Every other week, sweets fanatics and lovers of (most) things baked, Pastry Cases, i.e. Charlotte Druckman and Gabriella Gershenson (of Every Day with Rachael Ray), share a favorite baked good, chocolate, ice cream scoop, or other delectable delight worth the sugar high—and the trek. In this week's edition, the sugar freaks go to Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, a wholesale and mail order baking outfit and master of refined classics that sells goodies at The High Line Hotel.
[The bakery's founder, Umber Ahmad frosts her Devil In Ganache cake. All photos by Paul Crispin Quitoriano]
Gabriella Gershenson: I am cramming chocolate into my face in anticipation of this chat. I know I'll need it.
Charlotte Druckman: You will need chocolate, although, I'd guess yours isn't dark.
GG: Nope. Bucking the trend with milk chocolate over here.
CD: Me, I love it dark, and it's, in part, what lead me to Mah-Ze-Dahr.
GG: You took me to the farthest western reaches, the very windiest reaches of the island of Manhattan to a wholesale operation!
CD: We shivered while we waited for Umber Ahmad to emerge from the 'wichcraft kitchens, where she bakes. Her business, as the sign says, is a TOM COLICCHIO DISCOVERY.
GG: Hmm...like, Mommy, I discovered my bellybutton?
CD: Or, Mommy, I discovered cake!
GG: Much more important than bellybuttons. But, what does that mean? Like, he puts his financial and brand muscle behind a venture he believes in? That's how I understood it. So yes, Mah-Ze-Dahr is a wholesale business, but don't hate us, readers. We're not going to wag delicious chocolatey food in your faces that you ultimately can't get. It can be had through their website or Williams Sonoma, and at Intelligentsia Coffee.
CD: Yes. I fell in love with the baked goods at the Intelligentsia cart at The High Line Hotel. As noted when we started this little chat, I love chocolate, specifically dark chocolate. And I love baked goods that make good use of that ingredient and showcase it. I tried Umber's Double Short, which is a chocolate loaf cake that has a "double short" shot (of espresso) in it. It's DARK and it has a split personality—the crust is crunchy, but as you go towards the center of the cake, it has a more pudding-like (as in, a steamed pudding, almost like batter) consistency.
GG: It's nearly flourless; it's the kind of cake you want to serve with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.
[Made with buttermilk, the devil's food chocolate cake gets enrobed in ganache.]
CD: The other chocolate item I tasted that day was her brownie. It has a crunchiness, too, in the crust, and then discs of chocolate baked inside have a duller, chewier crunch that adds another textural contrast. And there's salt in there to bring that darkness out.
GG: When we showed up at the wholesale kitchen they had almost their entire repertoire laid out, freshly baked, waiting for us. It must have been two-dozen different things. I felt like I wanted to die by the time I was halfway through but I kept eating.
CD: Umber takes the things that remind you of childhood or what you've had at home and makes them better than they need to be without messing with what they should be.
GG: I was pretty smitten with her devil's food cake with chocolate ganache frosting, which was wet and creamy, not tacky and overly rich, because it was cut with whipped cream.
CD: You were! The Devil in Ganache Cake. I am stealing her frosting trick. She also lets the cake batter sit for 36 hours.
GG: I truly believe it's what Duncan Hines wants to be. And what I want Duncan Hines to be. The cake was moist and dark. It almost glittered. It was American and sweet, but balanced at the same time. It's the kind of cake I want to mainline. When you take a bite it seems to go directly into your bloodstream.
[Dried cherry cream scones (left) and dark chocolate brownies at Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery in Manhattan.]
CD: Whereas I am here wishing for another slice of the double short or the brownie with their salty darkness. I loved how you inadvertently housed the cherry cream scone and then realized what you'd done, and that we still had so much left to taste.
GG: Because it was delicious, and because each bite had a little something different in store—one bite was crusty, one salty, one chewy and sweet, one browned, one tender and moist. This ties into the bakery's name.
CD: Yes. According to Umber, who was born in Pakistan but grew up in the Midwest, it's an Urdu phrase (mazedar) that describes a certain magic or essence. I called it emotional umami. You guys looked at me funny.
[Check out the impasto-like swoops of ganache frosting, which contains a secret ingredient--whipped cream.]
GG: It's like a je ne sais quoi, or, yes, emotional umami, if you will.
CD: "Emotional umami," I'm TM-ing this immediately!
GG: It's a universal idea. But she gave her business an Urdu name, and yet she's making very Western sweets. I was intrigued by this choice (and by intrigued I mean perplexed).
CD: She's a branding pro who specializes in bringing Western brands to the Middle East. She launched Mah-Ze-Dahr two years ago as a side project. So, choosing a word that might appeal to a Middle Eastern market for her own company makes sense; maybe she's thinking bigger than we are and she wants to take this baking concept overseas?
GG: The pastry was, indeed, exemplary in many cases. I found a lot of it very '80s Silver Palate/Dean & Deluca-ish, in a good way. There is something casual yet opulent about her desserts. She seems to innovate in quiet ways, like in the subtleties that you described in the brownie. But, it was hard to connect to a place without a storefront.
CD: She is looking for a storefront. It was eerie—we were there on a Sunday and it was just Umber and her co-chef/partner Shelly Acuna in this vast industrial kitchen space.
[Hand pies filled with three types of citrus.]
GG: And the ghosts of 'wichcrafts past.
CD: We had the scones to keep us warm…and the hand pies with the macerated Cara Cara and blood oranges and lemon!
GG: The dough was killer; everything pie dough should be. It was damn near perfect—flakey, tender, BUTTERY. I came to Mah-Ze-Dahr freezing cold but left fortified against the 11th Avenue wind, a stuffed-to-the-gills dough girl.
Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, available at Intelligentsia, 180 10th Ave., New York, NY. Order online at mahzedahrbakery.com.