Who Will Win NYC’s Battle of The Babkas?!
It's a pleasant "problem" to have, trying to decide which of the many excellent chocolate babkas to eat on any given day. Here in New York City, you see, we take our babka seriously, so much so that even one of the region's largest distributors, Green's Home Style–Big Babka, as it were–who supplies the likes of Fairway, Whole Foods, and Garden of Eden, among many other markets and restaurants, is still pretty special, and until fairly recently might even have been considered the best in town. However, there have been a number of new bakery babkas introduced of late–from here on out assume I always mean the chocolate variety when I say babka, rather than the lesser (though admittedly good) cinnamon breed–so I decided to go on a tasting spree of three of the city's most buzzed-about spots for these loaves of sweet, sticky heaven. And so was launched the great 2015 Battle of the Babkas.
Babka #1: Breads Bakery (Union Square)
Israeli Import Breads isn't new anymore, (I'm fortunate enough to be able to stop in here about once a week for "supplies"), but their amazing babka still has the power to thrill. As created by Breads owner/master baker Uri Scheft, the babka here always strikes the exact right balance between crunchy caramelized bits on top and soft, chewy parts within, and the addition of Nutella really elevates it to dessert (or afternoon snack) nirvana. Bonus: because Breads is always busy, and everyone knows how good this babka is, you can show up at almost any time of day and expect just-baked warmness. Breads was the most expensive babka on my recent journeys at $12.95, but it's worth every cent.
Babka #2: Petite Shell (Upper East Side)
The most recent entry into the NYC Best Babka Battle is also of the Nutella-infused variety, courtesy of Petite Shell on the corner of Lexington and 85th Street. (Note: although the kosher cafe/bakery makes its home in the former Max-Brenner-offshoots spot, this a new venture, with no relation.) And owner Shmilly Gruenstein not only pours on the Nutella, he also throws in an indulgent, deftly blended mix of 70% dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate chips. And butter. LOTS of butter. This is a terrific babka, but try to get to Petite Shell in the morning while the $12 loaves are still warm (or re-warm in your home). By the way Gruenstein also makes about a dozen varieties of rugelach, both sweet and savory (for example: dulce de leche, jalapeno, farmer's cheese with raspberry), all of which look enticing. Coffee's good, too.
Babka #3: Dough (Chelsea/Flatiron)
Meanwhile, at the always-packed Dough donut shop on 19th Street just west of 5th Avenue, you can get one of the great hybrid creations in recent years, the Doughka, which is exactly what you think it is, a babka made from, not just any doughnut-dough, but some of the best doughnut-dough is the city. Dough's baking wizards bring out three flavors every week (the Sticky Banana is definitely worth a try too), but the one you want is the Mexican Chocolate, which is filled with a bittersweet chocolate spread and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and more chocolate. Eat this $10 beauty warm. The only downside to the Doughka is its limited availability: Fridays through Sundays only, you have to call to reserve a loaf (or four), and can only pick it up from noon on.
And The Winner Is…
And the Battle of the Babkas winner is…….. us! Really, all three of these are outstanding, and different enough from each other that it's kind of impossible to choose. Whatever suits your mood, or current location, that's the one you should get.