I'm a big believer in making lots of New Year's resolutions and forgetting them by Valentine's Day. I relish that fresh-start feeling, like slipping between just-washed sheets after a kick-your-butt day. New year, new me. Even if it's never true. This year, I resolve to meditate and practice yoga and run a marathon and volunteer here and there and everywhere—and stick to my anti-diet.
Remember that time you said no sugar—none!—and it was all well and good for a week and a half, and then out of nowhere you found yourself elbow-deep in a half-gallon of rocky road? (Who put this here? You? Me?!) Same. There's nothing worse than a New Year's diet. Especially after the worst year.
So, for 2017, let's not-diet together. Instead, let's learn to make fresh pasta instead of cutting carbs. Let's master a filthy-dirty martini. Buy that cookbook you keep eyeing and make every recipe in it. Blast music while making dinner. And have dessert. Always have dessert. Turn a tiny, sugary afternoon pick-me-up into a habit—or a lifestyle.
Loaf experimented for almost nine months before getting the recipe just right. Canelés are now a staple at the bakery and a mysterious phantom at its stands at farmers' markets in Durham and Chapel Hill—there one minute, gone the next. Manager Mary Turner says customers often buy them all up at once. (PSA to canelé whisperers: Show yourselves. Be my friends.) Traditional to the Bourdeaux region in France, canelés are shot-glass-sized and bundt-cake-shaped, with a deep, dark, caramelized crust and a custardy center. Think popover meets crème brûlée—heavy on the vanilla, heavier on the rum. Loaf's version starts with a crêpe-thin batter, which, after being strained, chills for two full days. It is then poured into buttered, waxed copper molds from France and baked low and slow. After the canelés cool, they practically sell themselves. "People will ask at the market, 'What is that?'" Turner says. "But by the time I finish saying 'vanilla' and 'rum' and 'custard,' they've bought it."
Patisserie lucettegrace makes up to 1,500 macarons every week. In other words, more than 75,000 every year. This meringue-based, French sandwich cookie trended in the States a few years ago; The Atlantic declared it "the new cupcake" in 2014. It is still the "cool" dessert at any party. (Who needs a wedding cake when you could have a massive, multicolored tower of macarons?) Lucettegrace rotates a selection of six varieties monthly. "We've got one flavor that's become our signature," owner Daniel Benjamin says. "For whatever reason." That would be Birthday Cake: one blue shell, one pink, filled with a mash-up of confetti birthday cake, vanilla mousse, and, in true French style, butter. (Who needs a "reason" when you have confetti birthday cake?) Other flavors of the moment include maple waffle, bourbon chestnut, chocolate Earl Grey, and pistachio raspberry.
Baker Joshua Bellamy's wife's best friend was in Portugal when she stumbled upon one of the country's signature pastries—pastel de nata, or "custard tart"—and sent intel across the pond. Bellamy, one of three co-owners at Boulted Bread, started testing recipes and soon unrolled the petite treat on opening day in 2014. It's stayed on the bakery's weekend menu ever since. Traditionally, pastel de nata includes a crisp pastry shell filled with a rich custard and baked at a high heat until the top begins to brûlée. Boulted's rendition features its puff pastry—freshly milled einkorn flour and lots of cultured butter—with a bright, lemony, yolk-yellow custard. Each tart is finger-length, roughly two inches in diameter. "It's a perfect size to enjoy with a cup of coffee," Bellamy says. "You polish them both off and feel like a million bucks."
This article appeared in print with the headline "It's the Little Things."