Celebrate this Valentine’s Day with a Bit of Bakery Bliss
Forget chocolates! New York City offers a plethora of bakeries with offerings sure to surpass the saccharine expectations of a Valentine’s Day dessert. Whether your lover is a food traditionalist or has a taste for the more inventive—even outlandish—these bakeries are your best bets for the month of love.
Two Little Red Hens (1652 2nd Ave.)
On an island of uncountable bakeries—and, in the cupcake sector, competition as stiff as meringue—the fact that some assert Two Little Red Hens has the best red velvet cupcakes and cake in all of Manhattan speaks volumes about this tiny Upper East Side bakery’s capacity for baked brilliance. And that’s not to mention that the Brooklyn Blackout cake, unbelievably creamy cheesecake, and year-round pumpkin pie have also all earned the same praise.
Cozy with brick walls, farmhouse knick-knacks, plaid curtains partitioning off the kitchen, and big glass jars of cookies, its style is far more down-home and modest than its client list, which includes upmarket retailers such as Dean & Deluca. Those famous cupcakes draw lines that make it difficult to snag one of the small tables. Two Little Red Hens is best for ordering in advance anyway, particularly for a personalized Valentine’s Day concoction. Build-your-own-cakes offer some 15 cake, 20 filling, and 15 frosting options, as well as inscriptions and decorative art.
Ferrara (195 Grand St.)
No one does romance quite like the Italians do, which is one of the many reasons why Ferrara has remained continuously popular since Antonio Ferrara opened it in 1892 in the downtown neighborhood that is now Little Italy. It’s been family owned and operated for five generations since, perpetrating the same recipes for filled-to-order cannoli, flaky sfogliatella, and the creamiest gelato in a variety of rich traditional flavors, along with more than 200 other Italian delicacies both baked on-site and imported and displayed in glass cases like art.
Wood-paneled walls with old-fashioned sconces, checker-board floors, and what is held to be America’s oldest espresso bar all combine to make Ferrara look straight from Rome in the 1960s and the perfect place for a late-night dessert with your amante.
Butter & Scotch (818 Franklin Ave., Brooklyn)
Its name pretty much says it all, and if you’re still confused, you can revert to its Twitter handle, @drunkbakers—“it” being Butter & Scotch, the sweet dream of a place for any adult with an appreciation for both sugar and booze. Just a couple blocks from the Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Butter & Scotch is an ideal end to a day-long Valentine’s date. Fashioned like a hipster’s interpretation of an old candy shoppe, it boasts bulb lights and fluorescent signs saying things like “Eat Pie” and drinks and desserts all as delicious-looking as tasting, though often lines between the two are blurred.
For instance, there are the Negroni or Bourbon Ginger Pecan pies, Cocktail Caramel Corns in flavors such as hot toddy and green chile margarita, and boozy ice-cream drinks like the Apple Pie Float. What’s more, this being Brooklyn, the menu also kindly notes which options are gluten free (peanut butter rye cookies) and vegan (the pina colada ice cream shake with rum). This isn’t a place for classicists, but rather for those who find heaven in things like brown butter–washed bourbon and Hotline Bling Cake oozing with chocolate and gold glitter.
Levain (Various Locations)
If Butter & Scotch is an anything-goes, rowdy middle-child approach to what baking can be, Levain is the less-is-more, elegant matriarch. At its four locations on the Upper West Side, Harlem, and out in the Hamptons, Levain offers a refined selection of cookies, brioches and buns, muffins and scones, breads and loaves, and tarts and pizzas, with just a few options in each category. The star, of course, is the simplest: the chocolate chip cookie with walnuts, which is the foundation of the whole chain’s existence, borne from the goal of creating the world’s most perfect cookie.
Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, ever-so-slightly salty, and enormous, it may just be the single best cookie one will ever taste, further proven by the stores’ lines, which can luckily be tracked via the Levain website’s line-cam. For romantic lovers who are also cookie lovers, a small selection of apparel and bags make for cheeky gifts as well.
Momofuku Milk Bar (Various Locations)
Perhaps the most gastronomically adventurous and cultish bakery in New York—and Toronto, D.C., and everywhere in the U.S. that it ships to—is Milk Bar, the sweetest member of the global Momofuku empire. Milk Bar’s founding chef, Christina Tossi, is now something of a celebrity for her creations such as crack pie, compost cookies, and cake truffles—many of which are now trademarked.
These may sound not much more than tongue-in-cheek or quirky, but don’t be fooled: intense food science and ingredient-sourcing (think freeze-dried corn powder) goes into the creation of each, which is what catapults offerings like a vanilla rainbow birthday cake into an entirely new realm of what a vanilla rainbow birthday cake can be. In-store, must-try soft serve comes in a rotating roster of odd flavors like sweet potato pie and the trademarked (and utterly addictive) cereal milk. Just about everything else can be taken to go—and the shops are quite tiny, so be prepared to carry out and enjoy at home with a bottle of wine.