How Sweet It Is

Sugar High: We give Orwasher's challah, babka, and other baked goods five stars.Photo: Carina Salvi

1411 Third Avenue, at 80th Street; 212-717-8100
The goods: Leave it to a Zabar to offer everything imaginable for the High Holidays, from moist honey cake ($4.95–$5.95) to chewy rugalach (chocolate, apricot, apple, or pecan-raisin, $6.95 a box) to perfectly peaked lemon-meringue cake ($65).
FYI: Free delivery in Manhattan ($50 minimum).
Rating: Four stars

Leon’s Pastry Shop
2137 Knapp Street, Brooklyn; 718-646-9012
The goods: We were hoping this Brooklyn bakery would fulfill our Neil Simon fantasies, but the challah was mediocre ($2.05 small, $2.20 large) and the chocolate babka ($6.50) didn’t taste homemade (it is).
FYI: The chocolate-dipped rugalach ($9.50 per pound) is worth the long ride from midtown on the Q train.
Rating: Two stars

Gertel’s Bake Shoppe
53 Hester Street; 212-982-3250
The goods: Utterly authentic—it’s been a neighborhood institution for almost a century. The challah ($2.50–$4.25) was a little on the dry side, but the tegelah would make Grandma proud—or jealous ($12).
FYI: Don’t be put off by the hole-in-the-wall appearance. Delivery charge is $12.
Rating: Three stars

2nd Avenue Deli
156 Second Avenue; 212-677-0606
The goods: It’s better known for pastrami than for pastries, but the latter aren’t half-bad. The rugalach ($12.95 per pound) was too sweet. But the chocolate babka ($8.75) was gloriously fudgy.
FYI: Lack of pretension is the order of the day.
Rating: Three stars

Orwasher’s Bakery
308 East 78th Street; 212-288-6569
The goods: This family-owned kosher bakery offers a full spread: from rugalach (raspberry, chocolate, cinnamon; $12 per pound) to super-light, lemony marble pound cakes ($8.50). But really, it’s all about the fluffy, brioche-like challah, which they’ve been baking in the shop’s brick ovens since 1916 ($4.75–$6.50).
FYI: Advance orders are not accepted and the holiday challah rush can get hectic.
Rating: Five stars

Soutine Bakery
104 West 70th Street; 212-496-1450
The goods: Famous for birthday and wedding cakes, this tiny bakery also offers a range of Jewish classics from challah (plain $4, raisin $5) to chocolate or raisin-nut rugalach ($15 a pound). We also loved the banana butter pound cake ($12) and the fruit tartlets ($15 per dozen). Check out the “beehive” chocolate cake, covered in caramel frosting and decorated with marzipan bees in keeping with the holiday’s honey theme ($40).
FYI: Probably not for strict traditionalists.
Rating: Four stars

My Most Favorite Dessert Company
120 West 45th Street; 212-997-5130
The goods: Other than the challah, which has a scrumptiously soft center, this kosher restaurant–takeout shop was mostly unremarkable. Another exception: the dense blackout cake—chocolate cake with chocolate-pudding layers topped with chocolate chunks ($30–$55).
FYI: Don’t come here looking for advice—the staff didn’t seem to know from kuchen.
Rating: Three stars

Insider Advice
Eric Bromberg, chef-owner of Blue Ribbon Bakery, has some helpful hints for your holiday meal.

1. Order challah in advance, but pick it up the day of, to make sure that it’s fresh. The egg wash helps to hold in some of the bread’s moisture, but a well-baked challah is very airy and dries out quickly because of its thin crust.

2. Don’t forget the honey. With all this effort to find the best bread, be sure to buy an equally worthy accompaniment. Artisanal honey is very special. My favorite flavor is lavender.

3. Counterbalance the sweetness of your meal with hints of sour: Buy tart Granny Smith apples—the most reliable kind at this time of year; cook your sweet potatoes in a mix of citrus juices like orange and lemon; use apple-cider vinegar in tzimmes, brisket, and braised short ribs.

How Sweet It Is