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?
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.