On Saturday, after a completely insane 10K in Central Park, I met up with a bunch of friends to do a bakery tour of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We ended up visiting seven bakeries on our itinerary (and we did a lot of walking, which really helps in rationalizing the whole venture).
Here's the rundown of where we visited and what I ate:
1. Two Little Red Hens (1652 Second Ave. between 85th and 86th). Of all the bakeries we visited, I think Two Little Red Hens is my favorite. TLRH has a broad selection of baked goods: muffins, scones, pies, cakes, cupcakes, cookies. From TLRH, I bought a chocolate crinkle cookie for Karen and, for me, a tri-berry scone and a slice of "fruits of the summer" pie (berries, rhubarb, cherries). The scone was a bit cakey texture-wise, which was disappointing, but it was full of blueberries, strawberries, and a raspberry or two. The pie was tasty, definitely a good purchase. I rarely make pie (pie-crust phobia), and it's rare to find a bakery that sells it by the slice. TLRH has many things I'd like to taste, but because it was so warm on Saturday, I didn't want to schlep around something that was going to become goopy before I could eat it. At TLRH, we were treated to warm nuggets of red velvet cake (leftover batter? a kitchen mishap?), but something about the texture made me skeptical of the origin of the cake. It seemed not homemade to me.
2. Rive Gauche (336 E. 86th St.). This French bakery has breads and pastries. Defying any sense of rationality, I bought two biscotti (from a French bakery). The low-fat dried fruit biscotti are divine, soft and thin and chewy, not hard and tooth-achingly crunchy.
3. The Choux Factory (865 1st Ave.). While everyone else bought something here, I took a pass. I love Choux Factory cream puffs, but I didn't want to overload too soon. Since my last visit here, they've changed up the menu. I will be going back soon for a mango cream puff. These little treats looked lovely, with small slices of fresh mango jutting out of the puff, lying under a small mound of whipped cream.
4. Orwasher's Handmade Bread (308 E. 78th St.). Orwasher's features breads, all sorts of breads. I left with a loaf of challah and a loaf of cinnamon-walnut swirl. Very nice. They also have a few pastries and cookies. Although they list cherry strudel as among the items they make, I didn't see any in the case last Saturday. Cherry strudel is something I would definitely have gone for.
5. Crumbs (1371 Third Ave. at 78th St.). Crumbs trafficks in cupcakes, a few miniature, but mostly gigantic, behemoth cupcakes. Visually alluring and enormously tempting, but uneven in execution. A few weeks ago, I had a piña colada cupcake at Crumbs, and it was really fun, goofy and tasty of coconut and pineapple. On Saturday, I got a Key Lime cupcake. Near as I could tell, it was a yellow cupcake with a squirt of cream filling and green-tinted icing. No lime flavor at all. I did enjoy the frosted black-and-white cookie, however. My one regret from Saturday was not buying an Oreo brownie at Crumbs. They looked insane, big fudgy things with a white icing stained with Oreo pieces.
6. Payard Patisserie (1032 Lexington Ave. between 73rd and 74th St.). Payard is certainly the most elegant bakery we visited on Saturday. The assortment of pastries and chocolates is very high end and very tasty. Although I'm usually game for a macaroon or two, I opted to splurge on a flourless chocolate cookie. Rich and fudgy, full of nuts, it was a great lunchtime treat on Monday.
7. Buttercup Bake Shop (973 Second Ave. between 51st and 52nd St.). Buttercup is a longtime fave. Their main business is cupcakes, but I'm not one to overlook their layer cakes, which have a truly homemade feel and a rich slather of icing. Because I'm likely to buy something I'm unlikely to make myself, I tend to go for a slab of Buttercup's coconut cake, which is divine. I also got a Lady Baltimore cupcake and a chocolate cupcake. I was thrilled to see my niece Melissa eat a cupcake the same way I do: First, remove the paper wrapper. Second, break the cupcake stem off the top and consume the sad frosting-free portion as a penance. Third, slowly relish the frosting-coated top of the cupcake. Yum.
We surely missed a bunch of places on our tour, and we'll have to make up for that at some point. In the meantime, I think we need to get to the Upper West Side, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village for bakery walks.