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Entries in nyc (39)

Friday
Jan152010

In the Club: Chinatown Cake Club, NYC

The first rule of cake club?

You do not talk about cake club.

But why not? Because your mouth is full of cake, that's why.

But while you're stuffing your cake-hole, I'll tell you more about the coolest new club for cake lovers, NYC's Chinatown Cake Club. Here's the sweet scoop:

What is it? A private club which meets about once a month in an apartment in Chinatown (NYC) featuring a deluxe rotation of homemade desserts, coffee, and teas.

What might you eat? Well, the last cake party featured such goodies as Vietnamese Tres Leches Cake, Green Tea Mont Blanc, Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons, and Taro Meringue Tarts, to name a few key items. Each event also features an artist series cake.

Who puts it on? Victoria Howe, who in addition to throwing renegade cake events is also the pastry chef at the Macao Trading Company.

Why attend? Do I really have to give you more reasons?

How do you get invited? Because of limited space, you have to reserve a spot--but don't worry, these aren't velvet rope affairs, they're quite inclusive. Add yourself to the mailing list here to get the inside scoop on upcoming events. But don't delay--with early press from the likes of The Village Voice, this cake club isn't going to be secret for long.

Hungry for more? Get yourself to chinatowncakeclub.com.

Tuesday
Jul142009

Tour de Cupcake: Mapping the Gentrification Frontier, Deliciously

NYC Cuppies
CakeSpy Note: This feature is the result of a tipoff from Cake Gumshoe Kelly Mola--check out her amazing artwork here!

No doubt about it, cupcakes are popular these days. But is it possible that their popularity is indicative of more about our culture than a simple case of sugar lust gone wild?

Yes, according to Kathe Newman, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Policy Development at Rutgers University, who is organizing the Tour de Cupcake in New York City: cupcakes can also tell the story of gentrification. According to the project's simple site,

NYC has witnessed an extraordinary influx of capital since the early 1990s that has pushed gentrification into the far reaches of the city. We will locate the new gentrification frontier by mapping the location of the plethora of “hip” cupcake-serving bakeries and puppy parlors (dog spas). 

The site links to a Google Map where users are welcome to add shops that they think should be on the tour; in September, this map will be used as a basis for an actual tour around the city during which participants will "map the gentrification frontier, one bite at a time." The tour will be the basis for an academic article to be submitted to the Urban Affairs Review.


Cupcakes at Billy's Bakery in NYCS'mores Cupcakes at Crumbs, 8th St., NYC
What got the project going? According to Dr. Newman in an email, "I am very interested in the process of urban change and how, why, and where it happened in the last decade and a half. I've been mapping the geography of these changes but the data source is always a problem." Which leads to the next point...

 

Cupcakes at Eleni's, Chelsea Market, NYCFauxtess Cupcakes, 71 Irving, NYC
Why cupcakes? Well, as she further noted, "I've noticed that newly gentrifying neighborhoods seem to have one thing in common - a fantastic little place to get cupcakes. I'm always dragging home very pretty little cupcakes for my children while on research trips." This is what prompted her to start a map of cupcake shops and puppy parlors (which do seem to crop up in similar neighborhoods) to see how they compare to more traditionally used data.
Nussbaum & Wu, NYCCupcakes, Little Atlas Cafe, NYC
Of course, cupcakes work for other reasons too: if data is socially produced, what could produce better data than asking people to collaborate in the act of producing it? And as Dr. Newman so aptly puts it, "I want my students to go to cities and learn about urban change. I thought if there were cupcakes involved they would most certainly go!"

Want to get involved? You can add to their Google Map here and check out their website here; anyone is welcome to attend the tour in September.

 

Friday
Apr172009

Bittersweet: Amai Tea and Bake House's Last Days

When I was recently tipped off by my friend Not Martha about the bittersweet story of Amai Tea and Bake House, I was immediately intrigued. 

On the weblog lovescool.com, you can read the story of the cafe, from the point of view of the owners, including this sweet mission statement:
Both Kelli and Andrew have always had a dream of opening up a bakery (a restaurant in Andrew’s case, but close enough). They are not afraid to say that they are still amateurs in the pastry world. But in a way, Lovescool is a documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new. And the fact of the matter is, the world would be a lot better if it was just a touch sweeter.

Their dream of opening a cafe was realized in October 2007, when the shop opened its doors at 171 3rd Avenue. They garnered accolades from the likes of the New York Times and Time Out New York; the cafe seating was frequently all taken, with lines going out the door. However, it wasn't enough to make it all work, as owner Kelli said in a letter last week on her site, citing that largely because of the failing economy, the shop would be closing its doors on April 19, 2009.

Of course, having read this, my immediate reaction was sadness that I had never tasted their sweets--and so I put my favorite NYC Gumshoes, Phil and Matt, on the case.
Here were their thoughts:
From Cake Gumshoe Phil's Spy notebook:


They were nice, but a bit mournful. People kept remarking about them closing.

 

Got a green tea cupcake and a peanut butter chocolate. The green tea tasted a bit bitter--definitely an acquired taste for a cupcake, not awful though. The peanut butter had a good balance of sweet and salty--erring on the sweet side.

Also got some "tea cookies" although should have had them with tea- very dry. The green leaf one is green tea. The square is white tea strawberry (definitely the best) and the other is almond chai.
------------------------------


At this point Amai's future is unclear, but we're all very happy that we got to experience a little piece of their story.
If you're in NYC and would like to visit, then make haste--their last day will be Sunday, April 19. Amai Tea and Bake House is located at 171 3rd Ave., New York, NY; (212) 863-9630; online at amainyc.com.

 

Saturday
Jan172009

She's a Brick House: The NYC Brownstone Front Cake

Brownstone front cake
What's in a name? They say that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet--but would it be as compelling? 

Take for instance the New York City Brownstone Front Cake. Certainly that's a much more appealing and interesting name than say, "Chocolate Loaf Cake"--and certainly the name is what lured us to learn more about, and bake, this cake. 

New York City Brownstone Front Cake

As Maida Heatter notes above, the Brownstone Cake is not something easily defined: the name has been used to describe cakes of caramel and chocolate, served as loaves or as layer cakes (if you're interested in learning more about its history, click here). But what holds true in each version is that this is a serious, dare we say brick house, of a cake: moist, rich, and very dense. 
Using Maida's recipe as a starting point, we made our own version of the Brownstone cake, in a loaf pan. The result was an almost brownie-like cake. Because it was a large one, we let it stand as a loaf and let each eater choose their own adventure with their slice. It's an easy one to enjoy plain, iced (top picture), a la mode, or completely over the top-chocolatey (below). 

Ridiculously over the top chocolate brownie cake

New York City Brownstone Front Cake (adapted from Maida Heatter)
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 tsp. dry instant coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups unsifted unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (we used Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter 
  • 1 3/4 firmly packed cups light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • *Optional Cakespy additions for added decadence and deliciousness:
  • 2 heaping tablespoons dark chocolate peanut butter--this gave it a richer, deeper dark chocolate color than some other examples of the cake we've seen.
  • 1 generous handful chocolate chips
Directions:
  • Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. You need a loaf pan with a 9-cup capacity (we didn't so we made two loaves using a smaller loaf pans). Butter the pan. (The original recipe calls for a breadcrumb mixture to line the pan but we didn't do that).
  • Chop the chocolate into coarse pieces and place it in a small saucepan off the heat. Add the boiling water and instant coffee. Stir until the chocolate is melted. (Maida's note: the mixture is in a saucepan so that if necessary it can be placed over heat until the chocolate is melted). Stir to mix and set aside.
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
  • In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until well mixed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and then beat in the vanilla. On low speed add about half of the dry ingredients and beat to mix. Beat in the sour cream and then the remaining dry ingredients. Still on low speed, gradually add the melted chocolate mixture, scraping the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula and beating until thoroughly mixed.
  • *At this point, figuring it would be delicious, we also stirred in a generous handful of chocolate chips, and about 2 heaping tablespoons' worth of dark chocolate peanut butter (we used Peanut Butter and Co.'s), in little chunks here and there in the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). 
  • Bake for about 1 1/2 hours or until a cake tester gently inserted in the middle comes out dry.
  • Cool the cake in the pan for about fifteen minutes. Then cover with a rack, turn the pan and rack upside down, and remove the pan, leaving the cake upside down to cool on the rack.

Empty pan, baby!Brownstone Front cake deliciousness

Now, this is the point at which we split paths with Maida. Rather than making her suggested Brownstone Icing,  as mentioned above, we left the cake as-is and let each eater choose their own adventure; the most delicious variation was undoubtedly the over-the-top chocolatey slice, on which we slathered on a bit of leftover chocolate buttercream frosting from a recent bout of baking and topped it with Hershey's chocolate syrup; to those who might consider this a bit excessive, it really is quite good lightly iced or even plain as well.

 

*As an added note, those who find this cake of interest may also get some extreme enjoyment out of David Lebovitz's Devil's Food Cake recipe.

Sunday
Dec212008

Make My Cake: A Gratuitous, Sugary Love Story

Strawberry Cupcake, Make My Cake
What follows here is a love story between Cakespy and Make My Cake.

We met this bakery years ago, at its old location, near the 2 and 3 train entrance on 110th Street. The location was unlikely, near a fried chicken joint, correctional facility and a dentist office, all on the north side of Central Park. You could smell the cake from a block away, its sweet sugary scent compelling more than one early morning commuter to have a cupcake for breakfast. The cupcakes were sweet--so sweet, in fact, that they have the power to make a black coffee taste as if it's had sugar added when consumed together. In fact, the first time we visited, one of our spies had to double check as to whether or not sugar had been added to the coffee. It hadn't--the cake was just that sweet.

Make My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYCMake My Cake, NYC
Since then, Make My Cake has grown out of its space and moved into a gorgeous spot on 116th street (with another location/operations center at 2380 AC Powell Blvd.--owner JoAnn Baylor manages this spot, while daughter Aliyyah managest the 116th Street location). To us, this new location embodies everything a bakery should be: it's got a beautiful awning and entryway (exciting to walk into); it's thoughfully and sweetly decorated with cake paraphenalia, yet manages to escape looking saccharine with funny touches like a sculpture of a voluptuous little baker lady; it's got a well-stocked pastry case which lends itself to gaping and many sweet moments of indecision, and the employees are friendly and willing to offer suggestions (on a recent visit they suggested the strawberry cupcake, made with fresh strawberry bits in the frosting, in case you were interested). 
Have we mentioned that we love this place?

Make My CakeMake My Cake
Of course, appearances aside, what keeps us coming back is the cake. Owner JoAnn Baylor originally hails from Mississippi, and the cakes do seem to subscribe to the laws of Southern cookery--that is to say, don't skimp on butter or sugar; use fresh ingredients; and--very importantly--make 'em pretty. These are not necessarily subtle cakes--but they are good, with light (almost springy) cake which somehow still manages to be very rich, moist and buttery, and thick, dense, frosting with a touch of "bite" to the texture.  And sweet. In fact, just as we remembered it, so sweet that it would be overkill to add sugar to your coffee. To some, this may sound like a bad thing. Fair enough, although we can't say we understand you. But to be sure, we're not alone in our love--their cakes have captured the attention and love of not only Cakespy but actual celebrities too, including P. Diddy, Vanessa Williams and the entire NY Knicks team.
Make Make Cake, we love you.
For more information, visit makemycake2.com.


Make My Cake on Urbanspoon

 

Monday
Oct272008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Matt and Renato of Baked, Brooklyn NY

Batter Chatter with Baked
(Cakespy Note: Many of the photos in this interview are c/o the Baked website, and were taken by Tina Rupp and Brian Kennedy).


In case you're not familar, this is Baked, a sweet little spot in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

 

Baked exterior

These are Renato and Matt, the adorable owners.


Renato and Matt, Baked
And these are some of their baked goods. 
Coconut cupcakes from Baked
Cake, baked
Malted Cake, Baked

If it's not already clear why we love Baked and its bakers, then please scroll back and review the photos again (and smack yourself while you're at it). Yes, we love Baked--and so it should be no surprise that we also love their brand new cookbook, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, which includes recipes for a great variety of their gorgeously decadent, down-home-with-a-gourmet-touch baked goods, as well as the sweet stories behind them. 
Recently we caught up with them when they passed through Seattle on their book tour. Knowing that they've been doing a lot of interviews, we decided to conduct ours a little bit differently--putting them on the spot by having their own baked goods conduct a picto-interview. In a sort of rorschach-type manner, they were presented the following images and asked to react. 
Baked Faceoff
Question one was presented by the Baked Brownie and the Bakedbar.

Matt: Almost always theBaked Brownie--I love the Bakedbar...I mean, they're both our children...but I think the Baked Brownie is a little tougher.
Renato: A little meaner.
Matt: Yes...a little meaner.
Cakespy: So that's it. Sophie's Choice--you win, Baked Brownie.

Baked Good Response: Bakedbar bows head in shame, little coconut bits drooping sadly.

 

Sweet n Salty Cake
Question two addressed the buzz about the bakery case's heartthrob, the Sweet & Salty Cake (dark chocolate cake infused with a salty caramel, caramel chocolate ganache and topped with fleur de sel.).


Renato: It's a classic combination that nobody really thinks about--that sweet and salty combination, with dark chocolate, caramel, fleur de sel, it comes together in this way that makes all other desserts bow down to it.
Matt: It's an obsessive dessert, that's for sure.
Renato: When people bite into it, you see their face just...melt.
Cakespy: And then it's just a journey to see how fast they can cram it into their mouth.

Baked good response: Sweet & Salty says "Please, ladies and gentlemen...there's enough of me to go around!"

 

muffin
Question three addresses a serious cake issue--cupcakes vs. muffins--is the banana espresso chocolate chip muffin in their book really just cake in disguise?


Matt: Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt about it. The best muffin is just a cake in disguise.
Renato: It's kind of like a naked cake--there's just no frosting.

Baked Good response: "I've been living a lie!"

 

Headpiece faceoff
Question four addressed headpieces: whose is awesomer, the meringue topped tart, or their logo-mascot deer?


Renato: My answer is the mascot...we use him everywhere--on tote bags, buttons, tee-shirts...
Matt: Is it possible they could be equally awesome?
Renato: I do love lemon, but I'm gonna go with the stag.
Matt: I'm gonna go equal.
Cakespy: I'll try to be diplomatic here: while the stag's antlers may be slightly more awesome, the lemon meringue is likely more delicious. (Matt and Renato seem to like that).

Baked Good Response: Tart says "What does stag have that I don't?"

 

Tricolor cookiesBaked Tricolor Cookies
Question five tackled the Baked take on the tricolor cookie, which is different from the traditional Italian-flag coloring. It begs the question--would theirs get beat up in Little Italy? 


Renato: Probably.
Matt: Probably.
Renato: Ours are very delicate--they're made in small batches, with a circular cutter--those other ones are mass produced, and so would overpower them by sheer number.
Cakespy: So we'll keep them in their corner of Brooklyn--out of Bensonhurst.
Baked Good Response: "I'm a delicate flower--keep me away from those thug-cookies!"

velvet
Question six was posed by the Red-Hot Velvet cake: "Am I the sexiest cake in the case?"

Matt: Oh yeah. Everyone wants a piece of that red velvet. It's just that deep scarlet red, with a little bit of cinnamon in the buttercream...you just can't go wrong. I think that a lot of red velvet cakes look like the crazy aunt--but this is the sexy nymph.
Renato: If you watch Mad Men...this cake is Joan.
Baked Good Response: "You know you want me."

 

German Chocolate Cake
Chocolate chip cookies, Baked
Question seven came to us from German Chocolate cake, the underdog of the bakery case--always a solid choice, but so rarely the #1 choice. He asks in a winsome manner, "Which one of us would you take with you on a desert island?". We can tell he hopes it's him.

Matt: I don't know if I would take German Chocolate...but I would definitely send him notes back home.
Renato: I'd want more buttercream.
Matt: We're indulgent to a fault.
Renato: I'd put a letter in a bottle in hopes that it would get back to him.
Matt: Yeah, we'd definitely send letters and money.
But what would you choose?
Matt: I'd choose the Baked brownie. I'm a brownie fan, and that's the reason to be for me.
Renato: I'd take the chocolate chip cookie, because I could eat that every day and not get tired of it.

Baked Good Response: Cue the "Debbie Downer" music.

Wanna get Baked? Check out their site at bakednyc.com. We also highly suggest their book, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking!

 

 

 

Wednesday
Oct222008

Bronx Tale: A Day of Sweetness in Morris Park

Bronx Tale: Sweetness in Morris Park
For many, Arthur Avenue is the Italian mecca in the Bronx--affectionately known as the other (some say "true") Little Italy. However, as we recently discovered, it's not the only spot north of Manhattan for sweet Italian goodness. Enter Morris Park, " a roughly rectangular swath of the east Bronx...bordered on the south by Sacket Avenue, on the east by Eastchester Road, on the north by Neill Avenue and on the west by White Plains Road." Now, we'd heard that Morris Park was a good neighborhood for Italian bakeries, but once we saw that even the parking meters were decked out in the colors of the Italian flag (left), we knew it was true. Here's what we enjoyed in Morris Park, the other other Little Italy:

Conti's Pastry, Morris Park, BronxConti's Pastry, Morris Park, BronxMarble Pound Cake, Conti's Pastry, Morris Park, Bronx
Conti's Pastry: Conti's Pastry shop has been churning out sweetness since 1921, and clearly they're doing something right. The smell upon entering this shop was incredible, and the rows of baked goods in the cases were beautifully arranged and appealing. Keeping it simple we opted for the (huge!) marble pound cake. The buttery cake, threaded with bittersweet chocolate, was a dreamy, light and decadent bite all at once. 786 Morris Park Avenue, Bronx; 718-239-9339. Online at contispastryshoppe.com.

 

Doughnut from Enrico's, Morris Park, Bronx
Enrico's: Not far from Conti's, Enrico's Pastry Shop is perhaps a misnomer--while they do have a pastry case, the other items--breads, italian ices, take up a lot more space here. For some reason, the cookies weren't singing to us here--but the filled doughnuts, freshly frosted, were quite good, with no scrimping on the cream filling. 1057 Morris Park Ave., Bronx; (718) 823-7207.


Morris Park Bake shopLemon Cookie, Morris Park Bake ShopLemon Cookie
Morris Park Bake Shop: We've read mixed reviews online, citing that some of the employees aren't very friendly--however, we had a great experience here. The staff was beyond friendly, and more than willing to talk cookie with us. We chose a specialty which is common in New York but rarely seen in Seattle: the anginetti cookie. And oh, was it sugary, tart, sweet, and good. 1007 Morris Park Ave, Bronx, NY 10462, Morris Park; (718) 892-4968.

 

Morrone Bakery, BronxMorrone Bakery, BronxCannoli in the Bronx

Morrone Bakery: (Cakespy Note: Not to be confused with the late, much-loved Morrone Bakery of East Harlem--though it may be the same family?). They get points off for service (the employee seemed far more interested in text messaging than in talking about the origin of Italian tricolor cookies with us), but really, the attractively displayed and well-lit array of baked goods spoke for themselves. We settled on a cakey tricolor cookie and a few butter cookies. The butter cookies were nicely crumbly; the tricolor cake-cookie held its own--and was certainly a good-looking confection--but wasn't quite as good as the gussied-up version we picked up later the same day at How Sweet It Is in Manhattan. 1946 Williamsbridge Road; Bronx, NY 10461 (718) 828-8111; another location on Arthur Avenue.

 

How to get to Morris Park? We took the 5 train to the Morris Park stop. Check out more about the neighborhood here!

 

 

 

Wednesday
Sep032008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kim Ima of The Treats Truck

Treats Truck

Hands down, the Treats Truck is one of our favorite baked good innovations in recent years: an NYC-based "retail mobile bakery" run out of an environmentally-friendly silver truck called Sugar which brings sweetness to whatever corner she should be parked on that day (if you're in NYC, you can find their schedule here). But it's not just a cool concept--with homey treats ranging from serious brownies and cookie sandwiches to dainty "dot" sugar cookies to the of-the-moment cupcakes baked in ice cream cones, it's a seriously delicious business model as well. We were lucky enough to catch owner Kim Ima in one place long enough to engage in some sweet talk--here's what we learned:

Treats Truck
Cakespy: Which came first: the treats or the truck?
Kim Ima: The treats! I was obsessed with making treats, but as soon as I thought up the idea of the Treats Truck, that was it. I was instantly in love.

CS: What was the first baked good you ever sold on the truck?
KI: Hmmm, I know I had frosted Sugar dots (picture below), Chocolate chippers, oatmeal cookies and brownies on the truck that first day. I don't remember what was the very first cookie sold off of the truck. Aw, I wish I remembered!


Treats from the Treats Truck
CS: Does the treats truck play music to attract customers? If so, what kind of music? Or, if not, what music do you listen to inside of the truck?
KI: The truck does not play music. Most of the time, the streets provide the background soundtrack for the day. Oh, occasionally I park near a guy who plays the keyboard and sings Frank Sinatra.

CS: Please finish this thought for us: An ice cream truck pulls up next to the Treats Truck at a red light, and revs its engine. What happens when the light turns green?
KI: I nod at the driver, we lock eyes in a meaningful way, he looks my truck up and down, nods back, shrugs and speeds away. A note, "speeds away" for an ice cream truck is probably going 25 miles an hour.

Cakespy Note: We just know that Ice Cream Man's quaking like Jell-o in his boots.

CS: Do you think that one day the cultural icon of the ice cream truck may be unsettled by the concept of a treats truck?
KI: I think we'll have both. Don't you think?

CS: (Nods Gravely) Yes.

Inside Vanilla Conecake
(photo of Treats Truck cone cupcakes c/o flickr user nycblondieandbrownie)

CS: Your ice cream cone cupcakes have been getting a lot of interest lately. Why do you think they're so popular?
KI: Well, they make people smile! I know I love them because they are yummy and fun and have lots of icing and sprinkles. A cupcake in a cone? It is a special treat, no two ways about it.

Kim of the Treats Truck
CS: Not only are you the proprietress of Treats Truck, but you're also an actress and artist. This begs the question--how do you do it all?
KI: Well, there are only so many hours in the day, but the idea is that there will be many days ahead. Right now, I am working full time running the Treats Truck. In the earlier stages of the business, I did both. In the future, I will be able to return to working on projects in the theater. Right now, the treats need my full attention, and I love it.

Treats from the Truck!
CS: You reference the "kitchen sink" crispy and cookie on your list of favorite treats. We've never had kitchen sink cookies. Can you explain the "kitchen sink" aspect to us?
KI: "Kitchen sink" to me means you can put lots of crazy ingredients together. In a way, it is the idea of opening your cupboard and seeing what you can throw in. If I feature a "kitchen sink" crispy or cookie, I may put a mix of candy, pretzels and cereal in the mix. The next time it could change. It is a license to play.

CS: Are some baked goods more popular in some neighborhoods than others?
KI: Yes, as a matter of fact! Some neighborhoods love anything with peanut butter (especially midtown) and one neighborhood in Brooklyn really goes for crispy squares with whole wheat cereal and fruit in it and anything with jam. I bake more of certain items depending on where I'm going. It's fun to try out new specials on the different neighborhoods and see who is especially into them.

Treats Truck
CS: What's next for The Treats Truck?
KI: I would love to have two trucks with regular street schedules by the spring, as well as appearances at special events, and I would like to open a store in the next year or two.


Are you in NYC? Check out their schedule here and start being a Treats Truck groupie today! Not in NYC? Admire them from afar (and coming soon, buy a t-shirt!) at treatstruck.com.


Sunday
Feb172008

Cakespy's Bite of the Big Apple: A Final Roundup of the Ultimate Cakewalk

 

Cookie from Levain

As you may have gathered by recent articles, Cakespy recently spent nine sweet days in New York City. While you've seen a few of our adventures documented through our recent articles about the baked goods of Penn and Grand Central Stations and our review of both Magnolia Bakery locations, we thought it might be fun to review the whole trip in one shot; and so, without further ado, here is a complete recap of our time in the big city:


Cakespy Note: The below tastings involved a revolving cast of eight Cake Gumshoes. And so, while looking at the below it may initially seem like an unrepentant sugar binge, please do consider that when split eight ways, the trip does retain at least a modicum of moderation. Needless to say, we do not suggest trying to replicate this experience all alone!


Day One: The trip begins on a high note when Alaska Airlines serves Cougar Mountain cookies, which are a local Seattle company whose granola-y cookies are chewy, vaguely healthy tasting but sweet enough to still be good. The flight to EWR is long, but we cheer right up when we arrive at the hotel and find what we now understand is a Doubletree Hotel standard: warm cookies upon arrival. The cookies themselves are good, but the surprise factor of receiving a warm cookie gives them bonus points. Clearly, this is going to be a sweet trip.

Day Two:
The day begins by indulging in our favorite corn muffins in the city: the gorgeous, sweet, slightly crisp-at-the-edges corn muffins of Muffins Café on the Upper West Side. Perfection. Several hours of secret spy work ensue, but our energy is renewed with a crumb cake from Belly Delly, perched on the outer edges of Times Square; it's priced high, likely because of its touristy location, but it's good; although we cannot confirm it with evidence beyond our own expert palates, judging by texture, taste and look, it does appear to be from the same wholesaler who supplies crumb cake to the EuroPan Café in Penn Station.

Day Three: On day three things get serious. First, Head Spy Jessie takes a jaunt on the N train over to Queens, where she visits French Culinary student and talented baker (and Cakespy fan!) Kelly (check out some of her work here and here) at her place of employment, the sweet-smelling and even better tasting Dolce Italia Bread and Pastry, where she picks up an assortment of biscotti to-go. While in Astoria she also finds time to visit several other spots in the area, hitting up Martha’s Country Bakery for a black and white cupcake and Rose & Joe's for a cannoli (though their pizza looked extremely tempting as well). Bearing bakery boxes and bags aplenty, she returns to Manhattan, making quick stops at Magnolia Bakery’s Downtown location and looping by to at least look in the window at Rocco's (killer black and whites) en route to a rendez-vous lunch with several other Cake Gumshoes at Ray’s Pizza on 6th ave at 11th (veggie slices are the main choice). Much of the morning's acquisitions are consumed, and the biscotti is declared a buttery, crunchy delight; the cupcake, while it does not resemble a black and white cookie, is moist and good; the cannoli from Rose & Joe's is crispy, creamy and all the things a cannoli should be.

However, some of our crew is still feeling a bit peaked after the light repast, so we make our way over to the Uptown Magnolia location to see the real difference between both locations (read about it here). But then again, is a trip uptown ever really complete without a visit to Levain Bakery? Never have we truly had the feeling of walking into a chocolate chip cookie as we’ve had walking into this place, where the smell envelops you and the cookies ($3.75 ea.) are as big as a baby and just as heavy. Oh yeah, heavy. Walking back toward our hotel via Broadway puts us face to face with Fairway, where we can't help but pick up one of their enormous, Carbohydratey with a Capital C buttermilk biscuits--you know, for later.

Day Four: Is it a surprise that we wake up jonesing? The day starts by picking up a pack of mini black and whites at Starbucks. Alas, they are not excellent, but we do enjoy the novelty of finding them--awfully cute. Things remain sweet for the day with leftovers from the previous day's jaunts, and when we over to Brooklyn for dinner at carribean-vegetarian-hipster joint Mighty Diamond in Williamsburg, the sweetest surprise is the rich vegan chocolate rum cake, which is made in-house. Talk about a diamond in the rough.

 


Day Five: The day starts with a visit to Donut Pub on 14th Street, where the donuts are greasy and unapologetically old-school (this is a good thing); defying tradition though, we pick up a black and white cookie, which have clearly just been frosted (this is also a good thing). Worth noting: they also offer "whites" and "blacks" separately, a concept which seems appealing to those who prefer one flavor or the other, but which in reality is sort of disconcerting. Things stay cozy with hot chocolate from Max Brenner . Later on, after getting the special "manicure-and-a-drink" for $10 at Beauty Bar, we walk down to the fairly new Sugar Sweet Sunshine, recommended by Cake Gumshoe Ian, one of the tasters on day three. Initially we don't know what to make of it: it seems like walking into your hipster friend's living room for cupcakes, but does this mean that you could do it just as well at home? Perhaps, but it's so much funner to let them do it for you: the pistachio cupcake was like sunshine on the cold night, and the Sexy Red Velvet Cake...well, it was sexy all right. We nightcap with espresso at Caffe Roma, and though we didn't get any pastries on this visit, we have known and loved their cannoli in the past. Sigh.

Day Six: Starting out early we drop by Whole Foods Columbus Circle just as they are opening, and are pleasantly surprised by their excellent (made in-house!) vegan chocolate chip cookies, which are still warm at the time of our visit. The calories burn off nicely zigzagging cross and down to Grand Central, where we pick up goodies at several locations but can't help taking a bite of the Little Pie and Co. cupcakes immediately. While we don't buy anything at Balducci's, it is worth mentioning that we stop in and see that they have cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens and Crumbs. After a day of toil, a few spies still have enough energy to head over to Billy's Bakery in Chelsea, where the cupcakes are sweet and so is the decor. A crumb is dropped on the sidewalk, and a lengthy conversation ensues about the validity of the "Five Second Rule".

Day Seven: We start the day by taking the grand tour of Penn Station and then continue on through Chelsea, pausing to taste chocolate mice at La Bergamote and handmade raspberry marshmallows at Three Tarts, making our way down to the Village for lovely nonpareils at Li-Lac and gorgeous pastries at Lafayette Bakery, where the service can be gruff but the pastry is so, so sweet. We also walk one of our favorites, Amy's Bread, but hold off for the time being. After a light dinner at Kate's Joint, we simply can't take another bite, but do enjoy the visuals at The Grey Dog's Coffee, where the cookies and pies (made in-house) look awfully good, walking back west via St. Mark's Place, we notice that Whole Earth Bakery (where we love the vegan brownies and vegan truffles) offers Vegan Trifle--vegans may want to take note!

Day Eight: Resisting sugar overload for just one more day, Head Spy Jessie trains it over to Brooklyn, meeting up with the charming Ann of Redacted Recipes to ogle the cakes and goodies at Cheeks in Brooklyn (picked up a triple-chocolate brownie for later) and to have a homey cupcake at Sweet Farm (sidebar on Sweet Farm: we had visited, but not sampled, this bakery on a previous visit; the cases had not been incredibly enticing at that time. However, things were much better-looking on this visit, so it looks like they have a good rhythm going now). It was the end of the day and the frosting had reached the point of having the ever-so-slightest crunch; while some may not enjoy this, we do. Perfection after a long day of flaneur-esque wandering.

Day Nine: There's only time for a little spying today, with a trip to the airport imminent; luckily, we make good use of our time, imbibing a simply gorgeous coffee at Joe and managing to fit in a quick visit to the adorable Thé Adoré on West 13th street and running over to the East Village for pastries to go at DeRobertis, Venieros and Something Sweet before catching the plane home. On the plane, they serve a brownie by Love and Quiches. We'd call that a sweet ending indeed.

Home again: Finally, on the ninth day, Head Spy Jessie returns home, and the NYC-based Cake Gumshoes get a chance to rest and digest. Would you give these spies some vegetables please?

What I am after my NYC Trip

Places listed in this post:
Amy's Bread: Three locations, visit amysbread.com.
Balducci's: Two locations in Manhattan, visit balduccis.com.
Beauty Bar: 231 E. 14th St.; online at beautybar.com.
Belly Delly: 1625 Broadway, (212)333-5650. Times Square.
Billy's Bakery: 184 9th Ave., (212)647-9956; online at billysbakerynyc.com.
Cheeks Bakery: 378 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, (718)599-3583; online at cheeksbakery.com.
Cougar Mountain Cookies: online at cmbc.com.
Crumbs Bakeshop: Various locations; online at crumbsbakeshop.com.
De Robertis Pasticceria: 176 1st Ave., (212) 674-7137; online at derobertiscaffe.com.
Dolce Italia Bread & Pastry: 36-06 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria, Queens; (718)278-4188.
Donut Pub: 203 W. 14th St., (212)929-0126.
Doubletree Hotel: Various locations; online at doubletree.hilton.com.
Fairway: Various locations; visit fairwaymarket.com.
The Grey Dog's Coffee: Two locations in Manhattan; online at thegreydog.com.
Joe--The Art of Coffee: Various locations; online at joetheartofcoffee.com.
Kate's Joint: 58 Avenue B., (212)777-7059.
La Bergamote: 169 9th Ave., (212)627-9010.
Lafayette Bakery: 26 Greenwich Ave., (212)242-7580.
Levain Bakery: 167 W. 74th St., (212)874-6080; online at levainbakery.com.
Li-Lac Chocolates: Various locations; online at li-lacchocolates.com.
Little Pie & Co: Various locations; online at littlepiecompany.com.
Love and Quiches: Online at loveandquiches.com.
Magnolia Bakery: Downtown, 401 Bleecker St.; Uptown, 200 Columbus Ave., (212) 724-8101; online at magnoliabakery.com.
Martha's Country Bakery: 3621 Ditmars Blvd., Queens; (718)545-9737.
Max Brenner: Various locations; online at maxbrenner.com.
Mighty Diamond: 347 Graham Ave., Brooklyn; (718)384-7778
Muffins Cafe: 222 Columbus Ave., (212)875-1173.
Ray's on 6th (AKA Famous Ray's): 465 6th Ave. at 11th St., (212)243-2253.
Rocco's Pastry: 243 Bleecker St., (212)242-6031.
Rose & Joe's: 2240 31st St., Astoria, Queens; (718)721-9422.
Something Sweet: 177 1st Ave., #1; (212)533-9986.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery: 126 Rivington St., (212)995-1960; online at sugarsweetsunshine.com.
Starbucks: Various Locations; just look around, you'll probably see one.
Sweet Farm: 158 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn; (212)384-0158.
The Adore: 17 E. 13th St., (212)243-8742.
Three Tarts: 164 9th Ave., (212)462-4392; online at 3tarts.com.
Two Little Red Hens: 1652 2nd Ave., (212)452-0476; online at twolittleredhens.com.
Veniero's Pastry Shop: 342 E. 11th St., (212)674-7070; online at venierospastry.com.
Whole Earth Bakery & Kitchen: 130 St. Marks Place; (212)677-7597.
Whole Foods: Various locations; online at wholefoods.com.

 


 

Thursday
Feb142008

Cakewalk in Grand Central Station, NYC

 

Little Pie and Co.
We can't help but think of NYC's Grand Central Station as Penn Station's better-groomed cousin. Where Penn Station has Houlihan's, Grand Central has the Oyster Bar; where Penn Station leads to Long Island and New Jersey, Grand Central will take you to old-money spots like Greenwich, or old-school spots like New Haven. And while we will always bear a loyalty to Penn Station (after all, much of the Cakespy crew is either NJ-raised or based), we can't help but wonder how the other half lives, and more importantly, what kind of pastries they eat; it was in this spirit that we recently took a grand tour of the Grand Station. Here's what we saw (and ate):

Cakespy Note: Grand Central Station is located at 42nd Street at Park Avenue in Manhattan. In terms of eateries, you'll see that we designate each spot as being located in one of three spots: the Upper Level, Grand Central Market is a Farmer's Market-esque setup, located in a corridor leading to Lexington Avenue; second, the Lower Level, Dining Corridor; third, the few miscellaneous spots sprinkled throughout the terminal are designated as being located on the Upper Level, Outer Corridors

Central Market Grill: We have never tasted the sandwiches or savory fare at this deli. But then again, why should we, when we've found what need and crave, right by the register? Their crumb cake alone is worth a visit: big, buttery, brown-sugary crumbs the size of walnuts (how we like it!) and gorgeous, hefty cake to anchor it. We hear they do offer other things too though. Lower Level, Dining Corridor.



Ciao Bella: What is gelato, anyway? We used to believe the direct translation was "Italian ice cream that costs five dollars", but with some help from one of our favorite books, Everything you Pretend to Know About Food (and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask) by Nancy Rommelmann, we are informed that

while Italian ice cream uses the same basic ingredients as American, the final product is not churned and aerated to the extent that American ice cream is; nor is it stabilized with things like gelatin, which is added to slow the melting process. The result is a more velvety ice cream of incomparable richness.

And certainly Ciao Bella's rich, velvety version has rendered us believers in this Italian treat, more than willing to shell over our cash, clamoring for a fix. Lower Level, Dining Corridor; online at ciaobellagelato.com.

 

Corrado Bread and Pastry: Nestled right by the Lexington Avenue exit, this place is worth holding out for before emerging into the city: featuring gorgeous cakes (just look at the texture of that frosting!), crisp, crumbly cookies, and a dazzling array of breads (including the Pain D'Avignon featured in NY Magazine), it's a delight, and we've found service to be very friendly here. Upper Level, Grand Central Market.


 

Dishes: Decisions, decisions: with two locations, one on the upper level and one on the lower level, which to choose? Upstairs, deli-style puddings and platters of creamy tiramisu reign, available by the generous scoop. Downstairs, carbohydrates have a more prominent showing, with a tantalizing display of cookies and the object of our affections, the delectable doughnut muffin. We say go carby: the spoon-and-fork only desserts, delicious as they may be, are probably not the best choice for a commute. Locations both in the Upper Level Grand Central Market and the Lower Level Dining Corridor; online at dishestogo.com. 

Hot & Crusty: Our review for the Penn Station locations holds true here: to paraphrase, we've had touch-and-go experiences here, as some of the pastries tend to look better than they taste. Nonetheless, their crumb cakes and sprinkle-topped cookies are usually a good bet, and it is always warm and smells like sugary perfection when you walk in. Upper Level, Outer Corridors; online at hotandcrusty.com.
 

Junior's: They're the celebrated cheesecake from Brooklyn, with its trademark sponge cake layer. But really, is visiting the Grand Central location the best way to experience it? We say hold out for the flagship location on Flatbush and Dekalb in Brooklyn; while the cheesecake itself may not be life-changing, savoring it with an authentic egg cream while gazing at the photos on the wall is certainly a rich experience in itself. Various locations, Upper and Lower Levels; online at juniorscheesecake.com. 

Li-Lac: They're not Godiva, nor do they strive to be; and while this is noble, this is not the main reason we love Li-Lac. We love them for their creamy, melt-in-your-mouth non-pareils and their creamy truffles...but of course, also for their visually stunning cases full of chocolates and candies which recall small-town confection shops from a simpler era. Upper Level, Grand Central Market; online at li-lacchocolates.com.

 

Little Pie and Co.: While we could spend a good deal of time rhapsodizing about their flaky crust, their tantalizingly golden, buttery-brown-sugary topped apple pie, we cannot ignore their equally excellent cakes, which far exceeded our expectations of what a pie-branded business might offer: moist, not too-light cake, with creamy, dreamy frosting. Lower Level, Dining Concourse; online at littlepiecompany.com. 

Paninoteca: As wrap sandwiches wither as a sandwich trend of bygone years, the panini is on top of the world; and while sandwiches may come and go, cannoli is forever. And Paninoteca's, while not the best we've had, is highly decent for a treat that is not easy to find in Midtown: crisp shells encasing a truly decadent puff of sweet ricotta cream. Lower Level, Dining Concourse.


Zaro's Bread Basket: If a tree falls in the woods, does another Zaro's Bread Basket open? It sure seems that way based on how many of them there are between Grand Central and Penn Station. But this is a chain whose proliferation is just fine with us: their cakes are tasty, their displays are gorgeous, and they tailor to their surroundings: we love the "Grand Central" cupcakes (left). Upper Level, Grand Central Market; online at zaro.com.

Did we miss your favorite Metro -North hotspot? Let us know!



 

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