Travel Eats: New York City

I’ve spent a lot of time in New York over the years. My trips tend to be hurried, though: I’m in and out for a meeting or there for part of a weekend. Friends who live in New York have gotten used to emails like this: “I’m coming to NYC next Wednesday! Free after 10 PM or before 8 AM on Thursday. Does that work?!”

I gotta hand it to my friends: they’ve made a lot of crazy logistics work. But I’ve been itching to spend some quality time in NYC, so I booked a proper vacation for the end of April. My boyfriend and I spent 5 nights in the city, with a very simple agenda: see friends and family, wander, eat.

I’ve done a pretty good job trying NYC eats over the years, even when it meant running around like a crazy person. Like the time I detoured to Zucker Bakery between meetings, or when I met a friend at Clinton Street Baking Co. for dinner so I could finally try their pancakes, or when I dashed to Dominique Ansel for a frozen s’more on my lunch break.

This time I had the luxury of 5 whole days and a trip buddy who humors my need to try ever pastry in sight. Before we went, I made a list of restaurants and bakeries by neighborhood. Super Type A? Yes! But also very helpful while wandering around!

So without further ado: here are the top 10 things I ate on my last trip to New York City.

IMG_3895Tahini French Toast at Bar BolonatWhen I was researching for our trip, I fell in love with the brunch menu at Bar Bolonat. I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome Tahini French Toast must be. It was indeed pretty incredible! The french toast itself is nutty, with a somewhat chewy texture. It’s complemented by halvah threads on top, plus a tahini maple syrup and fresh berries. We loved everything at Bar Bolonat, but this was my favorite. The service was fabulous, too…wish I knew our waiter’s name!

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Pine Nut Citrus Babka at Arcade BakeryI was so sad when we finished our slice of Pine Nut Citrus Babka, and wished we’d bought two! This babka was a bit more like a brioche dough, light and airy inside. The mix of citrus with pine nuts was pretty much revelatory, and I’ve been searching for similar recipes since we got home!

IMG_3907Sweet Corn and Pepper Macaron at Confectionary: We stumbled on this chocolate and pastry shop while wandering the East Village. Such a good find! They had a really interesting set of macaron flavors, and I simply had to try this corn and pepper combo. The macaron shell tasted like sweet corn but had a bit of a lingering kick from the peppers. The filling was just the right amount of sweet. I looked up this spot later and learned their treats are vegan!

IMG_4026Beef Hummus at Dizengoff Hummus: I’ve read a lot about Zahav, an Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia, for years. So I was delighted to learn that its chef opened a casual hummus outpost at Chelsea Market. The Beef Hummus was the best hummus I’ve had in a really long time: creamy texture, incredible richness, perfectly spiced beef, chewy pita to dip in there. It tasted different from most hummus I eat, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. So I did a bit of research, and learned that many people attribute the distinct flavor to lots of high-quality tahini. Two more points for tahini!

IMG_4033Tahini Goat Milk Ice Cream at Seed + Mill: While we’re on the topic of tahini, let’s talk about this Tahini Goat Milk Ice Cream from Seed + Mill, also in Chelsea Market. Goat milk makes the ice cream taste fresh, while tahini lends a subtle nutty flavor. I got mine topped with bits of halvah, a sesame confection. It was a really refreshing and flavorful treat.

IMG_4071Spicy Lamb Cumin Noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods I’ve gone out of my way to eat at Xi’an Famous Foods many times over the years, and wanted my boyfriend to learn the wonders of these noodles. They’re perfectly chewy, hand pulled noodles, dripping in chili oil and topped with incredibly flavorful lamb. My boyfriend loved the noodles too, so now we’re determined to find something similar in San Francisco.

IMG_3917Kasha Knish at Yonah Schimmel BakeryThis place is a true gem. Yonah Schimmel has been selling its knishes on the Lower East Side of Manhattan since 1890. 1890!!! Their knishes are a satisfying snack: perfectly cooked, generous on fillings, and a firm exterior.

 

IMG_3961Bird’s Nest at Damascus Bread and Pastry ShopWe happened upon this bakery as we strolled west down Atlantic Avenue toward the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. It’s packed to the brim with breads, pastries and cooking ingredients. I loved the Bird’s Nest, a type of baklava filled with pistachios and drenched in a sweet syrup. We also got delicious spinach pies here.


IMG_4093Beet Lox Bagel at Black Seed Bagels
I’m not a huge bagel person, but that’s largely because they tend to disappoint. A friend had tipped me off to Black Seed a while ago. We made it to their Nolita shop on the last day of our trip, and I’m glad we made it happen! The bagel had a crisp exterior and perfectly chewy interior, and the lox and other toppings were super flavorful.

18121522_10101383003526672_1971040716930476426_o.jpgBlack and White Cookie at Dean and DelucaI’ve tried MANY a NYC black and white over the years, but the cookies at Dean and Deluca always take the proverbial cake. Which is fitting, because the cookie is just the right kind of cakey, with icings that are perfectly balanced (not too sweet, not too bland). I forgot to write down the name of the bakery on the cookie’s label so if you know who sells these to Dean and Deluca…please tell!

And some non-edible recs for your next trip to NYC:

  • Stop by Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in the East Village. She has an amazing assortment of cookbooks, vintage menus and old signs. Plus, she was a delight to chat with!
  • As we wandered Alphabet City one night, we heard jazz from the sidewalk…and had to check out its source. Rue B is a small bar with awesome live music. We happened upon a jazz jam session, and loved every second of it.
  • The Wyndham Garden Chinatown was a great find. We’d wanted to stay on the Lower East Side but didn’t find a good option that fit our budget. Chinatown is super close to the LES, plus it’s just a hop, skip and jump from Nolita, SoHo, Tribeca, etc. The hotel was clean and well-maintained. It also has a “sky” bar with an incredible view, which was an unexpected bonus!

Hazelnut Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (Baci di Dama)

I’m a really lazy cook. If I’m going to make dinner, I want the easiest recipe possible. The fewer the ingredients and lighter the prep, the better.

But baking…well, that’s a different story. I am game to make whatever looks delicious, even if that means dozens of ingredients or dozens of steps.

IMG_3517Take these Baci di Dama. Baci di Dama are hazelnut sandwich cookies with a rich chocolate ganache filling. The steps are pretty simple… but there are a lot of steps! You have to toast hazelnuts, make dough, make a filling, assemble. But I promise the effort is worth it. The cookies are near-crumbly in texture, with a wonderful nutty flavor. When you chomp down you get a satisfying bite of hazelnut, complemented by the smooth ganache.

I stumbled on this recipe when I was looking for something to bring to a birthday party. I’d asked my friend to name her top 5 flavors, and hazelnut made the cut. I love hazelnut, but I’d only ever baked with it in Nutella form. Clearly I’ve been missing out! I loved how these turned out, and am glad I gave them a try.

IMG_3507I’d do a couple small tweaks if I baked these again. First off: I’d use bittersweet or dark chocolate for the filling rather than semisweet. It tasted good, but I think a stronger chocolate would boost the flavor. And second: I ground my hazelnuts for just a tad too long, so I basically ended up with hazelnut butter. I was a little nervous about whether my dough would turn out ok! It did, but still…I’d try to do it right next time 🙂  

Hazelnut Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (Baci di Dama)

Original recipe: As Easy As Apple Pie. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~20, but your yield will depend on how big you make the cookies

Suggested equipment: Food processor, mixer

Total Time: ~3 hours, but that involves a lot of waiting for things to chill!

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

For your dough:

  • 2/3 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3.5 ounces unsalted butter cut into small cubes, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the filling:

  • 1/3 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped into bits

Directions

Prep your hazelnuts

  1. Throw your hazelnuts onto a baking sheet
  2. Toast the hazelnuts at 320F until they’re a golden brown color. This took me around 15 minutes. Pay close attention, because you don’t want burned nuts!
  3. Take your hazelnuts out of the oven, and rub them until the skins come off. This might take a bit of elbow grease!
  4. Let the hazelnuts cool completely before moving onto your next step

Make your cookie dough

  1. Put the cooled hazelnuts into your food processor, and pulse the processor until the nuts resemble sand. This is where I messed up, and my nuts ended up more like a butter consistency. Don’t be like me 🙂
  2. Move the hazelnuts to a bowl, and mix in your flour, butter and sugar. You want to mix the ingredients until the butter is evenly dispersed throughout the bowl of dough, and your dough is smooth
  3. Divide your dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece into a log
  4. Place the logs on a baking sheet, and stick it in your fridge
  5. Chill the dough for an hour

Make your dough balls

  1. Take one dough log out of the fridge, but leave the rest in the fridge until you’re ready to use them so they stay cold
  2. Cut equal-sized pieces from your log, and roll them into tiny balls between the palms of your hands. Since these are sandwich cookies, it’s important to keep your sizing consistent! The original recipe writer suggested making your balls about 8 oz of dough each
  3. Place your dough balls on a greased or lined cookie sheet, then move onto the next log of dough
  4. Put your dough balls back in the fridge for another hour

Bake your cookies 

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 320F
  2. Bake your dough balls for 15-20 minutes. Take them out when they’re set to the touch, and a light golden color. Mine took closer to 20 minutes
  3. Let the cookies cool completely before you fill them

Fill your cookies 

  1. Melt your chocolate until it’s smooth
  2. Place a dollop of chocolate on one cookie, and place another cookie on top. Press the two together, and you have a sandwich!
  3. Let the cookies firm up on a cooling rack for a bit so your chocolate sets

And finally: ENJOY! These will last in an airtight cotnainer for about a week, but I doubt they’ll make it that long!

Orange Rosemary Pancakes

Sometimes you have extra rosemary sitting around from a recipe you made for dinner the night before. And while you could go look up ideas for another dinner recipe that uses rosemary…why not just make pancakes instead?

That’s how these pancakes came into my life. I happened to have extra rosemary, oranges and milk. None of those things are typically in my kitchen so really: these pancakes had to happen. Right then, right there.

These pancakes are a scrumptious brunch treat that’s great for a slow Sunday, Easter brunch or any other time you have a hankering for pancakes. Which, at least in my world, is a pretty regular occurrence. The ricotta gives the pancakes a fabulous, pillowy texture and the orange/rosemary combo is a really nice pairing of fruit with a more herbal flavor.

These require a few steps to get breakfast on the table, but it’s worth it. You need a bit of lead time, because step one is infusing your milk with the rosemary. Steeping the rosemary in milk gives your pancakes a subtler rosemary flavor than if you folded bits of rosemary into the batter itself. This recipe also requires you to whip egg whites to medium peaks. That doesn’t take very long, but you do need to pay close attention to get your peaks justtt right. Thanks to this wonderful internet thing, I’ve found some great egg white tutorials, like this visual guide from The Kitchn.

The original recipe calls for a lavender whipped cream topping. We didn’t do that part (a.k.a. I didn’t have any lavender sitting around) but it sure sounds delicious!

Orange Rosemary Pancakes

Original recipe: This is a Sweet Blog. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: We got 8 pancakes out of this, but your yield obviously depends on how big you make your pancakes!

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~45 minutes

Cook Time: ~4 minutes per pancake, but will depend on your stove

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 2 large eggs, with the yolks and whites separated into separate bowls
  • 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 1 tbsp orange zest

Directions

Prep your milk

  1. Pour your milk into a saucepan and throw the rosemary sprigs on top
  2. Heat the pan until it starts to simmer, then remove from heat
  3. Let your milk cool for 15 minutes. Then, remove the rosemary sprigs. You can strain the milk if needed to get out extra bits of rosemary

Make your batter

  1.  Whisk your flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk your milk, ricotta, egg yolks, orange juice and zest
  3. Fold your dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing until it’s all just incorporated. You should still see small lumps in the batter
  4. Now, whip your egg whites with a hand mixer or stand mixer, until they form medium peaks
  5. Whisk the egg whites into the bowl of batter. When you’re done whisking, there should still be slight traces of egg white whips visible

Cook your pancakes

  1. Butter a pan, and heat it up to medium heat
  2. Pour your batter into the pan and let it fry until small bubbles appear on the top. Then, flip it over and fry for one more minute on the other side

Mint M&M Brownies

I debated saving this recipe for another day since my last post was also a chocolate mint recipe. But, thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, I kept seeing minty green treats pop up all over my feeds. And every time I did, I started thinking about these brownies again. So, I think it’s only fair I share these brownies today, while mint and shades of green are on your brain.

IMG_3308Mint M&Ms are pretty incredible. They taste a bit like Andes Mints, and a bit like those pastel mint candies some restaurants keep in a dish at the hostess table. They have a nice crunchy shell, and then a deliciously smooth, chocolate mint center. Plus, they come in a variety of green hues, so they add a fun bit of color when you bake with them.

I bought these M&Ms a while ago without a real plan, and decided they’d taste great mixed into brownies. I turned to a trusty brownie recipes from Sally’s Baking Addiction and simply mixed in my M&Ms instead of chocolate chips. These are very fudgy, dense brownies, with a rich chocolate base. They were the perfect base for Mint M&Ms!

These are a one bowl recipe and pretty quick to whip up, so they’re a great “brownies on a whim” recipe too. And if you don’t happen to have Mint M&Ms on hand, you could just use chocolate chips or swap in any other baking bits you like. I bet you Reese’s Pieces would be awesome–or caramel bits!

Mint M&M Brownies

Original recipe:  Sally’s Baking Addiction. I’ve made some swaps and rewritten things a bit. 

Yield: 30 brownies

Total Time: ~50 minutes 

Cook Time: ~30-36 minutes 

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 oz of a semi sweet chocolate bar, coarsely chopped (you need 4 ounces total, but add the chocolate in two increments at two different points!)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 oz of a semi sweet chocolate bar, coarsely chopped
  • 1 and 1/4 cups Mint M&Ms, chocolate chips or any other mix-in!

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Grease a 9×13 pan with foil or parchment paper, leaving a little hanging over the sides so it’s easier to pull them out later
  3. Use a microwave safe bowl to melt your butter and 2 ounces of chopped chocolate. Melt in 30 second increments, whisking after each increment to make sure the ingredients to make sure the ingredients are mixed together. Do this until your mixture is smooth but be careful not to go too far–chocolate can burn!
  4. Whisk in your sugar until the mixture is completely combined
  5. Whisk in your eggs and vanilla. At this point the batter will be light brown
  6. Add in your cocoa powder, flour, salt and the other 2 ounces of chopped chocolate. Fold it all together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula
  7. Mix in your M&Ms or other baking bits. Do this gently with your spoon or spatula, and be careful not to overmix the batter
  8. Pour your batter into the prepared pan. It will be super thick so you’ll need to use your spatula to spread it around and even it out
  9. Bake your brownies for about 30-36 minutes. Check on them as soon as you smell that telltale smell of brownies float through your kitchen, even if it hasn’t been 30 minutes yet. Use a toothpick in the center to check if they’re done. You’re looking for a few moist crumbs on the toothpick. If there is still wet batter on the toothpick, keep the brownies in the oven a bit longer. Mine took 35 minutes altogether
  10. Let the brownies cool completely on a wire rack before you cut them. If you try to cut brownies before they’re cool, they tend to crumble all over the place!

These will keep in an airtight container for about a week. Or, freeze them!

 

 

Mint Oreo Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a friend who’s pretty passionate about Oreos. He tries every flavor he can get his hands on, from limited editions (like Peep Oreos) to international releases (like Strawberry Cheesecake). He’s my go-to source for flavor intel, and for recipe scheming, too.

Some of my Oreo experiments haven’t turned out very well. Certain flavors hold up better in baking than others. I had a string of failed attempts to bake with the Cookie Dough Oreos last fall: the Oreo layers kept dissolving in the oven, whether I stuffed them into brownies or cookies. Meanwhile, Halloween Oreos were a perfect baking ingredient.

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This Mint Oreo Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe plays off the classic mint chocolate flavor combo, with a bunch of added texture. Mint Oreos are one of my all-time favorites, and I just knew they’d taste good in a dark chocolate chip cookie. I picked one of my go-to chocolate chip cookie doughs, from Jenny over at Picky Palate. It’s an incredibly flavorful base and holds up really nicely in the oven. I’ve used it for a range of recipes over the years, from Thin Mint-Stuffed Cookies to brownie-stuffed cookies.

These cookies are an incredible flavor explosion of mint, buttery dough and chocolate. During Girl Scout cookie season, you could swap some Thin Mints in there. This is also a great recipe for some St. Patrick’s Day fun with the little hints of green popping out of every cookie!

Mint Oreo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original recipe: The dough and technique came from Picky Palate and I just swapped a few things around. I’ve also rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~36 cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: ~13 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1.5 cups crushed Mint Oreos (I broke each Oreo into ~4 pieces. This creme gets super messy, but it will taste great!)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Use your mixer to beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until it’s light and fluffy
  3. Add in the eggs and vanilla, then beat again until it’s well combined
  4. Use a separate mixing bowl to combine your flour, salt and baking soda
  5. Slowly add your dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Make sure to use a spatula and scrap the sides of the bowl from time to time–sometimes dry ingredients like to hide at the bottom, and then they don’t get incorporated properly!
  6. Use a wooden spoon to mix in the chocolate chips and Oreo bits. I switched to a spoon at this point because the dough got pretty tough, and it was just easier than keeping it in the mixer
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  8. Shape your cookies to your preferred size. I eyeball mine vs. using a scoop
  9. Bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on your oven. Mine were perfect at 13 minutes
  10. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then move them to a rack to cool completely

 

Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: gooey butter cake is one of America’s most underrated desserts. Its name actually makes total sense: the bottom layer is cakey, and the top layer is gooey. That texture combo makes every bite interesting… and the ingredient list makes every bite yummy, too. Gooey Butter Cake definitely lives up to its name, and you just have to try it to understand.

file_0032And then once you try it… what’s next? Experimenting with flavors and mix-ins, obviously. I found this Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake recipe by a stroke of luck. I was planning to bake for a birthday and someone suggested I use cookie butter. I do that pretty often and didn’t want to make a repeat, so I turned to Pinterest for some new ideas. Up popped this recipe that marries my love of cookie butter with my love of gooey butter cake.

There are a few types of Gooey Butter Cake recipes out there. This one uses a pretty standard cake base, and I liked it more than some yeasted versions I’ve tried in the past. You mix cookie butter straight into the “gooey” layer, giving it that signature almost-caramelized, sort-of-gingery taste. Every bite rewards you with a decadent gooey start and a soft, cakey finish.

Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake

Original recipe: Butter Baking. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~30 bars

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~1 hour

Cook Time: 35-40 min

Ingredients

Cake layer:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Gooey layer:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (beat them before you even use them!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Biscoff spread, or other brand of cookie butter (ex. Trader Joe’s sells one)
  • 16 oz powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350F
  2. Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper
  3. Start with your cake layer: mix your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl
  4. Add your egg, butter, milk and vanilla, then stir until it’s just combined
  5. Pour your cake layer into the prepared pan, and smooth it out so it’s nice and even
  6. Then comes the gooey layer. Start by beating your cream cheese until it’s smooth
  7. Add eggs, Biscoff and vanilla, then beat it again until it is completely smooth and looks creamy
  8. Add your powdered sugar in small batches, a bit at a time. Beat each batch at a low speed until it’s combined
  9. Pour your gooey layer over the cake layer, and spread out evenly
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine took the full 40 minutes). Your edges will look golden. The center may look a bit underdone, but it will set as the pan cools. The top should look a bit shiny–mine ended up flaking quite a bit, but it didn’t affect taste at all!
  11. Once the pan is cool, cut it up into bars

My San Francisco Favorites

People often ask me about the best bakeries and ice cream shops in San Francisco. Friends joke that I’m like a walking encyclopedia to San Francisco’s best desserts: name a neighborhood or dessert type, and I’m sure to have a tip. I’m always happy to help other people experience SF’s best. So after quite some time of planning to do this but not actually doing it… I finally built my own San Francisco Treat Map.

This handy map plots out my top picks for baked goods, ice cream and coffee. You’ll find a mix of celebrated gems and places that don’t seem to get much press–but should. You can find the full map at the bottom of this post or over on its dedicated page. Click on the map markers to see menu tips and other notes.

And just in case you don’t feel like clicking all over a map… here’s a quick guide to my San Francisco favorites:

Where to find the best…

Cookies: Nob Hill’s Batter Bakery is my go-to for delicious cookies with a great texture. I love the cherry ginger, and they’re directly responsible for getting me hooked on herbs in cookies (their lavender sea salt shortbread is incredible). They’re known for their “sand angel,” a sort of molasses/snickerdoodle hybrid. Bonus tip: they do a cookie happy hour every day from 3-6 PM.

Croissants: Neighbor Bakehouse is one of my favorite 20160327_105821bakeries in the city, and their croissants are incredible. Imagine layers of the perfect buttery croissant dough, complemented by flavorful fillings. My favorite is the pistachio, which also includes a layer of blackberry jam. Their savory tarts are incredible too. (Review here)

Scones: Arizmendi is a co-op with locations scattered around the Bay Area. I’m particularly partial to their scones: they have the best crusty top and fluffy interior. Their mixed berry scones are my #1 pick. Their menu rotates, so if you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re offering chocolate cherry sourdough, make sure to scoop it up!

IMG_1957.jpgSticky buns, morning buns, etc: Marla Bakery is one of my favorite spots in the city thanks to their delectable baked goods, laid-back atmosphere and stellar brunch. Start your brunch with a sticky bun, or whatever morning pastry is on offer that day. (Review here)

Cake: Alright, my answer here depends on what you’re looking for. Seeking slices of American cake-and-frosting classics? SusieCakes is your place, and you should get the Celebration Cake or red velvet. Looking for more of a Euro-style cake that pairs spongey cake with denser fillings (jam, pastry cream, etc.)? Go to Moscow & Tiblisi Bakery and pick up the Sunshine Cake. And for cupcakes, make your way to Sift Dessert Bar in Pacific Heights, where the almond cupcake makes me swoon.

10474609_10100721491442192_1525715483481751452_nIce cream: Swensen’s opened at the corner of Union and Hyde in 1948. They’ve since expanded into an international chain but this location is the classic, and way old-school. My favorite flavors are the Swiss Orange (chocolate orange) and the peppermint that appears during the holidays.

Gelato: Lush Gelato has a few locations around the Bay Area. Their gelato tastes very fresh and you can tell they use high quality ingredients. They offer a range of classic and edgier flavors. I especially like their cheese flavors: mascarpone, ricotta and the like.

Macarons: Chantal Guillon, without a doubt. They offer everything from chocolate to Persian rose to seasonal flavors like yuzu hazlenut. The shells have just the right amount of crisp, and all the fillings are balanced and delicious.

Bread: The Mill, which gets extra points because their lead baker’s name is actually Josey Baker. Mondays and Wednesdays are pizza nights, so you can grab tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s bread in the same fell swoop.

IMG_3047.JPGCoffee: I spend a lot of time at coffee shops, and Contraband Coffee Bar is my favorite. I get the Black Market every single time–it’s a medium dark specialty drip. Friends go gaga for their espresso. Contraband also gets bonus points for being the first place I tried a Neighbor Bakehouse pastry!

Avocado toast: Avocado toast is a strangely contentious category in these parts, and my vote goes to Cafe St. Jorge near Bernal Heights. Wheat toast is topped with a generous helping of smashed avocado, chili and lemon. Mmmm.

Spin on s’mores: Yes this deserves its own category, and the honor goes to Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission. Their version includes a homemade graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate ganache. They toast it to order, too!

Think I’m missing somewhere special? Drop me a line at culturecookies@gmail.com.