Photo by Tenaya Hills”Are you sure that's all you want?” the hijab-bedecked teenager asks in a soft voice simultaneously hopeful and disappointed. Her eyes glimmer; mine shoot toward the floor.
I went to Ara's Pastry adamant about requesting just one square of their famed baklava, but her question left me confused. The tiny Anaheim bakery wasn't lacking for business—waiting patiently were five other customers, including two Ethiopians who busied themselves by sifting through some phone cards. Piled up behind the girl was assorted pastries housed in plastic containers adorned with bows and awaiting pick-up. The phone trilled every half-minute.
“Are you sure that's all you want?” She asks this knowing me better than me, knowing that one baklava square wouldn't suffice, that I would need two, three—a pound?
This domino effect possesses anyone who enters Ara's. Quadruple-layer columns of trays extend across the bakery, heavy with cookies, Bavarian cake slices, cream tarts and other European confections. And, of course, there's baklava, the Middle Eastern dessert standard baked here in eight distinct styles: shaped into diamonds, hexagons, flaky cylinders . . . nearly every shape in the Game of Perfection.
Although all of Ara's baklavas are bite-sized, their taste will subsume all other senses. The interplay between the tart pistachio filling, fine wisps of phyllo dough and a judicious sprinkling of rosewater translates into three presentations of sweet twirling into one within your mouth. One type of baklava, appropriately called “the queen,” features layers of flaky dough pricked up around rosewater-bathed pistachios and looks like a crown. Another variant, bourma, is a pistachio log surrounded by shredded dough that resemble a cross-section of a furry caterpillar.
Ara's also prepares such breaded delights as the cornbread-looking namourah and basma, a dense, gritty bread stuffed with pistachios that's the sweetest loaf of your life. But the ultimate attraction at Ara's is the maamoul, a sugar cookie stuffed with date spread, chopped walnuts or garnished pistachios. Unlike baklava, the differences in shape between the three maamouls are crucial. The date maamoul is thinner and made with blander dough, the better to allow the fruit's humble sweetness to infiltrate your conscious. The pistachio maamouls are more of a half-ball, with rosewater seeping throughout the sugary cookie dough. And the walnut kind is squat for milk-dunking.
“Are you sure that's all you want?” I thought I was sure. . .but I couldn't resist. Two pounds of baklava later, I was about to leave until my eyes glimpsed a freezer. “Could you throw in a mango sorbet?” I asked. “And add in three maamouls.”
Ara's Pastry, 2227 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 776-5554.