A Strawberry Jewel Set in Chocolate : Desserts: Maury Rubin at New York’s City Bakery makes creations that are simple and gracefully unfussy.

<i> Beranbaum is a cookbook author</i>

Maury Rubin’s cakes and tarts at his City Bakery in New York City look like no one else’s. They are gracefully unfussy, often whimsical works of minimalist art that allow the ingredients themselves to create the effect.

And they deliver what they promise: pure intriguing flavor and a luscious texture. Rubin uses only the finest ingredients: Valrhona chocolate, Glensfoot cream, organic flours, free-range eggs.

I have loved everything I have tasted at the City Bakery, but my two favorites (so far) are the passion fruit tartlets and the bittersweet and white chocolate strawberry tartlets.


Rubin says the tartlet was inspired by the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Rubin’s dot of raspberry jelly, for example, is not merely superimposed on the top of the passion cream; it is an integral part, magically penetrating to the bottom. The pale gold passion fruit cream surrounding the dot is flecked with gloriously flavored Tahitian vanilla bean seeds. When cut, the little raspberry dot flows artfully against the passion cream forming still another design.

The strawberry tartlet appears as a jewel contained in a bittersweet dark chocolate crust that is crisp, tender and buttery--the best chocolate pastry I have tasted. It is complemented by a perfectly smooth, gently sweetened white chocolate cream filling.

Just about any fruit would be delicious with this bittersweet tartlet but Rubin crowns his with tiny, perfectly shaped strawberries. Raspberries or cherries would also be a great substitute.

Although Rubin has the soul of a pastry chef, he is about as far as you can get from having always been one. Amazingly, up until four years ago he had never baked a cake--even from a mix.

In high school, Rubin played baseball and the drums. At the University of Maryland, he majored in communications and was a sports announcer on the campus radio station. He went on to become associate director of ABC sports for five years.

The bridge to pastry materialized with the offer of an apartment in Paris for a one-year sabbatical. Seduced by French cuisine, and French pastry in particular, Rubin took a course at the Confederation of French Pastry Chefs, a group of master pastry chefs formed to counter the proliferation of fast-food pastry in France.

At the course’s completion, he was apprenticed for several months to a small but excellent bakery in Paris, Rousseau-Seurre. When his American girlfriend came to visit, she told him not to come home without the recipe for the passion fruit filling. This is the basis for the tartlet that ultimately became his signature dessert.

After his return to America, Rubin worked in several New York bakeries and then spent the next three years in his apartment, developing and perfecting his repertoire before opening his bakery and small cafe seven months ago.

People often have the misconception that because pastry baking is such an exacting art, it is difficult to achieve good results. If this is true, it is often so only in the original conception and creation of the dessert. But most anyone willing to follow directions exactly can succeed brilliantly.

When I tried Rubin’s recipe for his wonderful chocolate pastry in my kitchen, it was identical to the one tasted in his bakery. It can be used to line many differently shaped molds and to contain many varieties of fillings.

The versatile bittersweet chocolate cookie dough can be used to line any shape tart or tartlet molds. It is a delicate, slightly sticky dough, but follow the instructions and it is all but foolproof.

Rubin’s recipe, which he calls two-day cream because the melted white chocolate and cream must be refrigerated for two days before beating, depends on a high butterfat cream that is not ultra-pasteurized to thicken properly.

This recipe, however, is very similar in character and will work with the more commonly available (unfortunately) ultra-pasteurized cream as well.


1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour, preferably unbleached

Unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch process)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 small egg, lightly beaten

White Chocolate Ganache

4 cups small strawberries, raspberries or fruit of choice

Allow butter to stand at room temperature about 15 minutes or until softened slightly but still cold. Sift together 1 cup flour and 2 tablespoons cocoa or process in food processor until cocoa has no lumps.

Cream butter in mixer bowl with powdered sugar until sugar disappears. Add egg and beat until mostly mixed in, about 30 seconds. On low speed, beat in 1/2 flour mixture until moistened. Beat in remaining flour mixture just until moistened but still in separate clumps.

Scrape dough onto plastic wrap and, using wrap, knead until dough holds together and is uniform in color. Press into flat disc and refrigerate 20 minutes.

Roll half of dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap until about 11x7 inches and 1/8-inch thick. Flip over from time to time while rolling, peel off plastic wrap and sprinkle dough well on both sides with remaining 3 tablespoons flour sifted with 3 tablespoons cocoa to keep dough from sticking. If dough sticks, place on baking sheet and refrigerate until firm enough to peel off plastic wrap. When rolled, repeat with remaining half of dough.

Cut out 8 (5 1/2-inch) circles of dough. Place 1 dough circle evenly onto 4-inch flan ring without stretching and shape bottom to ring. Press dough against sides of ring, patching if any break occurs. Use small sharp knife to trim excess level with ring. Repeat with remaining dough and tartlet shells, rerolling scraps.

Cover dough-filled rings with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to overnight before baking.

Cut out 8 (5 1/2-inch) circles of foil. Line each tartlet with foil and fill each with pennies or aluminum pie weights. Bake tartlets at 375 degrees 10 minutes. Lift out foil with weights and continue baking until dough is soft and dry to touch and starts to come away from sides of rings, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Place baking sheet on rack. After 5 minutes, lift off flan rings. Use pancake turner to lift each tartlet from baking sheet onto rack until completely cool.

Evenly spread 1/3 cup White Chocolate Ganache in each tartlet. Place berries on top in decorative pattern. Use pancake turner to lift tartlets onto serving platter. If day is cool, leave tartlets at room temperature, otherwise refrigerate, uncovered, until shortly before serving time. (Covering tightly will soften pastry.) Makes 8 (4-inch) tartlets.

White Chocolate Ganache

6 ounces white chocolate containing cocoa butter, such as Lindt’s confectionery bar

2 cups whipping cream

Refrigerate mixing bowl and beater at least 15 minutes. Melt chocolate with 1/2 cup whipping cream in double boiler. Or microwave on HIGH (100% power), stirring every 10 seconds. Remove from heat before chocolate is fully melted, then stir until completely melted. Set aside until no longer warm.

Beat remaining whipping cream in chilled bowl until traces of beater marks just begin to show distinctly. Add white chocolate mixture and beat just until stiff peaks form when beater is raised. Store in airtight container 1 day at room temperature, 3 days refrigerated, 2 months frozen.