Dessert du Jour’s Chocolate Babka, Caramel Butter Cake Bars, and Other New Creations Make Great Christmas Gifts You’ll Want to Give (and Receive)December 24, 2017
Famed for her light-as-air gâteau de crepes, salted caramel torte, and other divine desserts that have won over food industry insiders in the past decade, Mara de la Rama-Poblete of Dessert du Jour ranks high as one of the city’s best-known home bakers. Already ten years in business (or more, as Dessert du Jour goes all the way back in 2001, though initially only on the sidelines, before officially going full throttle in 2007), the home-based baking venture continues to churn out new creations—classics in the making that make for great gifts or as welcome additions to the dessert table for the holidays and beyond.
De la Rama-Poblete has been baking since she was eight years old, upon the encourage of her mom (“[she] would ask my sister and I to bake something new for dessert,” she relays). This would instill a love of baking so fervent that, after graduating from college, de la Rama-Poblete headed to New York to pursue further studies in culinary arts (rather than pastry arts, as advised by her mom) at the French Culinary Institute (now called the International Culinary Center). In the seven years of time she had spent in the Big Apple, she worked as catering and special events manager at no less than Dean & Deluca—an experience which she says opened her world in many ways. “With regards to baking, it made me really strive to adhere to their belief: simple, made with the best ingredients and packaged and presented well,” she shares. And this is reflected in her current philosophy: of making simple, classic desserts that do not go out of style. “I only offer something I know I can make well,” she tells us. “My product list is not extensive for that exact reason.”
The crepe cakes, of course, are still stellar as ever, with her versions always juggling layer upon layer of thin, delicate crepes and barely-sweet but wonderfully-whippy cream in a number of flavors. De la Rama-Poblete offers a new variant featuring an ingredient very well still a dessert flavor du jour, Malted Milk—and the resulting gâteau shines in its subtle way of delivering the nostalgia-inducing synthesis of chocolate tempered by the nuttiness of malt. Equally enticing are the Caramel Butter Cake Bars, which she had learned to make from a French pastry chef she had taken classes with. Each “brick” is comprised by a complex combination of caramel butter cake, hand-churned caramel butter, and pain de gênes (an almond paste-based type of cake) enrobed in thin shell of milk chocolate studded with chopped nuts, and with a whimsical-looking squiggle of milk chocolate whipped cream to top it off. It’s a seemingly long list of components, but one which harmonizes most wonderfully into a creamy, buttery whole more than just a sum of its parts.
This holiday season, de la Rama-Poblete brings back one of her seasonal bestsellers (which go way back to 2008), the Belgian Brownie Bites: two-bite “morsels” of deep, dark, mini muffin-shaped brownies. By no means a kiddie treat, her take on the classic stands out not only for the potent punch of Belgian chocolate—burly and complex with undertones of smokiness—packed in every (seemingly small) piece; but also for their melt-in-your-mouth consistency that strikes us as a cross between chocolate truffles and soufflé with a slightly molten core. And for a stunning dessert on the holiday table, Mara dishes out her version of a classic Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, which happens to be among the first desserts she learned to make (“using my mom’s old red Betty Crocker cookbook,” she shares). Though kitschy in its usual state, Mara’s version is especially decadent, with golden pineapple rings that gleam like Christmas parol that light the city this time of year, its edges just slightly wrinkled from caramelized sugar; and with a cake base of an especially moist crumb and a consistency so dense and buttery it almost feels like a rich pudding.
The last ten years have been great. I enjoyed a good amount of success. I built a brand from a ‘home kitchen’. But I also learned that sometimes, you just have to draw the line. You can’t please everyone and that is okay. You can’t always be on top. And great success comes with having great people. And I am lucky to have such loyal and hard-working staff.”
Most stunning however (and a favorite among our team) is de la Rama-Poblete’s Chocolate Babka: a yeasted cake of Eastern European Jewish origin which came into fashion in New York (where Mara herself got to try it—”it was love at first taste,” she shares) in the recent years. Think of a rich, buttery bread base somewhat in between a brioche and a pound cake, carrying the former’s yeasty complexity and the latter’s dense-but-tender crumb—with thick, gooey swirls of chocolate that give bittersweet depth in every bite. A slice or two, plain or toasted (“with a smear of European butter,” Mara suggests), makes for a decadent breakfast or dessert—but try having it cooked up into French toast for an especially deadly Christmas morning treat.
Dessert du Jour by Mara de la Rama-Poblete
A home-based baking venture specializing in crepe cakes and other classic desserts done well.