Morgan Larsson returns the favor with a luscious dessert – a Swedish Princess Cake fit for a Tsar.
The Russian Tea Room evokes images of lavish imperial days with its grand emerald green, red, and gold interior. Occupying four floors in a brownstone on 57th Street, the restaurant has for the past eighty years added splendor and beauty to the Big Apple. First opened in 1926 by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet as a place for Russian expats to gather by the samovar, the Russian Tea Room has remained an important New York landmark. Here one could rub elbows with elegant émigrés like Stravinsky and Balanchine, and the posh interior also acted as a backdrop in famous films like “Tootsie”, “Manhattan” and “The Turning Point”. If you dined here in the late 1970’s, the Material Girl herself (aka Madonna) probably took care of your coat in the coat check. In spite of the Russian Tea Room’s ups-and-downs – it hasn’t received stellar reviews since it re-opened in 2006 – the place still reeks of class. We're not the New York Times but our own anonymous visit not only offered superb food but the meticulous attentive service you'd expect from one of New York's true landmark restaurants.
“It’s a treat to come here and work,” says Pastry Chef Morgan Larsson, “because it’s always festive. Today people expect a different kind of cuisine - more modern - and that’s not what we’re about. The food here is still old-fashioned and heavy; that’s simply the way it is. I don’t know if you can really do much about that.”
This is Larsson’s second turn at The Russian Tea Room. He was here some years ago, and has also worked as Executive Pastry Chef at Windows on the World and Aquavit. Not a bad résumé. It all began in the small city of Sölvesborg in southern Sweden, where Larsson’s father had a bakery. Baking, he says, is in his blood.
“I had to help out before school and after school. At first it wasn’t much fun, but it grew on me and now it’s a passion. I love my job!”
In 1989 Larsson left Sweden for Los Angeles and eventually settled with his wife in New York—a place he considers paramount when it comes to getting ideas for whipping up tasty treats.
“Just walking down the streets here gives me inspiration. I also like to go out and eat and try different things – New York’s perfect for that.”
But it is a traditional Swedish cake – the Princess cake – that Larsson offers Nordic Reach. This beloved cake, a beautiful creation covered in green marzipan and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar, makes most Swedes sigh with blissful memories. Why does Larsson think it’s so popular?
“I think it’s a reminder of childhood birthday parties, of our childhood in Sweden in general. And of course, it’s just very good! I used the recipe to make a version of it for a wedding cake just the other week – only I used pink marzipan instead.”
Pastry making is first and foremost a French specialty, explains Larsson. He, too, learned from the French, by studying at the acclaimed Valrhona École du Grand Chocolat in Tain l’Hermitage. There’s one advantage Swedes and Danes have over the French, however, and that’s the knack for making Danish pastries.
“It’s an old tradition we have,” Larsson explains. “And we’re the best when it comes to rolling out puff pastry - nobody can beat us on that!”
Making Danish pastries requires patience and subtlety as it involves rolling, buttering, folding and chilling the dough a number of times in order to create the flaky, buttery pastry. Larsson has also created some Blue Cheese Danishes for us.
“We serve Cheese Danishes for brunch at the Russian Tea Room, and they’re perfect for having in the morning. This cheese filling works particularly well.”
Fresh Cheese Danishes and a Princess Cake - now how’s that for an Imperial treat?
Text: Eva Stenskär
Photorgaphy: Nikolaj Alsterdal
For more info, see www.russiantearoomnyc.com
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