Introduction

Introduction

By
Yasmin Newman
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781743792124
Photographer
Alicia Taylor

I once read a book called The New York Nobody Knows by a local sociologist who took it upon himself to walk every street of NYC’s five boroughs. That’s over 10,000 kilometres (6000 miles). He interviewed scores of people during the three-year undertaking and, incidentally, also wore out nine pairs of shoes.

My mission was less vast, but a feat in its own right: in three months, I would eat all of NYC’s desserts.** Ninety-one days, 169 venues and 373 desserts to be exact. Or, 4.1 desserts per day. As for the calories, you don’t want to know! These stats don’t even touch the desserts I created back in my East Village apartment each night, moved by the new tastes and textures still swirling in my mind, so I could relive them with family and friends back home.

According to our sociologist, you have to immerse yourself in the day-to-day to really know a city, and I subscribe to this view. It’s out there on the streets, on public transport, in grocery stores and cafes where local life takes place – sometimes, far from tourist attractions – and if you want a city’s true flavour, that’s where you’ll find it.

Food has always been my gateway to somewhere new. True, I’ll take any opportunity to eat, particularly dessert, but I appreciate the unsung neighbourhoods, nondescript streets and random alleys a food tip has led me to with equal measure. It’s what inspired this trip: chocolate chip cookies, sticky buns and soft serve as my New York passport. Okay, I also really wanted to try every single one.

Which brings me to an obvious question: why New York?

Around six years ago, my brother moved from Sydney to the bright lights of Gotham. It’s something of a rite of passage for Aussies to live and work abroad and, for many years, London was the go-to. In 2005, the introduction of a new work visa shifted our focus to New York. We’ve been pouring in ever since, lured by the promise of opportunity and progress, like so many expats and migrants before us.

About the same time, give or take a few years, New York desserts were starting to attract serious global attention. The city, home to top chefs, food magazines Introduction and culinary schools, had long been at the vanguard of culinary innovation. In the dessert department, early foundations were forged with local inventions such as New York cheesecake, Brooklyn blackout cake and black and white cookies. From the 1960s, three million migrants added everything from Jewish bakeries loaded with rugelach and babka to Chinese bun shops peddling custard tarts and Mexican panaderias offering tres leches. By the early 1990s, the first artisan revival was making waves, with new-age bakeries including The City Bakery, Sullivan Street Bakery and Amy’s Bread paving the way with organic flours, seasonal market produce and traditional techniques.

But now a fresh crop of pastry chefs imagining desserts in radical forms – from Christina Tosi’s infamous compost cookie to Dominique Ansel’s game-changing cronut – were adding to the city’s solid contingent of sweets, including Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes, whose cameo on Sex and The City could be pinpointed as ground zero for the current phenomenon of ‘will fly for’ sweets. The arrival of social media only fuelled the fanfare for destination desserts, particularly New York’s, and copycat renditions were cropping up in cafes and food blogs on the other side of the world. Throw in the next artisan wave stirring in Brooklyn, with venues such as Dough doughnuts, Mast chocolate, Van Leeuwen ice cream and Four & Twenty Blackbirds pies, and NYC was in the ring with Paris for the title of worldwide sweet heavyweight. And, like any self-respecting food lover, I wanted a front row seat.

I also longed to see my brother. Couldn’t we hang the expense, stop work and just do it? Live in New York, that is, and eat dessert to our heart’s content? It wouldn’t be my first food sabbatical (see my book 7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines), but now it wasn’t just me – there was my husband Steve, daughter Inés and a baby on the way. We worked out that we could, so we really should, shouldn’t we? And so we did.

Like all great food, the desserts of New York are a reflection of the city. More than eight million people, well over 100 ethnic groups and around 250 neighbourhoods make up the pulsating metropolis, and every penchant and persuasion can be found in between. From melting pot to avant-garde, old world to cutting edge, global leader to community minded, it’s a city of character and contrasts, which is why it appeals to, dare I say, everyone. Just follow one Manhattan thoroughfare through its course – and you should, in the spirit of all great walking cities – to see countless versions of The Big Apple and at least one that speaks to you. Then, sit back and people-watch, in a park or on the subway, and you’ll see other traits written in everything from their clothes to their confidence – the quiet disregard for rules, an equal respect for tradition and the freedom to experiment. I came to taste all these qualities in their desserts, and it’s a downright delicious mix.

Right now, you could describe NYC as flirting with the past. Molecular is gone, locavore is a given and nostalgia reigns, with layered cakes, rustic pies and soda fountain sundaes found in dedicated purveyors as well as temples of haute cuisine, blurring the line between pop and high culture. The rise of niche producers – not just skilled patissiers and bakers, but specialist doughnut makers, cupcake purveyors, pie divas, croissant kings and ice-cream cognoscenti – has likewise widened the playing field from the pure restaurant dessert dominion of the past. (As one pastry chef put it: ‘New York’s finally a bakery town.’)

So too have the epic seasonal food markets, including Smorgasburg and Madison Square Eats, and hip food halls, such as Chelsea Market and Union Fare, which have given start-up players, often from outer boroughs, a second outpost and access to Manhattan crowds. The city’s greenmarkets (farmers’ markets), home to New York State’s impeccable produce, have long shaped their sweets and I love how the year can be traced by the calendar of fruits and herbs that fill them.

You can also see the impact of social media’s ‘bigger, bolder, better’ and lightning speed (Black Tap’s wild shakes and the viral rise of rainbow doughnuts are just two examples), and a handful of hybrid or ‘frankenfood’ creations were born here (think cronuts and Brooksters). Smash-ups (one classic layered with another, like crème brûlée croissants, or carrot cake doughnuts) is another trend, but New York – the cooler, smarter, most self-assured of the American cities – subdues these OTT tendencies just enough, producing desserts that are playful, technique-driven and crafted from quality ingredients.

Along my way, I chatted with pastry chefs and dessert lovers for their take on the city’s sweet beat. Overwhelmingly, it was one of constant inspiration and evolution. And world’s best. After all, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

So, if you love sugar, flour, butter, cream and eggs in all their glory, you’ll find yourself surrounded by kindred spirits in The Big Apple, a city of serious food lovers who savour doughnuts on their way to work and ice cream on their way home. You’ll find fantastic gluten-free and vegan options, but indulgence isn’t sacrilege here, at least not where I was. What I witnessed was sweet fervour and dessert joie de vivre: lines pouring out of shops, down sidewalks and around corners; hired clowns entertaining waiting guests; phones snapping sweet scores; and the widest smiles plastered all over faces. If this sounds like you, you’ll find yourself right at home in this notebook of mine.

** So, when I say I ate all the desserts of New York, I am exaggerating. There are over 50,000 food venues in New York (insane, I know), and you could safely say each has at least one sweet number. But How to Eat All of the Best Ones isn’t such a catchy book title. And Steve, Inés, my brother Terry, his girlfriend Krista, my best friend Mel and my mum Ruby, plus babe-to-be, all shared the sweet load (tough gig). So together we ate all the best ones. Well, we did our utmost. In the lead-up to my mission, I prepped like any good operative, scouring every magazine and website for recommendations, and tapping friends and their friends and theirs for the inside word. I prepared a hit list, plotted a map and planned every moment. When we arrived, we threw ourselves in, enjoying dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and in between (my husband excelled in ice-cream eating; my daughter couldn’t believe her luck). The thing is, every time we scratched off a venue, we’d catch wind of another. Or a favourite bakery would release a new flavour that we just had to try. I returned to New York after I had my baby boy Alejo for one last round, and in the intervening four months, inevitably, a swathe of new places had already cropped up.

So, while this book will take you on a journey from street carts, food trucks, ma and pa joints, hole-in-the-walls and old-school bakeries to hipster joints, cool cafes, chic bars and fine diners, and will feed almost any craving, from classic dishes to wild new inventions, any time day or night (you can have cookies delivered to your apartment at 2.30 am for goodness sake!), it is not exhaustive. I have also kept it to Manhattan and Brooklyn, where most dessert places are found, and I stick mainly to Western sweets. This book was never meant to be hard and fast, rather a starting point for your own sweet food adventure.

For us, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – desserts, family and New York City.

How to eat them all

1. BE DEDICATED. Divide your time in New York by the number of desserts you want to try. This is your daily goal.

2. CREATE A GOOGLE MAP. Plot your hit list of venues, then access it via your phone. It’s directions, notebook and nearby dessert locator in one, and will become your most valued tool.

3. WORK SMART. Choose a neighbourhood, block out the afternoon and check out all the sweet spots in one hit. Repeat.

4. SEIZE SPARE MOMENTS. Watching the Nicks at Madison Square Garden? Detour past Shake Shack. Walking home? Hey, there’s dessert down the road. Your venue map becomes particlarly handy here.

5. CHECK HOURS OF OPERATION AND MENUS FIRST. Most restaurants have a different lunch and dinner line up, with the signature typically on at night only. Dessert disappointment is the pits.

6. GO OFF PEAK. Arriving before the shop opens, or making a restaurant reservation for late lunch, early dinner or late at night minimises wait time and greatly increases your chance of getting a seat. Also consider deep winter and high summer when queues actually cease to exist.

7. DINE SOLO. You can often get a single spot at the counter/bar, and without a reservation. Dessert is the only friend you need.

8. OR BRING SOMEONE. You can cover more sweet ground between two (or more) and the memories are really neat.

9. DRESS WISELY. Baggy clothes are your allies. And avoiding scales helps. Also, don’t think about the calories. You can diet when you’re dead.

10. BE CONSUMED. Devour Eater, Time Out, Serious Eats, Grub Street, New York Magazine, The New York Times and more, and get recommendations from local dessert lovers. In the ever-evolving sweet landscape that is New York, this is just the beginning.

How to bake like a New Yorker (and use this book)

1. IT GOES LIKE THIS. Bake from the recipes, or flip to the end of each chapter for a guide on where to find the best in class. You can also access my interactive map for all the venues listed in these hit lists, plus the extras that didn’t fit: www.yasminnewman.com/books/thedessertsofnewyork.

2. QUALITY IS KING. Always use the best-quality ingredients you can afford, and local and sustainable where possible. New Yorkers are committed to these ideals, which sets their sweets apart. In general, this means European-style (high-fat – 82%) butter, organic or free-range eggs, unbleached flour, local, organic (not ultra-pasteurised) milk and cream, premium chocolate, seasonal fruit and fresh herbs.

3. COOKING NOTES. Unless otherwise stated: • Eggs are large (59 g). • Milk is full-cream. • Fine salt is an encompassing term for fine-grain salts such as fine sea salt or kosher salt. • Dark chocolate is 55% or 70% cocoa solids as indicated. • Vanilla extract is pure. • Fruit and vegetables are medium-sized. • Light brown sugar is soft brown sugar. • Electric mixer is an encompassing term for stand mixers and hand-held electric beaters, used with a whisk, beaters/paddle or dough hook, as indicated. Unless otherwise stated, the mixer is on medium speed. • Australian 20 ml tablespoon measures are used in the recipes, so cooks with 15ml tablespoons should be generous with their tablespoon measurements. • Metric cup measurements are used, i.e. 250 ml for 1 cup; in the US a cup is 237 ml, so American cooks should be generous with their cup measurements; in the UK, a cup is 284 ml, so British cooks should be scant with their cup measurements.

4. A SPECIAL NOTE ON CREAM. It’s not always easy to find equivalent creams in different countries, and local labelling can confuse matters further. Here’s a rough guide to Australian creams and UK and US substitutions, which are given in the recipes in brackets respectively (when in doubt, look at the fat content listed): • Pouring cream: a pourable cream with 35% fat. In the UK, substitute whipping cream (35% fat); in the US, heavy cream (38% fat). • Thickened cream: a thick cream with 35% fat plus stabiliser/gelatine, commonly used to make whipped cream. In the UK and US, substitute whipping cream (35% fat). • Double cream: a very thick, scoopable cream with 48% fat, typically used for serving. In the UK, substitute extra-thick double cream (48% fat); in the US, clotted cream (55% fat) if available or whipped cream.

5. SOURCING. Most ingredients are widely available (there’s a recipe note where they’re not) and most components are made from scratch. At a pinch, you can substitute store-bought when indicated, and in some recipes the ready-made stuff just works better than homemade (don’t get too idealistic).

6. VARIABLES. Preparation and bake times vary with local ingredients, humidity, altitude and ovens, so take note of the desired result as much as the indicated times.

7. FOLLOW SERVING SUGGESTIONS TO A TEE. In New York, cookies, doughnuts and pastries are baked throughout the day because even a few minutes out of the oven or overnight in the fridge affects the flavour and finish.

8. WASTE NOT, WANT NOT. If there’s sauce, cream or cake scraps left over, repurpose them in another dish – Christina Tosi’s cake truffles came to life this way – or embrace it as an opportunity to lick the bowl.

9. IF YOU’RE WONDERING, New York’s commercial kitchens often use special equipment and complicated techniques to make desserts just so. These recipes are designed with domestic equipment and the home cook in mind, so they’re simpler but retain most of the finesse.

10. FINALLY. If there was one tip all of Gotham’s sweet artisans would give, it’s to read the recipe from top to tail and prep all your ingredients (mise en place) before beginning. Oh, and bake with love.

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