Last week, I was in New York for a conference and, as sugar addicts do, I devoted all my spare time to seeking out sugary treats I’ve read about on other’s blogs. My sweet spot (pun intended) was any place in Manhattan that featured cookies, cakes or cupcakes, and that did take out. I do not have the self-confidence to dessert in a cafe or bakery alone. No one needs to see me eat that much sugar at one time, and I don’t need the self-induced shame associated with it.
Given that I only had time on lunch breaks and after 4:30 pm, I believe I crammed a lot of treats into a 3.5 day stay. I still had a million places I would have visited if I’d had more time or the will to travel outside the boundaries of Manhattan proper, but really I think you’ll see that I consumed quite enough as it is.
I could simply present you with a list of the bakeries I visited and the treats I consumed, but since I completed this entire mission on foot alone (i.e. no cabs, Ubers, Subways or any other form of motorized transport), I felt compelled to work walking distance into an overly complex rating system that no one but me will understand. I’ve taken into account not just taste and appearance and quality and value for price, but also the distance I had to walk to acquire the treat. Sure, that should have no bearing whatsoever on how good the treat was, but let me tell you that walking 8 km for a cookie will make a big difference to how good it tastes. I’ve also included photos wherever possible, but I warn you that they are poor because a) I am not a food photographer…nor any kind of photographer and b) I took them while squirrelled away in my hotel room hiding from the shame of my sugar consumption. Here goes nothing.
1. Magnolia Bakery Chocolate Cake (4.8/5): First place goes to the closest bakery to my hotel, which conveniently also had the best chocolate cake base of any I tried. Moist, not too crumbly, and richly chocolately, this cake was a winner. The frosting, however, was way too soft. I’m team firm frosting all the way. It was also underwhelming. I took off a bunch of points for the frosting factor (frosting is life), but it got bonus points for total ease of access (800 m from my hotel). Scores could also be higher than usual because I ate this cake after watching a live taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers. I suspect anything tastes better after that.
[I am ashamed that I somehow didn’t take a picture of this cake. Who knew it would end up top of the list?]
2. Magnolia Bakery Carrot Cake (4.6/5): I gotta tell you, Magnolia Bakery knows what they’re doing with cakes. I’m normally not one to even care about the cake itself. I view it as merely a vehicle for frosting. But this carrot cake base was delicious without being overly moist like some carrot cakes can be. The cream cheese frosting was the biggest let down. I’m sure 99% of the world would love it because it’s not very sweet, but I want my frosting sweet as can be. In fact, I was initially drawn to this cake because of its intensely thick layers of frosting that promised a supremely deep sugar coma. It was good, but could’ve been so much better. Full disclosure: this may be ranked higher than it should be because I spent SEVEN HOURS at the Toronto airport waiting for my flight and any piece of cake would’ve tasted like heaven after that level of hell.
3. Levain Bakery Famed Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie (4.4/5): I don’t know about paying $4.25 US for a cookie. It was good, but I’m not sure any cookie is worth that kind of price tag. Still, I walked 42 minutes in each direction to get my hands on this bad boy and I didn’t regret it. Points were deducted because they serve the cookies with oozy, warm chocolate. I suspect I’m in the minority here, but I’m not a fan of warm cookies. I like my chocolate chips once they’ve returned to their solid state. The 2/3 of the cookie that I saved until it cooled off was fantastic.
4. Eataly Amarena Gelato (4.3/5): That cookie barely edged out this gelato, and I had to walk a lot farther for this. In other words, had this gelato been closer than the cookie, it would have beat it out. As you may know, I spent the summer on a quest for gelato perfection, one that was mostly disappointing with only a couple promising finds. I wanted to see if celebrity chef Mario Batali had anything to offer in the way of gelato. Hello, he’s Italian. Plus I am hugely skeptical of all these celebrity chef empires. I am pleased to say that the Amarena Gelato was the second best I’ve had outside of Italy. Texturally, it was spot on and many, many bonus points were awarded for the abundance of sour cherries. The only real downsides were the price ($6 US for a tiny cup) and that the vanilla base was overly sweet. Okay, Mario Batali, you might be the real deal.
5. Buttercup Bakery Chocolate Cake (4/5): Buttercup Bakery was started by the woman who originally opened Magnolia Bakery, so I had high hopes for this slice of cake. Its frosting to cake ratio was high, and the frosting had all the most promising characteristics: it looked firmer and more intensely chocolatey than Magnolia Bakery’s. Once again, life proved that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The frosting was a disappointment. Sigh. I can’t put my finger on it, but it lacked the buttery factor I associate with buttercream and had a bit of a bitterness to it. The cake itself was quite good, but just ever-so-slightly less intense than Magnolia Bakery’s cake. I mean, I ate this whole piece, of course, but I didn’t swoon with each bite.
6. Molly’s Cupcakes (3.5/5): Here is where we start to take a downward slide. I walked all the way to Greenwich Village for these cupcakes, and yes I bought two: Cookies n’ Creme and Salted Caramel. Both were filled cupcakes, for which I have a special place reserved in my heart. I will cut to the chase here and say that I was disappointed and that my massive disappointment comes down to one thing: swiss meringue buttercream. This will demonstrate my utter lack of class, but I find swiss meringue buttercream to be an abomination. For me, its mouth feel borders on repulsive and it lacks the sweetness I crave in frosting. So, while Molly’s Cupcakes cake base was actually quite good and its fillings delightful, they lost epic points for the frosting. Also, the picture below was taken after I walked fifty five city blocks back to my hotel. As you’ll see, they didn’t fare particularly well on the journey.
7. Citycakes Stuffed Red Velvet Cookie (2.5/5): Ugh, this one hurts. I was so, so, so looking forward to this one and my massive disappointment is the result of a total and complete reading failure on my part. I walked like fifty blocks expecting this beast of a cookie with ridiculously thick frosting sandwiched in the middle, because that is the picture I had seen on a blog. Well, as it turns out if I’d read the accompanying text I would have seen that picture on that blog was the cookie ice cream sandwich not the stuffed cookie. The frosting layer in the stuffed cookie was negligible to the point that I think a small piece of my heart broke the second I saw it. To add insult to injury, the outer edges of the cookie were crispy (death to crunchy cookies) and had the distinct and overwhelming taste of food colouring, which is often my complaint with red velvet in general. Let’s just say that I’m glad I bought this cookie on the day that I also bought a giant slice of chocolate cake because 50% of the cookie ended up in the garbage and I was able to drown my sorrows in the chocolate cake.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a medal. Also, I assume that it means your sugar addiction is right up there with mine. I hope this post saves you the heartache of the disappointing stuffed red velvet cookie and gives you enough information to find your own perfect chocolate cake should you find yourself in NYC. And lastly, a warning: if ever you plan to replicate this level of sugar consumption, I strongly recommend walking to any and all destinations. This level of sugar consumption necessitates the epic walking…and then some.
Happy desserting (yup, just made that word up)!