New York City's Most Iconic Desserts, Mapped
New York City does many things right -- pizza, expensive cocktails, late night comedy shows, and most importantly, dessert. The city has gifted the world so many treats, from the black and white cookie from Glaser’s to the Cronut, courtesy of Dominique Ansel. Those it didn’t invent, it has mastered, like the donut (in particular the red velvet from Peter Pan) and babka (like the chocolate version baked up by Breads). Picking the city’s most iconic dessert is like picking its most iconic landmark -- there are so many to choose from, and often it simply depends on what neighborhood you’re in. But these are 15 of the most iconic across the city -- from places old and new. We even mapped them out for you!
Red velvet donut
There is little better than having an excuse to eat cake for breakfast, especially in a deep-fried, handheld form. This 62-year-old donut shop starts turning out its popular red velvet cake doughnuts at 4:30 in the morning. Cakey and unfussy, the red doughnuts are a lightly glazed take on the classic Southern cake. And on hot days, owner Donna Siafakas and her staff will split open the doughnut and fill them with cherry amaretto ice cream to make an ice cream sandwich that puts all others to shame.
Salty Honey Pie
It’s impossible to have a conversation about pie in New York City and not bring up Four & Twenty Blackbirds. Sisters and founders Melissa and Emily Elsen started baking pies out of their Brooklyn apartment for custom orders before opening their famed pie shop in 2009. The Salty Honey pie -- which features an extra buttery crust and rich honey custard filling -- is one of their most famous and most unique creations. Each pie is topped with large flakes of sea salt to cut through the filling’s sweetness.
Before Allison Kave and Keavy Blueher opened their cocktail and dessert bar in Crown Heights in 2015, they were selling slices of their addictive s’mores pie to the hungry crowds at Smorgasburg. The pie features a graham cracker crust made from scratch, a filling of thick chocolate ganache, and a chewy layer of toasted marshmallow fluff. It’s all the best parts of camping without any of the bugs or lack of toilet paper.
Banana cream pudding
People who like to pretend they are in an episode of Sex and the City may line up for this bakery’s cupcakes, but its tubs of banana pudding are the real draw. Vanilla wafers are layered with slices of fresh banana, creamy vanilla pudding, and condensed milk to create a dessert so good that any serving size is a single serving. Magnolia opened its first location in the West Village in 1996 and now sells its banana pudding around the globe. Best of all, the bakery very recently launched a chocolate version just incase you needed an excuse to order a second tub.
New York cheesecake
This is the cheesecake that P. Diddy has cast members of Making the Band walk across bridges to go get. Since 1950, the Downtown Brooklyn institution has been serving up incredibly dense slices of its famed cheesecake. Unlike many cheesecakes, Junior’s version skips a graham cracker crust and ricotta in favor of of a thin layer of sponge cake and a heap of cream cheese. While the restaurant serves a range of other flavors, the original version still remains the most iconic.
The Salty Pimp
One of the best ice cream cones in the city also has one of the best names. The Salty Pimp -- which started out as a special in 2009 when Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff were still running just an ice cream truck -- is true to its name. An elegant twist on a Mister Softee, the dessert features vanilla soft serve that’s drizzled with stripes of thick dulce de leche, sprinkled with sea salt, and dipped in chocolate to create a crunchy, sweet exterior. While Quint and Petroff empire has grown to include shops in cities like Philadelphia, you can grab a Salty Pimp anytime you want at their two New York City locations, as long as you are willing to brave a line.
Salted chocolate chip cookie
These magical cookies created by Ovenly founders Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin are soft but chewy, rippled with melty chocolate, perfectly salted, and secretly vegan. The pair launched Ovenly in 2010 and ever since then their chocolate chip cookies have been displayed in charming glass jars in pretty much every coffee shop and ice cream store in the city, which makes chocolate chip cookie o’clock an all-day everyday affair.
Walk into any relatively hip coffee shop in the city and you are likely to find Dough’s recognizably large and puffy yeasted donuts in their pastry case. They are the brainchild of Chef Fany Gerson, who opened the first location of Dough in Bed-Stuy in 2010. Her doughnuts -- most notably, one glazed with a bright pink hibiscus-flavored frosting -- first gained attention when she started selling them at Smorgasbord. The hibiscus donut, which is inspired by Gerson’s childhood in Mexico, is sweet and tangy and will make you question why you ever bothered eating any other flavor.
Lady M’s crepe cake takes the concept of a layer cake to a new level. The bakery -- sorry, cake boutique -- which has been open since 2004, is inspired by the bakeries of Japan, but their most famous creation finds its roots in France. The cake is made from a stack of 20 thin crepes, each of which are capped off with a layer of a light and subtle pastry cream. The cake comes in a number of flavors, including green tea and strawberry, and the result is one of New York City’s most Instagram-friendly desserts.
Dominique Ansel is a wickedly talented and imaginative pastry chef behind such creations as the frozen s’more and the chocolate chip cookie shot, but his legacy will forever be tied to the Cronut (a name he quickly trademarked). Ansel nonchalantly added the doughnut-croissant hybrid to his SoHo bakery’s menu just before Mother’s Day in 2013 to fill the doughnut void on the menu. It quickly took off, thanks to a little help from the food blogs, and within a handful of days hundreds of people were lining up each day to grab one. The pastries, which are filled with cream on the inside and glazed on the outside, are still incredibly popular, with people still lining up as early as 6am to get their hands on each monthly flavor.
Black and white cookie
Upper East Side institution Glaser’s Bake Shop -- which first opened in 1902 -- is the go-to spot for the popular bi-colored cookie. While many black and white cookies feature a soft cakey base with fudgy frosting, Glaser’s version is topped with a drier fondant-style chocolate and vanilla icings. Clearly, the recipe has been working for the bakery, seeing as the cookie has been on the menu for nearly 100 years. Still, to this day, no one can answer the question of which half should be eaten first.
Cereal Milk Soft Serve
The menu at pastry wizard Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar is a veritable list of iconic New York desserts, from her Crack Pie to the Pinterest-friendly Naked Layer Cakes. Tosi’s most famous creation however, is her Cereal Milk Soft Serve, which people have been lining up for since she threw open Milk Bar’s doors in 2008. The lines aren’t surprising considering that the dessert tastes exactly like the milk leftover after pounding a bowl of cornflakes at midnight. And since it’s made with real corn flakes, it counts as a healthy breakfast too (kind of, maybe).
Creme brûlée dounut
Doughnut Plant blessed New York City with its portable take on a creme brûlée in late 2008. While the creme brûlée is much smaller than their other doughnuts, it weighs nearly as much as its compatriots, thanks to heavy dose of vanilla custard filling. The top of the soft, yeasty doughnut (sorry, cake fans) is crowned with caramelized sugar to give it the custard dessert’s signature crunch. Best of all, it requires no spoon and can be shoved into your mouth in one very large bite.
It’s not hard to see why Breads Bakery can sell upwards of a thousand loaves of their braided chocolate babka per day during the holidays. Ever since Gadi Peleg opened the bakery in 2013 the rich loaves -- which are made from a laminated dough -- have been a major draw. It probably helps that the loaves are bursting with ribbons of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Many say Breads Bakery helped spurn a babka renaissance in the city, a buttery revolution we can get behind.
Chocolate chip walnut cookie
The thick, gooey cookies from Levain weigh in at just under a 1/2lb each and definitely embrace the saying, ”Bigger is better.” Loaded with chocolate chips and walnuts, the cookies have spawned a number of copycats -- but don’t be fooled by the imposters. The cookies are best hot out of the oven of the bakery’s tiny store-front on the Upper West Side, which has been a New York City institution since it first opened in 1995. Created by Levain owners Constance McDonald and Pamela Weeks as a way to refuel while training for the Ironman triathlon, the hefty treat will definitely be able to help you power through a city-wide dessert eating marathon.
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Khushbu Shah is a freelance food writer and photographer who has 32 sweet teeth. She has tried everything on this list twice (or five times). Tell her what your favorite NYC desserts are at @khushandoj