Volume 76, Number 45 | April 4 - 10, 2007

Villager photo by Geoff Smith

Jim G. and Kathy G. with a plate of their coveted Truffle Buttons.

Rich cookies come in small packages

By Nicole Davis

“One of the most amazing chocolate items I’ve ever tasted is… a crisp cookie filled with ganache and covered with fine dark chocolate.” So began Susan Leelike’s preface to the Truffle Button, a cookie she sent to The Villager’s office in late February for the express purpose of letting us sample “this tasty delight.” (Actually, four tasty delights, which were devoured quickly.) That Leelike is a fan of these Mallomar-sized confections, and not a hired press agent, says a lot about the East Village bakery responsible for her addiction.

Called Something Sweet, the tiny bakery on the corner of First Ave. and E. 11th St. was originally called the Black Forest Bakery. For 20 years, it was run by a German-Swiss man named Peter, who sold the business in 1998 to his right-hand woman, Kathy G., a native of Poland with feathery gray hair, a sturdy build and an almost impenetrable modesty. She has lived within walking distance of the store for 40 years, but prefers to keep her apartment address, like her last name, discreet.

Kathy is more forthcoming on the Truffle Button, a miniature version of a cookie called the Othello that Peter used to bake. The Othello, in turn, was a variation on the Sarah Bernhardt, a cookie with a macaroon base, chocolate mousse filling, and a dark chocolate coating created years ago by a Danish pastry chef in homage to the storied actress. Peter — “actually his name was Dieter, but nobody can pronounce it correctly,” says Kathy — replaced the lighter mousse filling with the heavier chocolate cream ganache, and supersized the cookie to a whopping three inches round.

Now half that size, the Truffle Button still takes a long time to make. The macaroon base is baked first and left to cool while the ultra-rich ganache is prepared. As it chills, the semi-sweet chocolate is melted. The ganache is then spooned into the macaroon’s center, the cookie hand-dipped in the chocolate and refrigerated again before it appears in the case alongside other one-of-a-kind sweets like the Banana Cookie (a graham cracker topped with chocolate cream filling and a banana slice, all dipped in chocolate) or the Apricot Sandwich Cookie, a Kathy G. original. From start to finish, each Truffle Button batch takes three hours. (“It’s a hassle,” Kathy admits.) But the cookies, which cost a dollar apiece, are also immensely popular: they fly out of the store at a rate of 100 to 200 a day.

“We just shrank it to something you could eat and not O.D. on,” says Kathy’s son Jim G., who began working in the bakery after burning out in the finance industry. It took a year for him to realize the full implications of his career change: “I used to have weekends off! I was able to go out once in a while!” And yet, Jim insists, “This is more fun. I get to talk people, [and I get to] know a lot of people from the neighborhood. And when they come in a day or two later and say thanks for that cake, it was the hit of the party — that’s why you do this. It’s the biggest reason.”

Their customers bestow more than a simple thanks. One patron, artist Julie Moss, painted a portrait of Kathy that hangs on the wall facing the register. Behind it are paintings of Something Sweet cupcakes by Morena Sãenz and prints donated from the nearby antique store Magic Fingers. The mother-son team gets exotic tchotchkes too, like a miniature tea set from Japan, a vase from Morocco and a plaque bearing the patron saint of Czechoslovakia.

On a typical visit, you might hear Jim, the extrovert of the two, holding court on Bush’s misguided policies in Iraq or assuring a weight-conscious customer that his cookies are actually made from celery, and therefore contain negative calories (not true!). In between, a regular may offer Kathy Easter eggs dipped in onion-skin dye and imprinted with the silhouette of fresh herbs. And if you are a reporter writing about her bakery, Kathy will likely insist on sending you off with a box of goodies free of charge, despite much protesting.

“This is food,” says Jim, and for him and his mother, “food is sharing.”

Something Sweet is located at 177 First Ave. (212-533-9986; dessertpastry.com).

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