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New York pastry chefs are creating underground dessert pop-ups

Emma Orlow
Written by
Emma Orlow

Countless pastry chefs and bakers are out of work in New York right now, as the restaurants, bakeries and catering gigs they once relied on for a living have come to an abrupt halt. At the same time, the seemingly unending feelings of anxiety that pervade this uniquely uncertain era has many turning to sweets and baked goods of all varieties as a source of solace and comfort. While those with pastry and baking expertise cannot currently lend their services to the restaurants and bakeries you might’ve once found their treats at, all across New York they’re finding ways to create pop-ups, contactless deliveries and subscriptions to get people their goods in a personalized and safe manner. 

One piece of advice: Be patient, because most of these options are totally DIY operations, wherein a lot of cases, you’ll need to slide into their Instagram DMs to make an order for that morning croissant you’d normally snarf down on your walk to the subway or the birthday cake for your significant other. Luckily, that also means there’s more customization and flexibility than ever before, as many are creating one-off, esoteric treats based around what’s available in their kitchens—with recipes changing weekly.  

In an industry already ravaged by fragile wages and little healthcare coverage, these scrappy new developments are a way for those in the industry to stay busy and have a sense of purpose: They’re experimenting with recipes and styles of baking while finding revenue streams to make a little dough in an otherwise bleak hospitality job market. So if supporting your local bakeries is something you value and look forward to doing once they reopen, we suggest supporting the people behind these spots in the meantime. 

For desserts from one of NYC’s top pastry chefs

One of the most respected pastry chefs throughout New York, Natasha Pickowicz has led the sweet side of the menus at Flora Bar at the Met Breuer and Café Altro Paradiso (she is also known for her successful annual bake sale to benefit Planned Parenthood). Now, the renowned chef is hosting a weekly dessert drop at Greenpoint’s cookbook shop Archestratus. They’re already selling out fast, so make sure to sign up when the site refreshes on Tuesdays (pick-up is on Saturdays-only). Recent confections included honey corn muffins with bee pollen, olive oil cake with lime curd and a veggie focaccia (each is priced at $5, which is remarkably cheaper than you’d be able to get at her restaurants). 

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For a new subscription baked good service with mystery treats

Young gun, Zoë Kanan placed the New York Freehand Hotel’s food-and-beverage program on the map with her baked goods at Studio and Simon & The Whale. This week, she debuts a subscription box—with weekly, biweekly or monthly memberships available—filled with kaiser rolls, malted cinnamon crumb cake, peanut butter chili crisp cookies and other special offerings. All orders must be made via J&E General. A small box will cost you $20 and $30 for the bigger one. 

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For stand-out flan to help fix a stressful week

Carla Holguin may not be one of the most known names in hospitality, but she has been instrumental in keeping the service humming along at favorites like Lalito (which closed late last year), and more recently, as the service manager at Mission Chinese. Slide into her DMs to order her signature flan ($25) or bundles of cereal bars ($10). Currently, Holguin is offering her desserts for pick-up only, but she will organize delivery for special, larger orders.  

For sourdough loaves to use with your work-from-home lunch 

Bakeri alum Reva Castillenti’s underground bakery Bread & Roses Brooklyn is offering naturally leavened breads made with local grains. Besides a variety of loaves available for purchase (such as a sourdough or Russian rye), the team is also offering a pastry box with poppy seed lemon cake, cinnamon-cake sourdough donuts and four chocolate chip cookies. All orders must be placed no later than noon, two days before your desired delivery date. 

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For a birthday cake that doubles as a sculpture

Out-of-work ceramicist Alli Gelles is taking custom commissions via her Instagram account @cakes4sport. Though Gelles considers this more of an outlet for her art than anything else, the result is the same: birthday-ready cakes that are so cute you might not want to destroy them with your fork. Prices vary by commission and contactless delivery is available. 

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For fruit-forward galettes that remind us that, yes, spring is here

Cobble Hill’s Poppy’s is one of our favorite bakeries. Though it is currently closed, their pastry cook, Kelci Moran, is still baking away. She is offering an assorted pastry box with weekly changing flavors for $36 (with eight pastries per box). She’s also taking custom orders for birthday cakes with unusual flavor combinations such as grapefruit and dill as well as crafting fruit-filled galettes. You can DM her via Instagram or place an order by emailing Contactless deliveries are available within the Bushwick-area radius, though exceptions may be made. 

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For a cake to eat at your Zoom wedding ceremony

Now that Governor Cuomo has made it legal for New Yorkers to virtually tie-the-knot, couples who want a cake can still celebrate the occasion. Nikki Pensabene lost so many of her seasonal gigs making desserts for weddings and other larger-scale events, but as a way to keep her business afloat, she’s offering mini cakes as well as treats to enjoy at home. Orders can be placed via her cake studio, called By Pensa, and contactless delivery is available. 

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For psychedelic carbs that are also gluten-free

Gluten-free baked goods can be hard to find right now. Thankfully, baker Sarah Magid of Knead Love Bakery will start taking website orders on April 23rd. Her bread can be delivered via bike for $10 in Brooklyn (from Greenpoint down to Park Slope) and in Manhattan (below 23rd Street). Otherwise, pick-up is available at Williamsburg’s Vine Wine shop. Her dense, sourdough GF breads are crafted with a rainbow hue of colors, using natural ingredients such as spirulina, matcha and turmeric. Flavors of the GF sourdoughs that will be available for order include: plain, cinnamon raisin, herb and sesame. In addition, she’s selling GF focaccia, perfect for a quick, at-home pizza night. Beyond all of that, she’s selling sourdough starter, with proceeds benefiting an organization called North Brooklyn Angels.

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For hand-pies made with love

Ansarys Andino was the pastry chef at Midtown’s Crave Fishbar for almost seven years until she was recently laid off due to the city’s mandated restaurant shutdown. Now, she’s taking orders for comfort-inducing treats such as hand pies and banana bread via her Instagram account to help bring in a little money in the interim. Contactless delivery is available.  

For New Yorkers who fled upstate and want some sweets

Hudson’s James Beard Award-nominated Lil’ Deb’s Oasis may be closed right now. But their pastry collaborator, Billie Belo is still selling those same wacky, tropical-leaning cakes via  Instagram DMs. The smallest cake option that she’s selling is a four-inch, four layer cake starting at $60 (it serves four to six people), with options to size-up from there. Contactless delivery is available for those residents of the Hudson-area only, including for those lucky New York City folks who were privileged enough to flee upstate.

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