The Early Word: Chinatown Cake Club

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The Chinatown Cake Club's first menu

Normally, the Early Word visits brick and mortar establishments whose whereabouts and opening hours are accessible to the general public. But at a time when it seems that every other baker or wannabe baker is attempting to recreate more or less the same formula (cute + cupcakes x publicity machine = viable business) and so-called underground supper clubs try to outdo each other with butchery skills and sous vide acrobatics, the recent creation of the Chinatown Cake Club seemed to offer something new and intriguingly original to the city's dessert landscape. So Fork in the Road decided to check it out.

The creation of Victoria Howe, a pastry chef at the Macao Trading Company, the CCC is a monthly gathering held in Howe's Chinatown apartment. After Grub Street ran a piece on the club earlier this month, Howe was deluged with e-mails from some 400 would-be members eager to sample a bountiful array of sweets for the bargain admission price of $10.

The CCC took its maiden voyage yesterday evening, a few days after Howe sent out her first official invites. As Howe iced cakes in her kitchen, guests assembled to eat them and drink green tea and coffee. The printed menu featured ten different pastries, many of which were inflected with Asian ingredients such as matcha, taro, and pandan leaf. There was not a cupcake to be found among them.

Fork in the Road sampled four: a green tea Mont Blanc (matcha genoise cake with roasted chestnut mousse), chocolate peanut butter macarons, campfire cake (ginger pound cake layered with whipped milk chocolate ganache and covered with marshmallow fondant), and the chocolate sex cake, which featured a "threeway" of salted milk chocolate shortbread, dark chocolate mousse, and semisweet chocolate ganache.

Although Howe was slightly hampered by the heat in her apartment, which compromised the durability of some of her ingredients, her flavors were true and inspired. The chocolate sex cake was freed from the chocolate orgasm ghetto by its crunchy shortbread base and sweet-salty accents, which provided a bright, vibrant foil to the deep lull of the chocolate mousse. The campfire cake was a similarly spirited creation; if anything can improve fondant's justly maligned reputation, it's Howe's marshmallow fondant, which is pliant, surprisingly creamy, and actually tastes like marshmallows.

The chocolate peanut butter macarons and green tea Mont Blanc were also delicious, if not quite as memorable as the cakes, which were served in mercifully small slices to promote thorough sampling. Altogether, Howe's pastries -- none of which, it should be mentioned, were too sweet -- announced the arrival of one of the city's best new bakeries, private, public, or otherwise. Although it looks like Howe will continue to operate out of her apartment for the foreseeable future, with any luck her work will one day be available for a wider audience, in a brick and mortar location open every day, to everyone.



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