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Entries in nyc (39)

Thursday
Feb072008

Cakewalk in Penn Station, NYC

 

Au Bon Pain, Penn Station

New York City's Pennsylvania Station is lovingly referred to as "the home of the dashing commuter", and anyone who's had the pleasure of visiting during rush hour will know this to be a very apt description. It's certainly not for the feint of heart--slow down here and you're likely to get knocked over by suit-and-sneaker clad commuters barreling on by to the 5:23 to Ronkonkoma. Luckily, we know exactly what will give you the strength to deal with the jostling crowds--sweet, sugary pastries. While you won't find Payard here, there are a lot of ways to obtain a good old-fashioned (and at moments, a little bit trashy) sugar jolt at Penn Station; here are our favorite ways to do so:

Cakespy Note: Pennsylvania Station (and thus, all of the below purveyors of sweets listed below) is located on 34th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan; there are two main levels, the "Upper" level housing New Jersey Transit, and the Lower Level housing the Long Island Railroad. Locations are noted in the below Cakewalk as being on the Upper or Lower level.
Au Bon Pain: Yes, they are a chain, with locations around the country, but we have never been disappointed by their crunchy shortbread cookies or crumb cake, which has just the right degree of buttery saltiness to satisfy the palate. Just don't look at the nutrition information which they insist on posting visibly in the cafe--you don't need to do that to yourself. Just enjoy your sweets. On our most recent visit, the Creme de Fleur pastries (title photo) were divine. Lower level, LIRR; online at aubonpain.com.

Auntie Anne's Pretzels: There's a sign by this little pretzel kiosk that says "Snack like you mean it" and this isn't hard when you have cinnamon-sugar dusted pretzels or pretzel bites to keep you company on your long (or short, we're not particular) train ride. Also, we can't help but feel a nostalgia when we go here--it reminds us of being sixteen and getting pretzels and lemonade at the mall in New Jersey. Upper Level, NJ Transit; online at auntieannes.com.

Don Pepi Deli: Although we think their pizza across the hall is better than their deli sandwiches, they do have yogurt muffins and cookies that will make your commute a whole lot happier at this location. What we like about the yogurt muffins is that they seem to maintain a nice moisture and freshness, while not being as heavy as some of their counterparts; the cookies are of that big, crunchy deli variety that never fail to bring us a smile. Upper Level, NJ Transit.

Dunkin' Donuts: Clearly the commuters need caffeine to keep on dashing, and Dunkin Donuts is available for that need--there are several locations and kiosks throughout Penn Station on both levels. As we've mentioned before, they don't have the best quality donuts we've ever tasted...but there's just something so perfect about them anyway. Various locations on both the Upper and Lower Levels; online at dunkindonuts.com.


EuroPan Cafe: We'd never tried this spot before, but found their sweets to be a pleasant surprise, with a nice array of carbohydrate-laden treats. Most of the pastries are from various wholesalers, but they do have our favorite type of deli crumb cake, and a nice array of cookies, cakes, cupcakes and several more Frenchie-type pastries. Lower Level, LIRR.

 

Hot & Crusty: It always smells and looks good in here, but if we are to be completely honest, we've found that a lot of their pastries look better than they taste--the Black and White cookies in particular. However, they do have a very decent crumb cake, and other cookies (sprinkle-topped and M&M varieties) are quite good. Lower Level, LIRR; online at hotandcrusty.com.

Krispy Kreme: In all honesty we'd choose Dunkin' Donuts every time over Krispy Kreme, but we're taking this one for the team because we know there are Krispy Kreme die-hards out there (although if you're one of them, can you please explain what the attraction is?). We will admit that the holiday special donuts they bring out (Heart-shaped Valentine's Day donuts were on display when we went) are awfully cute. Upper Level, NJ Transit; online at krispykreme.com.

Le Bon Cafe: Mostly average sweets of the caliber that you'd get at a typical NYC deli--rich and satisfying, but not necessarily subtle or unique. Nonetheless, they fulfill that need that you sometimes have for something sweet and familiar. However, they do get bonus points for having a novelty we have not seen before: Black and White Rice Krispie Treats--a very nice variation on two classics! Lower Level, LIRR.


Sedutto Cafe: Sedutto is a good spot to pick up some Jersey-shore style soft-serve before your commute. What we love best here though is the cones, which are chocolate-dipped and coated with various types of sprinkles and nuts, which add a nice texture to the cone, and lend a certain "happy" factor to the overall experience. Various locations on both Upper and Lower Levels; online at seduttosicecream.com.

 

 

Zaro's Bread Basket: Zaro's Bread Basket may have a monopoly over the train station business (they have multiple locations in both Penn and Grand Central Stations) but all things considered, they do a pretty good job: solid black and white cookies, cakes, and unique cone shaped cupcakes have kept us going through many a ride down to the Jersey Shore on the train. We don't love their "regular" cupcakes as much as their cakes, but of course we welcome you to choose your own adventure. They're our top pick in terms of good-looking bakery cases, with colorful and ogle-worthy displays. Various locations on both Upper and Lower Levels; online at zaro.com. 
Penn Station Signage Penn Station Departures
Have we missed your favorite commuter sweet spot? Let us know!

 

Tuesday
Feb052008

West Side Story: A Tale of Two Magnolias

Cupcakes, Magnolia Downtown
Magnolia Bakery, a landmark in NYC’s West Village, is the veritable shot that started the cupcake revolution. And now, they’ve opened a second location on NYC’s Upper West Side.Though in actuality these two locations are only about three miles away, in many ways they are worlds apart; the culture, clientele and location are distinctly different. But what does this all mean for those famous cupcakes? We did a side by side comparision to find out who really does take the cake. For ease of reading, we will refer to them as "Magnolia Downtown" for the original Bleecker Street location and "Magnolia Uptown" for the new Upper West Side location.

A little background...

Location: Both bakeries are in Manhattan; Magnolia Downtown is located at the corner of West 11th Street and Bleecker Street in the West Village; Magnolia Uptown is located on 69th Street at Columbus Avenue, on the Upper West Side.

Culture: While both are neighborhoods of privilege (in our humble eyes, neighborhoods where apartments regularly rent for upwards of $3,000 a month would classify as neighborhoods of privilege), they both have a distinctly different feel; whereas Greenwich Village has a more eclectic feel, with cozy brownstones, zigzagging streets and quaint boutiques and boasts celebrity residents like Julianne Moore and Sarah Jessica Parker, the Upper West Side boasts the grand old apartment buildings of yesteryear, and you just might find yourself brushing elbows with with residents like Bono and Mia Farrow.

Some details about our visits and impressions...

Crowd: We went to the locations one after the other to get the truest read. When we went to Magnolia downtown at 11.30 am, there were about 5 people in line; Uptown 30 minutes later, there were about 16 people in line. However, we feel it would be unfair to say this means that Uptown is more popular; it's newer, so part of this is probably novelty; also, we do understand that as lunchtime draws closer, sometimes you need a little sweetness, so perhaps that 30 minute window does make a difference.

Employees and Crowd, Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker
Service: (photo above: the crowd at Magnolia Downtown) To us, Magnolia Downtown has never been about the attentive service; the staff is largely made up of bored-looking hipsters (albeit, bored-looking hipsters who always give you great ideas for new haircuts). Nonetheless, there is sort of a charm to this type of service, and it seemed no different at the new location--same cool haircuts, same slightly-bored attitude. We'd call this one a draw.

Interior: They’ve done the new location with similarly checkered floors and retro décor; so although it is not a different look per se, we are going to give this point to Magnolia Uptown, which seems more spacious, airy and less cramped than its downtown cousin.

Maybe we're shallow but we think about these things...

Magic Cookie Bars at Magnolia DowntownMagic Cookie Bar, Magnolia Uptown
Presentation: (photos above, Magic Bars at the Downtown and Uptown locations, respectively) While both locations had similar elements of presentation: glass cases and cake plates, cupcakes on cute doilies, etc., Magnolia Uptown emerges slightly ahead in this category due to (in our opinion) their better choice of typestyle for the store signage; the simple typeface allows the baked goods themselves to shine, whereas Magnolia Downtown's more whimsical typestyle is ultimately distracting and hard to read.

Cupcakes, Magnolia DowntownCupcakes at the New Uptown Magnolia Bakery
Cuteness: (photos above, cupcakes at the Downtown and Uptown locations, respectively) While cuteness can be an open-ended category, it cannot be ignored. In evaluating the baked goods at both locations, the cuteness factor was high all around; however, if pressed we would have to say that the Downtown location's cupcakes seemed to have a jauntiness to their swirl that the Uptown location simply couldn't match.

Places to eat your cupcake: Magnolia Downtown has only one tiny table; however, there is a park directly across the street which, weather permitting, is a good place to eat your cupcake and full of great people-watching. While they are working on an added seating room Uptown, it was not yet ready at the time of our visit, leaving noplace to sit in the uptown location. Though Central Park is a short walk away, who’s going to make it that far with their cupcake? Ours was gone by the time we were halfway down the block. So while things may change when the seating area is available, in this case, Downtown wins.

But most importantly, the sweets themselves:

Cakes, Magnolia Uptown

Selection: The selection was nearly identical at both locations, with some variations in frosting choices and layer cakes available that day, but mostly the same; overall a tie.

Freshness / Quality: Everything we tasted at both locations tasted extremely fresh, which provides a happy tie (yay for fresh pastries!).

Banana PuddingBanana Pudding, Upper West Side Magnolia Bakery

The Baked Goods Themselves: (above: photos of banana pudding Downtown and Uptown, respectively) Each bakery has its own kitchen, so we wanted to see for ourselves how the tastes stacked up. In evaluating the cupcakes, we noticed that the frosting was a bit heavier-handed downtown (this is not necessarily a bad thing!); on the banana pudding, the Uptown version was a little more "whipped" than the slightly creamier version Downtown. The "Magic bars" (quite similar to the Bakedbar we featured a while back) looked slightly crisper on the bottom downtown. But really, all of this is subject to the day and baker who made them, and are natural variations; small differences aside, the taste was very similar between both locations. And yes, we liked what we tasted.

So, if you were halfway between locations and had to choose one or the other, which one would Cakespy suggest?

Well, certainly the new location has a few things going for it. For one, it's bigger; with more space, perhaps they won't even need a cupcake bouncer. But have they won us over with better typestyle choices and more seating? While on the one hand they seem to have answered a need, there was something that we realized while standing on the line Uptown to pay; we sort of...well, missed that Cupcake Bouncer and cramped space that we've cursed so many times Downtown. So while we're excited to see the Uptown addition and to monitor its growth, our hearts are still in that cramped, inefficient, sweet little spot on Bleecker Street.

Magnolia Bakery, two locations; Downtown, 401 Bleecker Street (at W. 11th St); Uptown, 200 Columbus Avenue (b/t W. 69th & W. 70th Sts); online at magnoliabakery.com.

 


Magnolia Bakery in New York

 

Thursday
Jan242008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Elisa Strauss of NYC's Confetti Cakes

 

Cakespy Note: Yes, all of the photos in this feature are cakes, believe it or not!


To call Elisa Strauss a baker of cakes, though accurate, would be a vast understatement. For if cake making is an art (and we believe it is) then certainly she's a master of the medium, creating meticulously rendered and painstakingly detailed fondant trompe-l'œil confections which have won her the attentions of the likes of the Food Network, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen (photo left, disco ball cake made for "Paula's Party"), to name just a few. Between making cakes, TV appearance and a great new book (which we own and love!), it's a wonder that she even had time to chat with us, but we're oh so glad she did. Here's what we learned about the glamorous world of baking on-screen, what Martha's really like, and whether these cakes really taste good (hint: no, the cheesesteak cake is not flavored like its namesake)...

 

Cakespy: You studied fine art, but then took a little bit of a different turn and got a degree in Pastry Arts. Do you think your fine art background makes you approach Pastry arts differently? How so?
Elisa Strauss: My art background is a tremendous help when it comes to the cakes. It helps me with both color and design. Even though we make everything from scratch in the bakery, and consider taste the most important aspect of our cakes, I still look at each cake as a work of art too!

CS: When did you decide to take on cake-making as your livelihood?
ES: I had graduated pastry school and was back working in fashion full time (just making cakes on the side…very late at night) when about a year later I couldn’t keep the juggling act going anymore. I had to make a decision if I was going to go for it or not…so I went for it and opened a commercial space, bought equipment, hired employees and took it from there!

CS: You work primarily in fondant icing. Do you ever work in other frosting or icing types?
ES:We make all our fillings and frostings from scratch so we have a wide variety of flavors. From buttercreams to ganaches, citrus curds to fresh fruit, etc. We use a lot of different fillings in our cakes then frost them with a layer of buttercream that sits under the rolled fondant. The fondant gives the most elegant and professional look. You cannot achieve the detail we do with a solely buttercream frosted cake.

CS: Do specialty cakes like yours really taste good?
ES: YES!!! Absolutely. One of the most frequent compliments we receive is how AMAZING our cakes taste. People never think it is possible because our cakes look like realistic objects but they taste great. Again, we make all our cake and fillings from scratch with the highest quality and freshest ingredients we can find….we do not skimp on anything related to taste! Ever! (Photo left, Sushi Cake, credit Alexandra Rowley).

CS: You used to do cookies, petits fours and cupcakes, but have now pared down to just custom cakes. What made you decide to cut down on the other services?
ES: I LOVE doing the smaller items, i.e., cupcakes, mini cakes, cookies, etc…but as a business model it just didn’t work. I could spend all day designing one cookie I could sell for $10 instead of working on one specialty cake for $800….you see what I mean? It just didn’t make sense for the business anymore.

CS: Can you tell us a little bit more about how it feels to work in a commercial space versus, say, a cramped NYC kitchen?
ES: After working in my TINY, TINY apt kitchen for a few years I thank my lucky stars I have a commercial space…I could never go back…especially with my 20 quart Hobart mixer!

About baking on TV...

CS: Do you get nervous about baking on-screen?
Yes! I definitely get nervous….especially with LIVE television anything can happen. The last time I went on the Today Show a light fixture crashed ten seconds before we went on the air…Ann Curry saved Al Roker and my cakes form getting hit by catching the light…and then all of a sudden three seconds and we were on LIVE National TV. I would say it is more of a “butterflies in my stomach” feeling of nervousness then scared! I love doing television!

CS: What was it like to meet Martha Stewart?
ES: Wow, amazing! It is so incredible to meet people who you see all the time…but on TV. She is such an incredible business woman!

CS: About that famous Flaming Sock Monkey Cake. Did it get eaten afterward?
ES: The last challenge on the Food Network: Extreme Cakes…was amazing! Not just because we won but the entire experience was incredible…SO much time and energy went into the planning and making of that show! Unfortunately by the time we finished it was close to MIDNIGHT and after all the photos were take it was thrown out because the studio had to get set up for the next day!

CS: All of your cakes are unusual and unexpected--but have there been any that have really stood out, or been special, for you?
Well, each cake is like a child to me…I usually don’t forget any that I have EVER done! So it is hard to pick favorites…but I will say I am especially proud of a few cakes that stand out: a Victorian Mansion cake (photo left) we did for a couple’s wedding last summer. They got married at the House, and we even matched the paint chips for color! I also loved being on Paula Deen’s show, Paula’s Party (see photo above, by intro paragraph)…where we made her a disco ball cake for her disco themed party! [Also] I do love replicating food…so many of our sushi or Philly’s cheese steak cakes are fun! OK, there are a lot...but I will not go on!

CS: How often do you eat cake?
ES: Quality control is tough but someone has to do it…hee, hee! Not everyday but probably more then I should!

CS: What are some of your favorite desserts?
ES: I would definitely NOT put cake up there…..I am much more of a cookies and ice cream girl! Bread is my real downfall….but I love a good Buckeye ball or Key Lime Pie too!

CS: Have you noticed any trends, or movements, in cakes and cake making in recent years (popular flavors, themes, or anything you've seen emerging)?
ES: I love the fact that most of my clients have moved away from just a traditional cake….even in flavors. We do a ton of Red Velvet, Banana or even Coconut flavored cakes!

CS: Which part of writing your book was hardest--making the cake "patterns" or finalizing the recipes?
ES: By far the hardest things were: making all the cakes, cookies and cupcakes for one week of a photo shoot (we had to shut down doing other people’s cakes for months so we could just focus on making the projects for the books)….and then writing out STEP by STEP directions for EVERY aspect of each project! I really, really want people to be able to make everything at home so we labored over every detail, measurement, weight and direction!

CS: To you, what is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
ES: It should look and taste equally great! It also doesn’t hurt when people don’t know that our cakes are actual cakes!

CS: What makes a "bad" cake?
ES: One that doesn’t taste great.

CS: If you could go back in time and give yourself any advice while just starting your cake business, what would you say?
ES: “Don’t do it”…JUST KIDDING! Honestly, I do not know…I kind of just jumped right in, worked CONSTANTLY and I am still figuring it all out!


Want to find out more? To make an appointment in their NYC studio (they will deliver throughout the tri-state area), or find out more about Elisa and her cakes, visit confetticakes.com.

Want to buy the book? You won't regret it; it's like a cookbook and beautiful craft book all in one! The photos alone are worth the investment; it's available online here.

 

 

Thursday
Jan032008

Cakewalk in the Chelsea Market, NYC

 

Cookies at Eleni's in Chelsea Market, NYC

If pressed to choose one building to be stuck in overnight in a Mannequin-esque sort of way, the Chelsea Market wouldn't be a bad spot. Residing in what used to be the National Biscuit Company (you may know them as Nabisco, makers of all sorts of items from Saltines to Animal Crackers to Oreos), this is a strangely unassuming building from the outside, opening up into a gorgeous urban market including flower shops, boutiques...and bakeries, lots of bakeries. On our recent trip back east, we spent quite a bit of time in this historic building residing on Ninth and Tenth Avenues between 15th and 16th Streets; here were some of our favorite spots:

Cakespy Note: The address for all of the retail spaces at the Chelsea Market is 75 Ninth Avenue; thus, we have not labeled the addresses individually below.

Amy's Bread: We love Amy's Bread in so, so many ways, but most of all for their perfect pink-frosted yellow cake which is available by the slice most days. We're proud to say that we've tried it in all three locations (this one, Bleecker Street, and Hell's Kitchen), and each is excellent. Their other pastries are no slouch either; even Zagat has called out their excellence. (212) 462-4338; online at amysbread.com.

 

 

Chelsea Market Baskets: A great find--chock full of wonderful Scottish shortbread and "oaties", fancy little imported marzipan cakes and other gourmet treats from the likes of Ditty's Home Bakery, Cookie it Up and Frank's Luxury Biscuits. We fell for the Nancy's Fudge Cups at first bite; the Leonidas truffles looked wonderful. As a bonus to non-NYC residents, they do ship a lot of cookies and less perishable items nationwide! (212) 727-1111; online at chelseamarketbaskets.com.

Eleni's: Cookies, and cakes, and cupcakes--oh my! This is an extremely cool place, with white exposed brick walls and extremely photogenic baked goods (see top photo). Sure, cookies will top $4, but hey, rent's pretty high in Chelsea. Negative points for telling us to stop taking photos though, although we resisted the urge to say "don't you know who we are?". Kidding. (888) 435-3647; online at elenis.com.

Fat Witch Bakery: Somewhere between fudge, and a brownie, is the Fat Witch Brownie: extremely dense, rich, fudgy and excellent. Don't make the mistake of trying to eat one of these dry though--they cry out for a glass of milk (perhaps at the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy? see below) as accompaniment. Happily, these can be shipped nationwide; check out their online store! (212) 807-1335; online at fatwitch.com.

Milk Bar @ Ronnybrook Farm Dairy: Holy Cow (sorry, couldn't resist). Places like this make you marvel at how creamy and good something so simple as milk can taste. The milkshakes are close-your-eyes-with-pleasure good; they have a full lunch menu too, full of appetizing dishes to warm you up for dessert. (212) 741-6455; online at ronnybrook.com.

Ruthy's: A solid offering of cakes and treats, although we wish they didn't put those novelty cookies and cakes on display right as you walk in; the stuff inside (rugelach, cakes, etc) looked so much nicer. (212) 463-8800; online at ruthys.com.
Sarabeth's: We much prefer this outpost to the famous Upper East Side location, in which we've never felt quite "pinkies out" enough. Still, killer jam (you may recognize the name; they sell their jam at Williams-Sonoma stores), and their weekend specials, including pumpkin waffles with sour cream, raisins and maple syrup, are awe-inspiring. (212) 989-2424; online at sarabeths.com.

For more information about the Chelsea Market, visit chelseamarket.com. Got any other Chelsea Market spots to suggest? Email us!

 

Thursday
Oct182007

Stay Cool, Be Hot: Oven Mitts and Potholders by Deadly Squire

At Cakespy, we know that using quality ingredients, seeking the best recipes and perfecting your technique are all very important in the path to becoming a great baker. But we know it’s not all about these things.

It’s also about looking totally hot while doing all of the above.

That’s why we were very happy to spy the new collection of oven mitts and potholders by Deadly Squire. Now, this Brooklyn-based design duo is pretty cool to begin with: Anna and Tim Harrington are a painter and punk-rock singer respectively on their own, but together they are both husband and wife and killer housewares designers. As they put it, Deadly Squire embodies a “distinctive design sense, infectious enthusiasm, and a taste for mischief”; we think this reflects nicely in their largely nature-inspired patterns, featuring retro-modern leaf, pod and flower forms in sophisticated palettes with titles like “Feasting at the Berry Bush” or “Groundskeeper’s Cameos”. Their kitchen accessories are beautifully constructed: the mitts are not too-big, which can often be a problem with one size fits all merchandise; the potholders are thick and cushy, guaranteeing that your delicate hands won’t get burned.

Because hot as you are, you’ve got to stay cool.

Available online at deadlysquire.com.

Sunday
Oct142007

No Grey Area: A Lesson in Black and White Cookies

What is a black and white cookie? Well, if you live in the metro New York region, it's part of everyday life: a cakey cookie iced with half-chocolate, half-vanilla fondant icing that is available at almost every bakery and deli. But in other areas of the country, many people have been walking around, living their lives, perhaps not even knowing what black and white cookies even are. Or, even worse, they'll mistakenly think that examples like the below are black and white cookies:


Although they are certainly delicious, cookies that are dipped, dolloped or contain white and dark chocolate chips are simply not black and white cookies.

 

Luckily, although black and whites aren't readily available at bakeries outside of the New York region, you need not panic or stoop to the level of buying pre-packaged grocery store hybrids (in our opinion, usually a sorry excuse for black and white cookies, with icing that flakes off disappointingly). While there are several places to buy online, here are Cakespy's personal picks:

Bing's Bakery: Although on the outskirts of true black and white cookie country, these are the real deal, with soft, chewy fondant icing and a perfect quarter-inch of overlap of the two flavors of frosting in the middle. $15.95 for a half-dozen. 


Rocco's Pastry: If you've ever visited Rocco's Pastry in Greenwich Village, you'll know that it's nearly impossible to walk by their big glass window teeming with cookies like these and not buy anything. Their black and whites are as good as they look. $3 each (jumbo cookies). Available online at roccospastry.com.

William Greenberg Jr. Desserts: These black and whites are the celebrity of the bunch, having recently been featured on the Today Show and praised by Martha Stewart. We think they're worth the hype. $45 for a dozen jumbo cookies; $27 for 18 mini cookies. Available online at wmgreenbergdesserts.com.

Zabar's: Where better to get the perfect New York black and white cookie than the quintessential Upper West Side grocery Zabar's? For many, these are the black and white cookies that set the standard: like their online description says, "black and white and craved all over". 'Nuff said. $7.98 for 10 mini cookies. Available online at zabars.com.

Cakespy Note: For those who are interested in learning more, we strongly suggest checking out The Black and White Cookie Review, a NYC-based blog dedicated to seeking happiness, fulfillment and the perfect black and white cookie. A true kindred spirit indeed. Online at blackandwhitecookiereview.blogspot.com.

Wednesday
Sep052007

Take the Cannoli: Cannoligrams from Staten Island


If you've grown up in the NY metro area, moving away can be a very difficult thing.

The reasons are many, but ranking pretty high has got to be the almost complete and utter lack of Italian bakeries. And if there are no Italian bakeries, there are no cannolis.

Thank your lucky stars that Dominick's Bakery Cafe of Staten Island offers the Cannoligram service, which offers shippable cannoli kits. Admittedly, the website could use some work--but the product is solid. They sell kits which include cannoli shells and cannoli filling in a separate pastry bag, so that you can fill them directly before eating (just like on Mulberry Street!). The jumbo vanilla cannoligram is $32.99 and includes 12 pastry shells; or, for just five dollars more go for half-vanilla, half-chocolate cream. The online bakery also offers treats such as lobster tails and sfogliatella, which are as rare in Seattle as Dunkin Donuts locations. Send one as a care package to someone you love...or maybe just to yourself.

To order, visit cannoligram.com

Tuesday
Sep042007

Hearts A-Twitter: Bird Cake Toppers by Ann Wood Handmade

Not to get too hippie about it, but there are tiny miracles going on all around us. Don't believe it? All you need to do is stop and observe, and there they are: a crack in the sidewalk shaped like a heart. A dollhouse hanger embedded into the pavement on the street. A single mismatched tile in an ornate lobby.

Whereas most of us will walk by these tiny wonders without a second glance, Ann Wood strikes us as someone who would certainly not. One look at the Brooklyn-based designer's intricate and lovely bird cake toppers and you'll understand what we mean: the toppers, made of vintage fabrics and materials, are the work of a true observer and master craftsperson. The finished product is so full of personality and sweetness that we couldn't imagine a happier cake topper for a wedding. Luckily she does special orders too--who says a wedding is the only time you need a cake topper? Visit annwoodhandmade.com to see styles; to make a special order or inquire about a custom order, email admin@annwoodhandmade.com.

(Photo credit goes with thanks to annwoodhandmade.com)

Saturday
Aug182007

Cakewalk in New York

CakeSpy Note: As with many of the posts from our archives, some of the information may have changed since this was originally posted!

New York City is called the city that never sleeps, and with good reason: if you did stop to sleep in this city, you'd miss the sweet smell of bread, cakes and doughnuts baking all night. Below is a list of standout bakeries from our latest jaunt; for a complete list of bakery suggestions or personalized neighborhood walks, check back soon for Cakespy's Cakewalks in New York.

Amy's Bread Allegedly the bread is wonderful, but we've never tried it: we were too busy sampling the perfect pink iced yellow cake and red velvet cupcakes, which were divine. Three locations: 672 Ninth Avenue (between W. 46th & W. 47th Streets); 75 Ninth Avenue (between W. 15th & W. 16th Streets); 250 Bleecker Street (at Leroy Street); online at amysbread.com.

Billy's Bakery: You might feel dowdy in this hip Chelsea bakery, which is frequented by the beautiful people--but don't let it stop you from going in. Worth the hype, Billy's confections are sweet and well-made, and decorated in a way that is impeccably homemade, in a vaguely Martha Stewart-ish way. 184 Ninth Avenue (between W. 21st & W. 22nd Streets); online at billysbakerynyc.com.

Buttercup Bake Shop: There are camps which vote for either Buttercup or Magnolia (click here for the backstory), but regardless, both are worth a visit. Where Magnolia embraces a hipper take on the 50's style cupcake, the Buttercup Bake Shop offers up cakes which are a little bit more refined, a little more subtle in keeping with their uptown location--but no less delectable. Two locations: 973 Second Avenue (between E. 51st & E. 52nd Streets); 141 W. 72nd Street (between Broadway & Columbus Street); online at buttercupbakeshop.com.

Columbus Bakery:
If you can put up with the entitled attitude of many of the stay-at-home Upper West Side moms and their kids (and nannies) who frequent the place, you'll be in for a treat--the highlight is their breakfast pastries, including dense and delicious tea cakes and scones. Plus, they have the cutest logo we've ever seen. 474 Columbus Avenue (between W. 82nd & W. 83rd Streets).

Ceci-Cela: A little piece of Paris in downtown New York; Ceci-Cela channels the French patisserie with perfection, with exquisite and detail-oriented tarts and gateaux. Two locations: 55 Spring Street (between Mulberry & Lafayette Streets); 166 Chambers Street (between W. Broadway & Greenwich Street); online at ceci-celapatisserie.com.

Cupcake Cafe Bakery: Buttery, rich icing; dense, thick cake; bold, sculptural iced flowers: these are the hallmarks of the cakes and cupcakes artfully rendered by the Cupcake Cafe. These cupcakes are an acquired taste--to be eaten slowly, much as a fine wine is to be sipped with care. OK, so maybe we just waxed a bit poetic, but it's true: to the cake connaisseur, these are worth their weight in gold. Two locations: 545 Ninth Avenue (between W. 40th & W. 41st Streets); 18 W. 18th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues); online at www.cupcakecafe.com.

Kasjan Bakery: If you're in the mood for pastries and cakes which are unapologetically rich, heavy and creamy, you'll want to stop by Kasjan, a Polish bakery on the fringe between the hip Williamsburg and still not-completely gentrified Greenpoint neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Who knew Polish napoleons could be so good? 668 Manhattan Avenue (Between Norman and Nassau Avenues), Brooklyn.

Lafayette French Pastry Bakers: As authentic as you can get, this bakery is second-generation New York, and refreshingly devoid of bored hipster counter staff. Although gruff at first, once the head baker warms up to you, you'll have a friend for life--not to mention the most delightful, authentic french-inspired cakes and patisserie, cream filled and dazzling. 26 Greenwich Avenue (between W. 10th & Charles Streets).


Magnolia Bakery: After all of the movie and tv features, all of the magazine articles, the scandal and everything--they're still pretty bitchin' cupcakes. But next time you go--once you get past the bouncer that is--don't pass up the Nilla Wafer pudding or plentiful cake slices, which are equally swoon-worthy. 401 Bleecker Street (at W. 11th Street).

Make My Cake: After their original location on 110th Street closed, a depression set over the city that wasn't over until they re-opened (2 locations!) further uptown. Like the soul food version of cake: rich, buttery and deeply satisfying, not to mention beautiful. Two locations: 121 St. Nicholas Ave. (at W. 116th Street); 2380 Adam C. Powell Blvd (at W. 139th Street); online at makemycake.com.

Muffins Cafe: True, this place does not sell cakes or cupcakes--but this teensy store front not too far from Columbus Circle sells muffins so delightful, they might be sold out of your favorite flavor if you don't go early! We favored the pumpkin and corn muffins, but the menu does vary from time to time. 222 Columbus Ave.
(between w. 70th & w. 71st Streets).

Out of the Kitchen: Primarily a catering business, they nonetheless offer an ever-changing daily menu of lunch items, which are a good appetizer for their even better desserts. Their cupcakes, simple and alluring in black and white, are gems: moist but solid cake that doesn't collapse under a substantial mound of icing. 456 Hudson Street (between Barrow & Morton Streets); online at outofthekitchenonline.com

Peter Pan Bakery: The cakiest, densest and least pretentious doughnut shop we've ever seen; believe it or not, the teenage Polish workers in pink aprons manage to be completely un-ironic. And the prices are like a throwback to a time we can't even remember--many items are less than one dollar (!). 727 Manhattan Ave. (between Meserole and Norman Avenues), Brooklyn.

Pozzo Pastry: If you'd lived in New York during the 1950's Valley of the Dolls era, you might have walked by this bakery and it wouldn't be a bit different than it is today. Visit Pozzo Pastry for classic cannolis and pannetone, but don't neglect the cakes--the strawberry shortcake is like a taste of an idealized past.
690 9th Avenue (Between W. 47th & W. 48th Streets); online at pozzopastry.com
.

Rocco's Pastry Shop & Espresso: Rocco's is known for its Italian pastries, but for Cakespy the standout was really the drop cakes, also known as black and whites, a New York tradition. The ambience at this West Village bakery is old-school; the cakes are as comforting as if Grandma made them. 243 Bleecker Street (between Leroy & Carmine Streets); online at roccospastry.com.

Sage American Kitchen Bakery: An unexpected treat, Cakespy sleuthed these amazing cupcakes at Dean & Deluca, where they were labeled as having been from Sage American Kitchen Bakery, which turned out to be worth the trip to Long Island City, Queens; their cakes are perfect in every way: fresh, buttery and yet complex--they are spiced to perfection. They'll make you a believer in carrot cake. 26-21 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens; also available at various Dean & Deluca locations. On the web at sageamericankitchen.com.

Soutine Bakery: So unassuming from the outside--this storefront is on a residential block, from which the enchanting smell of French pastry fills the air in the mornings. Don't be fooled by the tiny facade--inside they create cakes which count Ruth Reichl amongst their loyal followers. 104 W. 70th Street (at Columbus Avenue); online at soutine.com.

Sweetheart Coffee: It's got to be hard to be the bakery just a few blocks away from Magnolia. Nonetheless, this little gem has soldiered on through the years, offering up Argentinian-inspired pastries which are homestyle and endearing in their occasionally lopsided looks; many of them are vegan (although they've labeled the vegan products "Diet"--which we wish they wouldn't). 69 Eighth Avenue (between Greenwich Avenue and W. 13th Street).

Tisserie: Holy Viennoisserie! This Parisian-style patisserie (started rather inexplicably by two brothers from Venezuela who have another location in Caracas) is perched on the northwest corner of Union Square like a beacon, filled with rows and rows of beautiful pastry, tarts and cakes. In keeping with their european inspiration the sweets are sugary but not too sweet--the bittersweet chocolate used in their cakes is rich and complex, with an aftertaste that you'll wish could last forever. 857 Broadway (at W. 17th Street); online at tisserie.com.

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