Where I live in Brooklyn, there is no shortage of worthy bakeries, from old-school Jewish joints like Isaac’s Bake Shop and Ostrovitsky to artisanal spots like Ovenly and Bien Cuit. Like with most things, I have found that getting my hands on a perfectly flaky breakfast croissant or satisfying an afternoon cookie craving doesn’t require me to leave the borough.
But every so often, I like to cross the river to Manhattan to find out what’s going on in Uri’s world. Uri Scheft, the chef/co-proprietor of Breads Bakery, is well known for his buttery hamantaschen, many-seeded challah and category-defining Nutella babka. But what I love best about Breads is that it never seem content to rest on its laurels. Every holiday — and really any day I visit their sprawling Union Square bakery and cafe — there’s something to discover. So I was delighted to find out that Breads is directing its creative focus on cheesecake for the entire month of May.
The classic cake evolved from a humble German dessert into an icon of the 20th-century delicatessen — forever immortalized as a Jewish New York City classic, along with apple strudel, in the blockbuster musical, Guys & Dolls. While it was originally made with a heavy curd and pot cheeses, the introduction of cream cheese to the U.S. market in the 1870s forever changed the baked good for the creamier.
Breads’ takes on cheesecake are both classic and innovative. May offerings include straight up (but far from boring) New York-style and strawberry versions on one side. On the other side, there’s cheesecake babka — laminated with farmer’s cheese and cream cheese and flavored with vanilla beans and lemon zest — and a purple-hued blueberry cheesecake created in honor of Prince.
Last week I might have found myself sneaking a slice of strawberry cheesecake for breakfast. Cream cheese, sugar, strawberries and a graham cracker crust isn’t all that different from yogurt, maple syrup, strawberries and granola, right? That’s how I justified it, anyway.
With the dairy-obsessed holiday of Shavuot coming up next month, Breads’ cheesecake obsession is perfectly timed. Meanwhile, I think I started a new breakfast tradition.
Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).