Diet When You’re Dead. This was the mantra Yasmin Newman lived by in her three-month immersion in New York, where she ate 373 sweets (that’s not a typo) across 169 venues, from bakeries, diners and street carts to cool cafes and fine diners.
“I was eating about four to five desserts a day in different neighbourhoods,” says Newman.
Those 373 sweets have been catalogued in her new book The Desserts of New York (And How to Eat Them All), part hit-list, part travelogue, part sugar-junkie diary, part cookbook with recipes from Newman inspired by her Gotham dessert spree.
Spree makes it sound like her adventure was on a whim. Make no mistake, this cross-off-the-bucket-list dream for Newman was passionately planned and meticulously Google-mapped – not the least because she was four-months' pregnant with her second child when she, her husband, Steve, and, two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Inés, set out on from their Central Coast, NSW, home on their NYC pilgrimage.
Newman shares how she did it.
Six stomachs is better than one
During that time, Newman and her fam bunked up with her brother and his girlfriend, who live in the East Village. Her best friend flew over for two weeks, and her mum and dad also visited. That’s six extra mouths and stomachs (well, six-and-two-fifths if you count Inés and her soon-to-arrive little boy Alejo) that Newman could take out on “dessert dates”. “It was an all-inclusive family experience, now immortalised in a book, which we’ll cherish forever,” smiles Newman.
But don’t be afraid to eat solo
Because “dessert is the only friend you need”, and it’s easier to score a walk-in single spot at a bar or counter.
Pregnancy was a boon
“Being pregnant meant that I probably ate more,” says Newman. And it definitely didn't limit what she put in her mouth. “Knowing that places in New York champion the best ingredients I wasn’t concerned about quality or about choosing what to have or what not to have.”
Go for substance over shiny
“I’ll take something a bit rustic looking over something that’s designed just to be gorgeous for the eyes,” says Newman. “New York has a reputation for badass over-the-top Instagram-esque desserts but there are so many places that focus on the classics, that are about refinement or understated cool. These were among the desserts that appealed to me most and just as representative of New York's sweet scene.” And they are all still Instagram-worthy.
Dessert is the only friend you need.
Channel the community vibe
“New York can be an overwhelming place for an outsider - using desserts as a way in to understand the neighbourhoods has been incredibly meaningful for me,” says Newman. “Even though New York is a massive metropolis, it has a sense of community, at least in the dessert scene. There wasn’t any of the coldness that you’d expect in a big city like that. I found everyone willing to share their story. That surprised me.”
Tapping into that big New York heart led to one of Newman’s most surprising – and biggest scoops (we’re not talking ice-cream). “I scored the recipe for Cosme’s corn husk meringue with corn mousse,” says Newman. “I didn’t expect to get a reply, but they came back to me within hours. I was shocked, as it’s one of the hippest restaurants in New York by chef Enrique Olvera [in the World’s Best 50]. It was also a personal favourite. And they were just as gracious in person,” says Newman.
Park your “I don’t like that” attitude back home
Put aside any preconceptions of what you do and don’t like. “Matcha was a trend that hadn’t really spoken to me but when I tried it in New York, I realised I hadn’t had the best version of it,” recounts Newman. Her first slice of New York cheesecake was a revelation, too. “It’s such a classic. You’ve heard of it, think you’ve tried it, then you try it, and realise what the fuss is all about.”
And the one dessert that she would hop on an airplane back to NYC for ...
The cookies at Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side. “They've got all the things you love in a classic-style cookie but they’ve been reworked into mounds, about 180 to 200 grams each. About half a baseball!” reminisces Newman. “So not only are they big, but texturally they have crust on the outside and beautiful goo on the inside. It’s a feat of baking engineering to get that balance. I did pregnancy yoga next to the bakery so I found myself going by it regularly. Every time I had a bite, I would think, ‘Holy crap! This is really good’. To be eating desserts so intensely during that time and still have that reaction to those cookies makes me think it’s a really special dessert. I could eat one everyday for the rests of my life."
As for her daughter Inés ...
“Doughnuts! The rings!” Newman interprets this to mean Dough Doughnuts - specifically the blood orange flavour.
Newman’s book is not just a bible on desserts. It’s a work that has captured the identity and pulse of New York for those who live there, tapped into the soul of those who have visited (even those who are only two-and-a-half years’ old), and inspired the hearts, mouths and stomachs for those planning to visit.
Cook the book
Filled with luscious peanut butter mousse and sweet strawberry conserve, this is the ultimate New York-Italian mash-up.
This is my take on Dominique Ansel’s shot glass forged from a choc chip cookie, filled with warm milk. Mine is made with an oatmeal cookie.
Like a giant profiterole, topped with a streusel-like mixture that adds sweetness and crunch.
Real-deal New York cheesecake: smooth, creamy, just sweet, and decadent without feeling cloying.
Recipes from The Desserts Of New York by Yasmin Newman (Hardie Grant Books, $39.99). Photography © by Yasmin Newman (location) and Alicia Taylor (studio).