabar told me we had to meet by 11 a.m. because she had a photo shoot with a rival newspaper at noon. I understood, of course, but simply as a matter of personal and journalistic pride I prefer to avoid getting scooped.

Tracey Zabar prepares cookies at her home on the Upper West Side. Her new book, ‘One Sweet Cookie,’ features favorite cookie recipes from 70 of the city’s most famous chefs. Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal

However, I was relieved to learn that they were photographing her for an entirely different project. My interview concerned her new book, “One Sweet Cookie” (Rizzoli), for which she asked 70 of the city’s most famous chefs to supply their favorite cookie recipes; they were talking to her about an earlier volume devoted to charm bracelets.
I frankly didn’t know that much about Ms. Zabar going into our meeting at Dominique Ansel, a bakery on Spring Street owned by Daniel Boulud’s former pastry chef. (Mr. Ansel supplied the book a recipe for pecan and chocolate cookies; Mr. Boulud gave two recipes—for Trao-Mad, a buttery cookie from Brittany with peach compote; and for Bugnes De Lyon, some sort of cruller-like butter- and sugar-delivery system made by his mother and typical of Lyon, his hometown.)

I first learned about Ms. Zabar when her publicist and father-in-law, Stanley Zabar, one of the owners of the Zabar’s gourmet-food empire, slipped me a postcard with a picture of the book on one side and a recipe for Sugar Valentines on the reverse. We were attending a live broadcast of Jonathan Schwartz’s WNYC Christmas show. I was listening to Mr. Zabar with one ear and trying to take in Judy Collins, or whoever it was serenading Mr. Schwartz and his audience, with the other.

It turns out that Ms. Zabar has her hand in many pots, only a few of them containing sugar and shortening. She’s also a jewelry designer and collector, and she’s written or co-written books on subjects as varied as baby names and flower arranging. She’s not trying to find herself; apparently, she’s just passionate about lots of different things simultaneously, or at least in rapid succession. By the way, she and her husband, David Zabar, who helps run the family business, also have four sons, ranging from age 30 down to 18.
Whatever she is, she’s not without ambition. “I’m not a chef or baker by profession,” she explained as she plied me with one of Mr. Ansel’s DKA, short for Dominique’s Kouign Amann. It resembles a caramel-coated croissant and ought to be on everyone’s bucket list. However, she added: “I’m an amazing baker. I know I am.”

Ms. Zabar’s charm is that such lines usher from her mouth sounding almost modest, so infused are they with enthusiasm for whatever it is she’s discussing. “My goal,” she added, “is if you find a chocolate-chip cookie recipe, you want to make a chocolate chip better than anybody in the world and then you’re done.”

Indeed, the first recipe she got for her book was Jacques Torres’s celebrated chocolate chip. “It was such a good recipe I went to the other chefs and said, ‘Give me other recipes, not chocolate chip unless it’s your favorite.’ I potentially could have had 70 chocolate-chip cookie recipes.”

Ms. Zabar explained the genesis of “One Sweet Cookie.” “I knew so many chefs,” both through previous writing projects and because one apparently tends to cross paths with lots of them if you’re a Zabar; sort of the way you would world leaders were your name Clinton or Kissinger. “I’d wanted to ask them, ‘When you go home, what do you bake on a Sunday when you have the day off and your kids want something?’ I didn’t know if chefs made these fabulous concoctions with foam infusions of olive oil and grapefruit. I didn’t think that’s what those chefs made at home.”

Initially, Ms. Zabar said that she was worried about gaining their cooperation. After all, in the contemporary celebrity firmament famous chefs rank right up there with Lady Gaga and Nicole Kidman, actually probably slightly higher than Ms. Kidman. But the Zabar name and the opportunity to share recipes that meant something to them personally opened doors—such as the one from Mr. Boulud’s mother’s; there seem to be several maternally inspired cookies and cakes in the volume. “I didn’t think anybody would say yes,” she confided. “I thought I’d get 20 recipes. I was shocked. Three said no, but 70 said yes.”

Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal  Tracey Zabar prepares cookies at her home.

And she wasn’t shy about sharing her own recipes if she thought there were holes in the compendium. For whoopie pies, for example. “There’s only one traditional whoopie pie,” stated Ms. Zabar, who grew up in New England, home of that All-American treat. “Even though people have done carrot cake and gingerbread, it’s traditionally chocolate with a marshmallowy center.”

I couldn’t agree more. A whoopie pie made of anything other than chocolate cake with an achingly sweet cream filling is a sacrilege. But what about peanut butter whoopie pies? They seem to be everywhere. “A bastardization,” Ms. Zabar pronounced.

That doesn’t mean she’s against peanut butter in general as a cooking ingredient. “I wanted there to be at least one peanut butter recipe in the book,” she said. So she hit up Marc Murphy of Landmarc at the Time Warner Center for his peanut butter sandwich with nutella filling. If the accompanying photo is any indication, it’s to drool for.
Ms. Zabar didn’t want to offend any of the souffléd egos in the book by picking her favorite recipe—among the superstar chefs included are Andre Soltner, Francois Payard, Waldy Malouf, Sarabeth Levine, Marcus Samuelsson, Mario Batali and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Instead, she cited the special place in her heart reserved for her own mother’s recipe for Pizzelle, snowflake-shaped cookies for Italian brides, and Eli Zabar’s mother’s butter sugar cookies. “If I ever said what my favorite was the other chefs would come to kill me,” she said.

Ms. Zabar tested all the recipes herself in her own kitchen, reducing what were often restaurant metrics to those for the home baker. “I got to bake every single day for a year,” she said. “I’d eat one cookie from each batch and save a few for David and the kids and I’d take the dog for a walk and give them to anybody—doormen, homeless people. The problem is now when I walk the dog people will say, ‘Where are my cookies?’ I’m obligated.”

 

TWD-Baking with Julia #2

TWD-Baking with Julia #1

White Loaves

Tracey Zabar Book Signing at Zabar’s New York November 26, 2011

Upcoming Booksigning with Tracey Zabar

To celebrate the arrivial of Tracey Zabar’s new book One Sweet Cookie: Celebrated Chefs Share Favorite Recipes and the availability of our new baking gift box available at Zabars.com,One Sweet Cookie Cookbook Gift Box, Tracey will be joining us at Zabar’s for two upcoming book signing events.

Tracey-image600Join us on Saturday, November 26th & Saturday, December 10th to meet Tracey in person and pick up an autographed copy ofOne Sweet Cookie.

Saturday, November 26th & Saturday, December 10th
from 10 AM – 12 PM at Zabar’s 2245 Broadway, NYC

Check out this really lovely interview with Tracey at Eat Your Books “Author Stories – Tracey Zabar” Susie interviews Tracey Zabar about cookbooks, kitchen favorites, and what makes a cookie tick”.

And on iVillage Lisa Cericola interviews Tracey in her article,“Celeb Chefs Share Favorite Cookie Recipes in New Book”.

One Sweet CookieMore info about One Sweet Cookie
Tracey Zabar is a self-proclaimed cookie addict! One way to satisfy her obsession is to host an old-fashioned cookie swap in her home. Zabar’s family have been honoring this tradition for more than 50 years, and she looks forward every year to gathering with her friends to share favorite recipes and cookies. It was at one of these cookie swaps where the idea for her new book ONE SWEET COOKIE: Celebrated Chefs Share Favorite Recipes was born. Zabar thought how much her fellow cookie lovers would appreciate a book that not only shares some of her and her family’s beloved recipes, but also the recipes of some of the country’s most renowned chefs and bakers – a virtual cookie swap featuring signature recipes and baker’s secrets from the biggest names in the food world.

Zabar embarked on a cookie quest and returned with Mario Batali’s Crazy Cowboy Cookies, Daniel Boulud’s Bougres de Lyon, Laurent Tourondel’s Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies, Lidia Bastianich’s Orange Cookies, François Payard’s Flourless Chocolate Cookies, and Thomas Keller’s Ice Cream Sandwiches. And, with each recipe, comes a personal (and amusing) anecdote. As Zabar’s recipe collection grew to 100 recipes from more than 60 contributors, she discovered that she had acquired an international array of sweet treats with flavors ranging from the traditional chocolate, lemon, and mint to the exotic with cardamom and pepper. Rounding out the stellar recipes is Zabar’s own baking wisdom covering everything from recommended ingredients to keep a well-stocked baker’s pantry, essential baking equipment for creating the perfect cookie, and a wealth of tips and time-saving techniques.

From bars and biscotti to meringues and macaroons, ONE SWEET COOKIE will become an instant classic and goto cookie book for a variety of indulgent occasions.

About Tracey Zabar
Trained as a pastry chef Tracey Zabar teaches private baking classes. Zabar has baked with such luminaries as author and teacher Nick Malgieri, Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth’s Bakery, and Maury Rubin of City Bakery. This passionate baker is a jewelry designer by trade. Her collections have been sold at many stores including Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Browns of London and have been exhibited in museums. Zabar was formerly a jewelry stylist for Sex and the City and The View. Her designs have been widely featured in the media, including the Today Show, Vogue, Town & Country, InStyle, New York Magazine, the New York Times, People, and W. Zabar is the author of several books including Charmed Bracelets.