Tucked away on a side street in the West Village of Manhattan, Milk & Cookies Bakery is easy to miss —that is, if you don’t notice the huge cookie hanging outside the bakery door, or catch a whiff of the velvety chocolate smell that winds its way around the neighborhood. Indeed, before customers even set foot inside, they’re already filled with anticipation, and once they cross the threshold into the cozy, colorful storefront, they’re undoubtedly in a state of bliss.
As effortlessly delightful and familiar as the three-year-old bakery may seem, though, there is serious cookie-making business happening back in the kitchen. “Quality is very, very important to me,” says Tina Casaceli, an experienced pastry chef (and also the director of pastry & bread arts at The French Culinary Institute in New York City) who took over as owner in September 2007. “It’s what makes our cookies so delicious.”
That deliciousness comes from Tina’s fastidious selection of ingredients, which include European-style high-fat content butter and Guittard chips, both chocolate and flavored. “In addition, something that really makes a difference in taste but is frequently overlooked is vanilla extract,” Tina says. “We use Mr. Recipe’s pure vanilla extract [made from Madagascar-Bourbon vanilla beans]. It’s expensive, but worth every penny.”
Also worth every penny are any of Milk & Cookies Bakery’s delectable treats. Eleven staple cookies are always on the menu, including chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, M&M’s sugar, and chocolate mint, plus brownies and sandwich cookies such as homemade Oreos and Nutterbutters. There are also such treats as raspberry linzer bars, shortbread, an ever-changing Cookie of the Day, and other specials like pistachio-anise biscotti and dark chocolate cookies studded with cherries and white chocolate chunks.
No matter the flavor craving, Milk & Cookies has a product to sate it. But customers who aren’t tempted by what’s on the regular menu can take things into their own hands, requesting, for example, a made-to-order ice cream sandwich: Choose two cookies and the il laboratorio del gelato flavor to get sandwiched in between.
But if that’s not enough, customers can target the cookies themselves by selecting Milk & Cookies’ signature product, Design Your Own Dozen. One of five base-dough flavors, such as vanilla or peanut butter, is swirled with a choice of mix-ins, including marshmallows, sprinkles, dried fruits and nuts, and flavored chips. Once blended, Tina’s team can bake the cookies on the spot, or package the dough with instructions so customers can finish things off in their home oven.
“People are particular about what they like in a cookie—be it milk or dark chocolate, chips or chunks—that being able to customize is so appealing,” Tina says. “It starts getting pretty funky when the children get to choose, but even with all the crazy possibilities, chocolate chip is definitely—definitely—still the best seller.”
Whatever your favorite flavor, all this talk about cookies probably has you asking about the milk. It is, after all, the other player on the team. Don’t fret. Tina has that part covered, too. Old-fashioned milk dispensers serve up the local favorite from New York’s own Ronnybrook Farm to wash the cookies down. “It’s fresh, and it’s cold, and there’s nothing like it,” Tina exclaims. “You can’t have cookies without milk. It’s as simple as that.” (Coffee cravers take note: a full line of espresso drinks is also on tap.)
Tina’s cheery demeanor, despite long hours at both The FCI and the bakery, speaks volumes about her customer service style which aims to create an environment of delight. Catering to the customer appears to be rule number one, during regular operating hours and even after closing time, when the bakery can be booked for private soirées, like birthday celebrations, bridal showers, or “cookie and cocktail” parties. “What we have here is comfort food, and people are just so happy when they come in,” enthuses Tina. “It is great to serve people like that.”
Milk & Cookies Bakery
19 Commerce Street
New York, NY 10014
While attending the French Culinary Institute in 2006, Emily Carrus shared her daily experiences with PastryScoop.com readers in a unique blog on the life of a pastry student. She then took off to hone her skills in New York City’s fine dining and artisan baking arenas. Fueled, too, by a love of storytelling, this former globetrotting magazine editor is now a freelance writer and pastry professional all in one.