I did not expect to fall in love with a kugelhopf this week. I didn’t expect to think about a kugelhopf, or even to say “kugelhopf” out loud.
And I certainly didn’t expect to eat a generously sized version of the cake, still warm from the oven, in under one minute flat, before doubling back to buy a second.
When I visited Michaeli Bakery—which opened on the Lower East Side in early May—this past Tuesday, I was on the hunt for burekas: savory, filled pockets of puff pastry popular in Israel. Adir Michaeli, in his eponymous new pâtisserie, was sure to have them on offer. Michaeli had shown he knows a thing or 15 about bureka during his seven-year stint at Uri Scheft’s Breads Bakery businesses (first at an outpost in Tel Aviv, then in Manhattan).
And Michaeli Bakery’s burekas, which come with spinach, potato, cheese, or “pizza,” each for $3, are phenomenal. So are the burekitas (smaller, crescent-shaped iterations filled with feta, for $2), and the rugelach (also $2, and stuffed with chocolate and nutella like the ones Michaeli made at Breads).
But the pastry I’d like to order 1,000 of to use as a pillowy pastry bed, on which to spend the rest of my days, turned out to be the kugelhopf.
Traditional kugelhopf is a yeast-risen affair baked in a special Bundt pan and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Its provenance is a matter of contention: Some claim it hails from Austria, while others swear it’s Alsatian. Michaeli says simply, “Seems like there is a dispute about the origin, but I guess the French as French, took it to the traditional professional process of making.”
At Michaeli Bakery, it’s individually portioned, soft-bellied, and sugar-crusted. The dough is studded judiciously with a few rum-swollen raisins, and crushed almonds are pressed into its sides. The resulting pastry looks like a canelé that got stung by a bunch of wasps, then rolled in the scraps of a donut production line.
Michaeli attributes the fleecy interior of his kugelhopf to high hydration from extra milk and a cold overnight proof before shaping, which also imbues the pastry with a faint, pleasant funk. After baking, he soaks each cake in simple syrup.
“It helps to keep the product more delicate, and together with the surface area in comparison to the bigger version, it feels more noticeable,” he says. “So you get much more of the crust in every bite.”
Michaeli’s formula does indeed yield a gratifying number of crust-bites from each kugelhopf, which are $5 a pop for a cake the size of a giant’s fist.
“Kugelhopf was a project for me,” says Michaeli. “I was working on this recipe a long time.”
According to Serious Eats, an earlier variety appeared at Breads in 2013, though a recent visit to their Union Square location confirmed it’s been off the menu for years.
As for Michaeli’s latest attempt, down on Division Street? “I'm pretty satisfied with the result,” he says.
Have you had a kugelhopf? Let us know in the comments.
Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.