There’s nothing like New York during the holidays. As many of you know, I spent Thanksgiving in New York this year visiting family, staying with my little sister in Soho and eating many, many cookies. And slices of pie. And cupcakes. I wanted to share a quick photo tour of our time spent bakery-hopping so next time you find yourself in the city, you have a sense of where to go and what to try.
And definitely never tire of window shopping, pondering brownstones I’d buy if I were wealthy, or… pie.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Four and Twenty Blackbirds is in Brooklyn and we fell for this quaint pie shop much like I knew we would. They’ve gotten a lot of press lately and are in an out-of-the-way neighborhood, but this is the place to come and seek out a good old-fashioned slice of pie served by two charming sisters who have successfully created a shop that’s drawing in the masses. We tried the maple custard pie and the salted caramel apple pie. Both were outstanding. Request a dollop of whipped cream and snag the seat by the window with the breezy curtains. Doesn’t get much better than that.
A few hours after wandering around Park Slope, Zoe and I hopped on a bus and headed over to Baked in Red Hook. If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m obsessed with these guys. And the small neighborhood bakery didn’t disappoint. We tried many things and brought a bag of treats home for Zoe’s roommates. Baked is known for their salted caramel brownie and the Brookie (half brownie/half cookie) and both are absolutely worth the trek to Red Hook. The Brookie kind of turned our afternoon upside down–it’s one of those things you try and wonder why no one thought of doing it before. And they do a darn fine whoopie pie: not at all dry, perfectly cakey and ultra chocolaty. It’s tough to nab a seat but there are benches outdoors and the block itself has a few cute shops.
Back in Manhattan, there’s a great new American bakeshop in Chelsea called Lulu. Much like Baked, they specialize in my favorite kind of desserts: nostalgic American baked goods. And they’re seriously not messing around. Their chocolate yodels were incredible and the selection of cakes is kind of like a step back in time. Our favorite though, hands down, was the red velvet yodel. It’s decadent and rich and you probably shouldn’t eat a whole one yourself, but you can always justify it with a brisk stroll around Chelsea Market (across the street) afterwards. A really charming spot not to miss if you appreciate retro desserts.
The Donut Plant
Valrhona donut? Yes, please.
My other sister Rachael and I had heard of this great place to get donuts in the city called The Donut Plant. Another bakery in an under-the-radar location, The Donut Plant rocks. Go here. Get their infamous square jelly -filled donut (another brilliant invention!) and any seasonal specialties that sound like they’d make you happy (the pumpkin was quite something). Share with a sister, a friend, a neighbor on the subway.
Maybe all you New Yorkers know the deal with this place, but the spot on 160 Prince Street that’s labeled “Vesuvio Bakery” has apparently been sold to another bakery but they haven’t changed the signage? We were a little unclear about this, but we were very clear about how amazing their chocolate chip cookies were. It was an impromptu, unplanned cookie–the best kind. When cruising around Soho, a good pick-me-up spot.
Clinton Street Bakery
The folks at Clinton Street Bakery are known for their fluffy blueberry pancakes. And there’s a perpetual 1-2 hour wait on the weekends which, truthfully, I always find a little annoying. But it was a sunny crisp Sunday in New York and I was meeting a friend for brunch and we had a whole lot to catch up on, so it was all good. Were the pancakes legendary? You know what? They may have been the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever had, actually. They were pretty darn good. I’m not sure they were ‘2-hour wait’ good, but you can always buy one of their amazing buttermilk biscuits to nibble on outside while you hang out and people watch.
Part of David Chang’s Momofuku mini-empire, Milk Bar is his little dessert off-shoot. I was smitten with this place. Smitten in a ‘I can’t talk right now, I’m taking all of this in’ kind of way. They do this really brilliant soft serve with innovative flavors in which you can actually taste the layers of flavor. It’ll make you look at soft serve in a whole new light. They’re known for their Crack Pie and Compost Cookie which we tried–both buttery, buttery goodness, and fun packaging. Standing-room only communal tables, good buzz and energy and desserts you don’t see every day make this a must-do on any NYC bakery-hopping adventure.
So that about wraps it up. There was also cappuccinos at Caffe Reggio–apparently the first ever cafe to serve cappuccino in the U.S. (really?!) We were lucky enough to eat at some great restaurants as well: The Little Owl, Blue Hill, Momofuku Noodle Bar and Craft among them. And if you haven’t been to Mario Batali’s Eataly, you really must see it. I wrote about our trip there on Bay Area Bites last week if you’d like to know more. There were so many other spots I really wanted to go to but there are just so many hours in the day. Any of your favorites you don’t see here? What’d we miss?
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.