Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The perfect neighbourhood bakery

You can smell Levain Bakery before you see it. The unmistakable odour of fresh yeast and hot-out-of-the-oven cookies wafts up from the underground bakery and out into the street.

Located in one of the Upper West Side's many leafy streets, Levain is an artisanal bakery that opened 15 years ago. Its French-style sign at the 167 West 74th Street site is understated but the delicious smells mean you won't miss the subterranean bakery. The bulk of the shop is given over to the kitchen, and you can perch at the little counter and watch the bread and cookies being made.

Levain Bakery is best known for its divine six-ounce (approximately 200g) cookies but it offers a full range of bakery goods, including bread - sourdough loaves and rolls, ciabatta, wholemeal walnut raisin rolls and olive bread - pizza slices, muffins and cakes (sour cream coffee cake on our first visit).

Pizza slices ($7.75) make a fabulous late morning breakfast. We chose the caramelised onion with parmesan reggiano. The crispy, flat bread base was generously layered with sweet dark onions and melted drops of parmesan. The staff thoughtfully cut it into four pieces for us and we ate it in raptures on the park bench outside the bakery.

A sweet treat was next and we chose a sourdough brioche stuffed with Vahlrona chocolate ($3). The dense and chewy texture of the brioche perfectly offset the richness of the dark chocolate. It is served either hot or cold - we chose it cold but next time I would try it warmed.

While the breakfast was delicious and I was keen to return to sample more goods, the real reason for our visit was the Levain Bakery cookies ($4), which are justifiably celebrated. They come in four varieties: chocolate chip walnut, dark chocolate chocolate chip, dark chocolate peanut butter chip and oatmeal raisin. Each cookie is at least an inch thick and about four inches in diameter. The biscuits are decadent - each chewy mouthful delivers a chunk of chocolate and walnut, or a nutty undertaste to the rich chocolate. The double chocolate version was extremely rich and we definitely could not devour it in one sitting. In fact, the cookies were perfect for all-day nibbling - a piece here and a piece there were often enough to satisfy any sugar cravings.

Unfortunately, but understandably, Levain Bakery does not publish its recipes but many people have tried to come up with their own version, which is available on the bakery website (http://www.levainbakery.com/)

While in New York, we tried to visit as many new places as possible. But we returned several times to Levain Bakery for its cookies. I only wish I could have brought lots home with me!

Levain Bakery
167 West 74th Street, Upper West Side
Mon-Sat 8am-7pm, Sun 9am-7pm
There is also a Hamptons outlet, open seasonally - see
www.levainbakery.com for more details


Bec Brown said...

That is one GIANT cookie! But it looks delicious. I'm putting this on my list of places to visit in NY!

Melinda said...

Hi Bec - this is a must-visit! We went to Levain three times and I wish they would open an outpost in Melbourne.