It's mid-afternoon on a rainy Sunday in Manhattan. At the Old Town Bar, a 140-year-old pub, a couple of baseball fans sip lager and eat chilli dogs as two barmaids discuss the recent closure of their favourite stores (farewell Dean and Deluca, Tad's Steaks and Barneys). "You know, City Bakery just closed, too," one says as they exchange a glance and go back to leaning on the bar.
The barmaids are not alone in their grief. When the Union Square pastry shop shuttered in late October, after three decades of pretzel-croissant hybrids, it was clear that City Bakery meant more to New Yorkers than just lunch – it was an institution, as the 1000+ Instagram comments on the bakery's closure announcement and an 800-word eulogy by Grub Street writer Jason Diamond attest.
City Bakery has promised to return, and until then there is no shortage of places to indulge a penchant for baked goods: you can still have a Sex and the City moment over a cupcake at Magnolia, there's now a Manhattan outpost of Sydney's Bourke Street Bakery, and Denmark's Ole & Steen has opened its third NY bakery.
That's not to say the industry is dominated by multinationals. Young entrepreneur Christina Guidera, of King Street Bakery, founded her wholesale bakery after a stint at Eleven Madison Park. In three years, she went from baking cakes in the kitchen of her four-floor walk-up to a staff of 10 and an internship program for gifted teenagers, where she works one-on-one with high school seniors.
"Everything I learned about hard work I learned in a kitchen … these kids come in with no experience and they leave with a lot of beneficial traits, like learning how to be a good employee," she says.
Many of Guidera's interns have gone on to find hospitality work (a recent graduate is working at carb-fuelled social enterprise Hot Bread Kitchen) and she has an optimistic attitude about the city's growing roster of bakeries: "There's definitely room for more. When is there ever enough cake?"
Award-winning pastry chef Christina Tosi is at the helm of the Momofuku restaurant group's cake empire, although with 10 New York locations (including a new 465-square-metre flagship at the Ace Hotel) and too much single-use plastic, it feels a lot like a chain – but that comes with the territory when you're a major tourist destination. The cookbooks and T-shirts make great souvenirs. milkbarstore.com
One to try: Tosi's compost cookie, replete with signature crushed-up pretzels and potato chips, put the brand on the map. Get one from the source.
King Street Baking Co.
Ex-Eleven Madison Park pastry chef Christina Guidera spruiks her colourful cakes at pop-ups and stalls around New York: she's a regular at Smorgasburg in Prospect Park, as well as supplying venues across the city, including Black Fox Coffee, Berg'n beer hall and Brooklyn Roasters. kingstreetbaking.com
One to try: Cute seasonal bundts, including (gluten-free) olive oil, apple cider, chai and matcha.
This outpost of Sweden's celebrated bakery chain calls the Meatpacking District home and it's within walking distance from the Whitney Museum of American Art, for those of you planning an itinerary. Find local iterations of the bakery's famous rye and fruit breads at local prices (if you want to spend $US25 on a loaf - equivalent to $37 in Australia - be my guest), cardamom buns and other sweet treats, including a vegan chocolate biscuit, baked on-site by Johanna Svensson, who is also a Stockholm import. fabriquebakery.com
One to try: The New York Times recently dedicated a full printed page to Fabrique's cardamom bun, and for good reason – the intricately folded pastries are the perfect balance of sticky and spiced.
Win Son Bakery
The second venue from the team behind Taiwanese-American hybrid Win Son, which made it onto the 2020 Michelin cheap eats list, defies convention with a mash-up of Scandi-influenced design, black sesame mochi doughnuts and egg sandwiches. In the mornings it's laptops and xiao guai guai (their version of a piccolo latte) and in the evenings it's cocktails, fried chicken and natty wine. winsonbrooklyn.com
One to try: Fan tuan, a sticky rice roll stuffed with fried egg and pork floss and held together with cling film.
Butter and Scotch
Butter and Scotch is more dive bar than bakery – it doesn't open until noon on the weekends and it serves cocktails and cake until past midnight. It's also female owned and operated (founders Keavy Landreth and Allison Kave met at Smorgasburg before joining forces), LGBTI-friendly and proudly political – cakes come iced with "BITCHES GET PAID" and "MEDICAKE FOR ALL". butterandscotch.com
One to try: The S'mores pie: chocolate Graham cracker crust filled with thick chocolate custard topped with torched marshmallow that shatters like the top of a creme brulee.
Hot Bread Kitchen
Social enterprise Hot Bread Kitchen's baked goods are as diverse as the women it empowers through its Spanish Harlem-based culinary training program. It runs a pay-what-you-can retail outlet on Friday afternoons, with challah breads and honeyed Parker House rolls, although you're more likely to see the name on the menu at some of New York's hottest restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern and Boulud Sud. hotbreadkitchen.org
One to try: M'smen, a flaky Moroccan flatbread, is available at Wholefoods stores throughout New York. All proceeds go back into the not-for-profit's training programs.
Russ and Daughters
You can find Russ & Daughters' iconic boiled bagels at four New York locations (including a shiny new outlet at Brooklyn Naval Yard and in the basement of the Jewish Museum), but you can't beat the ambience of the well-aged, standing room-only East Houston Street store, where lengthy queues do not deter hordes of hungry punters keen for a slice of Manhattan nostalgia. russanddaughters.com
One to try: The "knish": mashed potato and caramelised onion covered in pastry dough then deep fried.
Japanese-influenced Burrow is tucked behind the lifts in the lobby of 68 Jay Street, near the Manhattan Bridge archway. Hokkaido-born patissier Ayako Kurokawa is the genius behind its mousse cakes, each perfectly portioned in teeny not-New York-sized slices. There's espresso coffee and iced tea, but it's not a cafe so be prepared to grab and go. burrow.nyc
One to try: Light-as-a-feather pistachio mousse, with little slivers of pistachio throughout, on a hazelnut and almond crust.