It's rare that I enjoy a chocolate dessert without pausing to think of my childhood. On occasional Sundays, my mother would surprise us with a brown paper bag of pains au chocolat from Épicures, one of New York's early gourmet food shops, alongside her weekly armload of bagels, cream cheese, and lox. Those mornings would find me incredulous, giddy, even smug: A chocolate-stuffed pastry for breakfast? It was clear that I'd stumbled upon the ultimate dietary loophole.
But while that buttery, flaky pastry with its soft chocolate center may have been my first great love, it was hardly my last. I'm virtually incapable of visiting a restaurant or bakery in my hometown without inquiring after their chocolate offerings. From cookies and brownies to pastries and cakes, I've ordered and devoured them all. There have been disappointments and triumphs along the way, but the very best, the most destination-worthy, are the ones you'll find on this list. So if you're traveling to NYC any time soon, or just want to experience the best chocolate pastries and desserts that the Big Apple has to offer, read on for my top picks.
Chipotle Chocolate Cake From Jack's Wife Freda
There are plenty of reasons to stop by Jack's Wife Freda—the Manhattan bistro boasts two downtown locations (one in the West Village, the other in SoHo), a warm, welcoming staff, and a broad menu of great Mediterranean-inspired dishes. But frankly, I couldn't care less. I come here for one reason and one reason only: the Chipotle Chocolate Cake.
It may not be the most visually stunning of dishes, but don't let the spare presentation fool you: There's a lot going on here. There's the warm, chocolaty cake, with a hint of hazelnut and a moist, fudgy crumb. And then there's the darker, bittersweet richness of the mousse that comes dolloped on top, a perfect foil for the undercurrent of chili-driven heat that creeps up on you after a few forkfuls. If even a hint of spiciness tends to overwhelm your palate, you'll find welcome respite in the garnish of sticky-sweet caramel sauce that's drizzled over the plate.
All told, you simply won't find a better dark chocolate cake for the price—a mere $7—in New York City.
80% Dark Chocolate Soufflé From Craft
Since its inception, Craft has always taken desserts seriously. So it's especially telling that, while the menu changes seasonally, there's one thing that never goes away: their killer Dark Chocolate Soufflé.
The dessert is served in a beautiful copper pot, accompanied by a tiny porcelain jug from which to pour the finishing flourish of mint-spiked crème anglaise. The soufflé itself is made with a luxurious blend of high-end chocolates from the celebrated French company Valrhona, for a dark, earthy chocolate flavor with distinctive citrus notes reminiscent of orange liqueur. Pop a hole in the surface, but before you pour your sauce over the soufflé, be sure to take a moment to bask in the chocolaty aroma that wafts out.
The serving size is much larger than average, which is a good thing given the $15 price tag. I recommend bringing along a friend, just in case your eyes are bigger than your stomach—this one can be a challenge to take on solo. Can't snag (or afford) a reservation? Good thing it's available at the bar, too.
Dark Chocolate Brownie From Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery
Mah-Ze-Dahr's Dark Chocolate Brownie could easily masquerade as the signature chocolate cake at a high-end restaurant, and nobody would bat an eye. Copious amounts of soft, bittersweet chocolate make for a high chocolate-to-flour ratio, but fudge lovers beware: This brownie still leans to the cakier side of the spectrum. Valrhona cocoa powder adds some bitterness and provides a nice depth of flavor that melts on your tongue like a square of straight dark chocolate. A finishing touch of fleur de sel helps offset the sweetness, for a strikingly balanced bite.
Available at Intelligentsia Coffee at the High Line Hotel or nearly all 'wichcraft locations. A stand-alone shop is scheduled to open in the West Village in 2016.
Dark Chocolate Sorbet From A.B. Biagi
A.B. Biagi is, without question, one of the best gelato and sorbet shops in New York City. Owner Antonio Biagi spent years studying gelato in Italy and France to learn the techniques that give his flavors their trademark distilled intensity and remarkably creamy texture. But there's no better showcase for his hard-won skills than the Dark Chocolate Sorbet.
The flavor is powerful, with a subtle undercurrent of bright fruit and bitter coffee. It has a richness akin to a slice of dense flourless chocolate cake, with a smooth, silky texture that few sorbets manage to achieve. There's not even the slightest crunch of ice here, and I've seen customers do a full double take when they learn that it's not loaded with heavy cream. Do note that A.B. Biagi's selection of gelato and sorbet changes daily, so call ahead if you have your heart set on chocolate.
Chocolaty Chocolate Chip Cookie With Sea Salt From The Macaron Parlour
An abundance of rich, earthy, bittersweet chocolate flavor makes these chocolate chip cookies from Macaron Parlour stand out from your average fare. With their moist, buttery crumb and plenty of softened, intense dark chocolate, it's natural to compare them to dense and creamy chocolate truffles. A finishing touch of sea salt makes for a nice contrast. This is the kind of delightful chocolate overload that'll make you want an ice-cold glass of milk on hand.
Vegan Brownies From Peacefood Cafe
Peacefood may be best known for their highly praised vegetarian food and mellow atmosphere, but the brownies have always been the star of their bakery menu. The bite-size sweets possess everything I want in a classic brownie: a rich and earthy chocolate flavor, a fudgy crumb that's not too dense or too cake-like, and a subtle vanilla aroma. It's an impressive feat, considering you won't find a trace of eggs, milk, or butter throughout.
It helps that Peacefood uses high-quality chocolate, but perhaps even more importantly, they've also managed to replicate the same amounts of fat and sugar found in most standard brownies without introducing animal products into the mix. Not only is there no sacrifice in flavor or texture, you'll even find that wonderful thin, crackly crust where the brownie kissed the pan.
George V From François Payard Pâtisserie
François Payard has been one of my favorite pastry shops in New York City for over a decade. In large part, that's because Payard excels at impeccably constructed traditional sweets, like macarons and high-end tarts. But my very favorite items are the ones that showcase his creativity. Take the George V, a dessert of crunchy roasted peanuts floating in soft, chewy caramel, surrounded by cloud-like pockets of dark and white chocolate mousses. The spoonable dessert comes enrobed in a shiny chocolate glaze, with a garnish of peanuts and, yes, more chocolate. I like to think of it as the fancy, three-star Snickers bar of your dreams. If you're planning to pick one up, though, it's worth calling ahead, as it's sporadically unavailable.
Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookie From Breads Bakery
In just under three short years, Breads Bakery has managed to become a New York institution, in no small part thanks to their fantastic breads and widely beloved chocolate Nutella babka. There isn't anything on the menu I wouldn't recommend, but if you're a fan of sweets that celebrate milk or white chocolate, their Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookie is the order for you.
It's easy to revel in the combination of dark, milk, and white chocolate chunks, but my favorite thing about this cookie is its chewy texture. Unlike some so-called "chewy" cookies, you're not left feeling like you're eating unbaked dough—dosed with flour and cocoa powder, the cookie is baked just long enough to acquire a firm, substantial bite that gives way to a smooth, tender crumb. The copious use of milk and white chocolates definitely makes for a sweeter cookie that sugar-rush lovers will relish, and its large size makes it easy to hold in your hand like a big pretzel while you take a stroll in nearby Union Square.
It Came From Gowanus Ice Cream From Ample Hills Creamery
Ample Hills Creamery is best known for their gonzo, anything-goes mix-in philosophy, and their famed chocolate-packed flavor, It Came From Gowanus, is no exception. I like to think of it as the adult version of the magical potion you made in a blender as a kid during your mad-scientist phase (everybody had one of those, right?). But unlike my patented combination of Tabasco sauce and milk, Ample Hills surprises with thoughtful, complementary ingredients for an explosion of fun textures and winning flavors.
Seventy-two percent Guittard chocolate gives the chewy ice cream base its dark hue and bittersweet character, but it's the mix-ins that'll bowl you over: salty, nutty hazelnut paste; sweet white chocolate pearls; and fudgy dark chocolate brownie bits, cut with orange extract and Grand Marnier. Let's be real—it's the kind of combo that would be good even without the chocolaty canvas of churned sweet cream.
Usually this number of mix-ins would be a huge red flag, but here the symphony of different ingredients shines. The wide array of textures and flavors, from salty to sweet, will have you crunching and munching with a smile from ear to ear for this ice cream.
Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies From Mille-Feuille Bakery
There are so many items to recommend from this beloved husband-and-wife-owned French bakery. But there's a reason Mille-Feuille's Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies have a big cult following: They're downright game-changing.
At first glance, they look like simple chocolate butter or sablé breton cookies, but it only takes a bite to realize they're so much more. Like few other cookies I've had, these dissolve in your mouth almost instantly, delivering powerful waves of buttery, rich cocoa flavor, streaked through with the crunch of sea salt and sugar encrusted on top. The unique fusion of butter, chocolate, and flour is immensely satisfying. Thankfully, they're sold in packs of 10, since one is never enough.