In Local Bakeries, Innovation Proceeds Apace


The new square green slice at Birdbath Bakery deploys filo dough and plenty of salt. The filo peach tart is shown below (click either to consume).

Increased competition among restaurants in an era of economic downturn is often the subject of essays and observations, less so the parallel competition among bakeries to separate you from your cake-buying dollar. Child of City Bakery, the Birdbath empire is particularly aggressive in its development of new products, both savory and sweet, with a particular emphasis on vegan baked goods.

Most recently, I picked up a new slice of green pizza, made with filo dough and littered with chopped leaks and mint, with a generous sprinkle of sea salt that sent the flavor into outer space. I’m still licking the salt off my lips, and I got a 10% discount because I rode to the bakery on my bike (non-bikers are advised to carry a bicycle helmet around with them to get the discount).

A couple of weeks ago, Birdbath — which styles itself a “green bakery” — introduced another filo-based product, an open-faced tart filled with ripe peaches, with a bit of granulated sugar strewn around the browned edges of the crust. The flavor was outstanding, but the $5 price tag seemed a bit steep. Nevertheless, I’ve eaten a dozen of these things in the interim.

Meanwhile, big doings at the Donut Plant. I was there early last Friday morning to film a segment for Hungarian TV about food in New York. Before starting, I was introduced to Mark Israel, the founder and formulator for the Doughnut Plant, who comes from an old Lower East Side family. He disappeared into the kitchen, and came back with a couple of new projects he was working on.

One was a creme brulee donut about the size and shape of a flattened donut hole. The top was a lake of crusty clear sugar, and when I bit into it, rum-laced custard oozed out. The flavor was amazing, and I gobbled it instantly. The second new product was a “carrot cake” donut. It had the usual donut shape, and the top was sprinkled with carrot shavings and nuts. The outside was only lightly frosted, but when I bit into it, I discovered a light cream-cheese filling. Realizing that a good deal of scientific innovation had gone into it, I asked Israel, “How did you manage to get that thick filling inside the donut?” He smiled a Mona Lisa smile and replied, “That has to remain a secret, but it wasn’t easy.”

This is what a half-eaten (and carried home in my pocket) carrot cake donut looks like.