A Typical Day Off in New York


New York is my favorite city in the world, so instead of jetting around in public transportation or taxis, I like to walk around so that I can immediately explore anything that looks interesting. I loosely base my routes around bakeries and stores that I want to check out. When I have a whole day off, I actually like aiming for places that are far away from each other, b/c it gives me exercise and a chance for my palate and stomach to relax between tastings.

So, today, as I often do, I started off with a cupcake in mind…

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Buttercup Bake Shop, at 2nd Ave & 51 St. Cupcakes are everywhere in NY, and I’m determined to track down the best one. I don’t have a “control cupcake” — it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s vanilla cake/icing or chocolate cake/icing because I theoretically like all those combinations. I just want a delicious, moist cake with flavorful icing (with conf sugar buttercream — not Italian, Swiss, or French buttercream, b/c I just don’t like ‘em). The most common letdown is a dry cake… like this one, unfortunately. The icing didn’t taste very chocolate-y, either, so the whole result was pretty bland. Too bad. My cupcake search continues.

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Banana Pudding. I have a sentimental spot for banana pudding — the Magnolia Bakery version was my big discovery of 1999, and I made it countless times after I moved back to Chicago for college (it was probably the first and only dessert that I made for years); it now also reminds me of the entremet cake that I made in culinary school.

Buttercup is owned by an ex-partner of Magnolia, so it made sense that this was here. This version was very thick — the pudding component itself, but it was also packed with Nilla Wafers and banana slices. Texturally, it was too much for me, like a traffic jam in a cup. I wished that the pudding was a little fluffier and that it had more room to breathe amongst the cookies and bananas. The flavor was nice, though (infused with banana, with hints of sweetened condensed milk and vanilla).

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Then, on to Fauchon, at Park & 57th St, whose hot pinkness can be seen from blocks away. They only had a few pastries out at about 10:45, so I got these two petit fours and walked to the plaza in front of FAO Schwartz, at 5th Ave & 58th St, to eat them.

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The Pistachio Eclair was pretty bland (tasted of… sugar) and oddly dry yet chewy. Maybe it was old.

The Key Lime Tart had an initial creamy flash of lime that dissipated into an eggy taste; the lime almost, but never quite took off. I think that the construction is really interesting, though — it looked like that sphere was formed by joining two hemispheres of molded curd. I think it would have been even better if it had been on a crust that really showed off its roundness, rather than this slightly larger round one — the curd was off-centered and looked like it was in baggy clothes when it should have been svelte. It would be good to try to smooth the seam a little more, too.

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I’ve had these caramels before, and they’re rich, chewy, and flavorful; I could only wish that they included their salted caramels in the box, too. I didn’t have any today, though, b/c yes, Chad, they’re for you.

Then through Central Park and this gazebo to get to the southwest corner of the park…

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And to Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. I’ve been there a couple times and will write a full post about it later, but here’s a grape tart that I had there today as a preview…

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And then I walked up the Upper West Side on Broadway. I wandered around Fairway, at 74th St, a bustling gourmet grocery market with an especially fabulous outdoor produce display.

Then I happened upon Beard Papa Sweets Cafe, at 76th St, which I vaguely remembered reading about — there are a few of these Japanese chain stores around NY and they’re known for their cream puffs, so I got an Earl Grey Milk Tea one (the other choice was vanilla)…

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Light and crispy (very admirable on such a humid day as today), with a smooth pastry cream inside that not only had a balanced sweet Earl Grey flavor, but also had a hint of a lemon tang. And it’s just me, but I don’t like the way that conf sugar and choux pastry taste together, though, so that was my only issue with this.

And then found myself in front of H & H Bagels, and got a just-perfectly-chewy sesame bagel, which was the closest thing that I had to a lunch…

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And then to the wonderful Zabar’s. After browsing the grocery section, I spent a lot of time upstairs, inspecting and collecting baking paraphernalia, like tart tins, a food mill, magi-cake strips, silicone cake pan liners, a triple sifter, and some miscellaneous, which I squeezed into my backpack before pointing myself back downtown.

I noticed Ottomanelli Bros, at Amsterdam & 78th St, and was excited b/c I was at a dinner party last night where I was served an amazing New York strip steak from Ottomanelli. But I’ve since found out that that steak came from Ottomanelli Brothers at York & 82nd St. There’s also an Ottomanelli Meat Market in the West Village. I can’t tell if they’re related.

And then I just walked a lot — down to NY Cake & Baking Distribution, at 26th St & 5th Ave. They have everything that people who enjoy decorating cakes would need, and I was interested to see that they have gelatin sheets, acetate, and glucose for sale.

And then into the 18 miles of books lining the shelves of The Strand, at Broadway & 12th St. A while later, I came outside with Cakes by Maida Heatter and The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion — b/c soon I’ll be back in Napa and eager to bake on my own.
Then I read for a while before dinner at Sapa, at 6th Ave & 24th St. I got a ride home, and I admit that was fine with me at that point. I’ll post about the actual meal later.

5 Responses to “A Typical Day Off in New York”

  1. Amy Says:

    What a sweet day! Since they fill the cream puffs to order at Beard Papa’s I imagine you ask them to skip the powdered sugar. I also love the green tea filled one.

  2. Natalie Says:

    Zabars! Zabars!! I was just there in May and had to really pick and choose what I could take with me on the plane. I was in love with that place! I really loved the fresh dill sauce in small containers, the smoked salmon, and the fresh hand-rolled pasta that came in rolled sheets that you just cut into the width you desired. I really loved my Zabar’s experience. I wish I could go back.

  3. Catherine Says:

    Wow - that Earl Grey cream puff really got my attention. I also like the look of th banana pudding and the grape tart-yum! And I don’t even have a sweet tooth!

  4. jamie Says:

    cupcakes! http://www.flickr.com/photos/11759027@N00/69530032/ make me some of these :)

  5. Nina Says:

    Amy - Thanks for boths tips. :)

    Natalie - I know what you mean — if I wasn’t forced to choose what would fit well into my suitcases, I would have bought one of everything. But I’m already planning to go again before I leave… so I’ll just carry a Zabar’s bag onto the plane, if I have to. :)

    And I’ll look for the dill sauce — I want to bring back good dry goods, too, so that I can use them while cooking/baking in Napa.

    Catherine - Thanks! Yeah, I really want to play around more with tea-flavored desserts, especially when combined with other flavors. It’s on my little “to make list.”

    Jamie - Sushi cupcakes? I’m in.

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