Off the Beaten Pastry Path

Growing up, I remember my mom taking me to Zingerman’s Deli Next Door. They were our special mother-daughter outings. She would get her afternoon cup of coffee and I picked out a sweet treat. Usually, I went with a Funky Chunky Chocolate Chip cookie. A standard kid pick.

That desire to pick a cookie or a brownie over something more adventurous stuck with me for quite some time. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t want to TRY something new, but when a big chocolate chip cookie and an unfamiliar pastry sat in front of me waiting for me to pick just one, I found myself leaning toward the cookie. Why? Well, I knew what to expect. And as silly as it sounds, there was no guarantee for the unknown.

Now, a few years ago, I became more immersed in Jewish culture. The man I was (and am) dating is Jewish. He brought me along to all of his family’s celebrations of the various High Holidays throughout the year.

I still remember the first one I went to. It was the first night of Hanukkah (and my first time ever celebrating the first night of Hanukkah). Since I was “new” to these family gatherings, I wanted to make a good impression. So, naturally, I did some Googling and learned that Zingerman’s Bakehouse made great pastries that I could bring to Hanukkah dinner. I remember driving to the Bakehouse, picking up an assortment of rugelach and hamantaschen to bring with me.

When I showed up, treats in hand, I knew I had made the right decision. The minute they saw the Zingerman’s bag in my hand, their smiles grew even bigger and they all began excitedly discussing what they thought was in the bag. When I pulled out the rugelach and hamantaschen, I could tell they were instantly touched by the gesture.

Not to mention, who doesn’t love getting a bag full of Bakehouse goodies (for any occasion)? I don’t know if I would go as far to say I was immediately accepted into the family. That happened after the next family dinner when I brought pecan pie.

Sitting at the table after dinner, with the assortment of pastries and goodies spread out in front of me, I decided it was time for me to try something new. Especially because I was the one who brought them. I looked back and forth between the rugelach and hamantaschen sitting prettily on the plates in front of me, trying to decide which to grab. Rugelach it was.

As I was holding the rugelach in my hand, I anticipated it being a hard, crunchy cookie with a too-sweet filling. Delicious, of course, but that was my initial thought. But the minute I bit into it, all of my preformed notions and judgements disappeared. The Bakehouse’s rugelach is far from the hard, crunchy cookie I initially imagined. Rather, it was a tender pastry dough with a perfectly sweet filling folded inside. The pastry dough was flaky, with a slight crunch, perfectly paired with the (not too) sweet filling. The combination of flavors from the dough to the filling left my taste buds singing.

I quickly ate a few more before they completely disappeared (everyone was reaching for one!). That moment changed my pastry-picking preferences forever.

It is safe to say, that night, amongst (basically) strangers, I developed a love of rugelach. And, now, when picking out a sweet treat, my go-to is rugelach. And while apricot is my favorite, I will eat any of them—chocolate, raspberry or currant. Because, really, it’s hard to discriminate. With such unique flavors, there is one for every occasion.

By Natasha Mason, Zingerman’s Bakehouse

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