The Art of Baking At Its Best
Why we in Westchester must always make sure to leave room for dessert.
By Charlotte Kaiser Photography by Iko
As a rule, I’m very good. Put chips, cheese or even Chunky Monkey in front of me and I don’t flinch. Bring me within a couple of blocks of a bakery, though, and all bets are off. With such a predilection for pastries, I was the ideal candidate to write about the places in Westchester where culinary wizards cast spells with butter, cream, eggs, sugar and flour (not to mention chocolate!), turning them into irresistible treats. Whether your weakness is for Austrian strudel, Italian cannoli or Mexican tres leches cakes, here is an overview of the top places in the county to satisfy your sweet tooth.
La Tulipe Desserts
Maarten Steenman of Mount Kisco’s La Tulipe Desserts (455 Lexington Avenue, Mt. Kisco, 914-242-4555) may offer fewer products than many of the other bakeries I visited, but everything he makes exudes panache. The three glass display cases in the small pink granite-lined space showcase textbook-perfect orange brioches ($2.25), pistachio macaroons ($17/lb.) and glistening pÃ¡tes de fruits ($15/pkg.). Steenman, who trained at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, knows that his pastries are more expensive than others in the area, but that’s the price to pay for, he says, “top-notch ingredients.” One taste of his tarte Tatin ($4.50 per slice, $24 for a 7-inch tart) or chocolate crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e tart ($4), and you won’t mind spending a little extra dough.
What CaffÃ© Trento (1777 Central Park Avenue, Yonkers, 914-779-2001) lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in flavor. For more than 25 years, the Italian bakery has enjoyed a reputation as one of the county’s finest purveyors of cannoli ($1.25), napoleons ($1.25) and sfogliatelle ($1.50). Owner Vincent Saponara emigrated from Basilicata in Southern Italy when he was 15 years old, but he hasn’t forgotten how they do it back in the old country. His ricotta cheesecake ($6.50 to $17) has bits of candied orange, and he also makes traditional rum cakes with vanilla and chocolate custard ($11 and up) and cheese, custard and almond pasticiotti ($8/lb.).
Jean-Jacques’ Culinary Creations (468 Bedford Road, Pleasantville, 914-747-8191; 43 Croton Point Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, 914-271-8200; 230 Saw Mill River Road, Millwood, 914-923-4020) is a bustling cafeteria-style bakery in downtown Pleasantville. Moms, seniors and Pace University students gather at the inviting space, which has a ProvenÃ§al feel. Although the bakery excels at breakfast items, like chaussons aux pommes (apple turnovers, $1.50), brioches ($1.25) and croissants ($1.25 to $2), Jean-Jacques has lunch, dinner and dessert covered too. Its pastries—including French classics like St. HonorÃ©, Paris-Brest and OpÃ©ra—are available in mini, individual and cake sizes.
Neri’s Retail Bakery Outlet, Inc.
If you eat out in the area, chances are you’ve had bread from Neri’s (31-37 Pearl Street, Port Chester, 914-937-3235). The 92-year-old Port Chester bakery supplies delis, schools and restaurants like Manero’s in Greenwich, among others. The breads and rolls may get around, but you have to visit the retail outlet if you want to sample Neri’s brownies ($4.50 for a box of 20), custardy mini fruit tarts (50Â¢) and Italian pastries like cream puffs (chocolate, vanilla mousse, cannoli, chocolate custard—all 50Â¢). Neri’s also offers strawberry, peach and pineapple tres leches cakes ($7 and up), made with whole, evaporated and sweetened condensed milk.
Greyston Bakery (114 Woodworth Avenue, Yonkers; 914-375-1510) is a for-profit component of the non-profit Greyston Foundation. Born from Buddhist ideals, the bakery has a first-come, first-hired policy, which means that anyone who applies for a job gets it. Greyston makes more than a dozen different products, including brownies for Ben & Jerry’s ice creams and frozen yogurts for Stonyfield Farms. All of their cakes and tarts are for sale at the bakery’s office, although those who want to taste before they buy can visit the bakery’s cafÃ© on Main Street in Yonkers, where everything is sold by the slice including my favorites, lemon mousse cake and peanut butter
explosion (both $35.50, $2.75/slice). The desserts are also available online at www.greystonbakery.com.
Antonino (Nino) Settepani and his wife, Leah Abraham, are pastry moguls. The couple owns Settepani bakery and cafÃ©s in Dobbs Ferry (63 Main Street, 914-479-0706), Irvington (45 Main Street, 914-591-7406), Harlem and Brooklyn (where they also have a 5,000-square-foot production facility). Nino, who hails from Sicily, oversees the wholesale operations and production, while Leah, a demure Eritrean, “bounces around” between the two Westchester locations. Although based on Italian recipes and techniques, Settepani’s creations “are accessible to all palates,” says Nino. The chocolate-filled hazelnut cookies called Baci di Donna ($14/lb.) and Savoie, vanilla cake with mocha mousse and chocolate ganache ($3), are both worth trying, as are the cannolis ($3). The latter come in vanilla or chocolate-dipped shells and are filled to order with vanilla or chocolate cream. Nothing inaccessible about that.
It’s no wonder why Ardsley’s Riviera Bakehouse (660 Saw Mill River Road, Ardsley; 914-693-9758) consistently rates among the county’s best. The scope of its offerings is staggering, and the quality is not compromised by the quantity of goods on hand. Cookies ($13/lb.) and cupcakes ($1 to $7), brownies ($1 to $1.50) and quick breads ($3.25), scones (90Â¢ to $1.50) and sandwiches ($4.50 to $7.50) all come in myriad flavors. Almost everything is made on the premises, where the baking starts at 4 a.m. and the sound of mixers and oven timers can be heard all day. According to Kaye Hansen, who owns the shop with her husband Peter Simon, Riveria’s bestseller by far is the mini birthday cake ($12.50 and up)—which is called “mini” whether it’s 4 inches or 18 inches. Layers of chocolate cake and Oreo whipped cream are decorated in teal, yellow and purple buttercream and topped with white chocolate candles—the result is as eye catching as it is mouthwatering.
Fernando Santos may be Portuguese by birth, but he’s a Frenchman at heart. When he arrived in Paris at the age of 10, he worked at a pastry shop after school, learning to make cream puffs, palmiers and the like. At La Gourmandise (208 Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains, 914-948-7673)—where he has worked for 20 years and which he has owned since 1992—Santos has broadened his repertoire to include brownies and tres leches cakes. He also does a winning black-and-white cake made with rum-soaked chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and white chocolate mousse ($16.65), and a moist apricot-mocha cake ($14.85). The shop has an old-school feel, with country style wallpaper, linoleum floors and a twine dispenser hanging from the ceiling.
There’s nothing quite like apple strudel ($3) straight from the oven to make you love a place at first bite. That’s what happened to me at Patisserie Salzburg (77 Purchase Street, Rye, 914-921-4458), where owner and chef Manfred Hirz takes great pride in pastries from his native Austria. Doughnuts filled with apricot jam, called krapfen ($2), made me question whether I could even set foot into another Dunkin’ Donuts again, and I was equally impressed with the Kardinalschnitte, a surprisingly light dessert of mocha mousse and ladyfingers ($3.50). The lovely pink cafÃ© area overlooks Purchase Street and is the perfect spot for a morning cup of coffee or mid-afternoon break.
La Renaissance Pastries
—Larchmont and Scarsdale—
Without a decent patisserie, Larchmont would hardly be the French enclave that it is. Thank goodness for La Renaissance Pastries (140 Chatsworth Avenue, Larchmont; 914-834-0244; 9 Harwood Court, Scarsdale; 914-472-0702), which has been catering to mesdames et messieurs for the last 19 years. The Larchmont location has a full sit-down restaurant, while the Scarsdale shop is take-out only, but in both cases you can smell wafts of butter from blocks away. Although they make fantastic cookies ($15.50/lb.), baguettes ($2.50) and quiches ($5 individual, $17 large), La Renaissance is perhaps best known for its namesake Renaissance cake ($20 for a 6-inch, $32 for a 8-inch)—layers of almond meringue with chocolate cream, mocha buttercream and whipped cream, covered with toasted slivered almonds. C’est si bon!
For years, Scarsdale residents have relied on the Scarsdale Pastry Center (1487 Weaver Street, Scarsdale; 914-723-6722) for their sheet cakes ($53 half, $102 full) and butter cookies ($14.60/lb.). They may not know, however, about the profiteroles with chocolate sauce ($12) and the baked Alaska ($32) that are always on hand, and, boy, are they missing out! Owner Adolph Neese also makes a mean chocolate meltaway ($6.20/lb.), and his challahs ($2.60) have been known to lead to lines around the corner, especially around the High Holidays.
After sampling countless boxes of baked goods, and with bikini season upon us, I think it’s time to give my sweet tooth a rest. I’m sure it won’t be long, though, before my hand is back in the cookie jar.
When not touring the county eating cookies and cupcakes, Charlotte Kaiser is a freelance food writer and restaurant critic in New York.