Raised in Brazil, trained at the French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Center), and coached at some of the top pastry programs in NYC and London, Marina Halpern is bringing a depth of experience to Padoca (359 East 68th Street, 212-249-8085), her first solo concept, opening today. There, she’s offering a mix of baked goods with innovative twists on classic Brazilian and American pastries in a friendly environment.
Expect to see items like the black-and-white brownie, a playful spin on the NYC favorite, a rich and chewy brownie iced with chocolate and powdered sugar. Savory Brazilian empadinhas, similar to empanadas but with a lighter, flakier dough, will be prepared with an American twist, in flavors like mushroom as well as spinach and feta, along with more traditional fillings, including chicken and hearts of palm.
Padoca’s signature dish, though, is the time-honored pão de queijo, known as PDQ in the States: a gluten-free cheese bread made from yuca flour. Swirls are another mash-up — a riff on babkas, swirls look somewhat like cinnamon buns, and are filled with customary flavor pairings from Halpern’s homeland and the U.S., like chocolate and dulce de leche, peanut butter and jelly, and guava and cheese. “We call the guava and cheese Romeo and Juliet, because we think it’s the perfect combination in Brazil,” says Halpern.
The sweet treats are rounded out by a selection of more nutritionally dense items. Salads, sandwiches, and soups will be available, including a Tunisian tuna sandwich, red lentil soup, and Waldorf salad with fennel, apple, pomegranate seeds, and pecans with honey mustard vinaigrette. Breakfast pastries include healthier options like açaí bowls and an “Omega 3” carrot-apple-raisin-walnut-flaxseed breakfast bun.
As far back as culinary school, Halpern played around with combining French technique with renditions of simpler baked goods. She’d swap out buttercream for guava in recipes, because it felt more familiar. She created her own interpretations of her mother’s best recipes. Padoca offers a coconut cake based on one of her childhood favorites. “I always wanted to be connected to the food from my culture,” says Halpern. “I loved the technique, but I always played with things that are more approachable.”
Even the coffee is being sourced from her birthplace — the bakery will feature NobleTree Coffee prepared in the Modbar espresso system, a new machine that sits under the counter, so baristas aren’t blocked off from the customers.
That detail was important to Halpern. While she loves creating interesting pastries, a welcoming environment means just as much to her; it’s the reason she moved from the kitchen to front-of-the-house. She cooked at the Dutch and more recently the Mark, but she missed being around people — and sunlight. Knowing she wanted to eventually open her own bakery, a year and a half ago Halpern applied for a job at Gail’s Artisan Bakery in London, a small chain hailed for its great customer service, amazing product, and fun displays. She stayed for a year, learning everything she could along the way. Then she moved back to NYC to roll out her dream shop.
A nickname for an old-school, neighborhood corner bakery, Padoca aims to re-create the hospitality of Brazil on the Upper East Side. Halpern wanted to find a corner space that would cater to a mix of business and residential customers; when she found a storefront across from a hospital and a nearby playground, she knew she’d stumbled upon the right mix of professionals, families, and young people to fulfill her vision.
Now, pastry chef Rachel Binder runs the kitchen while Halpern works with customers and plays around with recipes. She hopes the shop will bring something new and exhilarating to her adoptive neighborhood. “I’m excited to change the coffee culture on the Upper East Side,” she says. “It’s exciting to come to a neighborhood where not all the trends are there, to be able to educate customers.”
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