Go right this second to Breads Bakery and chances are a tray of warm chocolate rugelach ($2.50 each) has just been set out — Israeli baker Uri Scheft pops a new batch in the oven every hour. They’re tender pastries, soft as layer cake, tasting of browned butter and dark chocolate. Nothing like the brittle, grandma-style rugelach we’re used to.
“Rugelach are very common,” says Scheft, “but I wanted to make them my own way.” His way involves a yeasted, laminated dough filled with a mixture of cocoa powder and chocolate, cut and rolled like tiny croissants.
Scheft is new to the New York scene, but not to the game. He’s the accomplished baker behind 11-year-old Lehamim Bakery, an insanely popular bakery in Tel Aviv with two satellites in the city’s markets — he started making the extraordinary rugelach there about a year and a half ago. Born in Israel to Danish parents, he went to Denmark to formally study bread and pastry when he was in his twenties and worked for years in traditional Danish, French, and Swiss bakeries.
In the Union Square location, you’ll also find fine tarts with crisp shells, dark chocolate chip cookies, and babka. And Scheft is known for his hefty, European-style breads, like a rye sourdough he learned from a baker in northern Denmark, made from rye berries and sunflower seeds. And a delicious whole wheat loaf made with organic flours, baked two or three times a day. His excellent French-style sourdough is made with a mix of white wheat, whole wheat, and a small amount of rye, proofed in baskets for 16 hours — it’s chewy and full of flavor, with a crackling armor of a crust.
In Israel, Scheft runs something of an empire with 130 employees, but here he’s mixing the doughs himself each day. “It’s my greatest joy to be back at the mixer,” he says. And though he’s a little concerned about how his work will be received in New York, he needn’t be — as long he keeps turning out fresh rugelach.
Breads Bakery, 18 E. 16th Street, 212-633-2253