Niagara Falls has that one wonder everyone knows about, but here’s a lesser wonder that has so far evaded common notice.
The old downtown outlet mall that’s a couple of blocks from Niagara Falls State Park, isn’t moldering any more. It’s been turned into a culinary school, among other things. The Niagara Falls Culinary Institute runs the fine-dining restaurant Savor and a bakery called La Patisserie, where students work, overseen by professionals.
Those establishments are not only open to the public, but encourage neighbors to visit. If you aren’t sure whether to stop by for a peek, let this convince you: La Patisserie offers a 4-inch salted caramel tart, one of the most popular pastries in its case, for $3.
“Sometimes we do something different with it, like put ganache on it, but we always have the salted caramel tart,” said Kara Weber, La Patisserie’s staff pastry chef.
Her shop serves students, but not a lot of city residents. “We get tourists, and residents who have business meetings down here,” Weber said. “But a lot of people don’t realize we’re here.”
The bake shop is open daily during the semester. After Christmas, it’s open six days a week, closed Sundays. Visitors can park in the ramp and have their ticket validated inside.
The salted caramel tart is a star of a lineup that includes cookies, cupcakes, croissants and breakfast sandwiches, all under $4.50. It starts with a buttery chocolate short dough that’s pressed into tart tins and baked with pie weights inside, so they don’t bubble up.
Then it’s time to make the caramel.
“It’s a stove-top caramel, so you’re putting in brown sugar, water, heavy cream and boiling it till it reaches 260 degrees, which gives you a soft but cuttable caramel,” said Weber. “You can bite into it and it won’t ooze everywhere, but it’s not a rock.”
One of the lessons it teaches the students is that the longer you cook caramel, the harder it gets, Weber noted. “We do a caramel filling for our truffles that we cook a little less; we want it to ooze when you bit into it.”
At the end, cooks add butter and salt – specifically large grained sea salt called fleur de sel – before pouring the caramel into the shells, and letting them harden in the fridge. “We sprinkle it with extra salt as a garnish, and that’s it,” said Weber. “That extra salt makes the caramel stand out.”
People love caramel, she noted, and the best-selling tart has “the perfect texture, not too hard or too soft.”
Not to mention it’s a reasonably priced treat for one sweet tooth – or two. “Lots of people do split it in half and share it, actually,” she said. “It’s a very rich dessert.”
OUT TO EAT
La Patisserie, Niagara Falls Culinary Institute
28 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls (210-2525)