Karen DeMasco trained under dessert legend Claudia Fleming at Gramercy Tavern and later ran Locanda Verde’s pastry department; in between, she made her name and established her homey yet slyly sophisticated seasonal style at Craft. But a couple years back, she abandoned the grueling pace of restaurant kitchens to spend more time at home with her young daughters.
When Hearth chef-owner (and fellow Craft alum) Marco Canora called her up a while ago to ask if she knew of any good pastry chefs he could hire, DeMasco thought about it for a second, then said, “Well, what about me?” — which, given her superstar status in the pastry world, is a little like a retired Michael Jordan saying to the Chicago Bulls in 1995, “Hey, how about giving me another shot?”
Now, DeMasco is making her own hours, which means dropping her kids off at school, working during the day while the restaurant’s closed, then having the garde manger prep desserts at night. Even though her sweets sound familiar — apple cider doughnuts, maple panna cotta, and her signature cinnamon rolls at brunch — DeMasco is taking a fresh approach, one that meshes with Canora’s newfound unprocessed, nutrient-dense philosophy. For the first time, she’s working almost exclusively with local grains, grass-fed dairy, and alternative sweeteners, and milling her own flour. “It’s been educational for me,” she says. “The milled flours add so much texture and flavor.” She’s become such a fan, she got a home-kitchen mill for Christmas.
DeMasco’s toffee date cake embodies Hearth’s new dessert direction: sweet but not too, drizzled but not drowned in sauce, with poached pear and crème fraîche for acidity and tang.
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On the menu at Hearth; $12; 403 E. 12th St., at First Ave.; 646-602-1300
*A version of this article appears in the January 9, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.