Growing up in the suburbs of New York has had its fair share of benefits, one of which has been the close proximity to New York City. New York is widely considered to be the culinary Mecca of the country, playing host to a wide variety of prominent chefs, pastry chefs, restaurants, and bakeries. As a student at the CIA, we are constantly encouraged to try new things and broaden our creative pallets. With that in mind, I set out to make a sugar filled pilgrimage to America’s culinary capitol, to sample a selection of desserts from some of the most well known bakeries in the world.
I made a list of bakeries I wanted to visit, and luckily enough, they all happened to have locations near Central Park. With my game plan set, I took a ride to the city, making my first stop at Maison Kayser. Maison Kayser was founded by French chef Erik Kayser in the mid 90’s. After garnering critical acclaim with his first location in Paris, he expanded, opening 80 locations across the world. There are nine in New York alone. Erik Kayser is known more for his breads, but his stores feature a large selection of pastries as well. In addition to their display counters, they offer indoor seating where people can have a sit down meal. I was on a quest though, so I placed my order to go, taking with me a selection of brioche rolls, a macadamia/chocolate chip cookie, éclair, apricot tart, petit four sampler, and a St. Honore. I also got a flourless cookie for a gluten intolerant family member. After getting everything boxed up, it was off to my next location, Francois Payard Bakery.
This shop happened to be situated right across the street from Maison Kayser. Francois Payard is a James Beard award-winning chef who moved onto the NYC scene from France in the early 90’s. Prior to opening his shop, he had a notable career, working at some of the world’s finest restaurants, including Le Bernardin and DANIEL. In the late 90’s, he opened his first shop in NYC on the Upper East Side. Since then, he has opened numerous stores throughout the city, and expanded worldwide. I would have loved to visit his flagship shop, but unfortunately, it seems to have permanently closed. The Francois Payard Bakeshop was more modest than Maison Kayser, closer resembling a traditional bakery that most would be familiar with, rather than the restaurant style utilized by Kayser. The front of the store featured a case containing dozens of macarons, inviting passersby in with their alluring rainbow of flavors, but a relatively small selection of pastries within. I had looked up their offerings online, and was excited to try them in person, but found very few of the online items in store. I purchased a small selection for comparisons sake, walking away with a chcolate eclaire, Papa Payard tart, gourmandise, passion fruit mousse, and a flourless chocolate cake. I also bought a salted caramel macaron ice cream sandwich to be shared between my traveling companions and me on our walk to the next location.
We decided to check out another Payard bakery in hopes they may be a bit better stocked. Luckily, there was one a few blocks down, located in the Plaza Food Hall. I had never been there before, but I’m glad I stumbled upon it. The Plaza Food Hall is a sprawling food court located underneath The Plaza Hotel, containing a huge selection of booths from some of the top eateries in the city. They have everything from bakeries and restaurants, to a fully stocked and operational market. After concluding our business at Francois Payard’s stand, we made our rounds through the hall to check out some of the other booths, the busiest of which was Lady M Cake Boutique; a shop dedicated to individual slices of traditional cakes. Towards the back was Epicerie Boulud, another crowded bakery/café, serving up traditional lunch fair with European style desserts. In the center was La Maison Du Chocolat, a Parisian chocolate shop with elegant truffles and bon bons. I was focused more on the desserts, but the savory options equaled the sweet. I didn’t have the time for a meal, but I definitely plan to head back to the hall when I get the chance. When we were finished, we departed for our final location, Laduree.
Having first opened in 1862, Laduree was the oldest patisserie on our self-guided tour. This one, of course, being a satellite location was not quite that old, but kept the traditions instituted by the original. Laduree is most famous for their modernization of the French macaron, taking it from what was originally just a single meringue shell, to a double-decker sandwich cookie. This bit of history makes them “the” place to go to for macarons, a fact which they fully embrace. The store is covered in macaron decorations, and the cookies have become the centerpiece of their offerings. They actually carried very few pastries beyond their macarons, which were stacked in mountains across their lengthy countertop. The store itself was beautiful, decorated as if it were a 19th century tearoom with pastel walls, velvet drapery, and matching seating. Even the packaging looked the part. We left with an assortment of their macarons, as well as a few of their pastries.
Once home, we delved into our takeaway, dividing everything into small bites, allowing us to get a taste of all of it. It was really interesting comparing similar items from different bakeries to each other, as well as to what we’ve produced in class thus far. It was an incredible experience that I would recommend everyone give a try next time they are looking for something to do in the city.