During the summer, when our schedule allows, my husband and I schedule our business travel at the same time. Although our days are filled with meetings, we have our evenings, and occasionally our weekends, to play. What better way is there to spend a Saturday in Manhattan than walking through various sections of the city? Over the last few trips, we have toured Fifth Avenue shops, Central Park, and Chelsea Market among other areas.
On each of these journeys, we have spent a good portion of the day walking several miles. As these walks are purely for pleasure, we often stop for some sort of culinary treat. Sometimes we stop for a tapas dish or two and a cocktail; other times we have indulged in a meal of dessert. Two of the best dessert destinations we have visited are Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street and Billy’s Bakery on 9th Avenue.
This bakery must be doing something right. After a Friday night dinner, we walked by this bakery about midnight and noticed a line out the door. I know that New York keeps a later schedule, but to have a line for baked goods at that time is impressive nonetheless. We decided we would visit it on one of our midday strolls.
Although there was a line, it was shorter than the Friday night line we had seen previously. Entering the shop feels like being a kid again. Even as an adult, it is tempting to press your nose against the glass cases and ask for one of each. Fortunately, neither my husband nor I am a fan of chocolate, so that eliminates a portion of the choices. My husband spied banana cupcakes and knew that it would be the perfect treat for him. For me, carrot cake is a favorite. Available as a cupcake or slice of cake, I opted for the bigger splurge, a piece of cake, which was bigger and had more frosting.
My husband enjoyed his cupcake thoroughly. The cake was tender and moist and had a proportionally appropriate amount of cream cheese frosting. My carrot cake was delightful. A moist carrot cake with a nice cinnamon flavor, it also had other delectable ingredients: pineapple, coconut, and pecans. Topped with cream cheese frosting that had the perfect balance of tangy cheese bite and sweetness, this was joy eaten with a fork. The only issue was that the slice was so big that I had bring half of it back to our hotel. However, I discovered that leftover, refrigerated carrot cake makes a fine breakfast the next day.
While the line of patrons didn’t go outside the door on the Saturday afternoon that we were here, the line inside the bakery went from the register to the wall and never seemed to subside. It was as if the patrons received a subliminal message that there was space for one more every time a patron left.
Entering this bakery gives one the same feeling as we experienced at Billy’s. There are so many delicious indulgences to view, it is almost overwhelming. During this trip, we both were in the mood for a slice of cake. My husband opted for a slice of carrot cake, and I chose a slice of hummingbird cake. While boxing our slices, our server felt badly that one of the hummingbird slices was small, so she added a second at no cost, which was quite nice. Upon holding the box, I realized that the staff at Magnolia Bakery has an interesting concept of small. Between the two “small” slices of cake and one regular size slice, the box weighed several pounds!
Finding a bench in Central Park, we settled down to our snack. The hummingbird cake had a nice combination of pineapple, banana, and pecans. However, the cake itself was a little too moist for my liking. The frosting was fabulous, though. It had the highly sought combination of tangy and sweet. The carrot cake slice had the texture that I prefer, tender and slightly moist. Unfortunately, the frosting on this slice wasn’t as good. As their website notes, this cake has cream cheese frosting, as opposed to the sweet cream cheese frosting on the hummingbird cake. Without the sweet, the carrot cake frosting tasted more like cream cheese and less like frosting. My solution was to steal some frosting from the hummingbird cake and stab a piece of carrot cake without frosting to create my own combination.
Even though we had walked many miles that day and even though I had the extraordinary eating assistance of my husband, we weren’t able to eat even half of what we had purchased. The sad news was that we had a mile or two to walk back to our hotel. With temperatures in the 90s, bringing the cake with us seemed like a poor choice. Maybe if the leftovers had been a Billy’s carrot cake slice, I would have taken a cab to save the cake, but for the hummingbird cake, it didn’t seem worth the effort.
I’m sure there will be more trips to NYC and more bakeries to discover. As difficult a job as it is sampling cake and cupcakes, we will endeavor to persevere.