In a nutshell: Swoon-worthy viennoiseries and pastries from this Soho sweetheart will make you fall in love with this bakery over and over again.
I was in New York on a croissant eat-a-thon. With our trusty Serious Eats guide in tow, we were headed to a destination in Little Italy. En route, however, a cheery yellow awning caught our eye. We paused, peeking through the clear glass door and stealing surreptitious glances at each other. “Let’s go in,” my companion quickly implored, and the rest is history.
If you can pull yourself away from the beautiful treats at the front of the store, wander towards the back where there’s a glass-enclosed greenhouse/garden and the industrious kitchen where all the magic happens.
Dominique Ansel can be found in the bakery on any given day constructing edible works of art as if it were second nature. Raised north of Paris, he began formal culinary training at 16 years old. After celebrating a seven year stint at the legendary French pastry institution Fauchon, he followed up with six years at NYC’s Daniel under celebrity chef Daniel Boulud where he rose through the ranks to serve as Executive Pastry Chef. Ansel opened his eponymous bakery in fall 2011 to critical acclaim; a James Beard Award nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef followed in 2013.
Whatever you select, your treat of choice is sure to be absolutely tantalizing. Case in point:
The first viennoiserie I sunk my teeth into at Dominique’s was a croissant, pure and simple. Its delicately crispy shell gives way to light, glutinous webs of dough that stretch from either side of the pastry. Each bite is flaky and rife with butter. It is the best croissant I’ve had outside of France. Délicieux.
The Nutella milk bread, a soft swirl of dough and Nutella, is more bready than chocolate-hazelnutty. The brioche is soft and the Nutella nearly caramelizes from the pastry’s time in the oven, but if only the chocolatey ribbons and crushed hazelnuts dusting the top were more plentiful…
You’ve already heard me gush about the plain croissant. As for the other main viennoiserie items…
The croissant aux amandes features a generous cavity of luscious almond filling. The secret? A dash of dark rum in the cream. The almond slices are a welcome burst of texture.
As a chocoholic tried and true, the pain au chocolat could have benefitted from a heavier dosage of chocolate within. Still, the dough is as flaky as the plain croissant.
Speaking of chocolate, the yeasty baseball-sized chocolate bread is barely sweet, instead focusing on the truer flavor of cacao via a silky filling of chocolate ganache within. A sprinkling of cacao nibs grace the top. A lovely treat for those who savor the darker, unadulterated side of chocolate.
More on the glorious DKA later.
For such a small pastry, the pistachio sticky bun packs a wallop: sticky (of course), surprisingly dense, richly nutty. The dough resembles that of a croissant, just packed much more tightly.
Fresh lemon curd, tart and sweet, is generously tucked inside the lemon bichon. The sprightly flavor is refreshing, the perfect pick-me-up for any time of day.
Similar to the bichon (usually a summertime offering) is the chausson aux pommes, usually sold in the autumnal months when les pommes are ripe and ready for picking. It is just as impossibly flaky, though the juicy caramelized apple chunks are more muted in flavor profile.
The bakery put its own twist on the classic Paris-Brest, a French dessert composed of choux pastry and a praline-flavored cream; the wheel-shaped treat was created in 1891 to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race. The inspiration behind the Paris-New York is if a Snickers bar and a cream puff had a baby. The dessert here uses rings of pâte à choux dough to sandwich a luscious filling of chocolate ganache, salted caramel, and peanut butter cream. Hazelnuts and peanuts ornament the top. As decadent as the dessert looks and sounds, it isn’t overwhelming at all– while sweet, it is surprisingly light and vanished within moments of my fork making contact.
These madeleines are tiny. Like, actually tiny– see how they compare to American coinage! What used to be served at the end of a meal at Daniel is now available on a daily basis at the bakery any time of day. The distinctively shell-shaped sponge cakes are made to order, prepared within just a few minutes. The lemony scent wafts pleasantly as the baker hands the container over; in terms of actual taste, the lemon isn’t overpowering but rather a lingering afterthought. The just-crisp-enough edges complement the tenderness of the buttery cakes. You’ll gobble up the first ten rather quickly, so supplement your order with more madeleines or another bakery offering.
As for other items I devoured before I could snap a shot:
- Arlette: Flaky and crunchy, with a generous coating of cinnamon. Don’t expect something super-buttery or super-sweet.
- Ham and Cheese Croissant: Flaky like the other croissant renditions but not as crispy, this savory version has minimal oink and moo inside.
- Cannelé de Bordeaux: A nicely caramelized shell gives way to a custardy center, hints of rum and vanilla emanating.
- Hot Chocolate: Welcome warmth on a chilly day, but the chocolate flavor could be stronger.
And with that, let’s learn a little more about the most incredible item in the bakery:
Oh, the DKA. How you make me melt like butter in the oven. A take on the classic Breton dessert (the name literally means “cake” (kouign) and “butter” (amann)), this treat features merely five ingredients: butter, flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. The pentafecta of ingredients is layered together over and over again, then baked until flaky layers form, the sugar caramelizes, and the crust turns a mouthwatering golden hue.
In an interview with Pastry & Baking, Dominique compared the DKA to “the archetypal omelet: very easy to make, but very hard to make PERFECT… it’s really about working with that dough. That changes daily based on the humidity, the specific machine you’re working with, even the harvest of the flour.” If you’re lucky, you’ll arrive when a new batch is pulled out from the oven, the viennoiserie still warm to the touch upon purchase.
Its resemblance to a crown alludes to its status as the crowning jewel at the bakery. Don’t let its size fool you; while a DKA can easily fit in the palm of your hand, it is a ball of pure indulgence. Sink your teeth into a lovely textured crust, sweeter and crisper than the plain croissant. You’ll be met with a pillowy soft interior, the buttery flavor tinged with caramel undertones from the heated sugar. How can so much flavor be compressed and concentrated in such a neat little package? It is earth-shatteringly good.
Dominique, you will always have a place in my heart (and stomach). Always.
Dominique Ansel Bakery
189 Spring St
New York, NY