When Florence Fabricant, longtime food critic for the New York Times, mentioned a newly opened Brazilian bakery in NYC that creates guava and cheese babke swirls I was all lit up. I guessed that the roots of Padoca’s treats, including challah french toast and black and white brownies, extended beyond Sao Paolo.
Indeed, owner Marina Halpern, grew up in a tight knit and vibrant Jewish community in Sao Paolo. When she was 11, she converted to Judaism in order to study for her Bat Mitzvah with her classmates at Hebrew day school. After arriving in NYC, she trained at the French Culinary Institute (now ICC) and cooked at the Dutch and the Mark before heading to London for a stint at a cafe known equally for creative dishes and customer service.
Marina Halpern and chef/baker Rachel Binder (who baked at Maialino, Tabla and Savoy) are a dynamic duo, pooling their talents and cultures in this bright spot on the corner of 68th St. and First Ave.
Halpern and Binder’s partnership solidified about a year before Padoca opened, when they began working on a vision and recipes together. They dreamt about a friendly neighborhood bakery/cafe in the spirit of those found in Sao Paolo. And with whimsical touches like a swing instead of a stool in one corner, pendant lights suspended like illuminated teapots, and plenty of free reading for kids and adults, they’ve succeeded in carving out a new neighborhood hot spot.
They focused on traditional sweets from Halpern’s native Brazil and heavily influenced by Binder’s passion for Israeli ingredients and flavors combinations.
When I visited them for a tasting, the guava and cheese babke swirls were on the cooling rack wafting tropical scents across the glass fronted bakery case brimming with swirls of cinnamon and chocolate and gleaming dulce de leche . But the combination that had enticed me initially was with cream cheese, ricotta and guava.
This combo is so classic- so perfect- that it’s called Romeo and Juliet. And lucky for us, you can find Binder’s recipe for this gooey treat, below.
Other standouts were Empadinhas- a pot pie of sorts, traditionally made with chicken and hearts of palm, tastes like a cousin to Israeli borekas. Binder changed the traditional empadinhas dough from a flaky layered crust to more of a pot pie dough- lending heft to the casing for fillings like tomato and hearts of palm or mushroom with onion and dill.
Binder’s influence smacks of Eastern European flavor combinations she grew up with as she was surrounded by her Mom and two grandmothers. She cites all three as fabulous cooks who were always simmering soups and constantly baking treats of all kinds. But as an American girl living in Jerusalem for all of her youth, she was also deeply influenced by Middle Eastern flavors, too.
Don’t miss her salads in the take-out case in the front. She leans heavily towards vegetarian combinations expressed in dishes like Lentil and Bulgur Salad with goat cheese, red pepper, parsley and mint. Middle Eastern flavors appear too, with simply seasoned Chick Peas marinated in fragrant EVOO, lemon, red onion and garlic.
Sandwiches lean towards Jewish classics like Smoked Salmon, cream cheese, pickled onions and capers on Pumpernickel or easy vegan combos like Roasted Red Peppers, tomatoes and sprouts on yeasty, whole grain Pullman.
Halpern also credits her Mom with inspiring many of the recipes at Padoca, including the Challah French Toast. They soak the bakery’s whole wheat challah in coconut, condensed and whole milks and then bake it to sweet perfection each morning.
It’s worth eating full fat everything sometimes.
Binder bakes whole wheat challah every Friday. It’s smaller than expected, as per requests from young patrons in the neighborhood. The challah is slightly sweet and nutty and flecked with white and black sesame seeds. It’s pareve (non-dairy) and available on Fridays/Saturdays. Consider ordering larger sizes and rounds for upcoming holidays.
Breakfast treats abound, too, with shiny, glazed pastries like Red Pepper Brioche and Egg Brioche with Cheese.
Salty/ sweet combinations are perfect on summer mornings.
Halpern credits her Mom as inspiration for Padoca’s signature Bolo de Coco, or Coconut Cake.
Citrusy lemon tang infuses the cake with moisture while the original recipe has been tweaked by Binder to include cassava flour for better texture.
Brazilian classics are here for those who know the culture. Pao de queijo (called PDQ) are light cheese breads and are always available.
Wash it all down with Nobletree Coffee, grown in Brazil and roasted in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Palais de Thes provides the teas and freshly pressed juices are available for those yearning for drinkable fruits and veggies.
Monkey Swirls are irresistible with layers of moist dough wrapped around nutty, cinnamon flecked swirls. You’ll find chocolate and dulce de leche, too.
Clever riffs on NY classic black and whites appear in treats like these Black and White Brownies. I’ve been dreaming of serving them alongside juicy summer raspberries.
Enjoy Chef Rachel Binder’s recipe for Guava and Cheese Swirls, below. She’s made it easy to whip this up at home.
359 E. 68th St. , corner of First Ave., NYC
M-F 7 AM-7 PM
Sat./Sun. 8 AM-6 PM
Note: Padoca Bakery has many vegetarian options for readers who are Kosher Like Me. It is NOT a kosher bakery.
This rich cream cheese, ricotta and guava babke recipe is courtesy of Chef Rachel Binder, Padoca Bakery, NYC. It is called Romeo and Juliet because the flavors are perfect together!
Note that the dough needs to be refrigerated overnight before completing this recipe.
This babke is dairy.
- 4 1/4 cups All Purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- Grated zest of 1 small lemon
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup water and up to 1 to 2 tablespoons extra, if needed
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 8 oz. guava paste
- 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese
- 1 10.5 oz. package goat cheese
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook until it comes together, this may take a few minutes. If it doesn’t come together add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a ball.
- With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a little at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, add 1 tablespoon extra flour until it does.
- Divide dough into 2 discs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Roll dough into a 15x11 rectangle. Spread with guava jam. Then spread with cheese filling (see instructions below).
- Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight log. Transfer the log to a lightly floured baking tray and freeze for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice the log into 1” pieces and place in cavities of muffin tin. Repeat with second dough.
- Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rise 1 - 1 1/2 hours at room temperature.
- Heat oven to 375°F.
- Remove towels. Brush each “swirl” with egg wash (1 egg and 1 egg yolk).
- Bake for approximately 30 minutes.
- Beat cream cheese with lemon zest very well until smooth.
- Add goat cheese, sugar and vanilla extract and beat well.
- Add egg and beat to combine.