Some people say Disney is the happiest place on earth. I’d say those people are wrong. I have proof that the happiest place on earth is on Queen Street East, just past the Don River, where Mary Macleod and her small team of bakers make the very best shortbread ever.
Don’t believe me? Take James’ Beard’s word for it – on a visit to Toronto in the early 80s, the acclaimed chef declared Macleod’s shortbread the best he’s ever tasted.
Mcleod emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1955 when she got married. She shares a story of meeting her mother-in-law for the first time; her reputation for being a great cook had preceded her, and her mother-in-law had asked that she bake an apple pie. Not used to the differences in North American flour compared to the softer, more delicate products used in Europe, Macleod’s pastry was a disaster, and she set about researching the different flours and how she could add other natural ingredients to manipulate the dough to work more like the European products she was used to.
I kind of hate Valentine’s Day. In a world where we should all be saying “I love you” any chance we can get, or where buying a partner flowers or candy should/could be a regular occurrence, there’s just way too much pressure to fill one particular day with a year’s worth of romance and caring. And because most people are out of practice when it comes to showing others that they care about them, they fall back on “tradition” (aka. the tacky and clichéd). So while, in truth, I don’t have too much problem with a heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates (I actually like the orange creams), so much of what falls into the standard Valentine’s Day gift list (a dozen red roses, champagne, romantic dinner for two) sort of makes me retch. Or at least roll my eyes and groan – and not in a good way.
Now while I can’t help readers with the other issues aside from advising that a gift that suits the recipient’s tastes is better than a gift that is simply “traditional” (ie. buy a cool plant or a bouquet of their favourite flower instead of those tacky roses; skip the teddy bear unless the giftee is under the age of 10; and wait until Sunday and go for a lovely brunch instead of getting shafted on an overpriced V-Day dinner…), I am able to recommend some non-traditional sweets and candies that show a lot more thought and creativity than a gift picked up at the gas station.
My first encounter with rugelach was in the early 90s when I worked for a company owned by a Jewish family. During the Jewish holidays, they’d bring in platters of treats to share with the staff and the little rolled cookies had me coming up with all kinds of reasons to wander by the break room.
Yiddish for “little twist”, rugelach was originally made with a yeast dough, but American Jews introduced a dough made with cream cheese. The pastry is rolled around fillings such as chocolate, raisins, nuts or preserves such as apricot or raspberry.
Rugelach are supposedly easy to make at home, but while I consider myself an accomplished baker, I’ve never been able to get the cream cheese pastry to work well for me, despite trying a variety of recipes. As such, I’m always on the lookout for places that sell the things, because rugelach are quite addictive.
And while I’m sure there are any number of Jewish bakeries and delis in the north end of the city that make fantastic examples of this cookie (please feel free to share your favourites in the comments), I’m sticking to what is accessible to me, a car-free downtowner.
Note that as rugelach is considered a seasonal item, not all the places listed may have it at all times. While it should be readily available for the next week or so until the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah have passed, I’d advise calling ahead if it’s out of season and you really need a fix.
Future Bakery (93 Front Street East, St. Lawrence Market) – cream cheese or raspberry filling.
Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord Street) – offers a variety of flavours with chocolate being the most popular.
Wanda’s Pie in the Sky (287 Augusta Avenue) – a variety of flavours, likely seasonal as they don’t show up on their website.
What a Bagel (421 Spadina Road, and others) – carry the cookies year-round, with 4 flavours plus a sugar-free version.
Whole Foods (87 Avenue Road) – offers rugelach seasonally, sold pre-packaged, by the kilo.
Yitz’s Deli (346 Eglinton Avenue) – sold singly or by the kilo, there’s usually a nice mix of flavours including cinnamon and walnut.
I’ve also bought rugelach at Benna’s (135 Roncesvalles Avenue), but the person I talked to on the phone for this piece didn’t know what I was talking about, so I can’t guarantee they have them all the time.
Recently in a Market Basket column, we explored the north section of St. Lawrence Market which hosts the weekly farmers market. But there’s a whole array of tasty stuff in the south building where vendors are set up at permanent kiosks and shops.
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, the south market building, located at 92 Front Street East at Jarvis, is like the high street in a small town, with a selection of butchers, bakers, cheesemongers, greengrocers and bulk and dried goods stores. Many vendors have been at St. Lawrence since the 70s and 80s, making them a longstanding tradition for shoppers here.