Babka and Cookies and Rye, Oh My !
A few months before going to New York City, I heard about a new bakery whose rugelach and babka were getting a whole lot of attention. (Thanks Niko of DessertBuzz !) On to my “must” list it went. But this time, I didn’t actually have a long list of places to go and sweets to try while in town (even if that is inevitably what my trips always consist of). This trip was all about quality time with my family and introducing our baby girl to friends, both her size and ours. That said, a couple of weeks into my trip, after yet another colorful stroll through the Union Square Greenmarket, I excitedly hopped over to Breads Bakery (with family in tow) to try a few things…
Within just a few minutes of arriving, a table was covered with more breads and pastries than my parents and I could possibly taste in one sitting. And thus began a series of visits to the bakery to keep trying even more (while kicking myself for not having gone sooner). On each visit, I replenished my stash of Swiss Muesli rolls, a personal favorite from the first bite. With a soft and chewy dough and a great bite in the crust, they are packed with grains and dried fruits: rye and white flours, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds and cranberries. And the most “Swiss” of its ingredients perhaps: diced fresh apples, obligatory (peeled of course) in any proper bowl of birchermüesli on this side of the Atlantic.
One of the girls working at the bakery commended me on my choice, as she saw me enthusiastically filling (yet another) bag of muesli rolls, boasting how healthy they are. I couldn’t help but agree – and tell her how good they are too slathered with salted butter. Meanwhile, I commended my dad on his consistency, loving all things chocolate – rugelach, babka, cookies and even washing it all down with a hot chocolate. “Dad, do you want to know why you love those rugelach so much ?” I asked him. (And perhaps why thousands of them are sold weekly…) Nutella. They are made with Nutella and dark chocolate chips. He took another bite and simply rolled his eyes in delight.
Turns out the mastermind behind Breads Bakery and those rugelach above is Uri Scheft of Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv. I remembered reading about his “modern” flavors of hamantaschen in the New York Times several years ago, and dreamed of visiting his bakery there. Scheft was born in Israel to Danish parents, which explains the abundance of Scandinavian touches in the menu. His background and travels around Europe make for a delicious variety of items – Danish ryes, cinnamon rolls, carrot cake (with a lot of cinnamon), challah, almond croissants, bourekas and a New York exclusive, cookies. With new items being tested regularly, the bestsellers remain the chocolate babka, rugelach, cheese straws, olive sticks and North sea rye bread.
On one of my visits, baguettes were just coming out of the oven in the spacious production area in the back, about to head down the street to Union Square Café. (Wholesale baking has just begun there.) Small and pointy, the Jerusalem Baguette above is another rye-based bread, recognized by its sesame seed coating. Like the other baguettes, I found the ends to be particularly pointy and black, even burnt. Turns out that’s just another personal stamp of Scheft, in looking to give his breads a bit of a twist.
Most of all, perhaps what makes Scheft so well-known back in Tel Aviv and already in New York City, is his devotion to the freshness of every bread and pastry at all hours, and the quality of the ingredients that go into them. And if you have a chance to visit, be sure to have a Swiss Muesli roll for me, now back home in … Switzerland !
18 East 16th Street (off of Union Square)
New York City