Best Bakeries in New York City

Here's a baker's dozen plus two of my favorite bakeries in New York. Are they the best fifteen in Gotham? You tell me.

20071102troispommesbox.jpgAs the northeast weather turns colder and Thanksgiving approaches this man's attention turns to baked goods. Of course it doesn't take much to get me thinking about pies, cakes, cookies, and any other food item containing the holy trinity of butter, sugar, and flour. That smell, that wondrous, incredibly alluring bakery smell, is what I live for. If I'm feeling blue, that smell transports me to a better, happier place.

New York City happens to be home to more great bakeries per square block than any other city in the country. Why? A couple of reasons. New York has long been the first stop in America for an incredibly diverse ethnic groups. Many of those ethnic groups, the Germans, the Russian and Polish Jews, the Hungarians, the Austrians, the southern Italians, and even in smaller number the French settled here at different points starting at the turn of the twentieth century. Many of these folks brought incredibly rich baking traditions with them.

During the eighties, however, as ethnic enclaves began to break down and disperse, many of the great ethnic bakeries of New York closed. French bakeries like Dumas, Bonte, and Colette shut their doors. So did the great Hungarian bakeries Riga and Mrs. Herbst's. Ditto for great Jewish-style bakeries like Litchtman's and Grossinger's.

As I've written before, supermarkets took over as our principal places to buy baked goods. For baked goods in New York, the eighties were dark days indeed. All that was left were Italian bakeries in Italian neighborhoods in all five boroughs and a few neighborhood bakeries like Glaser's (amazingly, still open) and Kramer's (unfortunately closed) that hung on by their flour-coated fingernails.

Then two things happened that explain the bakery boom today in New York. Maury Rubin, a young television producer turned French-trained baker, opened the first City Bakery. He brought serious baking skills and a finely honed personal baked good aesthetic (think Mondrian mixed with Lenotre) to Gotham and in so doing created a community of baked-good lovers who could go to City Bakery, hang out, chew the fat, and have one of Rubin's amazing tarts washed down with a hot chocolate.

Rubin's success, though significant, could not singlehandedly create the conditions for New York's bakery boom. The boom needed another catalyst, and it got one with the exploding New York restaurant scene. New York's restaurant boom that began with the Jams, the Union Square Cafe, Montrachet, created an entire community of freshly trained young pastry chefs who combined French baking techniques with a love for high quality homey American-style baked goods. Brownies and cookies shared centerstage on pastry menus with warm apple tarts and and tarte tatins. The burgeoning pastry chef scene created an army of young pastry entrepreneurs who longed to call their own shots (or should I say cookies) in their own bakeries.

Today the New York bakery scene has never been healthier. Classic ethnic bakeries in East Harlem and Bensonhurst are still beloved by their communities, and new high-quality bakeries seem to be opening every week in both new and established gentrified neighborhoods.

Here's a baker's dozen plus two of my favorite bakeries in New York. Are they the best fifteen in Gotham? You tell me. My criteria is that they make at least three transcendently delicious items. It also helps, though it's not essential, if the owner can be spotted hanging around presiding over his or her baked goods.

Have I missed any? Let me know. Next week I will cut it down to my top ten, the week after that, my top five, and finally my top three the week after that. But don't wait for a post on my single best bakery in New York. I could never choose. It would just be too hard.

Two Little Red Hens (Upper East Side): Cheesecake, Pies, Birthday Cakes
Trois Pommes Patisserie (Park Slope): Sticky Bun, Chocolate Chip Scone, Pumpkin Cheesecake (pictured, above)
Sweet Melissa's (Park Slope, Carroll Gardens): Butterscotch Pudding, Pie, Tarts
Yura (Upper East Side): Angel Food Cake, Apple Crisp, Pie
City Bakery (Flatiron): Tarts, Cookies, Hot Chocolate
Bouchon Bakery (Midtown West): Chocolate Bouchons, Peanut Butter Cookie, Autumn Harvest Danish
Soutine (Upper West Side): Chocolate Concorde Cake, Muffins, Birthday Cakes
Duane Park Patisserie (Tribeca): Turnovers, Brownies, Birthday Cakes
Andre's Hungarian (Upper East Side, Rego Park, Queens): Strudel, Rugelach, Kugelhof
Payard (Upper East Side): New York, New York Cake, Manhattan Tower, Lemon Pound Cake
Amy's (Chelsea Market, Hell's Kitchen, Greenwich Village): Layer Cake, Scones,
Mitchel London (Upper East Side) : Rustic Apple Tarts, Cupcakes, Tarte Tatin
Once Upon A Tart (Soho): Fruit Tarts, Biscotti, Brownies
Margaret Palca Bakes (Carroll Gardens/Red Hook): Rugelach, Apple Squares, Decorated Butter Cookies
E.A.T. (Upper East Side): Marble Cake, Carrot Cake, Pie

Also worth noting:
Almondine (Dumbo)
Baked (Red Hook)
Marquet Patissierie (East Village)
Patisserie Margot (Upper West Side)
Sarabeth's (Upper West Side and Chelsea Market):
Little Pie Company (Hell's Kitchen, Grand Central Station):
Black Hound (East Village)