The First Noël…Bûche

If you have ever been to France, you know how compelling a pâtisserie case can be. Each treat looks like a jewel – beautifully presented and lovingly prepared for the ultimate taste experience. The good news is you don’t have to go abroad this Christmas to enjoy a few delicate pastries. Toot Sweet Pastry Shoppe has arrived in Hampton.Here, the case is filled with stacks of French macarons – a Parisian delicacy, plus French almond cookies, flaky fruit tartlets, éclairs and a variety of other tempting desserts. Gelatos, teas and coffee are also served in the tiny 360-square-foot space.Behind the operation is Chef Ron Bouchard at Chez Boucher Culinary Arts Training Center. He had long eyed the small train signal station near his school for a sweet shop and recently asked Leander Krulis to make it her own. Now as executive pastry chef, Krulis fills the case with a variety of French pastries and cookies, but earlier this year she rolled up her sleeves, cleaned out the space and painted the interior in a pink and black theme. The signature treat, a black and pink macaron, highlights the case.This French cookie is not the American macaroon with coconut and sweetened-condensed milk, but two delicate layers of meringue with almond, sandwiched together with raspberry buttercream. Krulis says, “The trick is to get the outside crispy and the inside chewy with a creamy layer in between. Proper preparation takes two days, as the meringue needs to dry before the filling is piped in.” She offers the cookie in a rainbow of colors and a variety of flavors including peppermint, pistachio, lemon, coffee, chocolate and raspberry. Krulis claims this is the only place to find them in southeast New Hampshire.Executive Pastry Chef Leander Krulis is only 24 years old, but she already has a world of experience Ñ with sweets. After formal training at the French Culinary Institute of New York, she interned as a pastry chef at Oceana and the prestigious Jean Georges, both in Manhattan. She went on to help reopen the Russian Tea Room with mentor, Pastry Chef David Carmichael, whom she had met at Oceana.The NYC opportunities offered her insight into very fine food experiences and the occasion to rub shoulders with celebrities. She helped design a 10-layer chocolate cake for Katie Couric’s going-away party at NBC studios in Rockefeller Center. How nerve racking was that? “All went well until the sun hit the backside of the cake and a giant cardinal form took a swan dive into a pool of chocolate, splattering everyone in sight. By then the cameras were off, so all was well,” recalls Krulis. Sometime later, Matt Lauer also earned a spectacular cake from her, but after three years in the city, Krulis felt it was time for a change. “I had a good run,” she says, “I was getting homesick.”Home was now in Portsmouth, where her parents had finally settled after traveling the country in the service. Krulis landed a job as pastry chef at The Dunaway, just as Executive Chef Mary Dumont was leaving. With the restaurant in a bit of turmoil, Krulis didn’t stay long. David Carmichael had set her up with an apprenticeship in France, so she left one golden opportunity for a platinum one.Krulis spent three months in the summer of 2007 living and working at Pâtisserie Canet in Nice. During the day she worked beside the pastry chef and in the evening she lived above the shop with the family. They didn’t speak much English, so communication was done mostly with hand signals. But it was their gestures toward food and family that impressed her most. “We wouldn’t eat until everyone was home and sitting at the table Ñ and sometimes that was quite late.”“I had learned French technique in school, loved working in restaurants, but it all came together in the pâtisserie – I knew what I really wanted to do,” says Krulis. Now, in addition to running Toot Sweet and baking the sweets, Krulis plans on occasionally getting back to teaching pastry arts at Chez Boucher Culinary Arts Training Center.What is different about French sweets? Krulis says, “Well, they don’t just have cake; it is a petite cake with many layers and many additions to the layers.” It’s worth the trip alone for her sublime French flour-less almond cookie with a layer of almond meringue, a thin layer of buttercream and a chocolate base.Tips for Cake Making from Chef KrulisWhen beating butter and sugar together have both at room temperature. Keep beating until the mixture is a very light yellow – it really can’t be over-mixed. Use the proper flour – cake flour has less gluten and makes a tender cake. If you don’t have cake flour you can use pastry flour with a portion of cornstarch. The starch coats the protein in the flour, so it doesn’t get activated and toughen the flour.GingersnapsApproximately 4 dozen cookies3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
additional coarse sugar or sparkling crystal sugar for rollingIn the mixer fit with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently.Add the eggs and vanilla. Add the molasses slowly to avoid separating the mixture. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix just to combine. Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and chill until firm. Using a scoop, divide the dough into equal portions. Roll the dough into balls. Dredge the balls in sugar. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes. They will spread, the sugar crust will crack and the cookies will begin to crisp around the edges but remain chewy in the center