Usually, there's one overarching purpose that drives most visits to a bakery: a straight dose of the sweet stuff. That was our mission when we first visited the recently turned 1-year-old Beverly Hills bakery Tarte Tatin. But when looking over their pastry shelf, it wasn't some powdered sugar dusted specimen that first captured our gaze. It was a black and white sesame seed speckled savory Israeli turnover, their borekas.
Tarte Tatin's sweets are quite exemplary. Gauzy Viennoiserie like plump pain au chocolat and twists scented with with vanilla and dredged in cinnamon. Then there are the galettes, flaky crusts suspending deep pools of seasonal fruit (plum on our most recent visit). Although some of our visits are still driven for the taste of something sweet, we never leave without grabbing at least one of their feta-filled borekas.
“Borekas are very Isreali,” explained Tarte Tatin's owner and pastry chef Kobi Tobiano, “People have them for breakfast, for lunch, with coffee.” While Tobiano rotates many of his sweet and other savory pastries like muffins and quiches, he makes borekas everyday for customers longing for a taste of home or those whom he recently converted.
Alongside Tarte Tatin's glossy tarts and sculpted cookies, borekas seem rather humble: feta wrapped in puff pastry and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Nevertheless, as Gil Marks mentions in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, since borekas are found everywhere, from street vendors to festive occasions, their ubiquity makes them not only a sign of hospitality but a measure of a cook's “culinary capability.”
So when ordering one of their borekas, Tobano will ask if you'd like it warmed up. Always say yes. For it's the best way to exhibit the specialness of each ingredient and the skill of hand that combines them. The puff pastry crisps, yet remains tender. The feta softens and isn't too salty, but still is salty enough to bring out the delicate buttery flavor of the pastry. And then there are those bewitching black and white sesame seeds.
Although white sesame seeds are commonly used on baked goods in Israel, black sesame seeds are not. Tobiano admitted that he initially he used the combination because liked the way it looked on the pastry. However, black sesame seeds have a more pronounced flavor than white. And it is their nuttiness that keeps the borekas from feeling overly rich, while still making them quite satisfying. At least satisfying enough until our next visit.