The first time I tried rugelach from Marzipan Bakery was not in Israel, where the famous bakery is located, but in an office in Midtown Manhattan. A then-coworker of mine had schlepped home two kilos (more than 4 pounds) of the chocolate swirled pastries in his carryon and was gleefully handing them out like an overeager salesman. “These are without question the best rugelach you will ever eat,” he promised.
Turns out, he was right. They were plump and obscenely buttery, swirled with a fudgey ribbon of chocolate and glistening with a coat of sugar syrup. Texture-wise, they tasted just shy of fully baked — usually a pastry faux pas, but here a stroke of melty brilliance. Even after the transatlantic flight, I understood how the rugelach from a humble bakery in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market could develop such a devoted cult following.
On my next trip to Israel, I beelined straight to Mahane Yehuda (AKA “the shuk”). Just beyond the maze of fresh vegetables and dried fruits, fragrant spice shops, juice kiosks and tables piled high with halva, was Marzipan — a bakery founded in 1986 by a Turkish Jewish immigrant and currently run by his two sons. There, oversized baking sheets were covered with cinnamon rolls, challah and endless dozens of still-warm chocolate rugelach, which customers were shoving into shopping bags like it was Black Friday.
I purchased about two dozen — most to bring home so I could continue spreading the Marzipan gospel, and one (okay, two) to enjoy on the spot as an impromptu breakfast. In a country known for its stellar morning meals, this one, as simple and informal as it was, stood apart.
A few months after I returned, when the stash I brought back had dwindled, I found myself with a serious rugelach craving. Living in New York City, there was no shortage of the twisted Jewish confections. But none quite compared to the pure indulgence of a Marzipan Bakery rugelach. (This was, of course, before the arrival of Breads’ Bakery to the city. Their version arguably comes pretty close.)
It seems other folks must have craved them too — enough so that last month, Marzipan began shipping its prized sweets to select stores across New York City and Los Angeles. Scanning the list of shops on Marzipan’s website, I discovered that Pomegranate — an upscale kosher supermarket near my Brooklyn apartment — was among the few stores that stocked it. A short subway ride later, and I had my hands on a box (okay, two). They were frozen and, at a touch more than a dollar a cookie, not inexpensive. But after a quick stint in my toaster oven, the chocolate began to soften and my house smelled like the inside of a bakery.
I dipped one end of rugelach into a glass of milky coffee and sighed. The perfect Israeli breakfast, sans jet lag, was now at my fingertips.
Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).