Best of 2011 Eats & Treats: Dessert Edition


It’s finally here! Our Best of 2011 issue hit kiosks today. It’s chock-full of great things to eat and drink. Wondering what the city’s best Liberian and Hawaiian restaurants are? We’ve got you covered. New York’s best uses for Velveeta and kimchi? Yep, we’ve got that, too. Space limited what could appear in the print edition, so throughout the week, we’ll be dishing up some online exclusives and highlighting the runners-up that came close but just missed the mark. Up first? The Best of 2011: Dessert Edition, written by the lovely Rebecca Marx. She (and her sugar tooth) might be gone, but her favorite desserts will not be forgotten.

Best Mess: New York was laid siege by ice cream sandwiches this past summer, each more winsome and pedigreed than the last. But none were more memorable than the exuberantly sloppy behemoths from Coolhaus, the ice cream truck that came to us from L.A. bearing creations as flavorful as they are outsize. Eating one under the mid-afternoon sun necessitates both numerous napkins and a willingness to use your tongue in ways that are illegal in Kansas and Utah. What’s lost in dignity is more than made up for in caloric bliss, which is to us an eminently fair trade.

Best Reason to Worship Satan: There is chocolate cake, and then there is chocolate cake that would make a priest put his fist through a stained-glass window. The devil’s food cake that Kierin Baldwin makes at the Dutch falls squarely into the latter category. Baldwin’s genius lies not so much in the cake’s impeccably moist and fudgy crumb, but in twists like the addition of crunchy cocoa nibs to the cake layers and black pepper to its boiled icing. The latter is equal parts divinity and dark mischief, and utterly worth the sale of your soul. 131 Sullivan Street, 212-677-6200,

Best Semi-Obscure Regional Specialty: Born in the early ’40s, St. Louis’s Gooey Butter Cake was all but unknown in these parts until Shuna Lydon thoughtfully added it to her menu at Peels. She tweaked the cake’s name (to “St. Louis Sticky Gooey Cake”) but not its most glorious attribute, the delirium-inducing morass of sweet, buttery custard that sits quivering beneath a crackly, fissured crust. Pooled quicksand-like atop a foundation of yeasty brioche, it is every bit as sticky and gooey as its name promises and, as such, an occasion to rejoice. 325 Bowery, 646-602-7015,

Best Doughnut Masquerading as a Cake: In appearance, Jeffrey’s Grocery‘s chocolate coffee cake is a wee bundt cake, dusted with powdered sugar. But in that powdered sugar is the betrayal of the cake’s true nature: In texture and flavor, it’s a cake doughnut. In the best way possible, mind you. It’s got that alluringly crunchy crust and dense but springy interior. The flavor is low on sugar and high on chocolate. Regardless of what you call the thing, it’s delicious. 172 Waverly Place, 646-398-7630,

Best and Most Accurate Use of the Word ‘Crack’: “It’s like crack” is one of the highest compliments one can give a dessert. It’s also one of the most inaccurate — no, whatever you’re eating will not give you delusional parasitosis or cause you to lose your job and home. That said, Ample Hills Creamery‘s Salted Crack Caramel ice cream is eminently deserving of its name, thanks its great reserve of salty, toasted caramel flavor and the sedimentary deposits of milk-chocolate-enrobed saltines concealed in its creamy depths. It’s a perfect storm of sugar, fat, and salt: Your dopamine receptors don’t stand a chance. 623 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, 347-240-3926,

Best Makeover: Much as it has helped transform coffee from brown beverage to eroticized fetish object, Blue Bottle has taken the snickerdoodle, one of the most prosaic members of the American cookie canon, and remade it into an obscure object of desire. It’s a feat that’s accomplished by swapping the cookie’s customary cinnamon with saffron, a substitution that’s such a natural fit with its butter and vanilla that you’ll wonder why it wasn’t there all along. 160 Berry Street, Brooklyn, 718-387-4160,

Best Reason to Cross Northern Boulevard: In a contradiction typical of Queens, some of the best French pastries in the city are found in that most American of institutions, a strip mall. That’s where bakers Gnanasampanthan Sabaratnam and Jean-Claude Perennou are turning out Cannelle Patisserie‘s superb Francophilic delights, and one of the best is the Paris-Brest. The wheel-shaped pastry, which commemorates an iconic 19th-century bicycle race, is here composed of khaki-colored hazelnut cream piped between two layers of airy choux pastry. It sports an armor of toasted slivered almonds, a dusting of powdered sugar, and an uncanny ability to inspire joy. 75-59 31st Avenue, Queens, 718-565-6200,

Best Daily Serving of Fruit: Since opening its doors in July, Bien Cuit has earned deserved acclaim for its fantastic breads. But its fruit tarts have also inspired devotion. Aesthetically, they walk a fine line between French-style OCD perfection and rustic nonchalance. The ripe, barely adulterated fruit demands to be admired and then wolfed down, as does the crisp, buttery crust. Like all great beauties, these tarts are equal parts style and substance. 120 Smith Street, Brooklyn, 718-852-0200,

Best Display of Weirdo Genius: The ovens at Matthew Tilden’s SCRATCHbread have birthed some of the city’s most compellingly unusual pastries, perhaps none more so than the bakery’s plantain cake with mole streudel. What on earth happens when bananas, plantains, yucca, burnt caramel, and sourdough crumbs get mashed together and topped with pumpkin seeds, red chili seed mole, bitter chocolate, and pecans? A spicy-sweet-savory revelation, served with a side of crazy. 1069 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-744-8231,

Best Vindication of Frozen Yogurt: We have always considered frozen yogurt to be to ice cream what cupcakes are to cake: a food that is turning New York into a convincing facsimile of a suburban mall and largely lacking in purpose or character. That changed when we visited Culture, where the yogurt is refreshing, bracingly tart, and limited to two or three flavors but accessorized with things including fresh blueberries, maple syrup, and homemade granola. If one place can free frozen yogurt from its binge-eating-sorority-girl associations, it’s this one. 331 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-499-0207