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Evan Fox Yeastie Boys guide to Canter's Deli bakery case
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

The Yeastie Boys guide to the Canter’s bakery case

Navigate the Jewish deli’s famed baked goods thanks to some tips from the unofficial mayor of Canter’s

Written by
Stephanie Breijo

It’s almost overwhelming. The pastry case at Canter’s Deli is packed so tightly with buttery loaves and cookies and slabs of cakes and colorful frosting that it’s almost easier to bypass the famous Jewish treats entirely, beelining instead toward the hostess stand and the restaurant’s piles of pastrami and latkes.

But with a pro’s help, this temple to pastry isn’t only manageable—it’s full of surprises. Canter’s Deli bakes most of its goods twice daily, and whether day or night, Yeastie Boys Bagels owner Evan Fox is there to taste through them all. The always-animated Fox is one of the vanguards of L.A.’s modern Jewish cuisine, thanks to the overstuffed breakfast sandwiches he slings from a pair of roving Yeastie Boys trucks. But he knows to respect his elders; the bagel maker loves Canter’s so much, he visits at least weekly and moved to Fairfax just to be close to it.

“I would say that as far as the Jewish pastries go, it’s the best,” Fox says. “I can’t think of another Jewish bakery that’s more legit; I’ve been to random places and nothing can compare.”

Before he shares his favorite items, he’s got a few pointers: You can skip the bagels, but don’t skip the bagel chips. Order doubles of everything so you’ll have something for now and another for later. If you’re dining in, the off-menu rugelach come five to an order, so you can mix and match. And if you’re headed to an event, always grab that signature pink Canter’s bakery box, the one that comes red-stamped and sealed with red tape.

“When somebody walks into a party with that shit,” he says, “you know they know what the fuck is up.”

Eat like a pro with Fox’s fave Canter’s baked goods

Chocolate or Apple Rugelach
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

1. Chocolate or Apple Rugelach

A quintessential Jewish cookie, the rugelach is a layered, folded morsel that dates back centuries and can walk the line between dense and indulgent, and flaky and fruity; rectangular, square or crescent-shaped, they’re often flavored with jams such as apricot or raspberry. Here at Canter’s, they’re some of the top sellers, whether they’re in coconut, chocolate, cinnamon, apple or raspberry form.

“It’s just buttery, layered really well, and it’s fresh, dude,” says Fox. “A lot of the rugelachs I’ve had aren’t as good; usually when you get a rugelach it’s really crumbly and dry. To me, this is the pinnacle: When I eat rugelach, I always compare it to these. People like the raspberry, but pound for pound, the chocolate and the apple [varieties] are my favorite things in that case.”

French Nut Loaf
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

2. French Nut Loaf

This loaf cake is a staple of old-school Jewish bakeries, the kind of treat that’s dense, nostalgic, cost-effective and gets cut in thick slabs best enjoyed with coffee. A spin on a linzer, which features raspberry jam, Canter’s adds a thin layer of the preserves underneath the almond-like, walnut-studded filling.

“I love walnuts and the raspberry filling on the bottom,” Fox says. “It looks like it’s dry, bad coffee cake, but it’s so good. It’s more like a cake; imagine a zucchini bread or a banana bread, but it tastes buttery.”

Florentine Lace Cookies
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

3. Florentine Lace Cookies

These paper-thin rounds crunch, then disintegrate upon first bite, a delicate nutty, sugary, almost toffee-like cookie that’s chewy from butter and oats. Stacked two at a time and then partially dipped in chocolate, they’re somewhat substantial but taste and feel deceptively lighter than most of the other cookies on display. Warning: You’ll eat an entire bag of these before you’ve realized what you’ve done.

“Oats in cookies are so good—my favorite cookie is probably a really thin oat, chocolate chip cookie,” shares Fox. “Imagine this as the thinnest, most buttery and crispy you can get the oats, and then it’s dipped in chocolate. Just fuckin’ eat that, dude.”

Carrot Cake
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

4. Carrot Cake

Picture a carrot cake, now picture a carrot cake in the ‘60s. Canter’s doesn’t serve up a cream cheese frosting, which has since become the norm, instead opting for a thick powdered-sugar–based frosting studded with walnuts. The result? A carrot cake that tastes the way Canter’s looks, like a zeitgeist trapped in amber.

“Every Jew loves carrot cake,” says Fox. “I don’t even know why, but it’s a big thing. Their carrot cake here is everything you want in a carrot cake: It’s fucking big, it’s layered, the creaminess is in there—but it can sometimes be a little on the dry side.”

(Hungarian) Cheesecake
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

5. (Hungarian) Cheesecake

Canter’s, à la any good New York-style Jewish deli, keeps its cheesecake plentiful, stocked in a few flavors, and always at the ready. Options range from traditional—whose dense, creamy filling gets brightened by a light, tart layer of sour cream topping—to Oreo. But Fox’s favorite? The Hungarian cheesecake, studded with golden raisins, topped by a doughy lattice crust.

“I hate raisins in dessert, except for carrot cake and this cheesecake,” he says. “This is my favorite cheesecake on deck; I will say that the plain is good, but this one is really unique. To me, cheesecake is a staple like the carrot cake, but this cheesecake tastes like nothing you’ve ever had—that’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it just tastes like Canter’s cheesecake.”

Seven-Layer Cake
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

6. Seven-Layer Cake

Imagine a classic yellow cake, but instead of one or two layers divided by chocolate buttercream, you’ve got seven, and it’s all hugged by a rich chocolate ganache. It’s like a birthday cake, but better, and you can usually find one in a Jewish deli—at least the ones who embrace Old World desserts. Like most, Canter’s slices theirs to order, either by preferred weight or width.

“Every Jewish deli needs to have a seven-layer,” says Fox. “You can do chocolate on chocolate, but the way you see it in Jewish delis is classic yellow cake with chocolate buttercream mousse in the middle. This is such an O.G. cake that every time my uncle would come to visit, he’d bring one of these from any Jewish deli.”

Black and White Cookies
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

7. Black and White Cookies

Easily the most recognizable Jewish cookie, the black and white is a deli icon. A dense—but not dry—baked base is crucial, as is a half-and-half fondant (or half vanilla/half chocolate icing) that isn’t overtly sweet. At Canter’s there’s a great fondant-to-cookie ratio, and an almost citrusy essence to the cake-cookie. 

“I think the black and white is more of a marketing cookie,” he says, adding, “It’s recognizable, more visible, and Seinfeld blew it up. Here they use the same yellow-cake mix for the cookie that they do in the seven-layer. It’s pretty fuckin’ good, I’m not gonna lie. My one wish for Canter’s bakery is that they made mini black and whites.”

 Pecan Clusters
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

8.  Pecan Clusters

It feels as though every culture can get behind a nut cluster, but they’re especially beloved during Passover (no flour). Canter’s also uses milk chocolate when coating the piles of soft, pliant pecans, but Fox always opts for the white chocolate.

“These are classics—also standard,” Fox says. “These taste like yogurt pretzels, but with nuts. Fire. That’s just a go. That’s a ‘Throw that in the bag for me, please.’”

Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

9. Palmiers

Did palmiers originate in France? Or Austria? The exact origins are hazy, but these flaky, buttery laminated cookies are loved the world over, especially at Canter’s, where they’re some of the most popular cookies in the case. Canter’s leans into more traditional Jewish flavor with a thick coating coating of honey, which lightly and oh-so-sweetly attaches to your fingers as you nosh.

“My grandmother used to get a version of these at Costco, and she’d bring them home and I would just destroy them,” Fox says. “I love them. They remind me of my grandma.”

Almond Horn
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

10. Almond Horn

Like an oversized marzipan log curved to resemble a horseshoe and dipped in chocolate, the almond horn is a centuries-old Eastern European treat and the mack daddy of almond baked goods. Its almond-flour–based structure lands it somewhere between a dense cake and a chewy cookie, and at Canter’s, it almost leans more savory than sweet, save a marvelously sticky brushing of honey that keeps the almond slivers secured in place.

“The texture is the main thing: You bite into this shit and it’s just, like, dense,” says Fox. “It’s not a crumbly cookie, it’s dense, like the rugelach. The pastriness of it and the almonds give it perfect texture. This is a very stereotypically Jewy thing to get at a bakery.”

Candy Bars
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

11. Candy Bars

One of Fox’s bakery favorites isn’t even baked. Sitting at the far end of the case, near the register right at the entrance to the dining room, you can find a small selection of candy bars and other knick knacks to grab before you leave. Never skip the candy—specifically the halvah, a sweet-savory sesame bar, and the chocolate-covered raspberry jelly.

“When it comes to halvah, I like the [chocolate-]marbled one the best,” Fox shares. “Halvah’s phenomenal, and these ones they sell here are like the O.G. halvah blend [Joyva]—they’re more like an Israeli candy bar. And back in the day, for Passover at Hebrew school, they would send kids home with a catalog of kosher things you could order for the holiday; my mom would get these chocolate-covered jelly rings, and these other bars are basically that. My mom would give me money to pick some up for the family, but I’d house a box on the way home. Yeah, there’s like, secret candy back here.”

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