The Lowdown on Sweets: Israel's Five Best Desserts

From innovative concepts to modern takes on the classics, Israel boasts a treasure trove of delectable desserts, in Tel Aviv and beyond.

Not every loves sweets. We don't know how this happens, possible but we’ve heard rumors that some people don’t even like desserts. Give them a nice steak and they're happy. Weirdos. But then there are people, like us, for example, who'd just as soon begin their repast with something sweet instead of saving it for last.

The people who first transformed sweets into an elaborate post-meal ceremony were the French. Like many other dishes, the word "dessert" itself is a French contribution that derives from the French infinitive desservir, meaning “to clear the table.”

The first desserts eaten in human history, provided by Mother Nature herself, were honeycombs, fruits and other sweets taken directly from nature’s bounty. During medieval times, with the invention of refined sugar, the first cakes and ice creams were born.

At first, such treats were solely the province of the rich, but as the raw ingredients became cheaper, desserts became more widely accepted fare among the common folk. Since then, desserts have become so much lovelier and more elaborate that many times, they are as much a visual culinary fashion statement as anything else.

As we will soon see, desserts are the place where pastry chefs can run wild and express themselves with an abundance of creativity as they concoct creations well beyond the simple cake or chocolate mousse.

The creative: Catit

When you walk into Catit, you leave behind the loud and sweaty world outside and give yourself over to a white, quiet space defined by an out-of-this-world culinary experience – as long as you go in with an open mind. Chef Meir Adoni isn’t afraid to take the classic kitchen and fuse it with molecular modernity, inspired by Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen and the most advanced kitchens around the world. This is a complex tasting experience with surprising twists and turns.

Winning dessert: Earth

After Adoni returned from a tour around Scandinavia and continuing education at Noma, he wanted to bring home the tastes of northern winters and snow-covered forests. It started with free association and ended with earth. The mushroom stems are made of white chocolate ganache; their truffles and caps made of dark chocolate and porcini powder. The rocks are made of dark chocolate cream and smoked cardamom wrapped in white chocolate painted black with zinc. The snow is frozen white chocolate mousse and the ground is a classic crumble with Tonka beans. In between the dirt, the mushrooms and the pebbles are woven celery roots with vanilla beans, cubes of caramelized apple and crème anglaise resin. There are also little blades of grass and mounds made from porcini mushroom cream. Didn’t we tell you it was a sight to behold?

Cost: NIS 65

Also on the dessert menu: Lemon grass semifreddo (NIS 60), which is more mainstream in the positive sense of the word. Delicately made, it includes a tapestry of tastes – semifreddo wrapped in a thin sheet of coconut jelly topped with piña colada sorbet, pineapple salad, coriander paste for a bit of surprise and streusel coffee cake for contrast.

Catit, 4 Heychal Hatalmud St., Tel Aviv

The spectacular: Mul Yam

Not many restaurants survived the wave of expensive celebrity chef establishments that hit Israel in the mid-1990s. But Mul Yam was never one to toe the standard line. When the people wanted folk food, Mul Yam went for high-end cuisine.

The raw ingredients at the restaurant are among the best in the world. Some might argue with that characterization but its not worth arguing over. This restaurant is perhaps the one that will bring Israel closest to earning those coveted Michelin stars. Luckily, it is possible to get a seat at Mul Yam, even if just for dessert.

Winning Dessert: Faberge Egg

The dessert that won instant success from its appearance on the Israeli TV show Master Chef is, like its namesake, a delicately decorated creation. It is easy to forget that this sophisticated dessert, which requires hours of preparation and strict attention to the tiniest details, is the last course of a meal and not a lab experiment.

The large and beautiful Fabergé egg is made from a unique solution that includes a large amount of sugar. It is heated at a high temperature until its texture becomes dough-like and flexible then the inside of the dough is inflated with a special tube. With a second tube, the chef makes a large opening in the bottom of the egg so that it can be filled with various goodies: pistachio mousse, yogurt sorbet, mulberries and raspberries, and a variety of forest berries placed on a sphere of white chocolate. To top it off, the egg is wrapped in a thin, edible sheet of 24-karat gold. The result: A dessert that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Cost: NIS 70

Other desserts on the menu: Crêpe suzette (NIS 55) that is unlike any other we have ever seen. The small and rich crêpes are doused in Gran Marnier, and if we are already on the subject of decorations, go for some pralines (NIS 45).

Mul Yam, 3 Hata’arucha St., Hangar 24, Tel Aviv Port

The surprise: Café 48

In the year-plus that Café 48 has been in operation, it has already managed to make us forget the famous Betty Ford restaurant that it replaced at the same location. This restaurant (it’s not just a café) quietly hums along, subsisting largely on word-of-mouth recommendations of its tasty food and the skills of its excellent kitchen staff. The menu prides itself on a carefully culled selection of dishes - a little bit from Europe, a little bit from Asia and a whole lot from Tel Aviv.

Winning dessert: Crack Pie

The truth is that the first time we heard about this dessert, we didn't understand what the whole fuss was about.  Pie made from oats? We mocked it, but in the end became totally addicted. The recipe is fairly simple – pie crust with eggs, butter and sugar mixed with oatmeal for a special twist.  The spirit of famed chef Julia Child hovers over the dish (the recipe she created in 1963). Years later, the piece underwent a makeover at the hands of the pastry chef at the Momofuku restaurant in New York and received its current moniker, Crack Pie, because of the clients’ enthusiastic response.  The dessert plays on the taste buds with a delicate saltiness mixed with the sweet taste of brown sugar.  Next to the pie, Café 48 chef Jonathan Borowitz adds a helping of whipped cream to balance out the flavors and enhance the dish’s addictive quality. Taste and be forewarned.  

Price: NIS 30

Also on the menu: If you show up on a good day, Café 48 has a banana cake for those in the know (NIS 30) which shows signs of being a fitting adversary to the Crack Pie.  But that doesn't mean it's worth skipping over the panna cotta with cornflakes (NIS 28). It only sounds simple.

Café 48 – 48 Nahalat Binyamin St., Tel Aviv

A modern classic: Table by Omer Miller

Even before chef Omer Miller opened his second restaurant, the bar of expectations was set so high that things could have easily ended in disappointment. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. From the moment Shulchan (Table) opened, it has been one of the biggest culinary hits of the past few months, featuring a very creative and contemporary menu.

Winning dessert: Sheep's dessert

Although it does not seem all that promising when read off the menu, one small bite is enough to confirm that it is Shulchan’s most unique creation. Sheep dances on the border between sweet and savory. Miller created it after tasting a dessert involving feta cheese, kadaif and a great deal of honey in Barcelona. Upon returning to Israel, he adapted the idea for the Israeli palate, creating a dish that was more delicate and communicative. There is no middle ground with this dish – you either like it or you don’t. In its local version, the feta cheese is whipped together with sweet cream, which balances the saltiness. Instead of kadaif, Miller uses phyllo dough and adds pistachio nuts. He adds a refreshing combination of thyme and lemon to the honey, giving it a light, summery feel. This is one dessert that is sure to get a lot of buzz.

Cost: NIS 34

Also on the dessert menu: chocolate pie. This dessert gives nods at to both the mythic Choco Pie as well as to health-food fans. This wonderful creation of phyllo dough filled with peanut butter and chocolate sits in a soup of chocolate with grated coconut. Pure pleasure.

Shulchan: 73 Rothschild Blvd., Tel Aviv

Utterly sinful: Eyal Shani's Abraxas Tzafon

Unlike its image, the kitchen at Abraxas Tzafon is actually free of snobbery and respects its diners. The food is served simply, some portions in cardboard containers, but with a degree of refinement suitable for people for whom good food is a way of life.

Winning dessert: Lost Bread

Much has already been written about Chef Eyal Shani’s affection for bread, but his play on French toast takes it to extremes. On a base of gold-colored cardboard rests a lovely thick slice of challah baked on the premises. It is dipped in a mixture of eggs and cream and transferred to a frying pan that contains a great deal of sugar and butter. Its long stay in the frying pan gives it a caramelized coating, and it comes out half crunchy, half chewy with a sweetness that is hard to refuse. As if that weren't enough, a trail of sweet peach marmalade and a trail of not-so-sweet cream wind their way from the challah slice. The result: a dessert that breaks routine, sinfully sweet and so delicious that you can hardly believe it is based on bread.

Cost: NIS 32

Also on the dessert menu: The dessert menu at Abraxas Tzafon is always intriguing no matter when you visit. Although it tends to vary, one particular dessert frequently appears there in a starring role: bananas coated in sugar, wrapped in dulce de leche prepared on the premises and doused in cookie crumble. Must be tasted to be believed.

Abraxas North: 40 Lilienblum St., Tel Aviv

Another five desserts that are not to be missed

Fleamarket – Only two weeks since it opened, and already it has two desserts that show a great deal of promise, thanks to chef and baker Adrian Shingorten. We had trouble deciding between the supposedly simple éclair and a chocolate and white chocolate mousse (NIS 32). But the winner here is Pandora’s Box, a three-level tower made of caramel. The lowest level contains chocolate flan, the middle level contains pale chocolate ice cream and the third contains hot hazelnut mousse with a delicate toffee sauce. The dish is served on a base of bittersweet chocolate crumble. The end result is an interesting play of textures, colors and temperatures and an abundant variety of chocolate flavors presented with extraordinary beauty.

Fleamarket, 8 Rabbi Yohanan St., Jaffa

Messa, the restaurant of Chef Aviv Moshe, has one of the largest and most impressive dessert menus that we saw, with ten incredibly scrumptious offerings. No matter what meal you order at Messa, don’t leave without trying the strawberry dessert. Imagine layers of berry compote, pastry cream enriched with vanilla, sheets of white chocolate, crumbled chocolate cake, caramelized almonds and meringue topped with strawberry ice cream and three macaroons, all served in a lovely bowl. As rich as it sounds, it is worth every bit of the NIS 62 price tag.

Messa, 19 Ha’arba’ah St., Tel Aviv

Hotel Montefiore – No place in Tel Aviv is more suitable for French desserts, and the Saint Honoré cake in particular, than the Hotel Montefiore. In this particular version, the cakes are small cream puffs filled with pastry cream, covered in a lovely layer of caramel and served with an additional a cup of vanilla cream. Cost: NIS 36.

Hotel Montefiore, 36 Montefiore St., Tel Aviv

Adora – One of the best-known desserts in Tel Aviv is the Zacher of cardamom and espresso (NIS 37). This dessert actually wanted to be an ice-cream sandwich, but a tiny mistake transformed it into what it is today: a thin, rich chocolate pastry covered with a white chocolate ganache and topped with a cardamom- and espresso-flavored crème Anglaise. It wins hearts with its delicate flavors of coffee and white chocolate and its deliberate lack of precision.

Adora, 226 Ben Yehuda St., Tel Aviv

Bagnolet Kitchen & Bar – A return visit proved that things have become much more relaxed here. The prices have gotten saner, the portions are more balanced and all this is summed up in the dessert – petits fours made of almond paste wrapped in nougat with a drop of bittersweet chocolate. On top of that: pastry cream dotted with vanilla and Amarena cherries and thin, slightly sour sheets of pineapple o cut the sweetness. This dessert is very sweet, small and has a whiff of exclusivity. NIS 42.

Bagnolet Kitchen & Bar, 14 Hasharon St., Tel Aviv

The best desserts outside Tel Aviv

Gouje & Danielle – The old-timers of Moshav Bnei Zion can't believe their luck. One of the Sharon region’s loveliest restaurants is located at the foot of their water tower, in the center of the moshav. This loveliness trickles into the food and particularly into the dessert named Gili’s Pavlova (NIS 44). This enormous pavlova, which is filled with all sorts of goodies, was first created as a family dessert for special occasions in the home of Natalie Yehudai, the owner of the restaurant. The key ingredient is the passion-fruit sauce that makes this dish much more than just another pavlova.

Gouje & Danielle, Anshei Bereshit St., Moshav Bnei Zion

HaMotzi – On the TV show Master Chef, Avi Levy promised to keep faith with the dishes he grew up on. That is true of his burgers and also of his yo-yos, a traditional Algerian treat that proves even a small and simple dessert can be excellent when prepared with precision. The yo-yos (NIS 25) are biscuits fried with crunchy dough and filled with almond cream, covered in a thin coating of honey and coconut. Simply scrumptious.

HaMotzi, 4 Mashiach Borochoff St., Jerusalem

Maraboo – Chef Yoav Bar’s restaurant succeeds, in its quiet way, with pleasant, creative items. So it's no surprise that his cheesecake, made of goat cheese, won the local version of Iron Chef. The dominant cheese flavor becomes surprisingly delicate, and the lemon sorbet only adds to the effect. A lovely dessert.

Maraboo, 14 Abba Hillel St., Ramat Gan

Helena – Along with a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean Sea and the ancient Caesarea port, Chef Amos Sion’s restaurant has a most impressive dessert menu with several options we want to keep eating forever. The most prominent among them is the crumble, served during the summer with apricots and Amaretto or figs and brandy, and in winter with strawberries and a perfect mandarin sorbet. Do yourselves a favor and indulge in one of these.

Helena, Caesarea Port

Muscat – It is true that the Mizpe Hayamim Hotel has acquired a reputation as an exclusive hotel, and it is true that it is much more beautiful there during the winter. But you can find great deals there in the summer, particularly during lunch hour. One of the best desserts here is the cannoli croquant – a cannoli stuffed with organic sheep cream cheese and basil coulis. The entire dish is one brilliant invention and a wonderful Galilee experience.

Muscat, the Mizpe Hayamim Hotel, Rosh Pina

The dishes featured in here were chosen solely by the members of the editorial board and are not subject to any commercial influences.