If strolling down sunny boutique-lined streets and nibbling on sweet-tart raspberry macarons, a flakey pain au chocolate, and (why not, you only live once!) a caramel-glazed Richelieu that tastes even more indulgent than it sounds, is your idea of a dream spring getaway, your ticket to heaven may be more closer than you think. And definitely more wallet-friendly.
La Renaissance Pâtisserie Française on Harwood Court, arguably the most photogenic street in Scarsdale, is capable of transporting its guests to a continent far, far away. Not only does the bakery cloak itself in a convincing approximation of what every traditional patisserie Francaise looks like – row upon row of Marie Antoinette-worthy mousses, pastries, cakes and confections; a back-drop of baguettes in a wooden case; an atmosphere of bustling no-nonsense efficiency – its products are consistently superior... and sometimes sublime.
“The staff of pastry chefs is trained in classical French techniques,” David Shore, the owner of La Renaissance said. “We also use the best local butter and cream we can from farms in Vermont and Pennsylvania. Whenever we can use organic, seasonal ingredients, we do – it just produces a better product.”
A more expensive one too – though the prices on the menu don’t reflect that.
“Our prices have been the same for about four years,” despite spiking food costs, Shore said. “Everyone’s on a tighter budget these days. Even though the economy is loosening up a bit and we’ve definitely seen more foot traffic, we can’t just double the price of our croissants. A lot of customers in Westchester have been coming to La Renaissance for about 25 years – their loyalty means everything to us, and we try to earn it with our commitment to customer service.”
The staff of eight plus a handful of part-timers, the organic high-grade dairy ingredients, the time-consuming traditional preparation techniques and the individualized orders all combine to create the perfect recipe for a full-fledged royal French feast.
And La Renaissance offers more than just sweet treats – it churns out a wide-ranging variety of savory items as well, some of which are available in the shop for take-away.
“Our savory items are doing very well right now. Our pissaladieres and quiche are particularly popular,” Shore said. (“Pissaladiere” sounds like an impossibly chichi dish fit only for a Proust-toting, Dom Perignon-quaffing, Hermes Birkin Bag-clutching Lady Who Lunches, but really, it’s just a fancy version of French white pizza with a buttery crust.)
“About 40 percent of our business is generated from catering,” Shore continued. “The customer’s word is king, so if someone wants six dozen mini double-chocolate cupcakes, we’ll happily make them.”
The bakery also offers hors d’ oeuvres by the dozen, like mini vol-au-vent (puff pastry filled with wild mushrooms) for $20, larger stationary items for six people, like poached salmon mousse loaf served with sauce verte for $30 and single entrees like stuffed breast of chicken with wild mushrooms and tarragon sauce for $16.
Oh, and about those cupcakes? La Renaissance is well aware of the nationwide obsession with the compact sugar and buttercream bombs no one can get enough of – and Shore is happy to indulge our sweet tooth. But he’s also hoping that customers will also give his favorite palm-sized delicacy, the macaron, a shot.
Shore may have picked an auspicious time to focus on the confection; it seems the newly trendy treats are primed for the limelight in 2011. The recipe was born centuries ago in Italy and polished to perfection in France by a group of monks. Since the 16th century, the macaron -- reputedly modeled on the shape of belly buttons -- has been France's tea cake of choice.
About the size of an Oreo, the double-decker treat comes in a rainbow of colors and flavors, and the texture of their “decks” resembles a rich meringue and is comprised of ground almonds, sugar and egg whites. The middle is soft and creamy, and can involve anything from a fruit puree to dark chocolate ganache. (The truly recherché have been known to sandwich delicacies like foie gras or white truffle crème inside).
With macarons being featured on the big screen, in blogs and books and even appearing on the shelves of Starbucks and Whole Foods, the chic bite-size treat seems destined for Prime Time.
Shore is more than happy to do his part in ushering in the Age of the Macaron.
“We participated in Macaron Day this year,” Shore enthused. “I want more people to give the macaron a try, so I decided to participate. The deal is, anyone who comes in and explains that they’re here for Macaron Day, receives one free cookie. If they decide to try more, a portion of the proceeds are donated to City Harvest.”
While Macaron Day officially occurred on March 20, there’s no reason every day can’t be a macaron day. La Renaissance offers a variety of flavors, depending on seasonality and availability. Some of Shore’s favories are chocolate, lemon, pistachio, vanilla and raspberry.
La Renaissance Pâtisserie Française is located at 9 Harwood Court in Scarsdale. The phone number is (914) 472-0702, and the website is www.lrbakery.com. The store is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. La Renaissance Pâtisserie Française is closed on Mondays.