Caribbean neighborhoods and culture are scattered all over Brooklyn, from Williamsburg and Bushwick down to Crown Heights and into Flatbush and beyond. The island influence is on display every year during the annual West Indian Day Parade, and the J’Ouvert Parade that proceeds it, as well as Brooklyn’s own Puerto Rican Day Parade in Sunset Park.
Thankfully the people of the Caribbean have brought not just their celebrations to Brooklyn, but their pastries and sweets as well. The wide range of super sweet to amazingly sour fruits found all over the Caribbean often play a starring role in these confections, which feature flavors like passion fruit, tamarind, lemon, quenepas and more. There are also savory and often spicy pastries in the mix as well, like beef patties.
I grew up going to Caribbean bakeries for patties, coconut pastries, and towering cakes with tropical fruit fillings. Though some of my favorite locations have shut down over the years as rents have risen and communities of color have been displaced, there are still a fair number of spots I’d recommend for sweet and savory treats alike.
I especially love flan, which you see on Caribbean, Mexican and North American menus, and is best served in a sticky pool of caramel. In Jamaican shops, I’m a fan of coco bread that comes in the form of a flaky roll that can be served alongside a beef patty. In Puerto Rican and Dominican bakeries you often see something called pastel de guayaba which is puff pastry filled with guava paste. Sometimes they come with cream cheese inside or powdered sugar on top, too.
But my personal favorite is bizcocho Dominicano.
Most of my earliest birthdays were either ice cream cakes or Dominican cakes with strawberry, pineapple, coconut, or vanilla fillings. Though some people attempt to make these at home, the dense, rich cake and icing always taste better when you leave the bizcocho to the professionals.
I always crave anything coconut flavored, including cookies, laced with coconut flakes and flavored with vanilla and cinnamon, that can also be found at a lot of Caribbean bakeries. If, like me, you have a love for all things coconut-y or tropical fruit filled, or if you just want to try something new during a month meant for indulging, here are a few Brooklyn bakeries to try.
This tiny bakery has been in business as long as I can remember. It’s at the very edge of the Bushwick/Ridgewood divide and on the same block of the Myrtle-Wyckoff stop of the stop of the L. They bake an array of pineapple and fresh vanilla cream-stuffed bizcochos crowned with colored flowers that come in round cakes, larger round cakes, and even slices for when it isn’t your birthday, but you wish it was. I highly recommend getting a slice of cake here to sample what bizcocho is all about. Like some of the other bakeries, they have candles as well for last-minute celebrations. And please, don’t leave without a powdered sugar-dusted pastel de guayaba.
Joel’s Bakery, 1615 Palmetto St, Ridgewood, NY 11385, (718) 821-0501
Errol’s Caribbean Bakery, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens
If you’d like to give Jamaican treats a try, Errol’s is the place for you. I’d recommend starting with potato pudding, coconut rolls with caramelized bottoms, and raisin rolls, though the main event really is the coconut rolls. They’re a little different than sandwich-appropriate ones—they look somewhat similar to cinnamon rolls, but the dough itself is a little denser and the thick filling is a made with sweetened, grated coconut. Errol’s also has savory dishes to sample before or after the desserts. They’ve been in the neighborhood for over 15 years, and last year Bklyner reported on their eviction battle, which they won with the help of the community.
Errol’s Caribbean Bakery, 661 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225, (718) 469-6078
La Suprema Bakery Restaurant, Highland Park
This is a real destination for Caribbean must-haves like tres leches cake and pasteles de guayaba, which no customer should leave without trying. In a Caribbean-Brooklyn twist, La Suprema makes cheesecakes with tropical fruit flavors like pineapple jam on top as well. They also make bizcochos, those sweet, rich special occasion cakes. This is the kind of spot that my family would have frequented for cakes and sweets for large gatherings when I was growing up.
La Suprema, 2942 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11207, (718) 964-1698
Immaculee Bakery, Flatbush
If you’re more into savory than sweet, give this small Haitian shop a try. Their specialty is Haitian pates—flakey, buttery pastries with different meat and fish fillings, similar to Jamaican beef patties, but also their own unique thing. Bring an appetite or a friend so you can try the beef, chicken and fish varieties.
Imaculee Bakery, 1411 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11226, 718-941-2644
Valencia Bakery, various locations
Some people will tell you that this bakery makes the best bizcocho in NYC, including homemade ice cream to serve with it. Others will say that the cake and icing are far too sweet, but in my opinion, that’s only because they’ve never had authentic bizcocho, which is indeed, very, very sweet. Along with traditional deserts like flan, Valencia is a sort of one-stop celebration shop with candles and other birthday items, glass cases of cake toppers, and tiered cakes you can custom-order for the holiday season, baby showers, or weddings.
Valencia Bakery, locations in East Harlem, the Bronx, and Far Rockaway, 718-991-6400
Some of these locations may also have more American items like cheesecakes or cookies, but I recommend trying something that looks unfamiliar. And keep in mind that most Caribbean bakeries are small, family-run businesses. By indulging your sweet tooth you can help keep Brooklyn a gastronomically vibrant place.