Two weeks ago, the popular chelsea restaurant Cookshop started a morning coffebar and bakery service featuring sweet and savory items created by their celebrated, in-house pastry chef Amanda Cook. Cookshop is already a wildly popular dinner and brunch destination–on one Saturday afternoon visit I could barely get through the sea of people waiting for a table. With such a huge following I wonder if a full-blown bakery is in the cards down the road. Maybe this coffeebar is way to test the waters?
Killer croissants and more:
If you frequent a lot of bakeries or are an accomplished baker yourself, you can probably spot a top-level croissant just by its appearance. The perfectly brown crust, the uniform roll of puff pastry, etc. When you first see Cookshops’s croissants, I guarantee you will immediately think to yourself “Damn, Amanda Cook knows what she’s doing!” And she should know a bit about baking since she has both a degree in food science and from culinary school and was nominated for a James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef award while she was at City Zen in D.C.
After trying the croissant and learning a bit about Ms. Cook’s background, my expectations were set quite high for the rest of her offerings. Read on to hear if they lived up to the hype.
Since we just did a round-up of what NYC chocolate chip cookies pastry chefs like best, I have to mention Ms. Cook’s chocolate chip cookies first. She uses Valrhona 70% gianduja for her chips and the outside of her cookie is nicely brown and crispy. The inside is soft but not raw. I would imagine Pastry Chef and restauranrt consultant Pichet Ong would love these since he said this when describing his perfect chocolate chip cookie: “Raw sometimes intimidates me a little but I do like it crispy outside and pillowy and chewy inside. And quality of chocolate is important to me – which makes it hard as many won’t spend money for a good chocolate chip cookie in NYC.”
Cookshop told me the peanut butter cookies are popular. They have a very “peanut buttery” flavor and reminded me of a high-end Nutter Butter–with fresher ingredients. The oatmeal fig cookies were definitely something different. The cookie itself was like a really good oatmeal cookie–but with plump figs that have beeen soaked in bourbon to make them tender and soft. Parents need not worry–the kiddies won’t get drunk off these since the booze get’s cooked off (sorry if you thought the sedative effect of the alcohol would balance out the “upper” effects of the sugar!) As you would expect, these are a great option if you’re looking for something less sweet.
Given how many people I know who love crumbcake–it’s surprisingly difficult to find a good one in New York. I suggest you look no further. Four dollars gets you a huge “individual” serving size that you can easily split. It’s moist but quite dense–like a crumb cake should be. But everybody knows the topping is what makes a good crumb cake and this cake nails it–browned sugar crumbs that are crunchy but not too burnt. Tip: Bring a good knife to cut through the triple-thick baking paper.
There were two savory “focaccias of the day” available when I visited. One featured caramelized onion and bacon and the other black olive, goat cheese and leeks. Both were quite good and certainly would make for a hearty breakfast if you didn’t want to go the sweet route. I’m not an expert on focaccia, but I will say a lot of thought went into how the ingredients were prepared and applied to each focaccia.
I have often had focaccia where the bacon or onions (or whatever) seems thrown onto the bread in a haphazard fashion and everything gets pulled off the bread when you take a bit. That was not the case here. The caramelized onions, for example, were all cooked to a perfect softness and the bacon was applied in small strips and was also well cooked. This allowed you to take a bite without fear of dragging off all the toppings!
One of the more experimental offerings (my word not Ms. Cook’s) was the “sticky pecan cornmeal muffin”. The chef described this as her take on “a cross between a sticky bun and corn bread”. As you can see from the picture it looks a bit like an upside down cake with pecans. I would describe it more like a corn muffin with sticky bun characteristics rather than the other way around. Ultimately, this is just one you’ll have to try to see if you’ll enjoy it.
The variety of muffins at Cookshop can be described as classic offerings but with some kind of twist. The corn muffin has cheddar cheese and jalepeno’s in it and is very delicious–it’s a perfect hybrid between sweet and savory that leans ever so slightly to the savory side. All the muffins are rich, flavorful and dense. If you are looking for “light” muffin (if that even exists) say, one that evokes angel food cake–you might want to steer clear of these.
The house-made granola is not to be missed. Pick up a bag and eat it on its own or add to your favorite Greek yogurt like I did.
I’ll be back soon with an interview with Amanda Cook and a report on Cookshop’s desserts. In the mean time, stop by their coffeebar bakery and let me know what you think.
Cookshop is located on 156 10th Ave ( at 20th Street). Right now the baked goods are only available until 7:30-11:00a.m. Monday through Friday. I recommend you go early if anything above sounds good.