The Best Desserts in New York, as of July 2011

I am addicted to sweets.  All kinds of sweets.  I love cookies, cakes, pies, ice creams, candies, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, chocolates, caramels, donuts – everything.  I always order dessert.  Dessert is where my I have the most refined palate.  Well, dessert and chicken sandwiches.   As such, I have many thoughts on the various desserts around the city.

New York’s dessert scene is not as good as it could be, particularly given the number of great restaurants, dessert boutiques, food trucks and other dining establishments.

So what makes a good dessert?  It is relatively simple: high-quality, fresh ingredients and proper consistency. Desserts are generally very delicate – too much of one flavor or too little of another can ruin an otherwise perfect dessert.  Additionally, every dessert type has unique characteristics that make it “ideal.”  For example, cakes should be moist.  A dry cake is disgusting. End of story.  Cookies should be soft. (I dare you to fight me on that one.)   If you have a fruit flavor in a dessert, it should be made from the fruit, not some artificial pre-made syrupy stuff.  I am shocked how tasteless many NYC desserts are, since almost every other aspect of the food scene is wonderful.

Nevertheless, there are some true standout desserts in New York.  I am going to post them here.  I always appreciate comments and recommendations, as I may have left something out.

With that, let’s get into my favorite desserts in NYC by category.

The Best Cookies: Levain bakery
Cookies are my favorite dessert. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, I love a good cookie.  I have averaged about 1.2 cookies a day over the last few years.  That’s a lot of cookies.  The best cookies I have ever had in life are made here in New York City at Levain Bakery.

Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes founded Levain Bakery in 1995, and have been making some of the world’s best cookies ever since.

Connie and Pam have mastered that which is essential to making perfect cookies: proper consistency.  Cookies should be slightly crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. Like steaks, cookies should be served medium-rare to medium.  A rare cookie is a bit too gooey and mushy, while a well-done crispy cookie is not particularly good either.

Perfect cookies have one more trait, which is actually more difficult to find: freshness and warmth.  Levain Bakery’s large cookies are among the best I have tried anywhere in the world.  I hope there’s a Levain Bakery in heaven.

The cookies are extra large.  The flavor is rich. They come out of their oven just before serving to you.  It is big, juicy, delicious, heavenly. It is the ultimate cookie, without question.  I only eat Levain Cookies once a month or so, and try other cookies every other day.  I have yet to encounter any other cookies that come close.  Their flavors are all delicious, just make sure you diet before going there.

Best cheesecake: Carnegie Deli
Cheesecake is admittedly one of the tougher categories to isolate a winner.  But someone has to receive title for the best.  That said, I’m sure that this one may change over time.  Perhaps one day a more in-depth cheesecake report is in order.  The problem with grading cheesecake is that it is a relatively simple dessert to make and make well.  Also, cheesecake’s simplicity lends itself to a seemingly endless number of variations.  (Anyone who doubts that last point should see a menu at the Cheesecake Factory.  Hell, the place is called a factory – there must be a lot of cheesecake options).

To me, there two essential qualities for my best cheesecake rating: creaminess and crust.  Admittedly, I would say about 80% of cheesecakes are within the acceptable range of the right creaminess.  So really, hard to say who is best here.  However the crust of Carnegie Deli’s cheesecake is thick, rich and delicious (I think a rapper once described a girl like that).  Superb.

Best Cakes (and Cake Truffles): Leamon & Sabky
Perhaps the most delicious cakes I have ever tasted.  Two immediate comments: First, I am intimately involved with Leamon & Sabky.  Second, it doesn’t quite count as a New York business, but since the cakes can be shipped, I am including it in my best cake rating.

Quite simply, the cakes use the freshest, highest quality ingredients.  The strawberry cake is unreal, as are most of the flavors. The baker down in Texas is a wonderful lady, and the company has managed to perfect overnight shipping.

After having almost every specialty cake shop in the city, nothing comes close. The cakes can be found at

Best Dessert with a Funny Name: Spotted Dick at Le Caprice
Sadly as I write this the Pierre is no longer serving spotted dick (though there’s always The Breslin).  I am going to have to use the Wikipedia definition of spotted dick, which states “Spotted dick is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit (usually currants) commonly served with custard.”  All I know is: it is delicious.  One of the best desserts ever that’s difficult to find.