Treat Yourself: NYC's Best Desserts

Julie Besonen

The rise of newfangled dessert places has hit a sweet spot in New York City, where scoring one of Dominique Ansel's cronuts has roughly the same bragging rights as nabbing an orchestra seat at the latest Broadway hit. Six locations of Momofuku Milk Bar are sprinkled like fairy dust from the Upper West Side to Carroll Gardens, dispensing seductive treats like crack pie and cereal milk soft serve. Old-fashioned rice pudding has been reinvented at SoHo's tongue-in-cheek Rice to Riches, where flavors range from "coconut coma" to "almond shmalmond"; it's super-filling, so even the "solo" size is best to share. In the East Village, Spot Dessert Bar was one of the trend's early pioneers, featuring Asian-spiked confections like the top-selling chocolate green tea lava cake. See our slideshow for other breaking-the-mold dessert destinations (which may also spark an idea about where to shop for Mother's Day).

Bourbon ginger pecan pie. Photo: Ka-Man Tse

Butter & Scotch
818 Franklin Ave., 347-350-8899, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Butter & Scotch is a dessert saloon, complete with swinging doors that lead to the sugar-scented kitchen. Shelves are lined with whiskey, gin, vodka, rum and layer cakes on pedestals. Fun-loving partners Keavy Blueher and Allison Kave designed the Crown Heights space to appeal to those who believe the best match for bourbon ginger pecan pie is a glass of bourbon. In some cases, dessert and booze are blended in a parfait glass, such as a swoon-inducing, minty grasshopper shake with a shot of Irish whiskey. If you don't happen to have a sweet tooth, craft cocktails and savory items like cheddar-dill-mustard cheese puffs and sesame-chile popcorn are also on hand. Seating is primarily on bar stools; in back are a couple of tables for groups to congregate.

Dutch apple dough'ssant. Photo: Ka-Man Tse

The Dessert Club by ChikaLicious
27 Bedford St., 212-691-2426, West Village, Manhattan
If Dominique Ansel's cronuts are sold out, where do you turn? Dough'ssants could edge them out in a blind taste test. At the sleek Dessert Club by ChikaLicious, the doughnut-croissant-vanilla-cream-puff hybrid is often available into the evening. They're twice baked (the cronut is deep fried) and hold up well hours later, glazed with crackling toppings—Meyer lemon, crème brûlée or Dutch apple, for instance. Chika Tillman, from Tokyo, is endlessly ingenious and ambitious, her dessert kingdom expanding from the East Village to Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, Dubai and now this West Village spin-off. Exquisite cupcakes, cookie éclairs, chocolate chip cookie sandwiches and soft serve ice cream concoctions are available to eat at the marble counter or packaged to go. Should you stay, desserts are formally plated, such as the marvelous mocha and hazelnut trifle with coffee ice cream.

Shaved snow. Photo: Sam Park

Grace Street
17 W. 32nd St., no phone, Midtown, Manhattan
Step right up to experience Korea's scrumptious version of a doughnut, a pita-shaped hot pocket tinged with cinnamon, its interior a molten mix of brown sugar and walnuts, made even better with a cooling scoop of vanilla ice cream. Called a "ho-dduk," it's the menu's star attraction, although ribbons of melting, milky shaved snow over crushed Oreo cookies are dreamy too. Specialty coffee and tea drinks share equal billing. The young, stylish crowd at Grace Street is another sign that Koreatown's 32nd Street has become a conduit of cool eateries (see: Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong). The open, lofty space has a myriad of seating arrangements on low sofas and at high tables, the walls appointed with artsy woodwork and colorful, blown-up photos of scenes from around the globe.

Chocolate chunk cookie. Photo: Judy Kim

239 Centre St., 212-226-0770, SoHo, Manhattan
It's nuts how good the nutty chocolate chunk cookies are at Maman. This homespun little SoHo bakery has French underpinnings but the cookies speak with an American accent, big and rich and studded with macadamia nuts, almonds and walnuts. Intense French chocolate and a pinch of sea salt add savoir faire. Founders Armand Arnal (chef at the Michelin-starred La Chassagnette in the South of France), Benjamin Sormonte, an entrepreneur, and Elisa Marshall, a designer and passionate baker, collected recipes from their mothers and grandmothers (maman is French for "mom") and gave them a modern twist. Among other treats worth a detour here are Nutella-filled madeleines, homemade Oreos and salted caramel cake with a crown of whipped cream laced with sticky caramel. Counter seats face a picture window and in back are farm tables where savory fare—soups, salads, sandwiches, quiche—can precede dessert.

Bonbons. Photo: Evan Sung

Stick With Me Sweets
202A Mott St., 646-918-6336, NoLIta, Manhattan
The shiny, jewel-like bonbons are so breathtaking at Stick With Me Sweets it might seem wiser to save them in a velvet-lined box than pop them in your mouth. In a climate-controlled kitchen on view behind a glass wall, former Per Se chocolatier Susanna Yoon and her team hand polish each candy mold for 20 minutes; for such labor alone the $3.40 cost per bauble seems justified. Twenty-four flavors, none of them a wrong choice, include malted milk chocolate, yuzu, matcha green tea, toasted coconut, liquid salted caramel and mouth-coating dark chocolate flecked with gold leaf. The tiny NoLIta shop also turns out dazzling mini cakes, nut butters, sparkly wrapped caramels and a "Twix Remix," a high-quality, crunchy biscuit layered with caramel and ganache. A gift box from here is smart to bring to any party, the whimsical packaging as charming as a prop from The Grand Budapest Hotel.