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Entries in nyc (39)

Thursday
Apr142011

Sweet Discovery: Pastries at Locanda Verde, NYC

It's high time that we discuss the exquisite joy that is pastry-eating at Locanda Verde in NYC.

I've been excited to visit this place for a long time, for three main reasons:

  1. My customer-turned buddy too, Kelly Fink, works there as a baker.

  2. A few visits ago, Ed Levine of Serious Eats said that their sweets could not be missed. You listen to a guy like this.

  3. They have homemade pastries. Really, while #1 and #2 sweeten the deal, #3 alone would have brought me to this place.

yes, looking this good DOES hurt sometimes.So. After arriving in a mild-hurricane state (I had a train to catch, to visit another bakery, in 20 minutes, natch), I was able to quickly give Kelly a hug and nab a cinnamon sugar doughnut and an espresso chocolate scone. Basically, then I had to run.

But that was not the end of my Locanda Verde nirvana.

First, the scone. Dense, biscuity, and extremely moist, it was studded with little landmines of warm, lightly gooey bittersweet chocolate and nibbly little bits of espresso—all topped with a crunchy sugar coating. It was—because other words escaped me while eating it on the subway on my way to Grand Central—very, very good.

Next, the doughnut.

Doughnut lasted all the way to 125th street on Metro North, but had a sweet and rapid demise as the train hurtled in the northerly direction. With a crispy exterior dusted with sandy sugar-and-cinnamon, the crust gave way to a soft, cakey treasure inside—an old-fashioned style doughnut with a rich, moist crumb and a full flavor that tasted something like heaven with a cafe au lait.

And then I napped the rest of the way to my stop, because while I was headed to Pleasantville, it kind of felt like I was already there.

CakeSpy Note: I should note, of course, that this is not a bakery--it is a restaurant--but during the day they do have a takeaway bakery counter. 

Locanda Verde, 377 Greenwich Street, NYC; locandaverdenyc.com.

Locanda Verde on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Feb012011

Have a Ball: Birthday Cake Truffles by Momofuku Milk Bar 

Cake Gumshoe Leandra kind of rules. Not only is she the grande dame of NYC doughnuts, having tasted just about everything on the menu at Doughnut Plant and having tempted us all with her account of the very wonderful Peter Pan Donuts, but now, she's shared a very sweet find: Birthday Cake Truffles by Momofuku Milk Bar.

As Leandra puts it, 

Since they stopped selling slices of their cakes, they made up for it by creating "truffles" out of them. Balls of sugary dense cakey wonder packed with rainbow goodness.

Now, I don't want to speak in grand generalizations, but basically, if the very thought of these doesn't make your toes curl with happiness, then you're probably a fairly joyless person.

Of course, if cake truffles aren't your thing, you probably know that you should try their cookies. As Leandra puts it,

Also, their cookies are out of control! My favorite? the chocolate chip cornflake marshmallow. WOW.

Of course, she included a picture to illustrate the "WOW".Want more? Learn more about Momofuku Milk Bar here; read more of Leandra's delicious adventures on her site, Snacks in the City.

Thursday
Jan062011

Cake Byte: Cake Pops by Stick & Pop, NYC

Cake Pop Wants to know where its face went.Dear Stick&Pop,

I don't want to be to forward, because I just met you, but I think I love you. But no, I don't want to break up my marriage. Because you see, Mr. CakeSpy loves you too.

What we propose is that you leave NYC and move to Seattle, live in our spare bedroom, and instead of paying rent, give us an endless supply of your delicious cake pops.

Please, consider it.

Love, 

CakeSpy&Co.

- - - - - - - -

OK, so the preceding is a slight dramatization of actual events. We haven't invited the owners of Stick & Pop to live with us--yet.

But after each bite of their delicious pops, we're coming closer and closer. Not convinced? Well, read their bio and you might come a few steps closer:

French Culinary Institute graduate, Jacki Caponigro, and design professional, Christy Nyberg, launched Stick&Pop in New York in the Fall of this year. The pair has crafted a menu of 12 delightfully creative flavors that are as fun to look at as they are enjoyable to eat.

The eye-catching flavor, Darling (marble cake dipped in white chocolate and covered in sugar sprinkles), made a splash as The Savoy Hotel re-opened in New York—the treats were covered in gold and silver sprinkles to announce the occasion.

The diversity of flavors on the menu though, show that Stick&Pop is not relying on the novelty of a new “food-on-a-stick” but instead putting flavor and creativity at the helm. Johnny Cakes, for example, is peanut butter cake dipped in dark chocolate covered in pretzel and sea-salt and Griswald is essentially a S’more on a stick.

These cake pops are hands down some of the best I've ever tasted. The interior cake is decadently moist and buttery, and the candy coating is firm but not to the point of cracking and hurting the roof of your mouth--and each is so adorably decorated that you can't help but fall in love a little bit, just looking at the packaging.

Favorites so far? The "Darling" (marble cake, rolled in white chocolate and coated in sprinkles); the "Birthday Cake" (buttery cake coated in dark chocolate, with sprinkles); and of course, the "Johnnycake" (peanut butter cake coated in dark chocolate, with pretzel coating).

Seriously, I don't know what else to say other than these pops are a good investment. Lucky you if you live in NYC and can access them easily; even if you're not, they're worth the splurge for a special event.

Find out more at stickandpop.com.

Wednesday
Nov172010

Pastry Half Marathon: An Epic Chronicle of Visiting All The Bakeries on Broadway in Manhattan

It's true: a few weeks ago when I was in NYC, I performed an incredible feat of cakespying: I walked the entire Manhattan length of Broadway (about 13 miles, in case you were wondering), and visited every single bakery.

Why Broadway? Well, first of all, it's a street that everyone recognizes. Whether it evokes visions of the great white way, a corridor to Wall Street, or dreams of Zabar's, it will ring a bell with everyone. Also, it's a very long road--it runs the entire length of Manhattan (and beyond that, nearly to Canada!) and I knew that I was guaranteed to hit a variety of different neighborhoods and therefore styles of baked goods. It had been an idea I'd been kicking around since discussing it with Leslie (author of Let Me Eat Cake ) a while ago, and it seemed like the right time.

What about all the other great bakeries just off Broadway? For the purposes of this trip, I did not foray much off of Broadway. Not because I was disinterested in the fantastic bakeries off of Broadway, but in fact because there are just so many great ones in NYC! To make it a project I could complete in one day, I stuck to Broadway. Well, OK, with one or two stops to the side.

Why do this? Not just to burn off the calories from the massive amounts of sugar and butter consumed (although that aspect certainly didn't hurt)--as something of a pastry flâneur, I really wanted to take a bakery tour around the world, and this seemed like such an interesting way to do it in one day.

Did you eat something from every bakery? No, I did not. I did however go to every bakery, and I bought things from many of them--some I ate, some I shared. But in all cases, I made notes about items that seemed unique or interesting to chronicle my journey.

Did you really visit every single bakery? It's possible that I missed a bakery or seven; one thing about Broadway that I hadn't actively considered is that for a large chunk of it there is a partition down the middle, and sight lines were blocked sometimes. However, I did visit every bakery or seller of baked goods that I saw.

When possible I made a note of what side of the street the establishment was on. Also, you'd be surprised at how many "dead zones" there are, bakery-wise, on Broadway. For instance, from the bottom of the Upper West side through Times Square, there really aren't many bakeries aside from chains; Broadway is a high-rent street though, so this is not to say that there weren't many bakeries along side streets where I traveled.

OK, with that business out of the way...are you  ready to take a very sweet journey with me? Here's a roundup of how the day went down.

4:15 a.m. Wake-up time. The day starts in Belmar, NJ, where I'd spent a few days with my family. I put on my walking shoes, and my mom gave me a ride to the train station (dear sweet mom drove slightly out of her way to the 24 hour Dunkin' Donuts so I could get a coffee).

5:06 a.m. The train departs for Penn Station. Probably carb-o-loading before a day of pastry is not such an awesome idea, but I was hungry, so I ate half a slice of colossal crumb cake which I had picked up the day before. Fact: colossal crumb cake makes you feel unstoppable. By the time I reached Penn Station, I was ready to walk a half marathon and a half.

7:30 a.m. Arrival at Penn Station, and a transfer to the A train, where I ride it uptown to the last stop in Manhattan, 215th Street. I walk up to the uppermost tip of Broadway, right before the bridge over to the Bronx.

And on 220th Street, Tour de Pastry Begins. Here are my notes from the journey, heading south:

218th Street, left side: First bakery sighting: Twin Donut Plus. I didn't stop here because I have tried their donuts in the past; they're pretty good, if not world-changing. 

214th Street: Carrot Top Pastries! This full-service bakery was catering to the breakfast crowd when I came in. It felt kind of like a hidden uptown treasure, with a case full of carbohydratey treats at very affordable prices. Interesting: the staff appeared to be mostly hispanic, but the baked goods were incredibly varied, with Italian and Jewish specialties along with American favorites--one of the things I love about New York. I asked the employee what she liked best, and she suggested the chocolate rugelach. Sold! 

207th Street: First Dunkin' Donuts sighting! (I was wondering when I'd have it)

206th Street: Sad sight: a Halloween candy massacre.

204th Street: Not sweet, but of interest: if you walk by, you'll be treated to a view of the Dyckman House, built in 1784 and now a museum--a sort of monument to early Manhattan. Very cool!

190th Street, Left side: La Dona Carmen Bakery Cafe. Most people were bustling in for a cafe con leche, but I scored a butter cookie for like, 60 cents. Le yum!

186th Street: Another Dunkin' Donuts sighting--this time, connected to a gas station. Don't worry, I marked DD sightings for a while, but stopped at a certain point south when it lost its novelty.

179th Street, right side: Another Twin Donut Plus sighting. Interesting history from their site: 

Twin Donut is a coffee and donut retailer that was founded in Boston, Massachusetts by George Psathas in 1959. Twin Donut has been licensing franchises as of 1960 and has locations all over the Tri-State area. Our founder, George Psathas, was employed by Dunkin’ Donuts of Quinzy, Massachusetts from 1951-1958. During that time, he rose from Store Manager to Division Supervisor. From 1960-1963, he was Division Supervisor for the Mr. Donut company. He then left Mr. Donut to develop Twin Donut, Inc.

168th Street: First Starbucks sighting. Pretty impressive that there are over 50 blocks of Broadway devoid of a Starbucks in Manhattan!

Observation: Around here I notice Cohen's Gentle Dental. I may need you later, Cohen.

167th Street: I spy a fellow carrying a Carrot Top Pastries bag! I give him a knowing nod, because clearly he must be doing a pastry half-marathon too. We are sympatico! He doesn't give me much of a reaction.

164th Street: another Carrot Top Pastries location. OK, so they have another location, which probably explains why I saw someone carrying a bag a few blocks away, and also why he ignored my knowing nod. Feel sheepish for approximately five seconds, but then walk into the bakery. This one is larger, and seems to have a larger cupcake presence. 

Also: in case you can't read the note under "Bakery", it says: "All customers illegally parked - Please give us your order, we will bring it to your car. Traffic officers will give you a TICKET! Thank you". Now that's service!

161st Street: Estrella's Bakery Corp. This bakery has sweet and savory, and what really caught my eye were the Dominican-meets-Italian offerings in the cake case, which included fruit tarts, tiramisu, and pineapple cake co-existing in a sort of pastry melting pot of deliciousness.

160th Street: Another Dunkin' Donuts between 160th and 161st Streets. Oh, I may not have mentioned it earlier, but this is on their menu now:

158th Street: A pretty building caught my eye down the street at 611 West 158th Street. Learn more about it here.

153rd Street: Sweet Hereafter...the Trinity Church Cemetery. No, it's not a bakery, but I had to share how interesting I thought it was that they referred to themselves as "an active cemetery".

148th Street: Another Dunkin' Donuts.

146th Street: I see a young girl pushing a stroller who appears to have forgotten to wear a skirt on top of her tights. If for a single moment you think that maybe this was a sexy look, I assure you, it was not.

144th Street, left side: Compres Bakery Corp. This tiny bakery specialized in what looked to me to be Dominican baked goods--I picked up a macaroon-type sweet, which I believe they called a "coquito". The counter lady didn't speak much english, and I don't speak too much Spanish, but we connected over pastry--she pointed at it and said "yummy". Total cross-culture pastry moment! As for the cake: I think it had a pineapple glaze on top, but it could have been another type of fruit.

140th Street: Tanteo Dulce. How darling was this place? It was teeny-tiny, but full of a well-curated selection of baked goods, including cheesecakes, bread pudding with cream sauce, mini palmiers, and more. Because I must have been on a coconut kick, I picked up a couple of coconut macaroons. Theirs were nice and toasty, just how I like them.

136th Street: Panaderia Las Americas. What struck me here was the great selection of guava cakes--I picked one up. The cake was very light, but the frosting very creamy.

123rd Street, right side: Chokolat Patisserie. Located close to the point at which the subway emerges from underground, this is an unexpected but welcome spot for a bakery. Chocolat is very small but has a great variety of baked goods, including cheesecakes, gluten-free macaroons, and cakes--and at very low prices. I picked up a few of their Red Velvet cupcakes ($1.35 each!), one of which I shared later on with the Serious Eats crew. They served their cupcakes chilled, which is actually a bonus for me, but I know is not always preferred.

120th Street: Happy dance! 100 block mark!

118th Street: Spotted--a cakesplosion! Oh noes!

114th Street: Mondel Chocolates. Alas, they were set to open at 11 and it was well before, so I skipped this spot.

113th Street, right side: Nussbaum & Wu. A deli with a tricked-out bakery case, this place is popular with Columbia students, but truth be told I've always just found it to be good-not-great.

112th Street, left side: Just a shout-out to Tom's Diner, which you may recognize as the diner facade from Seinfeld and from the Suzanne Vega song.

Foray off Broadway to 111th Street and Amsterdam: OK, I made a brief foray off of Broadway because I simply had to visit the Hungarian Pastry Shop. I used to live right down the street, and it's always like taking a walk down memory lane. Plus, how many bakeries offer you a view of a huge gothic cathedral?

111th Street, right side: Samad Deli. This isn't a bakery, but they do carry a wholesale brand of crumb cake that I like. So there you go.

107th street, left side: Absolute Bagels. Once again, not a bakery, but some of this spy's favorite bagels in the city. And I'm not alone in my good taste: they have a review from Ed Levine on the wall too.

105th Street, left side: Silver Moon Bakery. This place is magical, offering breads, pastries, and chocolates. Cake Gumshoe Katie and I have shared many a swoon in regard to this place. Sadly, the jerk in front of me in line picked up the last Pan de muerto (not shaped like Frida Kahlo), so I drowned my sorrows in one of their delicate--but decadent--chocolate truffle petits fours. It helped. Note: it was here that I had my first macaron (parisian-style) of the journey.

104th Street, left side: First Hot & Crusty sighting. This is a local chain that has pretty good baked goods (if not great)--but one thing to note about them is that they are often open very late, and this is a very good quality in a bakery, in my opinion.

101st Street: Dunkin' Donuts! I feel like I might have missed logging a few.

97th Street: Another Dunkin' Donuts! Hello again.

93rd Street: EuroPan. Another kind of deli-bakery chain (you'll see them in the train stations, etc) that you'll see around town.

92nd Street, left side: Rita's Water Ice! I always get excited about seeing this chain because it used to be much smaller, with only a few locations (happily, some were by the shore in NJ where I grew up). It tastes like the boardwalk to me.

91st Street: Le Pain Quotidien. This international chain may have a lot of locations, but I always find their quality to be very good, and each location seems to have its own character. Favorite baked good: these doughnut things filled with cream.

89th Street, left side: Dunkin' Donuts. Hello, friend. Again.

89th Street, right side: The Gary Null health food store. I stop in to see if they have cookies. They do. This makes me happy. Oh, and I have to tell you, I once ran into Alec Baldwin here. For realz!

88th Street, right side: Hot & Crusty.

87th Street, right side: Godiva Chocolates. I will say, I love their hot chocolate.

80th Street, right side: Zabar's. Like, OMG. I could spend all day at Zabar's for a variety of different reasons, but the first thing that I always go for is the all-butter crumb cake with big, fat brown sugar crumbs.

78th Street, right side: EuroPan, again.

76th Street, right side: Beard Papa, where you can get cream puffs filled to order. They have locations elsewhere now too. Also, observation at their neighbor, Lush: the display is pastry-themed. Yea!

75th Street, right side: Citarella. This fancy grocery store mainly has baked goods from other bakeries, but they have a well-chosen case of goodies, including rugelach, rainbow cookies, marble cake, and more.

74th Street, right side: Fairway. If, at some point in my life, I were ever posed the question "what grocery store would you like to live in?" this would certainly be the one. It's stacked high with everything, and they have a bakery case full of goodies. Some of the items definitely look better than they taste, but the one thing that I consistently love is the lightly sweet and incredibly carbohydratey Sweet Potato Biscuits. Related: here's a recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits.

Observation: you'd be a fool if you didn't stop and admire the Ansonia for just a moment. Not only the setting for Single White Female as well as a building with an interesting history, it also kind of resembles a big ol' wedding cake.

72nd Street: Just off Broadway, you'll find Grandaisy Bakery, where they make lovely sandwich cookies (and lovely everything, if you ask me).

Brief foray off Broadway: I was intrigued by the prospect of Royale Pastry, which apparently served as the inspiration for the Babka episode of Seinfeld. I found the address online, but what did I see when I got to 237 West 72nd Street? Worse than simply a closed bakery, I found this:

Nooooo!

70th Street, left side: A gelato place. Confession: I don't get that excited about gelato. There, I said it.

63rd Street, left side: Breadsoul Cafe. I have always loved this place.

61st Street, right side: Melissa's Deli: it's a deli, but they have the kind of crumb cake I like. Observation: when I go to a deli in NYC, I think that I classify them in two ways: the kinds that have the type of crumb cake I like (made by some wholesaler, available in three flavors: plain, rasberry, and chocolate, and comes in plastic wrap), and the kinds that just have the pre-packaged, Drake's type.

59th Street (Columbus Circle): A veritable sweets-fest at the Time Warner center, which boasts an epic Whole Foods (always a good spot, in my opinion, for decent baked-on-site goods). I love Whole Foods when I visit a city where I don't have much time, because often they have a variety of baked goods from several good local bakeries, so I can scope them all out at once. 

Of course, if you're at THIS Whole Foods, my best advice is to get out and get up the escalator, because upstairs you'll find Bouchon Bakery, home of the homemade Ho-Ho, the TKO, and so many other decadent treats.

57th Street: PAX Wholesome Foods. A lunch spot, but they have these reese's bar cookies that you'll find at various delis around the city that I have a soft spot for. Who IS that wholesaler?

55th Street: Cognac. This restaurant has a small adjoining bakery, and it is here I picked up the mini Tropezienne, a cream-filled cake. After one bite I decided it was too good not to share, so I picked up a second which I later gifted to my buddy of Blondie & Brownie fame.

52nd Street: Another deli with the kind of crumb cake I like. Hooray!

48th Street: We're hitting Times Square, where around here you see the M+M store on your left, the Hershey Store on your right. Look at the signs and power through, because there will be more baked goods soon.

44th Street: A moment of confusion. Around this part of Times Square several streets cross each other, and I'm not sure if I am still technically on Broadway at the moment, but I do see a Carvel ice cream that has cannolis in the window. Yes!

42nd Street: Gaze to the left and look at 4 Times Square for a moment. Did you know that I have a deep wish for my artwork to appear in The New Yorker one day?

38th Street: Back on Broadway for sure. Harrie Cafe and Bakery (really a deli) on the right, and they have the type of crumb cake I like.

37th Street: Crumbs. I stop at this one and pick up a Grasshopper cupcake.  Later, when I go to the Serious Eats offices, Ed Levine makes no secret of his distaste for Crumbs. My thoughts? They're not my favorite cupcakes in the city, but they're not the worst, either. Oddly, Mr. Spy and I really enjoyed a cupcake from their Los Angeles location, and I felt that it tasted better than the ones I had tasted in NYC. 

Other interesting observation at Crumbs: they had black and white cookies in TWO styles: with fondant icing, and with a buttercream frosting. I found this fascinating, because although I believe that the fondant style is more traditional, I've always preferred the taste of the lesser-found buttercream-frosted ones.

My friend James got to eat aforementioned cupcake, and he was very pleased.

Brief Foray off Broadway: At this point, I walk over to the Serious Eats offices near FIT, where I always love to visit the staff and tell Ed Levine that he's basically my hero.

Several awesome things happened at Serious Eats, including: a cranberry sauce taste-test, I got total validation on my morning eating habits, and I got to share some of my booty from the long walk so far with the totally sweet crew there. Serious Eats, you always leave me inspired!

25th Street, right side: Hill Country Fried Chicken. You heard me. A Fried chicken place. But I didn't even notice that right away: looking in the window, the first thing I saw was PIE. They had it in a variety of flavors, even offering Pie Shakes (!), which you know I love. 

I chose the "Cowboy Pie" (pictured at top of post), which was kind of like a magic cookie bar in pie form (not all that different from this pie I made for Serious Eats). It was absolutely brilliant. This place, just opened in September, is a treasure for pie-lovers, and I was delighted to see it receive accolades in the New York Times!

24th Street: You're close enough to Shake Shack to call it Broadway--good.

20th Street: Lucky find, the Van Leeuwen truck was parked here today!

Union Square: The Greenmarket, where you'll always find a great variety of sweet treats. 

13th Street: Max Brenner. A mecca for chocolate lovers, this place is a full experience, if you're into chocolate being delivered via syringe, and chocolate sandwiches, and stuff.

8th Street: There's this deli that has a lot of the same barcookies that PAX has right here. They're open late.

Great Jones Street: Au Bon Pain. I love this place. I know that they're a chain, but I like their crumb cake and cookies a lot.

Funny aside: Around Houston Street, a mother and her daughter ask me where the Hollister store is. Now, you may not know how I dress, but I wouldn't classify it as tres fashionable, so I have no idea where this store is. "Do you know the cross street?" I ask. "It's on Broadway", they respond. "Well," I say, "Broadway is a very long street." Trust me.

Prince Street: Dean & Deluca. Once again, a mix of on-site items and a great selection from local bakeries like Doughnut Plant and Sage American Bakery. You'll generally pay a little more here, but hey, SoHo is a high-rent neighborhood.

Observation: SoHo seems to be a bit of a stopping point for bakeries on broadway--it seems like from this point on, it's mainly lunch places or delis that happen to have baked goods (which makes sense, because this area is mainly home to offices, with residences off on side streets which would also be home to the bakeries).

Grand Street, left side: L'ecole, the restaurant of the French Culinary Institute. I didn't go in, but with a dessert menu boasting things such as "Calvados Baba with Chestnut Ice Cream", "Pumpkin Souffle with Eggnog Sauce", and "Pear Tarte Tatin with Chartreuse Ice Cream", it's worth a mention.

Worth Street (just off): Farinella, which has a handful of sweets but is primarily a pizza place.

Cortland Street: Pret a Manger, that charming chain from Europe. Observed at this location: A guy eating a hunk of carrot cake in the style that one would eat an apple, out of his hand. I silently applaud you, guy eating carrot cake like an apple.

At this point, it's about 6:00 p.m., and offices are closing and commuters are on the street. Sadly, the final stretch of Broadway is underwhelming when it comes to bakery offerings (a Starbucks here, a deli there), but quite overwhelming when it comes to lovely architecture. 

And then, all of a sudden, there it is: 1 Broadway.

By the time I reach Bowling Green, the sun is setting and the park is clearing out as commuters get on the ferry and park-dwellers are beginning to leave for warmer places.

Overall observations? By the end of this journey, I was tired. Like, really tired. But I was also kind of feeling no pain, such was the surge of accomplishment I felt at the end of the journey. Sitting for a moment at Bowling Green on a bench by the southernmost tip of Manhattan, I observed the Statue of Liberty and reflected on it as a symbol for the United States as one of hope, freedom, and the ability for all sorts of cultures to be -- and to bake -- whatever they want to be. I felt like during the course of the day, not only had I experienced some wonderful pastries, architecture, and people watching--but almost as if I'd had a mini world tour. 

So, ultimately after my 13+ mile pastry half marathon, I felt something even better than runner's high: a supreme, and complete, sugar high. So much, in fact, that I somehow managed to stay up all night with James watching horror movies (Zombies of Mass Destruction and Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror, in case you were wondering) instead of doing the smart thing and sleeping, a lot, before my 5 a.m. flight back to Seattle.

Of course, my feet kind of hurt the next day.

Note: for more pictures, I will be making an album on my Flickr page, check back in a few days! If I missed your favorite Broadway bakery, send me a line or leave a comment!

Monday
Nov152010

Sweet Tart: A Bakery Crush on Three Tarts, NYC

Right now we really, really need to talk about how much I adore Three Tarts, a little gift and confectionery shop in NYC's Chelsea neighborhood.

Now, you know it's got to be special to stand out, especially in such a star-studded neighborhood which is also home to the Chelsea Market, Billy's Bakery, and La Bergamote.

What sets Three Tarts apart is that it's not completely a bakery--it's more a gift/treasure store that happens to have a lovely little bakery case. And the tiny sweets are indeed big-time treats. Why don't I tell you about some of the treats I've enjoyed there?

How about...a homemade marshmallow? SpyMom and I have sampled the raspberry ones, and let me tell you that I'm not even a big marshmallow fan, but these are evidence that when something is executed well enough, it can make you a believer.

Of course, if you like your marshmallows a little more tricked-out, you might enjoy something like the reverse s'more, a chocolate-covered marshmallow and graham cracker confection (pictured top). Le yum!

If marshmallows aren't your thing though, you might like what they call a "yumball". You probably already like it based on the name, but it gets even better when you bite into it: these are basically fancy cake truffles, small but intensely flavorful and decadent. My favorite? The Vanilla-Lemon, "Vanilla and lemon cake mixed with cream of coconut and Malibu rum, rolled in white chocolate and shredded coconut". Oh, yes.

Another treat worth noting? The cookies. I picked up an "Annie" cookie last time I visited, and this meltaway-type cookie was redolent of butter, beautifully crumbly, and made me regret not having bought a second one.

Happiest of all, even if you're not in NYC, Three Tarts does ship their goodies--you can shop online here. But seriously--next time you're in the city, you must visit, because it really is such a happy and sweet shop!

Three Tarts on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Jul242010

CakeSpy Undercover: Doughnut Plant, NYC

You know that dream where you walk into a bakery and order one of everything? Well, Cake Gumshoe Leandra may not have quite lived that dream, but she must have come pretty close on a recent series of extensive taste-testing visits to NYC's Doughnut Plant, which she was kind enough to share with us (oh, all of the great photos are by her, as well). Read on:

Doughnut Plant – just the name alone conjures images of a secret lab where delicious, mysterious donut perfection is created. And it’s not really that far off from the truth. Descendant of pastry shop owner, Mark Israel began making his donuts with his grandfather’s recipe in a basement in the Lower East Side in New York City. His emphasis on quality ingredients, including seasonal fruit and fresh roasted nuts, has set Doughnut Plant on a level all its own in the donut and even bakery world.  He actually created the method of filling a ring donut with cream or jelly.

Critical acclaim is splashed on every wall – Saveur, New York Times, Bon Appetit, etc. The peanut butter and jam donut is lauded as of one of  Food Network’s “The best thing I ever ate” items.  It could be said that the gourmet donut trend was started by Doughnut Plant. And the quality lives up to the hype.

A bright, colored chalk handwritten sign lures the crowds with an advertisement of the masterful flavors. Inside, their signs, bearing scientific descriptions of doughnut names, draw notice as well.

On my first visit, near the end of the day, nearly all the donuts were sold out. Not surprising. What was surprising is that there was still a line!  My sister and I selected several doughnuts, with hopes to return a few days later and get a few more.

There they were, nestled in their wax paper bag. I love the sight of goods nestled in a bakery bag! Next to it, the counter, an artful ode to the doughnut – enhancing the experience.

What we chose: Vanilla Bean (yeast), Valhrona chocolate (yeast), Lavender (cake) and Carrot Cake (cake). Our thoughts:

Vanilla bean - simple perfection. Flaky vanilla glaze giving way to a delicious doughnut that has none of that “french fry” flavor doughnuts occasionally take on.

Valrhona Chocolate – while the doughnut it self is nothing overly special, you can actually TASTE the quality of the chocolate in the glaze. This is no Hershey’s, gang. So good.

Lavender – stunning. A soft, cakey donut encased by a sweet, salty savory fragrant glaze, with the lavendar flavor just strong enough. Incredible.

Carrot cake – a crumbly yet moist take on its non-donut relative – complete with cream  filling. Rich flavor of spice. Phenomenal.

Ok – I had to return for one more. The frosty white Tres Leches called to me…

Tres Leches – an INCREDIBLY moist donut filled with rich cream that isn’t too sugary. Delicious, unique, everything a high-end donut should be.

My second trip to Doughnut Plant was in the morning. Ah, it was quiet and less crowded and the doughnuts greeted me  with big happy morning smiles. I selected four more doughnuts: Blackout Cake (cake), Peanut Butter and Jam (yeast), Fresh Blueberry (yeast), and Creme Brulee (yeast).

Fresh Blueberry - oh my goodness – this donut is incredible. Sugary and fluffy with a crackly glaze of sweet blueberry perfect. I should not have selected this one first, as I am partial to blueberry and almost made myself sick on it when I had so many more doughnuts to officially test. 

Crème Brulee – very good – hardened sugar glad that actually crunches like the real thing, thick custard that isn’t overwhelming. My friend Eunice’s favorite. She came with me and brought milk in a thermos. She rules.

Peanut Butter and Jelly – ah, Food Network, I am so sorry to disagree with you! In fact I hate even saying this, but I just did not love this doughnut. I love peanut butter, and the glaze itself was delcious. I love jelly donuts. But perhaps I am too low brow for this. I love the crunchy sugar and fake bright ooze of a classic jelly donut. This specimen…tasted like a sandwich. The strawberry jelly, the peanut butter, the heavy soft doughnut emulating bread, I just felt like it was lunch time. It was just a lot all at once.

Blackout Cake – again, hate to say it but was not thrilled. The cake crumbs on top were a bit dry and though there was a fudgy chocolate filling, which was great, it was just like a big old piece of chocolate cake. Nothing doughnut-y about it. But if you love chocolate, I suppose this is your choice.

The morning was young and our doughnut lust was not quenched, so I went back for 2 more (+1 lavender cake for Eunice, who had not had it), Lavender (yeast) Fresh Blueberry (cake)

I had tried their respective counterparts and now was interested to see how these (probably my two favorite flavors) fared otherwise. Note, I am normally a yeast donut  fan all the way. Unless its like Entemanns…or…yeah ok I love donuts let’s leave it at that. (Yes, I realize the blueberry comparison has been..compromised).

Back to the action.

Lavender yeast – delicious  soft doughnut with a sweet glaze that held less lavender flavor than the cake.  If you are wary of lavender but want to try, this is the way to go. The cake one held more flavor and while more daring, was ultimately better in my humble opinion.

Ah, my #1 choice of the whole damn thing – Fresh Blueberry cake. I would have never guessed it, but this doughnut rocked my world. Sweet, flavorful glaze gives way to insanely moist, blueberry cake which will rival any muffin. This specimen is beautiful inside and out.

Of course, for drink offerings, you aren’t getting your run-of-the-mill coffee. There is Ronnybrook milk, chocolate milk and coffee milk, along with iced chai and organic iced coffee. Oh also, these donuts ain’t cheap, gang. Be prepared to spend $2-4 dollars per doughnut.Worth every penny.

Doughnut plant is a doughnut paradise. A doughnut lover's dream. Its unique flavors, high quality ingredients and great artsy vibe (opposite your regular cutesy doughnut shop) support it as an iconic New York Spot. It joins various places in the Lower East Side rich with history and local character, lauded as some of NYC’s best eateries. I LOVE DOUGHNUT PLANT.

For more of Leandra's adventures, visit her site, Snacks in the City; for more Doughnut Plant magic and information, visit their website.

Friday
May212010

Donut Delight: The Inimitable Experience of Early Morning Eating at Donut Pub, NYC

Here's the thing about Donut Pub.

The donuts might be merely good, but the experience of visiting the establishment is great.

Located at 14th Street and 7th Avenue in NYC, it's perched in a nether region that isn't quite the West Village, isn't quite Union Square, isn't quite Chelsea. It's been there forever (OK, since the 60s)--and is open 24 hours--yet somehow manages to be one of those places that people have never visited.

This place that lies in-between vibe carries over when you walk into the place: it perpetually feels like it's about 4 a.m. at Donut Pub--perhaps it's the clientele, bellied up to the donut bar, or maybe it's the weird lighting. Maybe both; either way, it kind of feels like you just walked into a David Lynch movie.

But it is this very ambiance that makes walking into Donut Pub and getting one of the first-fried specimens of the day at 3 or 4 in the morning, whether you're up early or late, one of the most exquisite donut experiences imaginable.

The "great whites" (black and white cookies, minus the black) are another story, though--not sure if I am ready to go there.

Donut Pub, 203 W. 14th Street, NYC. View the menu here.

Donut Pub on Urbanspoon

Monday
Apr122010

Sublime: The Lime Cornmeal Cookie from Amy's Bread, NYC

Today I'd like to tell you about the subtle but sublime pleasure that is the Lime Cornmeal Cookie from Amy's Bread in NYC.

This cookie isn't flashy in appearance--it's actually rather unassuming. It would be easy to pass it up for something more classic like chocolate chip or oatmeal, or for something sexier like the double chocolate pecan.

But if you do opt for it, you're in for a sweet reward.

The crumb is lightly coarse and gritty-textured from the cornmeal, but a healthy amount of butter somehow keeps it tender and cohesive (happily, it doesn't crumble apart like its cousin cornbread likes to), and the sugar and lime add sweet and tart hints that perhaps don't sing, but definitely hum, in a very pleasing way. 

A lightly sweet cookie like this is refreshing and hearty all at once--and the cornbread almost makes it feel healthy. At least healthy enough that I'd consider it a completely appropriate breakfast cookie.

Amy's Bread has three NYC locations; visit their website, amysbread.com, to find out more. If you're not in NYC, the recipe for this cookie can be found in the book The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread: Cakes, Cookies, Bars, Pastries and More from New York City's Favorite Bakery.

Tuesday
Feb162010

Amuse Bouchon: The Bouchon Ho Ho, Bouchon Bakery, NYC

It's time to talk about the fanciest Ho Ho you'll ever meet: the Bouchon Bakery Ho Ho.

I'll admit, when I first encountered this $5.25 log of chocolate and buttercream at Bouchon Bakery's Columbus Circle location, I was, to put it mildly, conflicted.

On the one hand: Awesome! It's a Ho Ho! But Fancy!

But on the other hand: Hey! This Ho Ho costs more than $5! What are they trying to pull?

And while tasting it was delightful, it actually made me even more confused.

On the one hand: This is a well made baked good. Each bite is exquisite, obviously made with fine ingredients, redolent with rich, dark chocolate cake, rich buttercream all enrobed in a decadent dark chocolate.

But on the other hand: Somehow it seems with every bite that nostalgia is playing a game with you, because it tastes so right...but isn't all of the wrongness of the original what makes it so wonderful?

Faced with a sweet dilemma, a piece of said fancy Ho Ho was presented to Cake Gumshoe Margie (um, also my mom), whose eyes widened upon the prospect of such a fancy version of a childhood favorite. Her esteemed opinion?

"It's very good...but if anything...it tastes just a little too fancy".

So, where does this leave us?

On the one hand: When we make bad stuff good, there's an appeal that can't be denied, something deeply rooted in nostalgia that appeals to our developed tastes.

But on the other hand: Unfortunately, as it seems, as much as we might want these treats to grow up with us, sometimes we can't get past the fact that the bad is sometimes what makes these treats so good.

Of course, in conclusion, I would like to say that you wouldn't have to twist my arm too hard to buy another one of these deliciously decadent treats--because never has existential musing been so sweet.

What do you think? Is making junk food gourmet a good or a bad thing?

The Bouchon Ho Ho, available at Bouchon Bakery; for locations, visit bouchonbakery.com. Call to ensure availability.

Friday
Feb122010

What Boys Like: Butch Bakery in NYC

Photo Credit: Butch Bakery, NYCIn my humble opinion, there are few guys who don't enjoy cupcakes--but a lot of them won't admit it because they find it hard to get past the whole...you know, cute thing. 

But I'm sure that they'll rejoice at the prospect of a more metrosexual cupcake-maker: NYC's Butch Bakery. Started by stock market alum David Arrick who took things into his own (manly) hands. Per DailyCandy,

His new venture, Butch Bakery, peddles big, boozy cupcakes with XY-approved patterns like camo, wood grain, and houndstooth. Manly flavors include rum-soaked Madagascar vanilla cake with cola Bavarian cream filling (Rum & Coke), chocolate beer cake with beer-infused buttercream and pretzels (Beer Run), and peanut butter cake with banana Bavarian cream and crumbled bacon.

No store front (yet) but the sweet treats are available for delivery in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

For more information, visit butchbakery.com.

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