Off the Canvas and Onto the Plate: Painter Will Cotton Takes the Cake

The polemical subject matter in Will Cotton‘s paintings — sugar-whipped fantasies of pink confections and barely-dressed nymphs — comes to life this month at Partners & Spade boutique on New York’s Great Jones Street. The curio shop, a destination for those in search of old microphones, painted arrows, limited-edition watches and other modish ephemera, is hosting Cotton and his merry band of bakers for a three-weekend bake sale. No naked ladies in sight, as far as we could tell, but the artist himself was in attendance yesterday, directing operations in a gingham shirt and W-emblazoned apron.

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(L) The bakeshop at work, via Contemporary Confections. (R) Detail of the vanilla/pink peppercorn macaroons, courtesy of Spade & Partners.

The 44-year-old is repped by gallerist/guru Mary Boone and was trained as a painter in France, which helps to explain his love of pastry à la française and Rococo stylings. In reference to his deceptively “sweet” tableaux, Cotton has said, “Sweet represents everything I want to paint about: the pure, the fragrant, the desirable and the dream of complete indulgence in a perfect world. But sweetness taken to an extreme degree, as it is in my pictures, becomes cloying, even repulsive and that’s where it gets interesting for me.

Visitors to the Partners & Spade Nolita shop on November 15 and 22 can purchase a piece of art history magic, as Cotton’s frothy, indulgent sweets exhibit a pedigree hearkening back to Fragonard, Broc, and the vanitas genre of painting. Prices are on par with mass retailer Dean and Deluca ($2.50 for each macaroon, $5 for a slice of carrot cake), not bad considering Cotton was tutored by none other than Philippe Andrieu of the legendary Ladurée in Paris.

Cotton further explains to The Daily Beast, “The difference between visiting my bakery and any other is essentially curatorial. It’s not just a random selection of sweets, it’s a collection of smells and tastes that have been important to me in my work, and have informed a lot of the imagery.”

Update: For a longer-lasting Cotton souvenir, hit up the Creative Time Slumber Party at the Ace Hotel on Wednesday, November 18, when the artist launches his line of limited-edition pajamas. (We’ll let you guess what material they’re fabricated from.) Tickets for the fundraiser available here.

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Below, a recipe for Will Cotton’s lemon macaroons, which we can assure you are scrumptious. Other goodies include salted caramel, toasted pecan, licorice and vanilla pink peppercorn macaroons, plus mini chocolate-raspberry cakes, French almond tarts and his grandmother’s caramel-icing cupcakes.

Parisian-Style Lemon Macaroons, adapted from Will Cotton*

For the lemon-curd filling:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup superfine sugar
3 large eggs, beaten Zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 2 lemons

For the macaroons:
1 cup almond flour
1 1⁄4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
3⁄4 cup superfine sugar
10 drops yellow food coloring

1. Prepare the lemon curd: Melt the butter in a double boiler over low heat. Gradually whisk in the remaining ingredients. Continue to whisk until curd is thick enough to hold the whisk’s marks, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and cool in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 320 degrees. Place one cookie sheet on top of another and line the top sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. Sift together the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl. In a mixing bowl fitted with a whisk, whip 2 of the egg whites and salt to stiff peaks.

3. Combine the superfine sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir over medium heat and from time to time brush the edges with hot water using a pastry brush. When the syrup reaches 241 degrees or the “soft ball” stage on a candy thermometer, whisk the syrup into the stiff egg whites in a thin steady stream. Continue whisking until the meringue forms soft peaks.

4. Using a fork, work the remaining egg white into the almond flour-sugar mixture to make a smooth wet paste. Stir a quarter of the meringue into the almond paste to moisten, then gently fold in the remaining meringue and the food coloring. Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip, pipe 1 1⁄4-inch rounds on the cookie sheet. Gently tap the pan on the work surface to settle the meringue peaks. Let stand until a skin forms, about 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Bake with the door slightly ajar for 12 minutes; rotate the pan then bake for another 12 minutes. When cool, sandwich two macaroons together with a dollop of lemon curd. Let stand in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. Makes 35 to 40 macaroons.

*We can almost guarantee you won’t be able to recreate the crunchy yet soft outer layers of the macaroon or Ladurée’s signature flavors concentrated into that gooey center. (French pastry = tough! Just ask Sabrina.) Though we’re certainly willing to judge your best efforts from our office downtown.