The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie Roundup

There’s something about a chocolate chip cookie (CCC, for short) that embodies a certain casual American exceptionalism. The French, Kings of Pastry as they deservedly are, take hours to make and assemble the perfect croissant or ideal Paris-Brest or any number of other complex dough-and-cream concoctions. We Americans get to waltz in with our flour and our sugar and our eggs and our chocolate chips and–in 10 minutes flat–create something near Godliness. Hold off on those U-S-A!, U-S-A! cheers, though. In NYC it’s French bakeries, with their supreme attention to detail, that are churning out some of the best versions of the CCC in the city.

For this roundup, I sampled 18 cookies all across NYC. There were plenty of winners, and I found it difficult to whittle down my favorites to a “Top 5” so I went with a “Top 6.” All are exceptional in their own way.

Top 6 (in no particular order)

Smile To Go: This cookie has an intense brown sugar flavor that plays off of the saltiness of large visible flakes (seen below), creating an ideal medley of salty-sweet. The chocolate disks are ideally distributed throughout.

IMG_3628

Maman: If I were to award an official No. 1, this gargantuan cookie would be it. From the cutesy new French bakery in Soho, this CCC is perfectly browned on the edges with an incredibly melty, gooey middle. Also, I’m usually a hater of nuts-in-cookies, but the whole hazelnuts here add great texture.

IMG_3690

The Dessert Club by Chikalicious: This has been one of my favorite CCCs for years (at the sister location in the East Village), and the one at the new spot is just as lovely. It’s slightly underdone with crunchy edges and a chewy interior. They know to warm up the cookie to order for just the right amount of time to achieve optimal softness.

IMG_3704

Levain Bakery: The most famous of the bunch, this French bakery is perpetually mobbed–and with good reason. They churn out large mounds of deliciously under-baked CCCs that are so heavy, you could use them for weight training. Bring a friend and indulge in the cookie dough-like interior. There are walnuts, but they’re not super loud about making their presence known, if you know what I mean.

IMG_3759

Pret a Manger: Yes, it’s a chain, but so what? These cookies can compete with some of the top bakeries on this list. They’re kept under a warming lamp, so they’re toasty and gooey no matter what time of day you purchase one. There’s a crunchiness at the edges that gives them a nice textural balance.

IMG_3750

Épicerie Boulud: Another Frenchy on our list, this cookie has it all. It’s buttery and soft, with a proportional combination of dark chocolate and milk chocolate discs. I’ve only ever had it warm, so in order to experience the magic, it would be worth it to ask if the ones on display are fresh out of the kitchen.

IMG_2598

Honorable Mentions

Blue Ribbon Bakery Market: The smallest (and cheapest, at $1) of the bunch, this cookie has a lovely home-baked quality. It’s soft, crumbly and not overly buttery. A perfect CCC for when you want a cookie all to yourself, but don’t want to consume a 500-calorie sugar bomb.

IMG_3708

Macchiato: A great spot for cookie cravings in Midtown, this European coffee shop stocks perpetually warm cookies with intense chocolate flavor.

IMG_3749

Bouchon Bakery: Yet another French bakery with a great CCC. This cookie is huge–nearly literally the size of one’s head. The edges are crunchy, but take one more bite and you’re in pliant, chewy heaven.

IMG_3757

The City Bakery: This institution has expanded its dessert empire with Birdbath Bakeries all around Manhattan, featuring the original icon’s famous cookies. The CCC here is flat, chewy and just right amount of underdone. It goes well with their exceptional hot chocolate, if you’re looking to spend the subsequent hours in a blissful sugar coma.

IMG_3696

Jacques Torres Chocolate: Jacques knows his customers, and what he knows is they want a warm CCC. They keep some of the cookies on a hot plate all day to ensure the one you receive is warm and soft. Mine may have spent a little too much time on the plate; it was falling apart when I held it up for a photo. Jacques is also the king of chocolate chip layering–a cross section resembles sedimentary rocks, which is perhaps why his chocolate chip cookie recipe is an Internet favorite.

IMG_3703

Other cookies sampled: Amy’s Bread, BKLYN Larder, Milk & Cookies Bakery, Breads Bakery, Baked, Maison Kayser, Roasting Plant.

Advertisements

The Ultimate Hot Chocolate Roundup

When a polar vortex threatens, my beverage of choice is a cup of glove-warming hot chocolate. Thankfully, this city has a slew of places that specialize in liquified chocolate. Now, for the criteria. You don’t want it to be too watery; it should coat the inside of the cup. The chocolate should leave “tree rings” as you drink. Also, this is a bit vague, but the drink should taste layered–more than the sum of its parts. I drank a lot of hot chocolate for this write-up, so toward the end of my research, the most notable criteria was whether–after so much taste-testing–I wanted to keep drinking. Since all of the below are so different, and it’s hard to pick a favorite, I’ve assigned superlatives. I should also note that though hot chocolate usually means chocolate bits melted by steamed milk while hot cocoa is cocoa powder mixed with milk and often sugar, some places use the terms interchangeably, with hot chocolate being the catch-all.

Most Comforting: The Chocolate Room, Park Slope. For $4.75, you get a huge cup of hot chocolate. The added fresh whipped cream was $0.75 extra, but so worth it. The hot chocolate was milky, but not overly so, and intensely satisfying. The texture was more traditional and less thick than many of the more European, “drinking chocolate” places in NYC. I enjoyed it to-stay, with a complimentary amuse bouche of tiny dark chocolate-almond financier.
20140114-135554.jpg

Best Deal: Jacques Torres Chocolate, multiple locations. The classic or wicked (spiced) hot chocolate at one of the best chocolate shops in the city is still $3.25 for the small. If you want to try one of their other flavors, it’ll set you back $3.50. I went for the peanut butter. Yep, I said peanut- frickin’-butter. In hot chocolate. Awesome. The beverage itself is thick and molasses-y, in the best possible way. The whipped cream, spooned in from a bowl, is complimentary if you request it. Overall, a delicious and unique cup.
20140114-135634.jpg

The Classic for a Reason: The City Bakery, Flatiron. This place has been the hot chocolate go-to for years. They even have a yearly hot chocolate festival. (City Bakery is also home to the awe-inspiring pretzel croissant, NYC’s first hybrid pastry.) Yes, it’s busy and touristy, but the freshly made hot chocolate is sweet, rich and delicious. Like the Jacques Torres cup, it’s a thick drinking chocolate. The oversize house-made marshmallow, though not completely necessary considering how satisfying the chocolate is on its own, is pliable without being spongey or tasting chemically. Not the cheapest option at over $7, with the marshmallow, but I would argue definitely worth it.
20140114-135659.jpg

Simplest: L.A. Burdick, Flatiron. There aren’t many bells and whistles here, just a satisfying, drinkable cup of really quality hot chocolate. At $4.75 for the small mug pictured below, it’s also a cup you can actually finish on your own. Definitely one of my favorites. Plus, the cozy shop, with its handful of tables and delicious cakes by the slice is a great place to take a break on a chilly afternoon.

20140114-135721.jpg

Best Ambiance: MarieBelle, Soho. I was the only non-tourist at this elegant waitress-service hot chocolate salon in the the back of the brand’s retail shop. The espresso-sized adorable teacup below will set you back $5 ($7 if you want a normal-sized teacup), which gives this hot chocolate the distinction of being among the priciest on this list. The chocolate itself was sublime. Rich, very layered and compulsively drinkable. There are countless options and combinations for your chocolate: milk, dark, white, European, American, hot cold, flavored. There’s even a list of over a dozen specially-sourced chocolate drinks, including “Jefferson’s Hot Chocolate” from my home state of Virginia. My cup was milk chocolate and hazelnut. Instead of being added via syrup, which would’ve been the easiest option, the hazelnuts are actually ground and incorporated into the chocolate. And yes, it’s expensive, but it was the perfect size for me; I actually finished the whole thing.
photo 4

Fanciest: La Maison du Chocolat, multiple locations. When visiting an establishment during my research, I always asked for the drink to-stay, if it was an option, just to see what the presentation was like. French chocolatier La Maison went all out, which a small plate of cocoa-dusted whipped cream, a glass of water and a complimentary piece of chocolate. The cup itself was also the most expensive, at $8.50. After trying so many milk hot chocolates, I went for the dark (the other option was vanilla-infused dark) and it was intense, the thickest of all of the hot chocolates on this list. It almost had the consistency of the melted chocolate one would dip churros into.

photo 2-1

Best Presentation: Vosges Haut-Chocolate, Soho and the Upper East Side. This Chicago-based chocolatier sells unique and exotic chocolates in beautiful packaging and was one of the first to spearhead the whole bacon-and-chocolate trend. When I asked for my hot chocolate to-stay, I wasn’t sure what to expect, since at the Soho location, the sit-down area is just one long high table. It’s not really waiter service either, just a “sit and we’ll bring it out to you” thing. Which is why I was shocked when the below arrived, all included in the $5 price. The hot chocolate was served on hipster-y driftwood, with powdered sugar-vanilla-bean whipped cream and samples of their brand new peanut butter-salt-milk chocolate bar. It was smooth and drinkable, with a nice vanilla flavor. Other options include a multi-spice dark chocolate or a white chocolate.
photo 1-2

Most Homemade Tasting: Dessert Club, ChikaLicious, East Village. This dessert shop is known for its creative, hybrid pastries. (People love its unique puddings, flavored ices and ice cream sandwiches.) The hot chocolate–hot cocoa? (it’s listed at $5.05, but I was charged $4.75, maybe because of the off hour) is a solid contender. It comes pre-made from a heated vat and tastes almost identical to the kind of hot chocolate one would make at home, i.e. sweet, but not overly so, with just the right consistency. It’s not the fanciest or most complex cup, but it tastes great nonetheless.
photo 4-1

Biggest Surprise: Smile To Go, Soho. I wasn’t expecting much when I stepped into this gourmet prepared foods shop for a pick-me-up. It wasn’t even a part of my research. The melty chocolate was delicious and the milk was steamy but not overly frothy (which is categorically the worst thing ever). Plus, I finally got to experience a bit of latte art without having to order an actual coffee.

20140114-135748.jpg

Great for the ‘Hood: Nunu Chocolates, Downtown Brooklyn (top) and Leonidas/Manon Cafe (bottom), Financial District. Both of these establishments make very tasty if not extremely memorable cups of hot chocolate. Nunu Chocolates has been making single-origin artisanal chocolate in Brooklyn for years, and their cup ($4 for a small) features their quality chocolate, melted with milk into a satisfying, not overly thick blend. Leonidas makes fine Belgian chocolates and the no-frills cafe in the back of their Financial District shop delivers a sweet milk-chocolate-y cup (the milk is their standard; a dark or caramel is also available) with your choice of white, dark or milk chocolate candy sample. A small will run you $4.75.

photo 1-3

Also Really Good: Francois Payard Bakery (FPB), multiple locations. Okay, so that’s not a real superlative, but I’m running out of unique attributes here! Though the hot chocolate at this venerated French pastry chef’s bakery outposts is pre-made, it is incredibly thick and indulgent, owing to the heavy cream in the recipe. Split with a friend if you want a shot a finishing the entire cup ($5).

photo-2

The Rest: The Chocolate Bar, West Village (left) and Peels, East Village (right). Though the Chocolate Bar hot chocolate ($4.50 for a small) isn’t at the top of my list, the shop does score points for having a lot of flavor options, including peanut butter (which I had to go for again, obviously), peppermint, caramel, hazelnut and many others. The actual hot chocolate was a tad watery for my taste, but good for someone who doesn’t want an overwhelming cup.  The Peels hot chocolate ($3.50) had way too much milk, which could’ve just been a symptom of inconsistency. As you can see, it couldn’t be more different from the thick and fudgy hot chocolate the food website Serious Eats received when they visited a few years back. The house-made marshmallow is complimentary.

photo-3

Ice Cream Sandwich Roundup

What better way to relish the dog days of summer than with a really good ice cream sandwich? An ice cream sandwich, just like most really great treats, is all about the contrast in textures. You have the soft, chewy–alternatively, dense, crunchy–cookie (or other delivery device, as you shall see below) and the cold, smooth ice cream. All of this is why, in my expert opinion, the best ice cream sandwiches are made-to-order. An MTO ice cream sandwich is not an easy find. Many of the city’s most-touted ice cream sandwich suppliers, including Melt Bakery, The Good Batch, Jacques Torres Chocolate (you can get non-pre-assembled sandwiches at two locations, but they insist on only using frozen cookies) and Bierkraft, keep pre-made sandwiches in a freezer. I’ve tested my sensitive teeth too many times on frozen solid cookie. Which is why I’ve scouted the city for well-made MTOs. You’re welcome.

chikalicious

A longtime favorite dessert, the chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich ($6.95) at Dessert Club ChikaLicious in the East Village is everything you’d want from a delicious summertime treat. The cookies are chewy if not downright out-of-the-oven-warm, and the in-house vanilla soft serve is rich and satisfying. A few squirts of hot fudge are exactly what you didn’t know you wanted.

Coolhaus

With endless ice cream and cookie flavor combinations, including unique offerings like fried chicken and waffles (ice cream) and peanut butter captain crunch (cookie), the Coolhaus truck, with mutliple locations around NYC and elsewhere, is the king of the MTO ice cream sandwich. On a recent visit to the CPW location, I paired s’mores cookies with a chocolate-stout-and-pretzel ice cream. The cookies had just the right texture, thin and pliable, and the ice cream had a lively beer-y kick. If you’re really looking to diversify, ask for two different cookies as I’ve done on more than one occasion. They’re more than happy to oblige.

Ronneybrook

When I was first handed the above sandwich from Roneybrook Milk Bar ($3.50) in Meatpacking District’s Chelsea Market, I was a tad disappointed. I could tell the cookies were hard and was worried I’d have trouble biting through them. But then I started eating. And, well, I couldn’t stop. The cookies were dense, yes, but not in a stale way. They had an appealing crunchiness with oversize white chocolate chips that broke up the texture. The cinnamon ice cream I had chosen was simple but incredibly creamy with the perfect amount of cinnamon flavor.

amorino

Carb-laden sweets are my Kryptonite. I had no idea brioche ice cream sandwiches existed until I saw one advertised at a now-defunct Midtown East Italian restaurant five years ago. At Amorino in Greenwich Village, their sandwich, called a Foccacina ($7.50), combines a sugary brioche with two of their gelato offerings. The gelato at Amorino is not to be missed, with two types of pistachio and all of the best Italian classics (despite the chain being of French origins). I went for the saltier of the two pistachios coupled with the hazelnut. The scoops were stuffed into a small-ish roll and dusted with powdered sugar. Though the brioche was good, albeit less dense than I prefer my brioche bread, the gelato is the star here.

milkandcookies

The ice cream sandwich at Milk & Cookies Bakery ($5.50) in the West Village was a knock-your-socks-off surprise. The cookies were chewy, layered and–wait for it–warm. There’s nothing better than biting into a soft cookie and cold, creamy ice cream at the exact same time. I went for a milk-chocolate-and-caramel cookie and paired it with caramel gelato, which they source from city favorite Il Laboratio del Gelato. There are over a dozen cookies and nearly as many ice creams to mix-and-match according to your preference. Since their specialty is cookies, it seems prudent to treat the cookie selection process the way you would picking a bagel. Ask for what’s fresh and warm and use that as your guide.

wafelsanddinges

I knew the sandwich at Wafels & Dinges, a.k.a the de Verdekke ($6), was going to be good when I saw the woman working the truck (60th and CPS location) put two mini liege waffles onto the grill. After they warmed, with the beautiful sugar crystal edges you see above, she paired them with a single scoop of their specially made Spekuloos ice cream (a version of their famous spicy cookie spread ) and topped it off with powdered sugar. Yowza. This was delicious. In a way that, when you first bite into it, you’re totally unprepared for. It was warm and chewy and melty and all around satisfying. Plus, it’s small and portable–a perfect dessert for a quick city stroll.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: