At the end of March, we spent a few days visiting New York City with Evan and Claire. I will be featuring our kid-friendly trip to NYC in a series of blog posts (so far I have published Chinatown/Little Italy, the Lower East Side, DUMBO in Brooklyn, and Xiao Long Bao; the American Museum of Natural History, Times Square, and Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies; and The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, East Village, and Matcha Lava Cake). Today I am sharing Union Square, the James Beard House, Grand Central Terminal, and a recipe for Chocolate Babka.
Miss our NYC travels last year? Here are the links to those posts: Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Chelsea Market, Greenwich Village, and New York Style Pizza; 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Bagels; and Central Park, Chinatown, Flatiron District, and Black and White Cookies.
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Our first stop in Union Square was Evelyn’s Playground. Located at the north end of Union Square Park, there are three sections across 15,000 sq ft perfect for all ages. Evan especially loved the abundance of areas to climb and steep slides.
Union Square Greenmarket
Directly next to the playground is the Union Square Greenmarket. This market is open year-round on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 8 am to 6 pm. It began with just a few farmers in 1976 and now has up to 140 during peak season selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to baked goods, flowers, meats, cheese, jams, and other products. There are also seasonal weekly activities including cooking demonstrations, book signings, and pop-ups.
I toured the James Beard House (see below) while Chad and the kids stayed at the playground, but met back up with them for lunch. Evan requested pasta, so we stopped by the nearby Pasta Flyer. Located at 510 6th Avenue, Pasta Flyer features a small, but efficient menu. We tried the Whole Grain Rigatoni with Nonna’s Meat Ragu, Organi Fusilli with Basil Pesto Sauce, Spicy Broccoli Rabe, and Garlic Dots (warm fried dough in garlic butter). The kids were also given crayons and a coloring sheet. It was definitely perfect for Evan’s pasta craving.
After lunch, we made our way to Kidding Around on 60 W 15th St. The kids absolutely loved this store. There are such a variety of toys including arts and crafts, books, STEM-based, and European brands. They even had the Plus-Plus blocks we first came across while in Baltimore. Claire picked out a little bear sticker tea party set perfect for playing in restaurants and travel.
Books of Wonder
Books of Wonder was another incredible find. On 18 W 18th Street, Books of Wonder stocks the newest children’s titles along with classics and a collection of rare collectibles. Many of the books we came across were signed. There is even a gallery of original art and graphics. The store hosts weekly storytimes and other events featuring authors and artists. There is another location on 217 W 84th Street.
We made a quick stop by Breads Bakery at 18 East 16th Street before going on the subway to head back to the hotel and I am so glad we did. A baker’s dream, it was so hard to narrow down what we wanted. I ultimately chose a Chocolate Babka while Evan picked out a Pain Au Chocolat to split with Claire. There is also a kiosk at Bryant Park and another location at Lincoln Center.
James Beard House
While the kids played at Evelyn’s Playground with Chad, I stopped by the James Beard House for a tour with Victoria Jordan Rodriguez, Director of House Operations and House Events. I first met Victoria while at MetroCooking DC and it was so fun to see the house in person.
The James Beard House is located at 167 W 12th Street in Greenwich Village. It was just a short 1/2 mile walk from Union Square and near the 14th Street/Sixth Avenue station.
Following James Beard’s death in 1985, a fundraising campaign led by Institute of Culinary Education founder Peter Kump was organized to purchase the townhouse. It was officially opened on November 5, 1986 by the James Beard Foundation “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment.”
The James Beard House now holds over 250 events throughout the year, almost daily. In addition to the dinners by acclaimed chefs from around the country, the house also hosts a variety of free educational programming. Check out the calendar to see what events are coming up and the James Beard Foundation Kitchen Cam to see the chefs in action.
Victoria showed me all of the details of the house and how it has transformed over the years from the kitchen, garden, and dining rooms created to accommodate guests to even the updated bathrooms and wallpaper. I especially loved all the items on display and the collection of cookbooks! If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you know how much I love cookbooks.
Want to see the James Beard House? Contact the James Beard Foundation to schedule your own tour of this historic home.
Grand Central Terminal
On our fourth morning, we went to Grand Central Terminal before visiting the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. In preparation for our trip, we got some NYC coloring books (Color this Book: New York City, New York for Kids, and Doodle New York) and the kids were excited to see the “huge terminal” in person after coloring the pages.
Grand Central Terminal in Midtown opened on February 2, 1913 to the public. It is now home to the MTA Metro-North Railroad and a subway station serving the 4, 5, 6, 7, and S subway lines along with plenty of food and shopping options. Notable areas include Grand Central Market, Whispering Gallery, the four-faced brass clock on top of the information booth, and dozens of restaurants. With 44 platforms, it is the world’s largest station (via platform capacity). The Main Concourse windows alone are 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Find the history of the terminal here.
Great Northern Food Hall
After getting a little turned around (did I mention the terminal is huge!), we went to the Great Northern Food Hall located in Vanderbilt Hall (with access from 42nd Street or the Terminal’s Main Concourse) for breakfast.
Developed by Claus Meyer (MeyersUSA), the Great Northern Food Hall features a collection of Nordic-inspired eateries including Meyers Bageri (artisanal bakery), Brownsville Roasters (coffee), Open Rye (smørrebrød- open faced sandwiches, photo above), Grain Bar (sweet and savory porridges, beer, and whiskey), Almanak (parfaits, salads, and soups), The Bar, Great Northern Deli (in the shuttle passage), and Danish Dogs (also in the shuttle passage).
I was particularly fond of all the pastries and baked goods. Favorites include the Kanelsnurrer (Norwegian cinnamon knots), Tebirkes (Danish poppyseed rolls), and Spandauer (Danish pastries with jam or vanilla cream).
I have been wanting to make a Babka from scratch for a while and this seemed like the perfect time after trying the Chocolate Babka from Breads Bakery. I slightly followed the bakery’s lead and filled my Babka with Nutella and chopped bittersweet chocolate. After baking, it is finished off with a brushing of a simple sugar syrup to help keep the bread soft for a few days.
I was very nervous about attempting the Chocolate Babka, but it ended up not being too difficult. The sweet, rich yeast-based dough needs time to rest overnight in the refrigerator, then another 1-2 hours the next day at room temperature after filling and forming. After the first rise, the dough is rolled out into a thin rectangle/square and covered with a layer of Nutella. If that wasn’t chocolatey enough, the dough is then covered with an additional layer of chopped bittersweet chocolate before being tightly rolled.
I followed Smitten Kitchen’s tip of placing the rolled dough in the freezer briefly to help cut and form the dough with less mess. It doesn’t need much, maybe 10 minutes. Much more than that and the dough will be too stiff to twist well. The ends are sliced off, then the roll is cut in half lengthwise to make two layered ropes.
There are a couple of different ways to twist the Chocolate Babka. I tried pinching together the two ropes at one end then twisting the ropes to the other end on the first loaf. On the second one (and I liked this way better personally), I crossed the two ropes at the middle then twist each side individually from the middle to the ends. I was able to twirl it a little easier this way.
The twirled loaf is placed in the prepared pan and allowed to rest for another 1-2 hours. It is then baked until puffed and golden. Immediately after removing from the oven, the loaves are brushed with a sugar syrup. This will help the Chocolate Babka keep for a couple of days.
I added orange zest to the dough, but it can also be replaced with lemon zest. The dough is made with an all-purpose flour base, but can be substituted with half bread flour and half pastry flour.
The Chocolate Babka will be easier to slice and serve once it has cooled to room temperature. This is best the day it is made, but it can also be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days or so. They also freeze well. Reheat in a 350˚F oven just until warm.
Chocolate Babka Recipe
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk 105-115˚F
- 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 cups Nutella
- 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips chopped
- 1/3 cup water
- 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
To make the dough:
In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk. Stir to combine and allow to rest until frothy, about 10 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, orange zest, and salt. Mix in the eggs and milk with yeast until dough starts to come together.
While the mixer is running on low, slowly add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, then continue to mix until fully incorporated and the dough is smooth. It might be a little sticky. If the dough is too crumbly, add a little more milk.
Lightly grease a large bowl with oil, then add the dough, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours to overnight. The dough will puff, but probably not double.
Grease 2 9x4 inch loaf pans with butter or oil. Line the bottom with parchment.
Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll one half of the dough into a thin rectangle/square 10 inches wide and 10-12 inches long.
Spread half of the Nutella over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edges. Sprinkle evenly with half of the chopped chocolate. Wet the 1/2 inch edge furthest from you with water. Starting with the edge closest to you, tightly roll up the dough, sealing the dampened edge. If desired, place the roll in the freezer for 10 minutes to Harden the chocolate slightly and allow the dough to be worked with more cleanly.
Slice off 1/2 inch off each end of the dough and discard. Slice the rope in half lengthwise and place on the work surface cut side up. Twist together the ropes, cut side facing out, end to end. You can also cross the ropes in the middle, then twist them to the ends starting from the middle.
Place the twisted loaf in the prepared pan and cover with a damp cloth. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Allow to rise at room temperature until puffed, 1-2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375˚F. Bake the prepared loaves until deeply golden and cooked through, about 30 minutes.
While the loaves are in the oven, prepare the syrup.
In a small pot, combine the water and sugar over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Removed the baked babkas from the oven and immediately brush with the sugar syrup. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the pans. Cool to room temperature before serving.