Making art for hours on end, hunched over a table, forgetting time and ignoring the rumblings in my stomach, is all well and good, but a girl has got to eat. You are probably thinking vegetables, low fat dairy products, healthy snacks–that sort of thing. Think again. What I crave are pastries. And when I say pastries, I’m not referring to those bland “danish” concoctions that fill every tray in bakeries throughout New Jersey. What I seek in a pastry is nuance, cachet and the power to seduce me again and again.
This might come as a surprise to you: Good pastries are hard to find. Harder than rare books, travel agents, lost pets. I relocated internationally fourteen times; each time I scoured the area for the best bakeries. My craving for authentic pâtisseries comes from having grown up in Switzerland: Not only do the Swiss love their chocolate, but they are obsessed with pastries and highly competitive about who makes the best caraque, tartelette au citron, or baba au rhum.
My cousin, a culinary luminary, once took it upon himself to make–from scratch, mind you, even the marzipan–a multi-layer, marzipan coated Swedish Princess Cake for his future daughter-in-law, who is half Swedish. Even though everyone at the table agreed that the cake was superb, my cousin wasn’t happy with its presentation, which, he believed, took away from the cake itself.
The pastry maker, like the painter, relies on color and texture to entice his or her public. I make paper cutouts and I paint murals. Baking is not my forte, which is why I can admire the gift of baking and pastry making in others. Thankfully, there is a place in Morristown that caters to my whims: the aptly named Artist Baker (14-18 Cattano). What delights await the unsuspecting wanderer in search of good coffee! Hazelnut ginger cookies, lemon meringue hearts, triple berry scones, chocolate domes, fancy s’mores and pastel macarons. Go there mid-morning, when the freshly baked treats are brought in from the kitchen, exerting their magic by engaging all the senses. How different is that from an art exhibit? Visual artists do not, as a rule, eat their artwork, although I can see that being hailed as the latest trend amid disenchanted folks who have run out of ideas.
For those of you who share my passion for pastries, here is the name of another pastry shop that is well worth the detour: Cocoluxe, 161 Main Street in Peapack, NJ. I get a kick out of bringing European visitors–notoriously finicky about their pastries–to this unique café and watching their reaction as they gaze at the display case. My guests cannot believe that such exquisite pastries are to be found in Morris County. (By the way, try the elephant ears: they are to die for.)
Nobody is going to die at either place. But some people will think they have died and gone to heaven. Let them. Let them eat cake. Really.