No, you can’t trade your daily kale salad for a croissant, no matter where you buy it. But there are lots of New York bakeries trying to make oven-hot tasty treats less awful for your long-term health. And we tried them all. (Don’t mind the crumbs.)
Some bakeries substitute bad-for-you ingredients—like honey in place of refined sugar, or coconut in place of canola oil. Many cater to dietary needs and restrictions—think “cheesecake” for vegans and lots of cupcakes for Celiac sufferers or those who live in fear of Frankenwheat.
The best part is that some (some!) of these brownies and black-and-whites meet or beat their conventional counterparts on the deliciousness scale.
What made our list? We only included full-on bakeries, although you can also get great sweet baked treats at restaurants like By Chloe, Candle Cafe, and Hu Kitchen, and juice bars like Juice Generation. (And yes, we are, like you, anxiously awaiting the return of the Cinnamon Snail!)
Without further ado, here’s where to go when your sweet tooth tingles. —Lisa Elaine Held
Originally published on April 19, 2013, updated November 23, 2015.
(Photo: Blossom Bakery)
Blossom runs a vegan food restaurant empire in New York, so animal-product haters rejoiced when it opened this sweet little bakery on Ninth Avenue, right across the street from its flagship and next to one of its Du Jour take-out joints (which also sell some of the baked goods).
Blossom Bakery’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes taste about as good as the real thing, and its cookies, like Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, are delicious, although they’re a little on the mushy side (which some people probably count as a positive).
Everything is also organic, and they have a decent selection of gluten-free items, too. Chelsea, blossombakerynyc.com
(Photo: Blossom Bakery)
This is the Ms. Universe of healthier bakeries. Founder Erin McKenna is a pioneer on the alt-baking scene, and, at her cozy Lower East Side shop, she’s perfected the art of making delicious a bit less decadent. (She’s got crazy popular cookbooks and a location in Downtown Disney in Orlando to prove it.)
Everything is vegan, and most treats are gluten-free. McKenna uses agave instead of white sugar, rice and coconut milk in place of dairy, and coconut oil instead of canola. She even uses all-natural food dyes that may give you a health boost, i.e., turmeric for orange coloring and chlorophyll for green.
And everything tastes uncompromisingly incredible—from crumb cake to cookie sandwiches. I’d choose her famous donuts over a Krispy Kreme any day. Lower East Side, erinmckennasbakery.com
(Photo: Erin McKenna’s Bakery)
Actress Jennifer Esposito has made gluten intolerance her celeb cause celebre, stocking her website full of recipes and information and even accusing a neighboring shop of lying about its gluten-free bagels.
Her bakery, which opened on East 10th Street in March 2013, allows her to peddle her own wheat-free treats, which are also free of dairy, soy, refined sugar, and peanuts. Allergy sufferers unite!
And the non-GMO menu includes unique items like Old Fashioned Pop Tarts (which are also vegan), a large variety of breads—from bagels to soft pretzels—plus cookies, cupcakes, and more. Her star power helps: On opening day, the bakery sold out. East Village, jenniferswaybakery.com
(Photo: Jennifer’s Way)
This is the go-to sweet-tooth source for trainers and fitness fanatics. Their goods are gluten-free (made with mainly oat flour) and spiked with whey protein. (The Peanut Butter Blondie, for example, comes with 14g of protein in 200 calories.)
And in addition to its “boutique bakery showroom” on West 20th Street, conveniently located in the heart of the Fitness District, its brownies, cookies, and blondies are sold at spots like Equinox, Retro Fitness, and Just Salad.
To be clear: If you’re looking for buttery, indulgent baked goods, these are not for you. They taste more like a slightly sweeter, yummier alternative to a protein bar, or like a cleaner, healthier version of a packaged brownie (i.e. a Leaner Little Debbie). Flatiron District, proteinbakery.com
(Photo: The Protein Bakery)
Here’s the truth: Sans’ zucchini and banana breads are what vegan, gluten-free dreams are made of.
Despite its lack of a brick-and-mortar location, this all gluten-free bakery is the only outfit that could give Erin McKenna a run for her money in the healthy, delicious donut-producing kitchen.
The breads and muffins are moist and flavorful and the cookies are sweet and chewy. They also make biscotti, bagels, brownies, and donuts, and everything can be ordered online and shipped to you, or you can grab the goods at healthy restaurants and cafes all over the city, like Kaffe 1668, The Little Beet, and Think Coffee. sansbakery-nyc.com
(Photo: Sans Bakery)
Tu-Lu’s is a gluten-free shop best known for cupcakes (regular and mini!), which are topped with pretty, generous swirls of frosting. And the occasional candy sprinkle.
The bakery also produces copious tins of muffins, like a delish dairy-free Pumpkin Loaf, plus vegan brownies made with agave, and paninis, if you’re hankering for something savory instead.
Another sweet fact: They make special order cakes like chocolate with coconut buttercream or red velvet, for gluten-free special occasions. East Village, tu-lusbakery.com
This uptown spot eschews animal products and bakes with organic spelt flour and maple syrup. Some recipes are gluten-free, and many are fiber and protein-rich. (You can get 5 grams of protein from a brownie that’s only 246 calories.) They also admirably list all ingredients on their website.
Vegan Divas’s signature Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Raspberry Jam is really popular among non-dairy diners, and the chocolate brownies are rich and indulgent (maybe thanks in part to the fact that the founder is married to Francois Payard?).
Bonus: The treats are sold in lots of spots in Manhattan in addition to the uptown bakery, like at Just Salad, Fairway, and Whole Foods. Upper East Side, vegandivasnyc.com
Another healthy idea: spiking your baked goods with matcha! Check out these five must-try matcha treats in Manhattan…
(Photo: Vegan Divas)