Our whirlwind NYC tour would not have been complete without visiting a few famous bakeries! The two at the top of my list were Bouchon and Levain, so the first thing we did after checking into our hotel was head up to Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center right next to Central Park. I will probably never make it to The French Laundry or Per Se, so I was excited to sample a bit of Thomas Keller’s genius at Bouchon. We had a light lunch (I highly recommend the rich dark meat chicken veggie and herb dumpling soup!), so we still had room for double chocolate and Nutter Butter cookies, which were incredible! Bouchon was our favorite bakery and my mom actually kept suggesting we head back there for another meal during the remainder of our trip!
After lunch we headed up to the Upper West Side so we could sample the famous cookies at Levain. We got a chocolate chip walnut and dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookie and enjoyed them outside on a bench in front of the bakery. Both cookies were still warm with a crispy outside and gooey middle. They were really really good, but were they the best I’ve ever had? Probably not. But, I still think Levain is a bakery everyone should visit at least once!
Next up was Amy’s Bread, a cute bakery in Chelsea Market that features both breads and desserts. I had a butterscotch cashew bar, which was delicious, but the real highlight was meeting Emily (which I know you’re all super jealous about!), the gorgeous superstar blogger of Sugar Plum! I’ve been a huge fan of Emily’s blog for a long time now. In fact, her blog was one of the ones that inspired me to start my own! She was also the first person to ever comment on my little blog. She’s just as sweet and funny as she comes across on her blog and I think we could have chatted all day!
I was also very excited that to meet up with my good friend Annika. She treated me to an amazing spread of sweets at Billy’s Bakery, which is around the corner from her apartment (lucky girl!). We reminisced about causing trouble in college and turning 30 and overdid it on a piece of ice box cake (which tasted like a huge Oreo – yum!), cheesecake, carrot cake cupcakes, and a stack of snickerdoodles!
The last sweet spot of our trip was a visit to M&Ms World in Times Square. My mom is a HUGE M&Ms fan and collects their dispensers. She picked out a couple things for her birthday and we both got cute matching measuring spoon sets (I seriously can never have too many, I swear all my 1/4 teaspoons are hiding out together in some random drawer because I can never find one when I need it!).
So, of course I had to come up with a recipe featuring M&Ms for this post! The cookies were inspired by the butterscotch cashew bars I had at Amy’s. To play with the salty and sweet contrast even more, I mixed chunks of pretzels into the dough. My original plan was to top the cookie bars with a homemade caramel sauce (which I’ve recently discovered is actually pretty easy to make), but I realized our cream had gone bad while I was heating the sugar, and using milk didn’t exactly work out. Anyway, you can never go wrong with chocolate, so I made a quick ganache instead and topped the bars with it and then sprinkled as many M&Ms and beautiful whole cashews on top that I could. The cookies themselves were really crunchy, so I had to be very careful getting them out of the pan. I actually lifted them all the way out (I think lining the pan with parchment paper would work really well) and then cut them on a cutting board with my chef’s knife. They are very tasty though and definitely worth this extra hassle!
M&M Cashew Pretzel Bars
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped pretzels (I used the honey wheat pretzel rods from Trader Joe’s cut into sixths)
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup whole cashews
1/2 cup M&Ms
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Mix butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl until creamed. Stir in egg until smooth and then mix in flour and baking powder until smooth. Mix in chopped pretzels. Spread dough evenly into a greased 8×8-inch pan (or line the pan with parchment paper so the bars can be easily pulled out of the pan) and bake for 15 minutes at 350˚F or until lightly browned and set. Cool for 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, microwave chocolate chips and heavy cream on High 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds; stir until chips are melted and mixture is smooth. Spread ganache over cooled pretzel bars and top ganache evenly with cashews and M&Ms. Refrigerate for an hour or until ganache is set. Cut into 16 bars. Makes 16 servings.
Nutrition: 194 calories, 10.7g fat, 0.9g fiber, 2.2g protein per serving
Cost: $0.37 per serving