Rugelach may be the yardstick against which all Jewish sweet pastries are measured. Ergo, they need to be good if you want to play in the Big Leagues of Jewish bakeries in the US of A. This is the sentiment of YY Davis of Marx Hot Bagels, more or less.
A lot has happened in the baked goods area at Marx since Davis bought the place from John Marx months ago—all of it good, Davis says. We’ll get to much of that in a paragraph or two.
First, though, Davis wanted to speak of traditions at Marx. “A lot of customers were afraid we were going to make (a lot of) changes, and they liked things the way they were. What we came to learn is they liked the bagels and the egg salad and the counter items, and that is what they really wanted to remain the same. That’s all good, and we have not changed things there,” he said.
The bakery case—the cookies, sweets and breads—was another matter entirely. “The bakery was not as good as it could be, the black and whites (cookies) were all wrong, for instance. The rugelach were dry and not great,” said wife Rena Davis, saying her husband vowed to upgrade the bakery. “Now we have two varieties (of rugelach): the pareve ones, and the ones made from scratch are dairy, made with butter and cream cheese. We sell out of them all the time now, and people really like them,” she said.
Count me as one of “really like” crowd. I had several of them, including the chocolate, raspberry-chocolate, cinnamon-raisin and the apricot-almond. All were tasty, moist and just right with my morning coffee. I recommend them to anybody with a sweet tooth.
To address the sweet goods issues he inherited, YY Davis started by hiring two bakers with Jewish bakery experience. One of those is Debbie Karmel, who was on the job the day I stopped by. She brings an all-in enthusiasm to her craft. She’s a graduate of the Pittsburgh Culinary Institute, where she specialized in pastry arts. She’s been pulling baked goods from ovens now for 16 years, and knows her way around Jewish pastries, breads and cakes. “We’re working our way through what we offer, improving the quality of our offerings across the board. Also, we are adding new things to the list of items in our bakery case,” she said.
Rugelach was among the first items to tackle on the improvement list, and results speak volumes, says Rena Davis: “We’re getting a lot of positive feedback. People say their children, their grandchildren love them—rugelach is a star!”
Another redo was the black and white cookie. This cookie is quintessentially Big Apple, likely the brainchild of Glaser’s Bake Shop, founded in 1902. Whatever the provenance, the B&W cookie was all wrong in its previous life at Marx, Karmel said. The cookie was too small for starters, and the cookie part of it was not the right texture and thickness for another. Plus, the prior version was “iced” instead of glazed as it is supposed to be. Hence, all wrong. Personally, I know from nothing about NYC-style black and whites, but the one I ate from the new and improved Marx bakery case was good to the last crumb. Took me three days to eat the whole thing—it’s a big cookie—but fun doing it, and I’m a fan. Try one, and I’ll bet you’ll be a fan too.
Other redo or refined products include sugar cookies, hamantaschen cookies and challah bread loaves (sizes variable, depending on your needs). The hamantaschen cookies are available in poppy, prune, apricot, raspberry and almond. The challah has not changed that much, except that the braid is 6-loop instead of 4-loop, which it had been before. I tried both the cookies and the bread, and all are tasty and top-notch.
Karmel mentioned babka and scones as two items that have been added to the bakery case. “The babka we make in cinnamon and chocolate (varieties) and we have the product right, but we are still ramping that up. We have them on the weekends now, but we will have them every day (at some point soon),” she said.
Scones already are in the bakery case, in savory and sweet varieties. Among the sweet scones, you’ll find blueberry, lemon and orange. Savory scones feature bits of onion and bell pepper. Also, in the mix (or mixer) are birthday and celebratory cakes, such as the one shown. The bakery recently added this specialty to its bill of fare; bakers will handle individual sheet-cake requests with adequate notice, Karmel said. She believes Marx is the only kosher source for sheet cakes this side of Columbus, Ohio.
As for the bakery in general, YY Davis said: “The bakery was a sideshow (in the past), and we want people to come in for the bakery (not just the bagels).” That is starting to happen already, he said.
See you at Marx’ bakery case!
Marx Hot Bagels
9701 Kenwood Rd
Blue Ash Ohio