New York City Just Keeps Getting Sweeter
After each and every trip I take to New York City, I tell myself that I need to stay longer. There is never enough quality time with family, especially as there’s a little one in the picture now. And really, who has time to taste all of the sweet temptations the city has to offer ? I did my best, making my usual stops around town, as well as seeking out what’s new and different. Some standouts of the latter: Butter Lane’s cookie dough cupcake, Zucker Bakery’s date and halvah “rose,” Lafayette’s birthday cake macaron and William Greenberg’s sweet potato “black & white” cookies, to name a few. Then there were the unplanned discoveries too: a spontaneous tasting of Raaka chocolate bars in Bryant Park, a bacon maple syrup macaron while at Bosie Tea Parlor and pumpkin babka sitting right next to the rugelach at Breads Bakery.
New York City just keeps getting sweeter.
I’m a cookie person, you all know that. (Okay, and a chocolate person. And a nougat person.) And for me, New York City is a total cookie town. (And to my sweet surprise, so was Charleston !) Every time I visit, it’s not long until I have savored (devoured ?!) my all-time favorites: Jacques Torres, Tate’s Cookies, City Bakery… And it’s not long either until I begin making the rounds to all of the new places on my list. I already can’t wait for my next trip, as a few of those new tastes may just become old favorites.
Liddabit Sweets was on my radar for quite some time, and by no means did it disappoint. First of all, they make honeycomb ! A confection I used to make often, but sadly rarely found outside of Europe, sponge candy is finally getting some attention stateside. (Nunu Chocolates makes a stellar version above, with the fun name, hokey pokey.) Liddabit Sweets is a small handmade candy company from Brooklyn (like Nunu Chocolates) that makes fun, creative and irresistible confections, like Tallyhos (salty chocolate cookies with vanilla marshmallow, dipped in dark chocolate), “The King” (brown sugar/brown butter cookie with soft peanut butter nougat and banana ganache, dipped in milk chocolate) and fig ricotta caramels. I had my eye on none other than the chocolate chip caramel cookie. Generous in size and on dark chocolate and salt, with a chewy caramel center… need I say more ?!
It may have been the maple date cornbread that attracted me to Smile to Go, and the much talked about salted chocolate chip cookie that confirmed its “must visit” status (tip: buy two, one to eat on the spot and the other to warm up later at home), but it’s the peanut butter and jelly cookie that will bring me back in 2014. An ingenious play of textures that combines crisp, chewy and sticky, this PB&J cookie had anything but a subtle flavor – an explosion of fresh peanut butter and tangy hint of fruitiness from the strawberry jam. Grab a tall glass of milk for this one.
Of course, there’s more to New York’s sweet scene than cookies. Cupcakes, ice cream and chocolate bars don’t go unnoticed. Nor does the wave of French pastries taking over the city. First it was macarons. Now it’s éclairs. And next may be cannelés. To get a taste of all three, the place to go is most certainly Lafayette. That just so happens to be the home of my current favorite cookie in the Big Apple too ! I’m not quite sure how many times I went back to buy more on my last visit (reminiscent of my previous discovery of muesli rolls at Breads Bakery and my numerous return trips there too).
So what makes the ordinary chocolate chip cookie so extraordinary at Lafayette ? The addition of coffee and smoked sea salt certainly helps. I also happen to love that Pastry Chef Jennifer Yee uses Swiss Felchlin chocolate, my personal chocolate of choice.
But back to those French pastries… Lafayette is a big, handsome, market-driven bistro, French influences from several regions around the country, with a beautiful café and bakery at the entrance – and a very photogenic floor. They have all of the classics you’d expect to see across the Atlantic: croissants and macarons, madeleines and mini cannelés, baguettes, brioches and adorable petits beurres (shortbread cookies) wrapped in blue baker’s twine. There’s a whole assortment of éclairs too. Take a closer look and you’ll see there’s an American twist to this French classic. The flavors are inspired by American pies, like the spiced apple éclair Yee has in her hands below. It even has its own lattice garnish ! There’s also pecan pie, lemon meringue pie and key lime pie… éclairs. (Excellent Q&A with Yee, who ICE just called the city’s newest pastry “it girl.”)
Another classic in the French pastry repertoire is the Tarte Tatin (upside down caramelized apple tart). I had the pleasure of tasting a very special one with DessertBuzz‘s Niko Triantafillou at Gotham Bar & Grill, a stalwart of the city’s high-end dining scene. Never before had I seen a waiter present a dessert to the table (like a whole fish), then swiftly disappear back into the kitchen with it, to plate individual portions. But Pastry Chef Ron Paprocki’s Tarte Tatin, which serves two, is that impressive. Paprocki spontaneously and generously shared the baking process with us, showing us how the elements come together in the pan. Of course he made it sound and look ever so simple, but he also told us that it’s a 3-day process from start to finish. In the end, it’s all about fresh ingredients, like the organic Braeburn apples he gets from the Union Square Greenmarket,… and a whole lot of butter !
Don’t get nervous when you don’t see it written on the dessert menu. It never is. But do be sure to ask your waiter for it !
All in all, New York City just keeps getting sweeter ! Time to plan the next trip in. After all, my list is already getting long…
One thing on that list is a return trip to Gotham Bar & Grill for Paprocki’s new Butterscotch Coupe (maple ice cream, espresso cream, chocolate crumb and house-made pretzels). As is a visit to ChikaLicious Dessert Bar, open now for ten years (great interview with owner Chika Tillman here), the more recently opened Canelé by Céline and the Macaron Parlour.
And, how’s this for timing… while typing this article, the New York Times just published a brilliant piece with a spotlight on… dessert ! Finally, “restaurants that give dessert both the respect and the stage it deserves.” What does that mean for me ? I have a few more places to add to my list.
(above top row: cupcakes from Butter Lane. bottom row: classic, red velvet and sweet potato “black & whites” and hamantaschen from William Greenberg)
What other “must tastes” would YOU add to that list for my next sweet adventure in New York City ?