I moved to New York City with a list in my pocket. And on that list were the collected wisdoms of family, friends, and bloggers who had been to New York at one time or another and had deemed these the essential bakeries of New York, the spots I had to visit, the baked goods I had to taste. In order to cull that list to a manageable length, I made a pact with myself that I would only visit one new bakery each month. This way, I could savor my experiences and thoroughly assess them.
I now present to you the first seven months of my bakery adventures, with accompanying analyses and ratings:
September. Magnolia Bakery: Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting. How fitting that Magnolia Bakery turned out to be my first stop in September; it’s one of the most famous bakeries in New York and has satellite shops around the world. I visited the original and it did not disappoint. First, the size of the cupcake was ideal, neither too small to satisfy nor too large to induce a stomachache. Second, the appearance (with a small sugared flower on top) was cute but absolutely no frills, indicating that this dessert was all about the flavor. An appropriate ratio of frosting to cupcake (2:3 in my opinion) and an appropriate balance of sweet vanilla and buttery rich chocolate took this cupcake into the ranks of deliciousness. ★★★★
October. Momofuku Milk Bar: Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookie. If you’re unfamiliar with the hype around this cookie, do yourself a favor and quickly google for the recipe (and hundreds of blogger renditions). It’s an unexpected treat. Like the Magnolia cupcake, this one came in distinctively non-showy packaging. In fact, I was quite skeptical when I ordered my much-anticipated cookie only to find that it came in plastic wrapping like a grocery store purchase. Still, I sat outside in the October sun and bit down into glory. So many flavors and textures going on here: cold chocolate chips, salty and crispy cornflakes, chewy cooked marshmallow and soft surrounding cookie. I polished this off in a manner of minutes. No sharing. Gold stars all the way. ★★★★★
November. Sarabeth’s Bakery in Chelsea Market: Currant Scone (not pictured). And this is where my bakery quest became questionable. On the day I stumbled across this bakery, I hadn’t worked up a particularly large appetite, so I thought I’d branch out and try a petite and bare scone from the pastry case. While sufficiently buttery, I was quite disappointed by the lack of flavor or sweetness. I think it would’ve been much better with jam but a tiny jar of that would’ve set me back $4.50 so I didn’t try it. Frankly, this scone was dry and bag news all around. ★★
December. Pain d’Avignon: Pain au Chocolat. This bakery is truly off the beaten path and I’m almost hesitant to share its hidden location with you. However, my experience was too enjoyable not to. You can find Pan D’Avignon inside the Essex Street Market (please go there). They do most of their business wholesaling to restaurant, but they also run this tiny market stand where they sell bread and a few French pastries. On the recommendation of someone I trust more than almost anyone else when it comes to New York food, I tasted the Pan au Chocolate, which she described as “the perfect balance between crispy outside and buttery, layered interior.” She was right. I think I might’ve liked a bit more chocolate, but other than that, this croissant was flawless. ★★★★
January. Hungarian Pastry Shop: Strawberry Upside Down Cake. I messed up on this one, but since this shop is across the street from my office, I daresay I’ll have the chance to redeem myself in the coming months. The problem is, I went to the Hungarian pastry shop and didn’t order something Hungarian, or even Eastern European at all. The treat I did order was too dry, and had far too much cake in proportion to strawberry jam topping. With Purim still on my mind, I think I’ll go back to the Pastry Shop for what’s sure to be a much more satisfying hamantaschen cookie. ★★★
February. Robicelli’s: S’Mores Cupcake. I trekked an hour and a half for this one, to Bay Ridge, which is practically at the bottom of Brooklyn. On a Saturday afternoon with nothing else to do, it was completely worth it. The bakery is a shiny storefront on a street full of car dealerships and repair shops and the food inside shines too! Robicelli’s welcomes with its pastry-case chockfull of twenty or so different types of baked goods, and its equally welcoming owner. I had a hard time choosing my treat and I almost picked two things, but I’m glad I didn’t because this cupcake filled me up. I wish I could remember all the s’mores ingredients inside it—I think there must’ve been graham cracker flour and marshmallows somewhere in there, but all I know is that everything came together into a sweet, rich package. A thick swirl of vanilla frosting, an intense chocolatey cake—these are cupcakes I would order for a birthday party in a heartbeat. ★★★★
March. Levain Bakery: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookie (not pictured). I had high high hopes for Levain. Although it’s right on my side of town, I put off going for the longest time, heightening my excitement. When I arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon, there was a line out the door, but it moved fairly fast and once I was inside the tiny store, I got a look at the cookies. First red flag: No chocolate chip. I think they must be trying to make some sort of a statement here, but I can’t abide by a cookie store that doesn’t sell chocolate chip. They bake several variations on the chocolate chip cookie, including double chocolate and walnut chocolate chip (which we all know is never a substitute for the non-nut variety), and I settled for one of those, but the lack of chocolate chip cookie was a huge turn-off. The second turn-off was the price tag. $4 for a cookie? C’mon. I know this is New York, but that price point shouldn’t be allowed to fly anywhere. Nonetheless, I came for a cookie and I got one. Once I recovered from my disappointment about the flavors and price tag, we were in the clear. The cookie was out of this world. It must’ve been an inch tall, more a round ball of crispy-on-the-outside-and-soft-on-the-inside dough than a flat cookie. Massive, chock full of peanut butter chips and warm out of the oven, it was a shining glory of a dessert. I ate it for dinner. However, I don’t think I’ll be coming back any time soon for the aforementioned reasons. ★★★
So that’s the first half of my bakery quest. More to come in the next few months. Let me know if you have recommendations for NYC bakeries, please.