poppy rugelach cookie poppy rugelach cookie Rugelach. Whoever made this went with poppy filling, but I tried to make a chocolate version. (Photo: Elzbieta Sekowska / Shutterstock)

I tried to recreate my favorite cookie, and the fail was epic

Marzipan Bakery in Israel makes the most amazing rugelach, and I was determined to make these gooey, chocolate cookies myself.

This is a tale of hubris. And like many tales of hubris, it starts with a quest for something sweet.

Rugelach is a kind of Israeli cookie; it’s a bit like a chocolate croissant. Most rugelach I’ve had in my life has been pretty meh. But one bakery in the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem had turned the cookie into an art form. Marzipan Bakery makes the gooiest, chocolatiest rugelach in the world. I’d been craving it ever since I got back from Israel.

One day, I had a realization: I could make it.

marzipan rugelach Machane Yehuda market The actual Marzipan bakery in Jerusalem. Itzik Ozarko, the shop's owner, stands by his famous chocolate rugelach. (Photo: Christina Garofalo / Flickr)

I was a decent baker, after all. I’d whipped egg whites, improvised cakes and made steamed buns from scratch. I was no pro, but I could bake a cookie.

I was so confident that I pitched the idea as a recipe story to my editor. Then I really HAD to do it.

Marzipan Bakery keeps its recipes secret. So I’d have to take a regular recipe and modify it to make it more like Marzipan's rugelach, which are a lot gooier than regular rugelach.

Rugelach at the actual Marzipan Bakery in Jerusalem. Rugelach at the actual Marzipan Bakery in Jerusalem. (Photo: Christina Garofalo / Flickr)

There were plenty of great rugelach recipes out there, but I needed something specific. I scoured the web for Israeli rugelach recipes (American rugelach is a completely different animal). Eventually, I found a recipe that claimed to imitate Marzipan’s cookies. I gathered my supplies and set out to make this most perfect dessert.

Alas, when I opened the oven, disappointment wafted out. It looked like the dough had gone to a buffet and gorged until it was too bloated to do anything but lounge on the tray and cry.

My first attempt at making rugelach. My first attempt at making rugelach. By the way, sorry about the photos in this piece ... I didn't think these failed batches would end up in an article, so they're all just fuzzy phone snapshots. (Photo: Ilana Strauss)

One of my roommates tried a piece.

“You can’t really go wrong with chocolate and dough,” he said kindly before putting the piece down without finishing it.

Clearly, I’d found an inferior recipe. I needed something that real people used. So I took to Facebook and asked my Israeli friends for help. One sent me a friend’s recipe she said she’d tried herself.

The rugelach from this version turned out like actual cookies. But they were regular rugelach, not the mouthwatering nuggets of heaven I was after.

rugelach cookies These actually turned out pretty okay. (Photo: Ilana Strauss)

Over the next few weeks, I tried everything. More cream, different chocolate, heavy cream, more butter … Nothing worked. Some attempts made it look like a dough monster had exploded all over the pan. I even contacted an Israeli chef in New York and asked her for help (she didn’t reply).

I was at a loss. And on a deadline.

cookie dough melted A later attempt. (Photo: Ilana Strauss)

Just as doom looked unavoidable, I happened to notice a small Israeli grocery in Manhattan. I went in and felt like I was back in Israel. Elite instant coffee, homemade hummus, Bamba and pita in nondescript plastic bags filled the shelves.

“Do you have rugelach?” I asked the cashier. He pointed me to the fridge, where I discovered something amazing. There, neatly packaged, was a box of Marzipan rugelach. Not just Israeli-style rugelach – these cookies were made at the actual Marzipan Bakery in Jerusalem and shipped to New York.

An exclamation mark went off in my brain.

marzipan rugelach The real deal. I found these in St. Mark's. (Photo: Ilana Strauss)

When I went to pay, the cashier smiled at me.

“I saw that look on your face,” he told me. “It’s the look of someone who just found something from their home country.” I’m not Israeli, but he was right.

I took the cookies home and heated them up in the oven. The chocolate popped and melted all over the flaky dough. I picked up a cookie and took a bite.

marzipan rugelach I finally got to taste the real stuff. (Photo: Ilana Strauss)

The taste of the Jerusalem shuk flooded my brain. All its colorful stalls, heaps of dried fruits and nuts and mosaic of people had been baked into the chocolate somehow.

Maybe, someday, I’ll sneak into Marzipan’s kitchen and learn how they make their cookies. Until then, I’ll be shopping at the tiny piece of Israel I found in the heart of New York.

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