It was the irrepressible Fabio on this season’s Top Chef who best articulated my current breakfast philosophy. “In the morning, you want a’ little something sweet to go with your cappuccino. No big meal. Just a’ little sweet, a’ little coffee, boom, you done.” (I paraphrase.)
Of course, he then went on to make an overwhelmingly heavy brioche-brulée-banana-something with espresso cream that had Padma wincing. But the idea is a sound one—in the mornings, I often want just a little something tasty with my coffee, not a muffin the size of my head or a cinnamon roll that’ll leave me feeling weighed down all day. So I’ve always been a fan of the mini-pastry: ideally adding a bit of sweetness to my morning and less than a dollar to my bill.
The problem with mini-pastries is that they’re often a kitchen afterthought, given less attention than their proper-sized counterparts. But several bakeries in town do the little guys justice, turning out small pastries more than worth your spare change.
Chocolate-Almond Croissant from Madeleine Patisserie
They’re called “mini chocolate-almond croissants,” but these pastries are almond first, chocolate second, and croissant last. (And they’re only “mini” in comparison with the behemoths sitting next to them.) In my opinion, they’re the best thing on the menu at Madeleine Patisserie on 23rd Street in Chelsea. While Madeleine’s other croissants (and madeleines, for that matter) are tasty but unremarkable, the mini chocolate-almonds are incredible—a lump of sweet almond frangipane hiding a ribbon of thick, dark chocolate, with only the lightest of pastry shells, so soaked through with sugar that the edges get chewy and caramelized. Fans of chocolate and almond could do no better.
Coffee with that? Generally, yes. Consistency isn’t Madeleine’s strong suit, but the Lavazza coffee is strong and tasty, and most of the counter girls make a decent espresso.
132 West 23rd Street, New York NY 10011 (map) 212-243-2757
Mini-Croissant from La Bergamote
Little French patisserie La Bergamote makes one of my favorite croissants in the city, and its smaller incarnation is just as good—the right balance of crispy shell to tender interior, with a beautifully bronzed crust that shatters as you bite into it. And the petit version won’t leave you on butter overload.
Coffee with that? Yes, please. If you have time to linger, the cozy café is the perfect place to while away the morning with a bowl-sized café au lait and the Times.
169 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10011 (map) 212-627-9010
Lumaca from Grandaisy Bakery
I can never quite decide whether lumaca (which means “snail” in Italian) can be properly considered a breakfast pastry, or whether I’m just eating dessert in the morning. Truth be told, they’re closer to a rugelach or even a palmier—incredibly buttery puff pastry rolled up with walnuts, currants, cinnamon-sugar, and apricot jam. The jam and sugar seep out the bottom just a bit, palmier-style, forming a sticky bottom crust. If you like crispy and sweet in the mornings, this little guy’s for you.
Coffee with that? Yes—well-brewed Illy.
73 Sullivan Street, New York NY 10012 (map)
Raisin Danish from Tisserie
I have mixed feelings about this Union Square bakery. The pastries, quiches, and sandwiches on display are positively stunning, but (brownies aside) never taste quite as good as they look. Or as good as the price tag should warrant. But I’ve had good luck with the mini raisin danishes—just sweet enough, heavy on the cinnamon and small, juicy raisins.
Coffee with that? Yes—espresso-based drinks are particularly tasty.
Pain au Chocolat from Ceci-Cela
A good pain au chocolat is all about the proper ratio of chocolate to pastry; in the smaller versions, that ratio often gets skewed, with hardly a dot of chocolate to liven up the dough. But Ceci-Cela doesn’t skimp on the good stuff, with two thick bands of rich chocolate inside. Best early in the morning, if you don’t mind the crush inside the slot-sized SoHo bakery.
Coffee with that? Sure. Ceci-Cela’s coffee won’t win any awards, but it’s perfectly drinkable, and they’ll add warm steamed milk at no charge.
Any of these mini-pastries would brighten up my morning. Where do you get your mini-pastry fix?