A Piece of Cake at Sunnyside’s Sugar Room

Pastry chef Juan Arache is here to say that you, baking novice, can make an absolutely beautiful cake.

That’s because everything you could possibly need – from the materials to the techniques to handy tips and advice – is available at Sugar Room, his cake making and decorating supply store and school located in Sunnyside, Queens.

Arache has been a pastry chef for 25 years and has lived in Sunnyside for 22. He opened Sugar Room in 2002 and does not regret not locating his shop in Manhattan one bit. Business has always been steady, attracting professionals and novices from all over the Tri-State area. Now, in the current economic downturn, customers are opting to give home-baking a try, as opposed to spending hundreds of dollars on custom fondant cakes. Some are even looking to earn a little extra income making cakes for others or to pursue a new career track.

Let’s say you walk into Sugar Room with vague notions of creating a festive and colorful dessert for a 4-year-old boy’s birthday party.

If proper and professional-looking fondant is what you prefer, Sugar Room stocks pre-prepared, ready-to-use fondants in an array of colors. Additionally, you can get silicon molds of flowers, boarders and lettering – simply press the fondant into the molds and out come perfectly carved decoration to apply right to the cake. The staff will suggest the right baking pans and cake recipes for working with fondant to help you towards success.

Perhaps your youngster favors a particular cartoon character or action hero. What about a large cake piled with fun and exciting figures? Sugar Room has the basics – Elmo and Spiderman for sure – but they also cater to more sophisticated interests such as Star Wars, (the scene where Luke duels Darth Vader!), fishing, car racing and volcanoes, to name just a few.

Any cake can be flavored, painted and accessorized with an impressive selection of specialty additions. You can find 300 different sprinkles and sparkles; cake flavorings including eggnog, mango and vanilla butternut; food coloring in pastels and neon; delicious fillings and all sorts of icings in tubes. There are hundreds of shaped cookie cutters and artfully themed cupcakes sets, and for these smaller projects, tons of tiny adornments.

For those with more advanced skills, Sugar Room has cake stands, colors to spray or dust on, edible gold gilding, and all shapes and sizes of frosting bags and tips.

Now you’ve got the bug and decide to build your skills with a course or a class. Sugar Room offers a full program of cake and pastry techniques, designed to give you a solid foundation, whether you’re a novice or developing professionally. You can take a 9- or 20-week course to become fully versed in cake production, or you can focus on particular pieces such as Fondant Tiered Cakes, Royal Icing and Cake Flow, Modeling Paste, String Work, and Piping and Spatula, most of which consist of 2 to 3 classes.

Whatever your aspirations or needs, Sugar Room is an excellent and inspiring resource for those looking to bake something delightful.

Sugar Room, 44-21 Queens Blvd., Sunnyside, 46th St. stop on 7 Train, 718-707-2900

-Written by Anne Shisler-Hughes

Recipe: Simply Cool Watermelon Agua Fresca

Oh, yes, it’s hot. Hot all over the country. There are so many culinary tricks for staying cool and comfortable that have made their way to our Borough from the tropical cultures of the world, some of which seem completely illogical. Consuming punishingly spicy dishes. Drinking tea as hot as you can stand it. Our neighbor Mexico gives us an effectively soothing treat we can quickly get behind, a cold, fruity, icy beverage that never fails to cool off the body, agua fresca.

Squeezing fruit into flat or carbonated water, especially citrus – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit – is so refreshing. Why is that? Is it the hint of sour, the thought of those abundant juices? Agua fresca literally means “fresh water,” and it follows that same, basic principle, mixing fruit with water. I tend to use melons, either watermelon or canteloupe, but there are a million varieties out there. This is a recipe you can do after a long, warm day in the sun or after a long (unfair!) day at the desk.

Agua Fresca

Ingredients

4 cups watermelon, seeded and cubed

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup sugar (the traditional Mexican recipes ask for 1/2 cup of sugar; I don’t like any at all; use to taste)

mint

1 lime

ice

Serves 8 in highball size glasses with ice.

Purée the watermelon, water and sugar (if desired) in a blender.

Put lime slice and 3 leaves of mint in glass and muddle.

Add ice to the glass, pour in the agua fresca, and stir. Garnish with sprigs of mint and slices of lime.

Since we’re dealing with ice on hot days I like to prepare these one glass at a time, but you can also prepare the agua fresca all in one pitcher if you need to.

-Written by Anne Shisler-Hughes

Empire Market, a classic German butcher in College Point

Empire Market is a classic German butcher shop that has been in the College Point neighborhood of Queens for 91 years, owned and operated by the Lepine family, now in its fourth generation of business. The full array of classic German meats can be found here – sausages of every ilk, including frankfurters, bratwurst, cold cuts and kielbasa, as well as good ‘ole pork (ham, bacon, chops), beef and chicken. Empire’s frankfurters appear on “best hot dog in New York City” lists – it’s no surprise since their products are mostly made on-site and, where appropriate, with a smoker, which is rare anywhere these days. Empire is a lively, good-humored establishment with a loyal following of old-guard Germans looking for blood-and-tongue sausage, local home cooks seeking high quality meats, and kids picking up penny candy.

The butcher shop is a legitimate legacy of the neighborhood’s long German heritage. In 1853, with a license from Charles Goodyear, an industrious immigrant from Hamburg, Germany named Conrad Poppenhusen started a major rubber factory in College Point. He built railroads, established ferries, and for his employees, many of whom followed him from Hamburg, he made available educational opportunities and supported the country’s first free kindergarden. At one point, College Point had more bars and beer gardens per capita than anywhere in the country.

Empire Market is a grocery, not a deli, everything is wrapped up to go for preparation at home. The meats are all made without nitrates or other preservatives, and the bacon has been double-smoked, which means you can eat it as-is, if that’s your preference. The widely popular hot dogs and bacon come out of the smoker on Wednesdays, so the best supply is from then until the end of the week. Empire also stocks a selection of traditional German foods, such as sauerkraut, egg noodles, pickles, horseradish mustard and favorite cheeses – including tilsit, a classic that smells like dirty feet but tastes fantastic.

I picked up a container of sauerkraut along with bratwurst in order to make a long-enduring German recipe that’s easy and filling, Bratwurst with Sauerkraut, Apples, Onions and Carraway Seeds – here’s an excellent example of it at Epicurious. A tip from John Lepine: try rubbing the carraway seeds together firmly in your palm, it breaks them up gently through friction. This dish is delicious – especially with the Empire Market supplies – the sour flavor of the sauerkraut balances the sweetness of the apples, all settled in with the rich juices of the bratwurst.

It’s uncommon and inspiring to see a family that has stayed together, thriving, in business for so long. Mike and Pat Lepine, and their sons, John and Michael, continue to serve up hand-made, all-natural sausages using methods unchanged for decades. How lucky for us. Empire Market is worth a trip.

Empire Market, 14-26 College Point Boulevard, College Point, Queens, (718) 359-0209

-Written by Anne Shisler-Hughes