The Danes Are Gone, Yet Leske’s Lives On

The black and white cookie rises to the occasion.

leskesYou don’t have to hang with Tony Manero to know that few Scandanavians live in Bay Ridge anymore. So while Robert Rosenhammer, owner of Leske’s Danish Bakery, still sells lots of yulekaga (a sweet bread), fyrstekage (almond tart) and kringler (pretzel-shaped Danish), the bakery’s offerings also include the likes of sachertortes, rye bread and cannoli, a sweet smorgasbord reflective of the immigrants who have settled in Bay Ridge over the years with a taste memory for the comfort foods of home.

The location has been a bakery since 1919, and Rosenhammer’s father, a third-generation baker, bought the business from the Leske clan in ’84. He added “the German stuff ” (e.g. Black Forest cake) while continuing the tradition of Scandinavian pastries and wellheeled loaves, including Irish soda bread, still made according to the recipe passed down through multiple owners. Rosenhammer sells 2,500 loaves the week of St. Patrick’s Day.But Leske’s best-seller is decidedly—perhaps appropriately—native to New York: a superb black-and-white cookie ($1.35). On a typical Saturday, Rosenhammer sells upwards of 140. Make no mistake, this is not the ubiquitous two-tone disc at every bodega in town. You can spot Leske’s cookies in a lineup by its signature center bulge, which gives it a three-dimensional quality, almost like a top that you’d spin. The bulge occurs because Rosenhammer uses a dedicated drop cookie recipe (as opposed to a generic cake mix, which is sweeter) and bakes the cookies at a high temperature (420 degrees). This causes the center of the cookie to rise and take on a delightfully soft, cake-like texture. Finished with Rosenhammer’s intensely creamy fudge frosting, the final product inspires feelings of intense well-being.

Moreover, no other cookie, not even the fortune, inspires as many philosophical thoughts as the black and white; its yin-and-yang duality makes it an edible muse which raises questions even weightier than its frosting. Meditate on life’s contradictory puzzles as you ride the train home from Bay Ridge.

Benjamin Schmerler, a former Zagat Survey editor, is a partner in First Press, a public relations and consulting company geared toward businesses in the food and beverage world. After a painful exodus in Manhattan, Ben is moving back to Brooklyn.

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