New York City’s top-tier walkability has always made it a perfect place for a crawl — to bars, galleries, “Sex and the City” filming sites. There are so few places that can’t be reached by foot. (Governors Island footbridge when?)
I’m always looking for a new crawl. And since the dessert and pastry beat could be a full-time job, I was pleased to find three bakeries in the East Village area that all offer their own unique delights. Let’s begin with …
This new bakery on Cooper Square, pronounced lee-BRAY, bills itself as a crossover between Middle Eastern ingredients and Danish bakery culture. How do these elements mix at Librae? Well, there’s the sourdough bread served with strawberry-sumac jam, as well as flaky croissants filled with orange blossom pastry cream.
But the clearest indication of this commingling of cultures is the lumee babka made with a key ingredient in Bahraini cuisine: black lime, a lime that has been completely dried out. Librae doubles down on that sharp citrus flavor by topping the whole thing with lemon curd. The result is a babka that isn’t cloyingly sweet but rather bright and tangy, like a morning bun run through with lemon or orange zest. I can guarantee that it’s unlike any babka you’ve ever tried.
Once you’ve polished off that babka, it’s time to make the six-minute walk to La Cabra on Second Avenue. There will almost certainly be a line; but it gives you time to ogle the neatly organized pastry case and wall of bread loaves, and to watch the baristas fuss over expertly made lattes.
This Danish bakery makes impressive versions of patisserie favorites like croissants, choux and canelés, but the real draws are the tarts, morning buns and sandwich cookies. They’re delicate and beautiful, and I think best enjoyed in the quiet of your apartment or in Tompkins Square Park rather than in the bakery’s tiny outdoor seating area. My favorite is the rye tart, a hand-size offering in a fragile shell filled with an earthy hazelnut sponge and praline, and topped with a barely-there rye panna cotta and mousse. But nothing I tried on a recent visit was a miss.
(A tip: If you’d rather skip the line, the West Village cafe and wine bar St. Jardim sells a small sampling of La Cabra baked goods daily.)
With your third wave coffee in hand, walk south on Second Avenue and hang an immediate left at East Ninth Street. Half a block later, you’ll find Lady Wong, a Southeast Asian bakery where every delicious pastry you’ve sampled so far will quite literally pale in comparison to the colors on display here.
Seleste Tan and Mogan Anthony, the chefs behind Lady Wong, don’t shy away from shades of lilac, mint green or poppy red in their creations, which feature flavors like pandan, passion fruit, sour plum, ube, calamansi and durian. The number of options can be overwhelming, so here’s what I enjoyed most: the black sesame passion fruit tart, which hides a bright, fruity center beneath a dark, crackly, nutty dome; the pandan panna cotta topped with a crackling of cane sugar; and the mango curd pudding, which will have you questioning whether you’ve actually ever had a good mango dessert.
And though it’s not sweet, do try the angku kuih, a chewy glutinous rice-based “turtle” shell filled with mung beans. It symbolizes longevity, power and tenacity — and couldn’t we all use a little bit of each right now?
In Other News …
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