Don't let the name fool you: butter cookies are made from more than just butter. At Cutest Cookies, each from-scratch batch incorporates 10 ingredients, including vanilla, flour, and meringue powder. From here, however, the similarities between each peanut- and tree nut-free batch end. Customers determine every cookie's color, shape, and design, ranging from wedding cookies decorated like tuxedos and dresses to birthday cookies ornamented with replicated pictures of the birthday boy or girl.
Bakers make the order one to two days before a customer's event, hand-decorating each cookie with individually mixed icing colors. To ensure freshness, they place every cookie in a cellophane bag fastened with a matching ribbon. If left in original packaging, an airtight container, or your mouth unchewed, the cookies will stay fresh for an entire month.
At Mother Mousse, a corset, a caterpillar, and a Christmas tree all have something in common—they each belong to the virtually countless selection of cookie designs that the staff can create. The bakers just as meticulously build layer cakes for up to 45 people, slathering the space between each pillowy sheet with such fillings as chocolate mousse, irish crème, and fresh fruit with vanilla pastry cream. Just as with their cookies, they finish each cake with an iced design. They can even transfer images onto cake tops, creating a fully personalized dessert for a guest of honor or a perfectly normal photo album for a family of Candyland characters.
Darina Restaurant's chefs specialize in Russian cuisine, as well as the artistry of plating it. They don't just serve lamb loin with vegetables and mashed potatoes?they arrange the vegetables into an elegant tower and carefully sculpt the mashed potatoes into the shape of a rose in bloom but without all the prickly potato thorns. Even pasta dishes such as the capellini with shrimp in white sauce feature elegantly placed ingredients that show off the dish's contrasting colors.
Though Bagel Hole opened in 1985, the staff’s knowledge of the old-fashioned hand-rolled art form goes back to the 1940s. That’s when their teacher began making bagels as a young man in Germany, and it’s his expertise that still guides their craft today. The staff uses all-natural ingredients to make 11 types of bagels, which are all hand-rolled, boiled, and baked until they reach a crispy, golden-brown exterior and chewy, hot insides. To bedeck the rings, they add slices of nova lox or slather them with cream-cheese spreads such as fresh scallion and walnut-and-raisin. For afternoon staff makes it a point to pile Boar's Head cold-cuts high, or stuff sandwiches with the same amount of fresh-made whitefish salad found in a typical teddy bear. The old-fashioned bagel-making methods take more time, but they've paid off. CBS hailed Bagel Hole as one of the top six bagel shops in the city, and the staff of Serious Eats awarded them the coveted title of best bagel in New York.
Handbags, backgammon boards, and hippopotamuses may not sound particularly appetizing, but in the hands of Duet Bakery Boutique’s chef, Diana Rodova, they become the unlikely themes of her delectable custom cakes. She tailors her designs to fit clients’ special requests while tempting taste buds with cake flavors ranging from chocolate to lemon chiffon. Beyond cakes, she whips up cupcakes, crème brûlée, and other sweet treats that add a climactic finish to meals, much like announcing to dinner guests that they’re all receiving a new car. For sensitive systems, Rodova can alter her dessert recipes to be lactose and gluten free.
Rodova complements her sweeter offerings with an array of hearty lunch staples, such as sandwiches, soups, and salads. Her bakery also stocks imported European chocolates, breads, and cheeses, which add a more glamorous international touch to the shop than a croissan’wich dispenser.
Artful swirls of buttercream and cream-cheese icing adorn the signature cupcakes at Vanity Sweets, whose satisfying array of flavors ranges from classic red velvet to a banana-split concoction laced with pink-tinted icing, drizzled with chocolate, and carefully crowned with a cherry. This elaborate preparation might be bit over-the-top for a single cupcake, but the bakery prides itself on its uncommon attention to detail and handmade confections. When they aren’t busy perfecting the recipes for dozens of cupcake flavors, the bakers dress cake pops in smooth coats of chocolate and craft stunning full-size cakes to celebrate birthdays or throw in the faces of unsuspecting prime ministers.