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Favorite Dishes #80: Levain Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie

Freshly baked cookies studded with chocolate and nuts can be described in one of two ways: good and great. But the chocolate chip walnut cookie from Levain Bakery (167 West 74th Street, 212-874-6080; 2167 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, 646-455-0952) transcends greatness, beelining from the oven into a realm of unimagined bliss. Ours is an imperfect world. Yet for the two minutes or so it takes to devour this sizable slab of golden-brown goodness, everything is in its right place. Jarring reality anxiously awaits your return, so chew slowly.

All baked goods benefit from obscene amounts of butter, and Levain’s masterpiece is no exception. But their cookie succeeds where pedestrian junk foods fail, bringing a yin/yang balance to its flavor, texture, and consistency. Scattered morsels of dark chocolate anchor the sweetness of the dough, allowing a faint saltiness to declare its presence. The gooey center provides textural relief in the form of crunchy, half-crushed walnuts. The outer crust speaks of an almost biscuit-like quality.

Hardly a city secret, you are likely to endure a (fast-moving) line for the privilege of forking over $4 for a cookie. But we all know of the rewards bestowed upon those who wait, and many folks walk away from here so enamored, they’re left craving a cigarette. A glass of cold milk is far preferable.

The Village Voice is counting down to our Best of New York City issue in October. We’re combing the city every day, one dish at a time, to guide you to the most delicious food in NYC. These are our 100 Favorite Dishes for 2015, in no particular order, save for the top 10.

Here’s our countdown up to now:
#100: Laminated Blueberry Brioche at Dominique Ansel Kitchen
#99: Egg Shop’s Golden Bucket Fried Chicken
#98: Ramen Lab’s Torigara Shoyu
#97: Cannoli at Ferdinando’s
#96: Breakfast Sandwich at Dimes
#95: Banana Royal at Eddie’s Sweet Shop
#94: Fletcher’s Burnt Ends
#93: Almayass’s Mante
#92: Empellon Taqueria’s Fish Taco
#91: El Rey’s Sardine Tostada
#90: General Tso’s Pig’s Head at the Cannibal
#89: The Vegetarian at Meat Hook Sandwich Shop
#88: The 21 Club’s Creamy Chicken Hash
#87: Deep-Fried Olives at Via Carota
#86: Pougi at Loi Estiatorio
#85: Shelsky’s Hot Pastrami Sandwich
#85: Pearl & Ash’s Smoked Bread with Chicken Butter
#84: Gluten-Free Pizza at Rossopomodoro
#83: Perry St’s Chocolate Pudding With Candied Violets
#82: Whit’s End’s ‘Fuckin’ Bluefish Dip’
#81: Morgenstern’s Salt and Pepper Pine Nut Ice Cream

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Where Was I Eating? Bubby’s

And thus concludes another fun round of Where Am I Eating? Looks like we’ve got some readers with a sweet tooth, for I was, indeed, at Bubby’s, the Tribeca comfort-food spot also known for its impressive pie selection. The pictured sweet is none other than their Michigan sour cherry pie, oozing with finger-staining red fruit.

Congratulations to Mike Winston, who once again proved he’s got some food spotting skillzzz. Please email me with your mailing address to claim your cookbook. Thanks to all who played and may you continue to eat — both with your eyes and your bellies.

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Thin Mints! Samoas! Do-Si-Dos! Here Are the 2012 Girl Scout Cookie Pop-ups

You’ve gotta feel bad for the New York City Girl Scouts. Door-to-door cookie sales just aren’t as fun when you’re riding up and down in apartment building elevators. But those enterprising little ladies have found a solution. Pop-up shops throughout the city, where they’ll be selling their beloved seasonal cookies!

Like last year, the girls will be selling boxes of cookies for $4 per box for all varieties including Samoas, Thin Mints, Trefoils, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos and the 100th anniversary cookie, Savannah Smiles. Smartphone users can also download the organization’s Cookie Locator App to find the closest cookie sale sites.

But if you’re a pen-and-paper kind of person, here’s all you need to know about the four pop-up locations:

Like so many things in life, Girl Scout cookies are a fleeting pleasure. They’ll only be available from March 12 to May 3. Then you’ll have to resort to black-market eBay buying.

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Dorie Greenspan’s CookieBar Returns for a Valentine’s Weekend Pop-Up

More good news on the sweets front: Dorie and Josh Greenspan’s CookieBar is returning for a pop-up at Mizu Salon just in time for Valentine’s Day! All who missed out on the last batch of World Peace Cookies and Jammers now can get the ideal sweet treat for their loved ones (better than a Russell Stover box of chocolates, promise).

The pop-up will run from February 6 to 10 beginning at 10 a.m. and will feature all sorts of cookies from the baking guru and her son.

Cookies available will include the classics:

World Peace Cookies, made with Valrhona cocoa, hand-chopped bittersweet chocolate shards, and fleur de sel
French Vanilla Sables, sugar-topped shortbread cookies
Blueberry Jammers, sables baked with blueberry jam and vanilla butter streusel
Chewy, Chunky Blondies, brown-sugar blondies chock-full of Valrhona milk chocolate, sweet coconut, and toasted pecans
Espresso-Chocolate Shortbreads, espresso sables with lots and lots of chopped Valrhona bittersweet chocolate

But wait! The Greenspans will be debuting new flavors, too:

Brown Sugar-and-Spice Jammers, made with all the spices that make French pain d’épices so alluring
Peppermint-Chocolate Sables, peppermint-and-Valrhona-cocoa butter cookies generously speckled with pieces of Valrhona bittersweet chocolate
Crash-O-Cookies, spiced oatmeal and raisin cookies created especially for the graffiti artist John “Crash” Matos

And finally, you’ll be able to sample from the Cocktail Collection Cookies, sweet-savory cookies meant for wine and champagne, including the following flavors:

Cocoa-Cayenne, Valrhona cocoa shortbreads spiked with cayenne and finished with Maldon sea salt
Rosemary-Parmesan, made with freshly grated aged Parmesan, fresh chopped rosemary, and fleur de sel
Sesame-Sea Salt, salty almond shortbread cookies topped with black and white sesame seeds
Cranberry-Five Spice, made with fresh cranberries and Chinese five-spice powder

For a preview of what’s to come, check out our coverage of previous years’ pop-ups.

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Georgetown Cupcake Opening Next Week on Mercer Street in Soho

It’s too bad that Our 10 Best Cupcakes in New York City ran last week, because the Big Apple is about to get a new cupcake shop. Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis, owners of the super-popular D.C.-based Georgetown Cupcake and stars of the TLC show DC Cupcakes, have decided to open a bakery branch in Soho at 111 Mercer Street. “In addition to our flagship location in Georgetown, we ship our cupcakes nationwide, and the number-one shipping destination for our cupcakes was New York City,” explained Katherine. “We were also driving cupcakes up to New York City frequently for large parties and events. We had so many people asking us to bring Georgetown Cupcake to New York, so when we found the perfect spot in Soho, it was a very easy decision for us.”

The shop will officially open on Saturday, February 11, and will feature the sisters’ signature baked goods, including their most popular seller, the red velvet cupcake, and flavors including salted caramel and peanut butter fudge. The sweet treats will be baked daily on-site and packaged in the sisters’ signature pink boxes.

And expect to see the new shop making a cameo on the television show. “We’re filming a special episode on the construction and lead-up to the grand opening of our Soho shop so people can see what really goes into starting a bakery from scratch, and we’ll also be filming new episodes of the show in Soho in the spring, as well as in D.C.,” notes Katherine. Adds Sophie, “We’re so excited to finally be opening in Soho! We can’t wait to meet everyone and hope that everyone has a chance to visit and enjoys our cupcakes.”

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5 Reasons Why Farmers’ Market Baked Goods Often Suck

Chalky, crumbly, low on flavor — and please leave it in the oven a little longer.

You see them lined up on tables between the lavender sprigs and homemade soaps: pale, starchy, looking like a kid who hasn’t been in the sun all summer. These are the baked goods of the farmers’ markets. And not only do the cookies, cakes, pies, muffins, and sweet rolls often look bad, they frequently taste bad, too.

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This cookie tasted OK, I guess, but, though it was supposed to be an oatmeal cookie, virtually no oatmeal could be detected.

I guess I should be grateful. Good baked stuff has turned the Madison, Wisconsin, farmers’ market into a strolling cake cram, resulting in collisions between pastry eaters on the narrow pathway that rings the capitol building, and a general de-emphasis on things you cook with, in favor of things you can eat right away — instant gratification.

I recently undertook a baked-goods eating binge at one of our markets, to see if this negative impression would be confirmed. It mainly was. Sure, there were a couple of good things — cider donuts, gingerbread, and a sweet roll with plenty of frosting on it — but these were notable exceptions.

Though somewhat unsightly, the gingerbread men were pretty good.

Next: The five reasons

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This vegan muffin was joylessly gritty and mushy — but I’m sure it’s “healthy.”

Why are the baked goods bad at area farmers’ markets? Here are five reasons.

1. The farmers’ market has a captive audience, which often can’t tell good pastries from bad just by looking at them. So why make them any better than they need to be?

2. Too many of the baked goods are supposed to be healthy. Which means whole grains have been substituted for refined flour, turbinado sugar or fruit sweeteners for plain sugar, “expeller pressed canola oil” (sounds scary) for butter.

3. The baked goods are sometimes made for the purpose of burning off excess inventory. If you look at the awning and see the words “Concord grapes,” then find the stand selling Concord grape pies, you know they’re not selling them because Concord grape pies are inherently worth eating.

4. Wrapped in layers of plastic, many of these pastries were not baked yesterday — to be kind. In fact, the baked goods are often formulated to be dry and last a long time, as if they were being baked for mummies.

5. What makes you think farm folk can bake any better than you can? In fact, they’re probably worse. Tilling the soil is not the same as making a nice cake, and many of the skills we associate with the farm wife of, say, the 19th century, are long lost.

This sweet roll was pretty good — though not quite as good as Entenmann’s.

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Is New York Really in a Bagel Crisis?

The New York Post raises the question today of whether New York is in the midst of a bagel crisis, now that H&H has shuttered and the city’s old-time bagel makers have long been replaced by the automatic bagel machine. The paper’s intent on calling it a crisis, although all the experts seem to refute the idea that it’s a “crisis” — more just a slow, painful death.

What caused the doughy demise? Back in the 1970s, bagels were apparently bigger, puffier, and more bread-like. Once the machines came into the picture, bagel makers had to add water to the dough so the machines wouldn’t burn out, making a decidedly less tasty bagel. And the process of poaching, boiling, and baking takes time and effort, which most producers don’t want to commit to these days.

But the Post helps refute its own idea of a crisis by highlighting Vic’s Bagel Bar ( 544 Third Avenue, 212-213-3900) and B&B Empire, two bakeries making old-school bagels that have opened in the past two years. Certainly, as with almost any trade, yes, the numbers have dwindled, but you can still find artisan craftsmanship if you look for it. Hey, just look at Domino’s.

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Zucker Bakery Fulfills Your Jewish and South American Cookie Needs

The promise of a bakery that sold both alfajores (the South American sweet filled with dulce de leche) and fruity-nutty Jewish staple rugelach sounded too good to be true. So we recently stopped by Zucker Bakery (433 East 9th Street, 646-559-8425), which opened a few weeks ago. Needless to say, we got our cookie on.

The bakery, which is kosher, takes up a small storefront in the East Village, with a couple of chairs and small tables for a country-living-room vibe (similar to the nearby Podunk). A counter overlooking the kitchen in the back displays the cookies available for purchase. Never one to shy away from cookie options, we went for a sampling of the goods.

Rugelach
Rugelach

Up first was the rugelach. Filled with dates and nuts and lightly sprinkled with sugar, this cookie was good, if slightly less sweet than the rugelach we’re used to — not that that’s a bad thing. Nicely spiced; we could see this accompanying a warm cuppa tea (or Stumptown coffee, which Zucker sells).

Chocolate bun
Chocolate bun

Also on the lower end of the sweetness scale was the chocolate bun. Soft and squishy with just a touch of sugar coating on top, this is sort of like a mini babka.

Love cake
Love cake

We also tried the “love cake,” which was chock-full of dried apricots, hazelnuts, and almonds. It was probably our least favorite, but if you like fruitcake, you might be into it.

Alfajor
Alfajor

The cookie that took our top honors was the alfajor because, really, how can you do wrong with dulce de leche and coconut? Right, you can’t. It’s on the small side, but makes up for it in sweetness and all-around deliciousness.

Za'atar crackers with labne
Za’atar crackers with labne

Zucker also offers a selection of savory cookie-crackers. We were taken with the idea of crackers filled with za’atar, the Mediterranean spice blend of hyssop, dried thyme, seasame seeds, and sumac. For $5, you can get six of the crackers along with a small container of labne (a super thick strained Middle Eastern yogurt) topped with more za’atar and a few unpitted olives. While the za’atar and labne flavor pairing is spot-on, it’s a little odd scooping the crackers into the dip, but would make for a good snack if you were searching for something healthier than, say, a bag of chips.

All the above sweets and savory crackers came to a total of $10, with individual items priced at about $1 to $2 — pretty reasonable, though it’s important to keep in mind that the cookies here are smaller than ones at other bakeries around the city. But the selection is unique and feels very personal, and, indeed, many of the cookie recipes come from owner Zohar Zohar’s friends and relatives. A portrait of a life, in cookies.

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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.

Coolhaus: messy and cool. And damn tasty.
Coolhaus: messy and cool. And damn tasty.

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. eatcoolhaus.com/new-york

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, thedutchnyc.com

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, peelsnyc.com

Jeffrey's Grocery makes one delicious doughnutty cake.
Jeffrey’s Grocery makes one delicious doughnutty cake.

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, jeffreysgrocery.com

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, amplehills.com

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, bluebottlecoffee.net

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, cannellepatisserie.com

Getting your daily dose of fruit has never been so easy as at Bien Cuit.
Getting your daily dose of fruit has never been so easy as at Bien Cuit.

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, biencuit.com

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, scratchbread.com

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

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Soon There Will Be a Treats Truck Store

Some sweet news this Friday afternoon: Treats Truck is expanding their bakery business and will open a brick-and-mortar location in Brooklyn. Oatmeal jammy and brownie fans, rejoice!

Per Zagat, Kim Ima’s shop will be located in Carroll Gardens and will expand upon the menu of classic bakery treats. And if you can’t make it out to the bakery, you can bring the bakery to you: The Treats Truck Baking Book: Cookies, Brownies & Goodies Galore!, a collection of the food truck’s favorite recipes, will be released in two weeks.