Where everybody knows your name. Walking into Ivy Bakery I couldn’t help but be transported back to watching re-runs of Cheers–weathered wooden tables and a warm glow bouncing off an exposed brick wall inviting you to kick back and relax with close friends. The kind of friends who you know so well that you can chat for hours or just sit in comfortable silence. Owner Daniellan Louie purposely made Ivy Bakery a neighborhood hangout, staying open until 2am and providing free board games for customers.
And the icing on the cake is, well, literally the icing on the cake. With over 800 items on a rotating sweet and savory menu, you can always try something new. (Adventurous foodies are more likely to find experimental flavors on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.) If you have a favorite (I’m gaga over her Cinnamon Pie with a crumb cake top and a creamy bottom) Daniellan takes special orders for pick-up, delivery and mail order. The best part of having an experimental baker on speed dial is that you can request custom orders. Do you have a wacky combination that you want to taste? Is there a dessert from your childhood that you would like recreated? Nothing is too daunting for this petite baker with a personality as sweet as her kitchen concoctions. For the Superbowl she created a special series of savory cupcakes: Buffalo Chicken Wings, Nacho Cheese, and Pepperoni Pizza (tomato sauce, oregano and basil batter with a ricotta frosting and topped with two slices of crisp pepperoni).
It’s no wonder then that I was excited to watch her create new flavors. I asked her to”Just think out loud and pretend that I’m a (hygienic) fly on the wall (who asks a lot of questions).” Understanding how someone came up with an idea is often so much more fascinating and useful than the idea itself–like watching their mind navigate a maze, hitting dead ends, back tracking, then deciding on an alternate path to take.
When I arrived, Daniellan showed me a bag of Jelly Bellys. The colorful bag boasted of its ”50 flavors,” and even provided a guide on mixing and matching jelly beans to create new flavors. ”I have never tasted a Jelly Belly before, but saw this at the store the other day” Daniellan sheepishly admitted. ”I thought it would be fun to create 50 desserts inspired by these 50 flavors.”
Since she didn’t have time to go out and buy specialty ingredients for the first step of this experiment, she chose flavors that would use common ingredients: Lemon Lime, Blueberry and Orange Sherbet. I was a bit disappointed, secretly hoping that she was going to choose one of my favorite Jelly Belly flavors, Buttered Popcorn.
To keep it simple for our interview, she opted to create cupcakes. I carefully scrutinized Daniellan’s face as she tasted the three jelly beans and started to formulate a plan. She definitely tasted the lime, blueberry was true to its name, and orange sherbet was sweet and creamy. ”I could melt the jelly beans into the batter, but it may create a hard texture.” In the end, she opted for recreating the flavors using real fruit and using the jelly beans as inspiration rather than as an ingredient.
Daniellan explained that when experimenting, she starts with the same plain batter base in order to make smaller batches (this also works well when making multiple flavors of chocolate truffles). She whipped up batter for 24 cupcakes then evenly split it up into three bowls. She then folded in frozen wild blueberries into one bowl. She mentioned that normally she would use fresh blueberries if she had them on hand, but that wild blueberries have a deeper flavor. In my own baking I use frozen blueberries (or freeze fresh ones on a tray) so that the blueberries doesn’t burst while mixing and baking, turning the whole batter an odd shade of purple.
Next she zested lemon and lime into another bowl, and oranges into the remaining batter. With its flavor carrying oils, citrus zest packs a more intense flavor than just the juice. Daniellan also prefers to be generous with the zest, using two whole oranges for eight cupcakes. She also leaves out the vanilla extract, preferring a pure fruit flavor to shine through.
As the cupcakes baked in the oven, Daniellan explained how she has to make adjustments when she experiments. For example, when she adds fruit, pumpkin or sweet potato purée to the batter she has to increase the baking time. Because of this, it is better to use a different pan for each flavor so that you can pull them out of the oven at different times. She also shared a tip for fluffier cakes: add cream cheese or replace some of the liquid with sour cream in the batter.
Daniellan leaned over and conspiratorially said “You can tell a good cookie from its dough.” Lightly press the dough, and if it doesn’t stick to your finger it is perfect. If it sticks to your finger add more flour, otherwise your cookies will spread while baking. If your cookies crack when they bake, you added too much flour or it needs more oil, butter or eggs.
How does she know all this? Daniellan has been a professional caterer and baker since she was 19 years old, and most of her knowledge came from experimenting. She would look up a recipe in multiple cookbooks, try and compare them, then combine the parts of each recipe that she liked to create her own version of that dish or dessert.
Daniellan is always up for a new culinary experiment. The best way to taste her delicious creations is to go to her monthly bakery lock downs. For $20 per person you can eat as much of her sweets as you like while you and your friends hang out from 9PM to 2AM. Sign-up for the Ivy Bakery newsletter or check out their website to find out more.
As the cupcakes cooled, Daniellan pondered the frostings. She decided to use a traditional vanilla American buttercream for the blueberry and the lemon-lime cupcakes, adding zest to the lemon-lime frosting. This is another situation when you can make one basic batch and color one portion blue and the other green. Since orange sherbet has cream in it, she pulled out some whipped cream that she had made earlier and re-whisked it by had so that it returned to a fluffy whipped cream consistency (her tip is to add a bit of fresh cream if it won’t fluff back up). She added a few drops of orange food coloring and used an ice cream scoop to put it on the cupcake, visually emphasizing that it is orange sherbet.
After snapping photos of and tasting the finished cupcakes, I have to say that the orange sherbet cupcakes were my favorite. It had a bright orange flavor, and I have a soft spot for whipped cream frostings.
That’s the best part about ordering custom flavors from Daniellan; you can combine everything that you love about sweets into a dessert literally made just for you. And with Mother’s day less than a week away, it is a thoughtful gift that mom would love. If you are stumped on what mom would like, check out the 800 cakes, cookies and pies on the Ivy Bakery menu. Just place your order now to make sure your order can be delivered or picked-up in time for Mother’s day.
138 West Houston St. New York, NY 10012 (between Sullivan and McDougal street)