Chow Bella

Best Thing I Ate All Week: Top-Notch Israeli Pastries and Breads

Chris Malloy
Lior the Baker bakes babka. Babka is a twisted loaf of sweet bread, one of Jewish origin. But the babka at Lior the Baker is a little different. Lior Ben-Shushan, who runs the bakery with his wife Lily, shapes his babka from dough that has been laminated, folded over on itself repeatedly, like a croissant. He proofs the dough for two days, creating a fluff and tang like sourdough.

Lior and Lily have been baking Israeli-style pastries in Scottsdale for the last few years. Last fall, they changed the name of their shop to Lior the Baker. Since then, the shop has been kosher. The lineup of challah, almond challah, chocolate croissants, almond croissants, rugelach (many flavors), cookies (in flavors like almond), and other pastries and breads triggers chaos in the mind of the buyer.

So much to look at! So much to eat!

But which ones do I want?

You can't get them all. The prices aren't cheap. A single almond croissant costs $5.13 after tax. But if you have that almond croissant with coffee, the flakes shattering, the sweet fragrant almond paste filling your soul, you'll be happy you skipped the $8 pancakes and had this for breakfast instead. If you come from a culture known for almond-flavored desserts, or otherwise have a history with them, this croissant might destroy you.

The chocolate croissant is smaller and less dramatic, but really nice, too. It might call to mind the cobblestone streets, potent coffee, and howling gas-powered scooters of European cities.

click to enlarge Challah hanging out on cooling racks. - CHRIS MALLOY
Challah hanging out on cooling racks.
Chris Malloy
The babka is chocolate or halva (sweet sesame paste). The top of the loaf looks almost like a line of crammed-together cinnamon buns, but with more dramatic crags, peaks, and valleys. It costs $17. That's a pricey loaf of bread. But consider the mom-and-pop vibe of this bakery. Consider how many times in your life you've spent $20-plus on a vapid sheet cake, or a caustic bottle of wine. This is artisan Israeli-style babka made by two bakers from Israel, and made using long proofing and lamination. It's worth the splurge.

click to enlarge Almond croissants ready for eating - CHRIS MALLOY
Almond croissants ready for eating
Chris Malloy
Other yeasty, bready, and sweet creations abound. A table filled with cookies greets you upon entrance, the orange of the apricot cookies looking especially tantalizing. Batches of challah – plain, sesame seed, poppy seed, and almond – cool on racks, braided, knobbed, and lacquered.

If you go on Friday, there will also be a Moroccan flatbread rained with za'atar. The bread is like an uneven pizza with more fluff and buttery heft, the surface lunar with pocks and bumps. Za'atar covers all but the rounded ends in thick green drifts that form a sort of crust, giving the flatbread the look of a spice rack that somebody smashed with a baseball bat, and the wild aroma of a garden.

The Moroccan flatbread is easily one of the best things I've tasted in Arizona. Lior and Lily know baking. We're lucky to have them in the Valley.

Lior the Baker. 10953 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard #105, Scottsdale; 480-451-0011.
Wednesday to Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Saturday to Tuesday.

click to enlarge Lily Ben-Shushan behind the counter at Lior the Baker. - CHRIS MALLOY
Lily Ben-Shushan behind the counter at Lior the Baker.
Chris Malloy