Let them eat cake!
On National Cake Day, it’s not so bad of an idea 😉 It seems by the end of the national food holidays calendar, the days are filled with more generic foods that everyone can agree on. It’s not “National Pecan Torte with Raspberry Frosting Day,” it’s just cake day. And everyone can agree on cake! The culinary definition of cake is extremely broad, as it’s not only used to describe the baked dessert of many varieties that we all love, but some savory items as well (like “Johnnycakes”). True cakes, however, usually are sweet, and include a combination of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter or oil, and have some kind of flavoring to them. Other additions like leavening agents, binders, extracts, dessert sauces, and frostings make up the myriad of varieties you can all lump into the “cake” category. Non-leavened cakes like cheesecakes also count as technical “cakes,” and so do tortes, which are cakes made with nut flour instead of wheat. The concept of a National Cake Day was so broad that I even had difficulty narrowing down what cakes to celebrate today–every bakery in the whole city makes some form of cake!
We’ve already had a ton of national food holidays that celebrate individual types of cakes. (It helped me narrow down a bit what cakes I wanted to highlight for the generic National Cake Day!) Here’s a quick list of the different cake holidays you might have missed throughout the year:
January 27 – National Chocolate Cake Day
February 3 – National Carrot Cake Day
March 4 – Pound Cake Day
March 6 – White Chocolate Cheesecake Day
March 13 – Coconut Torte Day
March 28 – Black Forest Cake Day
March 29 – Lemon Chiffon Cakde Day
April 7 – Coffee Cake Day
April 20 – National Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Day
April 23 – National Cherry Cheesecake Day
May 19 – National Devil’s Food Cake Day
May 26 – National Blueberry Cheesecake Day
June 1 – National Hazelnut Cake Day
June 6 – National Applesauce Cake Day
June 11 – National German Chocolate Cake Day
June 14 – National Strawberry Shortcake Day
July 30 – National Cheesecake Day
August 21 – National Pecan Torte Day
August 23 – National Sponge Cake Day
October 10 – National Angel Food Cake Day
November 15 – National Bundt Day
And this exhaustive list doesn’t even include cupcake holidays–which, as New Yorkers have learned over the past few years, is a baking marvel in itself–and it doesn’t include national food holidays that aren’t specifically about cakes, but ones where I recommended a cake to celebrate that particular day. If you enjoy any of the cakes above, then take one of those recommendations, and I don’t even have to fill out today’s post! 😉 But that wouldn’t be very good of me, would it. So instead I’ve taken a long look at Wikipedia’s list of cakes and highlighted some of the cakes on that list that haven’t been noted on previous national food holidays before. So, get ready for some fine-looking (and tasting!) cakes!
First, we take a look at a classic French cake: the mille-feuille. Directly translated as “a thousand sheets”, the mille-feuille is a layer cake made up of layers of thin puff-pastry filled with pastry cream in between. Thankfully it doesn’t have to have one thousand sheets to be considered a mille-feuille: traditionally, three layers of pastry and two layers of cream is sufficient, topped with sprinkled sugar or white chocolate icing. But other variations can have many different layers, and an earlier variant could top over two thousand! The most popular mille-feuille variation in New York City doesn’t have that many layers–or the pastry chef would probably only get one one cake a year!–but the Mille-Crêpes Cake at Lady M Cakes does have a guarantee of over twenty layers for each cake ordered. Using paper-thin crêpes instead of puff pastry, the mille-crêpes cake can be made larger than the traditional mille-feuille, and has become a popular special occasion and even wedding cake. Add a crème-brulée caramelized top layer to all the fluffy lightness and you’ve got one of the most elegant cakes in New York. It’s so well-received that the New York Times calls it “at least the second-best cake in the city” and Food Network star Ted Allen claimed it was his favorite cake on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Head to their Upper East Side location or their new location inside the Plaza Food Hall to try it for yourself!
Lady M Cakes
41 E 78th St (between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
“Our signature cake and famous worldwide, the Lady M Mille Crêpes feature no less than twenty paper-thin handmade crêpes layered with ethereal light pastry cream. Delicate and irresistible, the top gently caramelized till golden. Sink right in, alternating crêpe and cream layers literally melt in your mouth leaving a subtle sweet finish.”–Lady M Cakes
“Since it’s impossible and foolish to claim that something is the best of anything in New York, I’ll hedge my bets and say that the Mille Crêpes at Lady M Cake Boutique, just off Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, is at least the second-best cake in the city. It succeeds so splendidly not just because it’s wildly delicious but also because it’s a clever design. Any number of decent pastry chefs could have come up with it. But they didn’t.”–The New York Times
“On Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Ted Allen goes for an ultra-delicate French treat from Lady M Confections in New York, NY, where the Mille Crepes Cake is composed of 20 paper thin, handmade crepes layered with creamy custard.”–Food Network
“The balanced flavors work together so none take over the others. When devouring it among friends, I use a fork. But when alone, you can peel off each delicate crepe layer one by one with a cup of tea on the side.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“After devouring their mille crepes at several different restaurants around the city, I had to get a whole mille crepe cake. I would give this place 5 stars if it weren’t so expensive. But this is one of the best chic bakeries in New York City. My co-worker who had a vacation home in France said that this place is up to par with a true French bakery. May be with the weak dollar it is a true French bakery with their prices being so high. It will not deter me from getting a mille crepe though, it is just that good.”–Kouichi K.
“Was fortunate enough to be able to try Lady M’s Mille Crepe and wow was it DELICIOUS! Thin, buttery layers of crepes piled about 20-30 layers high with good amount of pastry cream in between those crepes. Cream has great flavors of a little vanilla, a little orange and a little grand marnier. Top layer has been caramelized so it gives you that perfect sweet taste on every bite. If you haven’t tried, you have no idea!”–Mark S.
Traveling from France now over to Japan, it’s time to try a different, less-refined kind of cake. From the expensive and elegant mille-feuille we head to the accessible red bean cake, a dessert enjoyed in many East Asian countries made up of a sweet, bun-shaped cake filled with azuki bean paste. Based on the individual bakery, they can range from tiny, bite-sized creations to huge sweet buns that can be a meal in itself. (I’m particularly partial to the bigger ones, myself!) And one of the best red bean cakes in New York can be found at Minamoto Kitchoan: the oribenishiki here are small, but they pack a lot a flavor with sweet red bean paste at the center of a golden sweet cake. They’re so good, you can buy a whole dozen of the prepackaged little cakes and bring them home with you to share with all your friends!
608 5th Ave (between 48th St & 49th St)
“These Japanese pastries or “Wagashi” are traditionally served with tea and are created in endless variations using natural (plant-based) ingredients that range from red bean, rice, sweet potatoes, sesame, agar-agar, sugar and other various fruits, berries, nuts and grains. Because they contain very little animal fat, the sweets at Minamoto are healthier alternatives to heavier desserts.”–The Hopeful Traveler
“This is a little cake made with a red bean paste and chestnut filling. Inside the thin pastry wrapping is a darker filling of red bean paste and then a lighter whitish filling in the center of chestnuts. I like the thin outer pastry layer. The chestnut layer was pleasant, as I am a fan of chestnut. The red bean layer tastes like sweetened mashed beans. Having a bean flavor in a sweet is a new concept to me, and while this particular example was executed very well, it’s not to my taste. However, if you do like this type of pastry, I would rate Minamoto Kitchoan’s as very good.”–Hunting For The Very Best
“The feathery rice cake called oribenishiki (above and first photo below; $2.50) is imprinted with the image of a five-lobed compound leaf on its ruddy brown top; it’s a sign that inside, you’ll find pastes of pale chestnut as well as darker red bean. Oribenishiki may be a seasonal offering, for autumn.”–Eating In Translation
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“oribenishiki $2.80 (chestnut and sweet red bean paste wrapped in japanese crepe) was so delicious! a whole chestnut perfect for late autumn in the center, wrapped in smooth red bean paste, and then in crepe stamped with a lovely flower.”–Elle L.
“The Oribenishiki- Japanese traditional Kurimanju, using chestnut and sweet red bean paste wrapped in Japanese cake. Again, this was phenomenal. I’m going to stop being so repetitive and just say this- everything was PHENOMENAL. This one was definitely top two for moi aussi.”–Danielle M.
A popular (and delicious!) cake from Latin America, the tres leches cake–directly translated to “three milks”–is a sponge cake soaked in three different kinds of milk: a mixture of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. This saturation of the cake gives it a super-sweet, super-rich cake, even though the cake itself is fluffy and airy. Tres Leches cakes are found all over the city, but one of the ebst ones can be found in the East Village at Cafecito. The cake itself is all traditional, soaked in the mix of three milks that makes it so silky soft and sweet: but there’s also a tangy surprise on top, a pineapple salsa that elevates this dish past the doldrum of other tres leches. Order a slice with a cafe con leche and you’ll be sitting pretty!
185 Ave C
“Soaked in milk and topped with a roasted pineapple salsa, this East Village Cuban spot’s Tres Leches cake is as unique as it is tasty. Come Saturday afternoon, sit at the bar, and catch an episode or two of Mexican wrestling while you eat your cake.”–Grid Skipper
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Best tres leches cake in the city! Have with the cafe con leche and you are good. Oh Cafecito, how I adore thee. It’s a little bit out of the way, but it is definitely worth checking it out if you’re into Cuban food.”–Grey F.
“I’ve been on a Cuban kick lately and have to say that this is the best Cuban I’ve had in a long time! We tried the empanadas, the shrimp fritters, the vaca frita (dried, pan fried beef), and the churrasco (Cuban skirt steak) and all were absolutely AMAZING!! Even though we were stuffed to the gills, we proceeded to try the tres leches for dessert and OMG–I don’t think I knew what cake was until this blessed thing made contact with my tastebuds!!”-Tasha B.
One of the most classical cakes that can be found in a pastry chef’s arsenal is the Pavlova: it sounds like it’s an old-school Russian dessert, but the pavlova comes from New Zealand! Created in 1926 when Anna Pavlova, the famous Russian ballet dancer was on a world tour, the pavlova is very much like a meringue: egg whites are beaten until they form a stiff consistency, while cornflour is added to the mix. This gives the pavlova a crisp, crunchy outer shell and a soft interior that’s very much the texture of marshmallow. A cake that looks like it’s made of marshmallow? I’d go for that! Kiwis (New Zealanders) are very protective of their national dessert, and no one does it better in the city than New York’s resident Kiwi chef, Mark Simmons. The Top Chef alum and owner of Brooklyn’s Kiwiana puts a perky little pavlova on his dessert menu, a square of meringue-like cake covered in pink coconut flakes and topped with kiwi fruit. It looks like a little present on the plate, and when you put it on your tongue, you’ll definitely think this sweet treat is a gift!
847 Union St (between 6th Ave & 7th Ave), Park Slope
“New Zealand cuisine is as hard to find in New York as a moment of calm. And yet, at this Park Slope spot outfitted with vintage ’70s wallpaper, hanging plants, and fresh spring flowers in jars, you get both. Kiwiana takes you into chef Mark Simmons’ grandmothers’ living room – and kitchen. Crafting dishes she would approve of, Simmons, who has graced the kitchens of such restaurants as Public and Melt, satisifies his hoardes of loyal patrons with comfort foods, spiffed up. The hits: buttermilk fried chicken sprinkled with fried kale and (sensational) truffle honey; scallops with purèed cauliflower and passion fruit sauce; and the meringue-based classic Pavlova dessert.”–Black Book Magazine
“Every item on the menu is slightly askew, from wedge-cut fries paired with a sour vinegar-ketchup sauce to a spicy vegetable pie that resembles a horizontal samosa. Most impressive is a roasted venison loin served over spinach and paired with mustard potatoes or thick blueberry compote; the meat would taste just as deliciously tender wearing nothing but a sprinkle of sea salt. A creative dessert lineup includes native treats like a flaky, fruit-topped pavlova cake that literally dissolves as it touches the tongue.”–New York Magazine
“Chef Simmons brought out our dessert himself, a nice, thoughtful touch. The taste of New Zealand ($9) included a mini berry-filled pavlova, hokey pokey ice cream (chunks of toffee candy enveloped in vanilla), and a raspberry lamington, a coconut-covered sponge cake. Everything was whimsical, everything was good. The meringue pavlova wasn’t chalky, as sometimes happens, and the lamington stayed moist, beneath its coconut coat. Yes, we sipped the dregs of the buttery ice cream from the tiny cup. We felt like Alice in Wonderland, minus the rabbit.”–Serious Eats
““I want to show my diners what I’m all about,” he said. “Traditional New Zealand flavors that aren’t too foreign or fussy. I want to take classic dishes like Pavlova, and present them in an accessible way to the Brooklyn patrons I love so dearly.””–The Brooklyn Paper
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I simply could not decide on a dessert so I was more than happy when our four-top agreed on getting four different menu items and sharing. We tried the molten chocolate cake, the bread pudding, a lemon mousse and the “pavlova,” which is a meringue filled with whipped cream and topped with fresh fruit. Totally stole the show, in my opinion.”–Allison B.
“I think what really is UNIQUE about this place was their AMAZING KIWI DESSERTS! We sampled the raspberry lamingtons and also the pavlova with kiwifruit. The lamington is a sponge cake and it was very light and not too sweet. Excellent texture! My Asian family would love this dessert. The pavlova is a meringue-like dessert and also very light. The desserts aren’t heavy, but were a wonderful way to end dinner.”–Vivian H.
Finally, we hit one of the most acclaimed lands for quality desserts in all the world–Italy. To me, there’s nothing better than Italian pastries and desserts, their mix of sweet and savory, and all of the cake and cream your body can handle! That basically sums up all the qualities of the tiramisu. Man, I love tiramisu! A cake made out of ladyfingers that are dipped in coffee, then made into a layer cake with sweetened mascarpone cheese, and dusted with cocoa. The bitterness of the coffee helps offset the sweetness, so you have a balanced and decadent dessert. And, being a dessert from Italy lol, it can’t be without a good jigger or two of your favorite liqueur into the mix 😉 But one of the most celebrated tiramisu in New York right now isn’t traditional at all; it isn’t even in its impeccable cube shape! The dessert people at Via Quadronno decide to take the night off and let you be the pastry chef, providing you with all the ingredients for a delectable tiramisu. The deconstructed dessert offers ladyfingers, espresso, and the prepared mascarpone cream, so you can enjoy all of the flavors of the tiramisu to your own proportions and liking. They offer both the deconstructed tiramisu and a traditional one made by their expert hands, but it may be worth it to order the trendier version. At $12, it’s a portion built for two, and “building” a tiramisu log cabin with ladyfinger “logs” and msacarpone mortar sounds like the most perfect date activity I can think of 😉
25 E 73rd St (between 5th Ave & Madison Ave)
“Instead of ladyfingers, mascarpone and espresso all blurred together in a creamy mess, the tiramisu San Dona at Via Quadronno, 25 East 73rd Street, comes broken down into its parts: crisp ladyfingers, a cup of espresso, and mascarpone and zabaglione whipped together and dusted with bitter cocoa. You dip the ladyfingers in the espresso, then in as much mascarpone as you please. You can hop ecstatically from bowl to bowl until you’ve perfected the proportions. Or until you’re dizzy.”–The New York Times
“The feeling of “home” continues with the dessert, with homemade cookies and many varieties of homemade gelato. An outstanding choice for dessert, and a source of great pride for Via Quadronno, is their tiramisu. Here, the tiramisu can be enjoyed in two ways: traditional and deconstructed, called San Dona, separating the homemade ladyfingers, the espresso and the marscapone cream.”–Alta Cucina Society
“The notion of doing your own tiramisu at the table was pretty sweet. Dunk the lady fingers in this extremely intense expresso. Dab on as much or as little of the creamy mascarpone and cocoa as you desire. Spoon licking good and fun.”–Chubby Chinese Girl Eats
“This Tiramisu needs no introduction as it is the signature dessert at Via Quadronno in New York. I love all the food here from the panini’s to the pasta, but without fail, lunch or dinner, the Tiramisu calls. It’s perfectly fluffy, creamy and sweet. There’s no real way to describe it other than amazing.”–The Roller Pig
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Definitely the best capuccino and the best tiramisu ever. The traditional tiramisu is good enough, but their Tiramisu di San Dona is heavenly: they serve the homemade ladyfingers along with a bowl of mascarpone pudding, and a bowl of espresso. It is a deconstructed, do it yourself type of tiramisu, and repeating: it is amazing.”–Hande E.
“Didn’t try the coffee, but I had the tiramisu for 2, which was deeeelicious. The tiramisu is served deconstructed, so you get 6 lady fingers plus a saucer of coffee and a saucer of cream with cocoa powder on top. Each ingredient by itself is nothing special, but once you dip the cookie in the coffee and add some of the cream, it’s crazy good.”–Chris C.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!