Here’s some of what Samantha Safer’s Otway Bakery, a casual spinoff to her namesake restaurant in Clinton Hill, might carry on any given morning: croissants, pain au chocolats, ham-and-cheese croissants, cinnamon buns, pain au raisin pinwheels, the increasingly prevalent Swedish cardamom bun, savory buns filled with mushrooms, pretty danishes decorated with sliced citrus, braided lemon poppy seed doughnuts, and what might be one of the city’s most stunning crullers.
Now here’s what pastries the week-old Otway actually carried last Saturday after midday: Just a few croissants, some scones, a handful of doughnuts — which sold out shortly after I ordered one — and a single sugar loaf, which I only managed to procure because the person in front of me took too darn long figuring out what to get. So I cut ahead. Bakery indecisiveness will cost you dearly.
Safer, who spends most mornings making these fine pastries, likens that sugar loaf to a laminated brioche; I prefer to think of it as a cruffin of sorts, a mound of levain-based croissant dough baked in a silicone mold. It is very flaky, very light, and gently sweet, thanks to a coating of pumpkin sugar. I enjoyed it at a standing counter in the seat-free space, decked out Brooklyn-style with handsome blonde woods, copies of the Tartine cookbook, and precisely 24 potted plants, all of them on wooden shelves, some of them sprouting creeping vines. Acoustic covers of “Waterfalls” and “Hit ‘Em Up Style” pipe through the sound system while well-manicured dogs, accompanied by chic patrons, lick any crumbs off the floor.
Crumbs, incidentally, are precisely what you’ll get if you sleep in before a visit. A counter worker informed me that most pastries sold out by roughly 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. One can’t blame folks for cleaning them out: They are darn good confections, and it’s not too often one finds impressive European viennoiseries alongside Portuguese egg tarts, American coffee cake, and yeast doughnuts under the same roof, seven days a week.
“We’re really quickly moving through pastry inventory,” Safer told me during a phone interview. She operates this sophomore endeavor with chief baker Nathan Uren, an Australian who co-ran the popular Neighborhood Bread pandemic pop-up from Otway’s basement; he’s in charge of all the milling and savory breads, which are only available Wednesdays through Sundays. “We were trying to grow under the radar…but people have been waiting a while,” Safer added.
Safer attracted crowds with her own takeout pastries during the early days of the first COVID shutdown, and had hoped to launch the bakery last September. Then supply chain issues hit, like delays in mixers and proofing cabinets (to regulate dough temperature and humidity). Con Edison electric upgrades extended things further, as did the then-surging omicron variant. Safer is currently in the early days of a month-long Kickstarter campaign seeking to raise $40,000 to cover expenses that racked up over the past year.
In the meantime, one problem the bakery doesn’t suffer from is a lack of business. I sneaked in for a second visit at 9:40 a.m. on a weekday, watching in horror as multiple items went out of stock as I queued up (one can’t escape karmic payback; I had it coming). Safer said she’s eventually hoping to double production and start a wholesale business, but for now, I’m lucky there were a few sugar loaves left during my follow-up visit, alongside a few other treats. Here’s what I sampled:
Cruller ($4): As a class of pastry, crullers are generally pretty light. They’re made with pate a choux, after all, the Gallic concoction that forms the base of puffy gougeres. These, however, seem impossibly airy. Are they lighter than chawanmushi or meringue? I like to think so. The cruller’s sugar glaze is restrained and the flavor is neutral, while its aroma recalls baked custard. If these treats look quite tall that’s because they’re “double” height, as Safer told me, resulting in what she correctly calls an “eggier chew.” They also don’t ail from any oiliness that can plague lesser varieties. How light is it, really? Eating one is like consuming not an actual cruller but an abstract, fictional depiction of a perfect pastry, so maybe order two — if there are any left.
Sugar loaf ($3.50): Safer bakes layers of laminated dough into a semi-rectangular package. What results is a pastry sporting a pillowy interior, and chewy, crisp exterior. Imagine a kouign amann, then dial down the crunchiness — while subtracting the sugary and buttery core — and you have an Otway sugar loaf. A dusting of pumpkin sugar imparts a delicate sweetness and a whisper of vegetal tang. I hear a coffee cream filling is in the works for future versions.
Savory bun ($4.50): This one is a twirl of brioche baked with gruyere and filled with mushrooms and golden onions. It tastes precisely like its component ingredients, which is to say sweet, earthy, and savory.
Coffee cake ($4): An ultra-crunchy version of the classic that somehow manages to taste precisely like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, except with less sugar. It is, by design, sturdy enough to be dipped in coffee.
Lemon poppyseed doughnut ($4): The bakers prepare these as a long braid, finishing them with a light glaze. Each bite conveys a soft, puffy chew with a distinct hit of bright citrus.
Kardemummabullar ($4.50): Cardamom buns are a certified New York hit, and Uren happens to make one that keeps pace with the in-demand variant from La Cabra. Otway’s bronzed specimen is wonderfully dense and only vaguely buttery, while packing those bright, minty, forest-y notes one expects from good cardamom. This is the ideal pastry if you’re looking for a mix of savoriness and sweetness.