I Spent A Week Trying The Top Desserts On Instagram

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
What would Instagram be, if not for food shots? Or more importantly, dessert shots? (Tbh, probably just a lot of selfies and shelf-ies.) It's a platform that has taken the foodie-craze to soaring heights of social celebrity; generating not only food-famous accounts, but also creating mass fan-hysteria around specific items (ever heard of the Cronut?) And because of this, our feeds remain flooded with snaps of sensational sweets — racking up thousands, upon thousands of likes, and hundreds of comments on the reg. We've become so entranced by the visual splendor of these shots and their social representation, that the act of actually consuming them can ultimately wind up getting lost.
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Cue my confession: I am a food writer (and also a self-proclaimed foodie) — but before now, I had never eaten a Cronut, never purchased a sleeve of macarons from Ladurée, or even set foot inside NYC's legendary Magnolia Bakery. Why? Because I felt that in many ways (through my Insta-feed) that I'd really already had my fill. And also because (if I'm being really honest) I had written the mania around these trendy treats off as #basic — quietly choosing not to partake. But in reality, I'm not above #eatingforthegram (sorry, not sorry). So I put my pride aside and decided it was high time that I took some initiative to get intimately involved with these sugary stars.
I selected my four hit spots by digging through Instagram's most popular sweet shops in America from 2015 and 2016. The resulting list contained the above mentioned in addition to another top contender, Levain Bakery. Was I excited? Yes. Was I scared of becoming basic (or realizing, maybe, that I had been all along)? Also, yes. But on I went, to discover if the bite was worth the hype. And in the end, what truly matters most: the 'gram or the (baked) good?
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Ladurée's Macrons

My first stop? Ladurée's SoHo outpost. I slunk out of work early on a Wednesday evening in order to avoid any of the daytime (and god forbid weekend) hullabaloo. When I arrived it was calm, quiet, and distinctively Parisian — which I imagine, was by design. The shop girls who assisted me spoke with lovely French accents and waited patiently as I deliberated between an additional rose-flavored macaron versus a coffee one (fyi: I ended up going rogue and getting a vanilla bean). My sleeve of eight was packaged, purchased, and toted home with delight. I felt fancy, but also some slight fear of being mistaken as a tourist by my fellow subway commuters.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
My Take

Once home, I found that the sleeve had broken open within the tote bag (whether from my subway ride or my jostle-y walk remains a mystery) and the delicate little macarons were a bit worse for the wear. I realized too late that much of the 'gramming takes place either in-store or outside, immediately post-purchase. But I gave it my best shot (see right), felt a bit exhausted/frustrated over the lackluster results, and went on to eat most all of the sleeve. Were they tasty? Yes, in a sugary-perfume-y sort of way. Would I go through the trouble of buying them again? No.

In this case I felt that the importance of the 'gram outweighed the enjoyment of the good.
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Levain Bakery's Cookies

Next up was a dessert I'd had the immense pleasure of sampling before: Levain's giant chocolate chip cookie. Lucky for me, one of my dear coworkers (and friends) lives nearby a location and was able to scoop me up a bag on her way into the office (the morning after my macaron debacle). Thus, I got the 'gram without having to deal with the line. (Although pro-tip, the second location is apparently much less busy than the original.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
My Take

Because I didn't consume the cookies fresh from oven-to-mouth, their consistency (when broken in half as the 'grammers do) did not match that of the ooey-gooey, melty chocolate pictures I had spotted on my feed. Even so, they traveled surprisingly well and I was still able to get a great shot quickly. And when I did dig in? The bite was worth the hype. If you've yet to try this heavenly creation, I'd recommend getting at it (stat).
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Magnolia Bakery's Cupcakes

After work I embarked upon the third installment of my sweets journey — to the legendary Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan's West Village. Walking through the streets of the WV is always magical, but as soon as I entered the small bakery on the corner of Bleecker and W. 11th that fuzzy feeling dissipated V quickly; After waiting several awkward moments to be helped, a crowd of young pushy women entered the shop and swarmed past me to scan the display. I struggled to quickly point out three colorful cupcakes over the frenzy in front of me, paid, and quickly exited the store.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
My Take

Once home, the picture to the right is what I was able to capture (palm-to-face). Again, Instagram-able does not equal travel-able for most trendy desserts. (Yes, I probably should have learned from my Ladurée mishap, but I think in reality I was too embarrassed to go full on blogger and stage a photo in the bakery by myself.) The cupcakes themselves were small and moist — your run-of-the-mill vanilla and chocolate with super sugary icing. Yes, they were pretty to look at — but all in all, they just tasted like cupcakes. And cupcakes have never particularly wowed me. Their banana pudding however, which doesn't necessarily have the same photogenic pull, is seriously delicious.

Another instance of the the 'gram outweighing the enjoyment of good.
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Dominque Ansel's Cronut

I saved the biggest and most social media-recognizable for my fourth and final treat-trip: DA's famed Cronut (the original croissant-doughnut hybrid). This trendy Instagram dessert is SO big that lines have been known to wrap around the block starting hours before the shop even opens. But I took a chance and met my aforementioned Levain colleague (for moral support) there at opening time, 8 a.m. sharp, on a Monday morning — hoping quite desperately that the weekend tourist intrigue would have waned and that we'd be able to get out hands on a Cronut (or two).
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
My Take

We were in luck! Surprisingly the line was contained to the inside of the bakery, and there were plenty of orange Cronut satchels to go around — we were each handed a package containing two and happily toted them outside. If there was one thing I learned by this point in the dessert-Instagram game, it was to photograph immediately. And since I had my Instagram partner in crime with me, we did just that in a park directly next to the shop. I arranged my glorious rose and pistachio flavored Cronut on my hand, and also posed for a few self-shots with the famous treats on a bench. Yes, it was basic — but it was also glorious. And I did end up getting the golden shot (even if it took 15, okay 30, plus attempts).

The Cronut itself? It was yummy. Would I wait in line for hours for it? Probably not. But in this instance, the bite was worth the kooky hype. All in all, the experience of getting a good 'gram, and then consuming a tasty treat afterwards can be worth it if you're willing to enjoy yourself and put your pride aside. Yes, a trendy dessert plus a seriously staged Instagram is basic — but you know what? It can also be a lot of fun.
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