Mansoura

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

One of the appeals of Brooklyn is the rich ethnic mix of cultures, cuisines, and traditions, that is somewhat of a microcosm of America. Many of our grandparents, including mine, arrived on Ellis Island and assimilated to life in America in New York City. And it still remains a lively, if sometimes uncomfortable, mix of upscale, downscale, rich, poor, happy, angry, frustrated, and content. But everybody’s gotta eat.

During the last few years, it’s no secret that the borough of Brooklyn has exploded and become something so internationally recognizable that La Grande Épicerie in Paris redecorated their iconic Parisian food store in the style of Brook-leen, as they say. But it’s not just a bunch of people walking around in knit caps and plaid shirts, or spinning wool in a waiting room. There’s all sorts of foods – from artisan to Armenian, Sicilian to Soviet, and American to Yemeni –  all just a subway ride away.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

If you go deeper into the enormous borough – its size alone, if it was its own city, would be the third largest in America – you’ll find streets and neighborhoods the reflect the diverse multiculturalism of the borough, with neighborhoods of food shops, restaurants, bakeries, and pizzerias, representing the rich blend of immigrants who’ve settled here over the years.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

One culture that interests me is Syria since some of my family was from there, who came to America during the wave of immigration which turned part of New York into Little Syria. We hear a lot about Syria in the news these days, often (unfortunately) due to the turmoil in the country. And for many of us, the things we see on television are the impressions we have of these countries. I had not been to Syria, which was a shame, but friends who have been said it was incredible.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

Mansoura was established in Brooklyn in 1961 and food writer Gabriella Gershenson suggested that I go to the Syrian bakery on my last visit to New York, since she knew I loved Middle Eastern food. I wasn’t able to make it then, but it was right at the top of my list for this visit. So I was happy when she offered to meet me there. Gabriella was an editor at Saveur, and is now at Rachael Ray magazine (how do I get on her show?), and we met up in the Gravesend neighborhood in Brooklyn. And let me tell you, this place was worth the trip – and the wait.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

You can read the complete story and history of Mansoura on their website, because I’m realizing what a challenge it is to take it all in: Snapping pictures, keeping notes, translating, meeting the people, and more importantly, eating pastries (and getting the facts straight while trying to decipher my notes when they’re covered with honey and powdered sugar…), all at the same time. We spent nearly three hours in the bakery and a week later, I wanted to go back.

The Mansoura family started making pastries hundreds of years ago in Syria, then moved to Egypt in the early 1900’s, then to Paris for a couple of years while they waited for their U.S. visas. The finally settled in the States, and opened their shop in Brooklyn in 1961.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

Today, Jack Mansoura, who’s 27 years old, is the baker in the family, along with his brother David. Unlike other Middle Eastern bakeries, that swap out glucose for honey and use nuts that are past their prime, the first bite of pastry I had at Mansoura made me realize what a special place it is.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

The first thing we tried was a disk of chewy Apricot Roll: Hand-rolled Turkish apricot paste cooked down to a paste then formed into cylinders with crisp pistachios. By taste, I assumed they were tangy California apricots but these were so flavorful, I may be a convert to the Turkish varieties.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

Rolled up Kataifi is made with strings of dough extruded from a machine. (Video) The thread-like pastry, made in their kitchen, is wrapped around a tight center of pistachios, baked in a spiral, then moistened with a light orange blossom syrup before being sliced.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

But I think my favorite was Basbousa, an exceptionally moist semolina cake with a hint of coconut, topped with sliced almonds, and also moistened with a not-too-sweet syrup. I thought it was just perfect. Until…

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

That is, until Jack and David’s mother, Josiane, took out a jar and spooned what she called “butterfat” over it. None of us were quite sure what the rich cream was called in English, but it really took the cake way, way up – and then over – the top.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

Ma’amoul was packed with more pistachios of those delicious pistachios and had a suggestion of orange flower water in each flaky bite. The little fluted cakes are made in molds, which gives the pastry its distinctive shape. They only had one ma’amoul left in the shop, and offered it up to us.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

I’m a big fan of gummy candy, anything from Orange slices and Swedish fish, to marshmallows and Turkish delight. I’ve had some gunky Turkish delight or cubes over-infused with rose water in my life, however I usually eat them all, no matter what. The neat rectangles at Mansoura may not be as flashy (or, um, as colorful) as others out there, but the tender rectangles were worlds away (or boroughs away) from the others.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

I didn’t count, but they say the baklava at Mansoura has seventy layers. From what I saw for sure in the afternoon I spent at the shop was that it’s their most popular pastry, as people stopped in for a box, and often decided to leave with a box of their house-dipped chocolates as well. I came home with a bag of buttercrunch and chocolate-covered marshmallows, as well as a block of soft, house-made cheese with caraway seeds. That’s likely going to be spread on bread or used to maybe top Ma’anoushe flatbreads. If you go, it’s worth taking a look in their refrigerator as they sometimes make things like Kibbeh and other Middle Eastern goodies, that come and go in their repertoire.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

Always in stock are Kaak, ringed crisp biscuits similar to the circles of Taralli that I had in Sicily. (Much of the food in the Middle East has traveled not only between various countries in the region, each giving it their own flourish and name – and sometimes disagreeing about it, but also to Italy and other Mediterranean countries.) They’re flavored with a hint of anise and go great with cocktails or as a snack. My mother once tried to make them, but they didn’t come out like these.

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

By the time Gabriella and I were ready to go, we realized that we’d spent three hours in the shop, talking to Jack, his mother, and David. Gabriella had several boxes of pastries in tow, and I had quite a few goodies in my bag as well that I’d bought to last me through the week. But a few days later, I realized that I didn’t buy enough!

Mansoura Middle Eastern Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

Mansoura
515 King’s Highway
Brooklyn, NY
Tel: (718) 645-7977

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 9am to 5pm, Friday 9am to 4pm. Closed Saturdays.
(Closed Sundays during July and August.)

 

Related Links

A Visit to Mansoura (Eater)

Al Bohsali: Middle Eastern Pastries in Lebanon

Ma’amoul Recipe (Tasty Kitchen)

Walnut Ma’amoul Recipe (Maureen Abood)

Kanafeh Recipe (Closet Cooking)

Kaak Recipe (Taste of Beirut)

Basbousa Recipe (SBS)

Orange Syrup Cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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44 comments

  • IM FIRST
    March 31, 2016 6:23pm

    FIRST

    • April 2, 2016 10:17am

      hi david I am syrian safardic &grew up near kings hiway in the syrian community. I also grew up on Mansoura pastries & kaak. did you try any of the other syrian gourmet shops on kings hiway?

    • Robert Boyle
      April 3, 2016 1:07pm

      Dear David,
      Your article on The Mansoura Family,
      was very interesting as we live in Crete Greece and all the dessert sweets are very similar if not the same but with different names. A visit to our Zakroplasteio is a delight., full of sweet sticky nut flavoured pastries.

    • djdoucement
      April 8, 2016 3:27pm

      Hi David,
      Loved this post! Have you ever had karabij with natef (sp?). Karabij are thin cookies, rolled up like cigarettes russes, and dipped in natef, a thick cream that has the consistency of fluffernutter or meringue, but is made of soapwort root. Hard to find, but utterly delicious. A friend brought me soapwort from Beirut, but I’ve been too intimidated by the recipe. Let me know if you want to give it a try and I’ll share mine. Here’s a recipe:http://la-plus-petite-cuisine-du-monde.com/2014/07/22/karabij-halab-biscuits-aux-pistaches-et-a-la-creme-de-natef/

  • Leonard Augie
    March 31, 2016 6:39pm

    David, thanks for another outstanding post!

  • Alison H
    March 31, 2016 6:42pm

    First time commenting here (longtime lurker lol) This is the absolute best place in Brooklyn to get Syrian delicacies I’m so happy you found it and enjoyed it! Just a small taste of our great Syrian Jewish community in gravesend and midwood!

  • Lexi
    March 31, 2016 6:48pm

    This food is so dreamy… thanks for posting.

    Cannot believe you haven’t been on the RR show. (If the wife of the point guard for Golden State Warriors can be on the show multiple times, YOU SHOULD BE!!)

    • March 31, 2016 7:20pm
      David Lebovitz

      At some point, perhaps : )

  • March 31, 2016 6:49pm

    Ohhh those pictures, doesn’t all that look good.. I’m hungry now!

  • Kathleen Mann
    March 31, 2016 6:50pm

    You have surpassed yourself with the photographs and text. Gotta go now …
    and I will. Saludos!

  • Rita Brookoff
    March 31, 2016 7:03pm

    David, I have known about this place for years. I live in Bklyn and the deeper you go into the borough the more you will discover. It will be authentic and not the hipster bullshit Brooklyn that everyone raves about.
    I am going to call about their Passover chocolate cake…which you must preorder. It is the most amazing cake ever! I wish they made it all year round. I used to go to shicks bakery which was amazing before it got sold and now I only buy this cake at mansour. Even the non Jews qvell!
    Next time your in town I could show you some more hidden treasures. Thanks for the best food site. You rock

  • carolyn
    March 31, 2016 7:10pm

    DEFINITELY going to order some basbousa from their web site — love semolina cakes!

    Do you think it would freeze well? I probably don’t need to eat all 15 pieces the order comes with all at once, although I’m certainly capable of it…

  • March 31, 2016 7:12pm

    Thanks David for adding another place to try on my next trip!

  • March 31, 2016 7:19pm
    David Lebovitz

    Kathleen: But it’s so far from Mexico! : )

    carolyn: I think you could ask them about freezing if you call or contact them via their website, because I’m not sure.

    Rita: Thanks for the head’s up on that cake. They told me they made a vegan kibbeh that was outstanding. (They’re not vegan, but it was kosher and vegan.) Glad you like the blog…and the bakery, too!

  • Susan Allen
    March 31, 2016 7:21pm

    One thing they don’t seem to make are barazeek. These are thin wafer cookies that are traditional to Aleppo made with sesame and pistachios and packaged in round plastic boxes. Not sticky and addictive once you start. I could get them in Providence for a while but not now. May end up making them. (Mansoura is also a large city in Egypt)

  • March 31, 2016 7:27pm

    Wow! Thank you, David, for another outstanding post. Love the photos, the food, your commentary and especially the kunafa video.

  • March 31, 2016 8:02pm

    Fascinating post, David. I had lots of relatives in NY and they hung around with Syrians because they were all Middle Eastern. A cousin who lived in SF used to travel to NY and Brooklyn on hunts for the best kaak. She went to Syrian women’s houses and they would ship the kaak to her, to keep in the freezer! I grew up eating kaak and know how to make them. The Iraqi-Jewish ones have an interesting ingredient: mahleb.

  • suédoise
    March 31, 2016 8:36pm

    Might I mention the recipes from “Honey and Co or Food From the Middle East” by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich both from Israel offering – and how! – the fragrant recipes that built their restaurant in London. Published in 2014 and crowned by the British Sunday Times as the food book of the year. Fortnum and Mason made it winner of food and drink award in 2015. Available at amazon.

  • Taste of France
    March 31, 2016 8:40pm

    What beautiful photos. Works of art, as are the pastries. One of the things that I miss in France profond is the variety of ethnic cuisines. However, we do have a supermarket called Terres du Soleil which has a fabulous bakery with similar wonders. Thank goodness!

  • March 31, 2016 8:47pm

    Excellent post. All my grandparents immigrated from Sicily and Southern Italy – my parents grew up in the Bronx, and my sister and I were born there. Your post inspires me to go back. So authentic.

  • Steffi
    March 31, 2016 8:59pm

    Food does more for worldwide immigration policy than anything else – part of the unbelievable economic engine that immigrants create in their new habitat. This post makes the rest of us without Syrian bakeries feel bereft. Thank you for all the threads that your blog brings to the planet. Well done!

  • Joan
    March 31, 2016 9:21pm

    Great looking stuff. But how come you don’t mention that this family is Jewish, appears to bake kosher, that there is a large Jewish-Syrian community nearby in Brooklyn, and that the Jews were virtually expelled from Syria and Egypt due to discrimination. See Jimena and this interesting article: http://www.mansoura.com/press5.html in The Jewish Week.

    • March 31, 2016 9:25pm
      David Lebovitz

      My time (and space) are limited so I posted about the pastries from the bakery. I did link multiple times to the bakery’s website where people can read more information about the family, as mentioned in the post.

  • Sarahb1313
    March 31, 2016 9:41pm

    Last month we visited Montreal and Amal Bohsali bakery out of Beirut. We drive an extra half hour to get there. The woman thought we were pigs because we had to sample all the treats before she packed them up!!

    Growing up in NYC I still recall my trips to Atlantic Ave , all the shops, the dried fruit/nut rolls…
    Brooklyn is alot closer than Canada to NJ… Road trip!!!

    I make baklava with pistachios and rose water. One of my favorite things ever. It’s so difficult to find it out where it’s not soggy, they actually use rose or orange blossom water to scent the pastry!!

  • Caroline
    March 31, 2016 10:43pm

    Beautiful photos and bakery items. Thanks for posting. Will definitely visit when in NYC later this year. Would you or any of the readers know if there’s a similar premium quality Middle Eastern bakery in London (as that’s where I am!)?

  • Steve jenkins
    March 31, 2016 11:02pm

    Love Gabriella Gershenson’s reportage. Woman knows her stuff. Like YOU.

    • Gabriella
      April 1, 2016 6:20am

      Is this *the* Steve Jenkins? Hi Steve!

  • NS
    April 1, 2016 7:51am

    David, I’m sure you are talking about this cream “butterfat” that we call it (Natif). We grew up eating it with plain cookies rolled at the bottom of a fancy crystal plate to shape the design on the cookie then we dip with what we call natif looks like melted marshmallow. I found this clip for a famous Lebanese chef whom I’m sure you know to give an idea.

    Hope this helps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8iYQWppLUA

    • April 1, 2016 1:17pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks. Yes, Anissa (who is in that video) is a friend and she said it probably is natef, which she featured on her blog with a recipe. (Although you need to find soapwort to make it!) However it’s non-dairy so not sure if it is natef, because she called it “butterfat.” But maybe it just doesn’t quite translate any other way.

      Next time I go, I’m going to ask more about it. She speaks French and perhaps if she lets me know the name in French, it may translate otherwise.

      • D
        April 2, 2016 8:48pm

        Hey David, 1st time here and you have a wonderful blog. I almost certain that the Butter fat used was “kaymak”, which is also very common in Iraq [https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Kaymak]. Originally made from water buffalo milk, it can also be made from cow’s milk (that’s what I use) by bringing to a boil milk (use unpasteurized grass fed if you can) and adding high quality butter or heavy cream. The ratio is one cup of milk to 100 grams of butter. I trust you’ll figure it out. One way to enjoy it is to top it with 100% date syrup. D, TLV

        • April 2, 2016 8:54pm
          David Lebovitz

          Thanks. I sent Jack a message and he wrote back: “The butterfat my mother showed would be similar to Ishta. I think it’s most similar to clotted cream.” It’s probably similar, or the same, as kaymak perhaps?

          • NS
            April 3, 2016 4:52am

            Thank you again David for bringing back memories of childhood. This being said Ishta makes better sense to top it over the semolina cake. In case your readers try to find Ishta it goes this way to google images: “qishta cream” or قشطة

          • D
            April 3, 2016 8:24am

            Ishta has rose water, lemon juice which makes it curdle (like when making Panir) and sugar added, while Kashta (Lebanese term) is more like Kaymak and from the looks of it very similar. Kaymak is an Iraqi and Turkish term. I just remembered that it’s even tastier when topped with honey…. All this talk made me yearn for it :-)

  • Liz
    April 1, 2016 2:48pm

    Kaak was a favorite after school snack while growing up in Mexico City. My mom bought them from an Arab bakery in our neighborhood that sold them by the kilo. You just transported me back to the Seventies.

  • Patricia
    April 1, 2016 5:51pm

    Hi, David. I have a quick question about one of your recipes from an archived post. I want to make coffee-braised lamb shanks. Where can I find ancho chili powder in Paris, please? Thanks very much!

    • April 1, 2016 7:15pm
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve not seen ancho chili powder in Paris (I bring mine from the U.S) But you could use Spanish smoked paprika, available are many épiceries and G. Detou. (French pimente d’Espelette is nice too but isn’t smoky, but dried.)

  • April 1, 2016 7:56pm

    Ooh how delicious:)

  • April 1, 2016 8:12pm

    Thanks to Anissa, I was finally able to make natef, and it was so much fun. I couldn’t imagine when I started out that the beige liquid (“tea” from soapwort roots) would whip into marshmallow fluff. I flavored it with rosewater, but I was thinking that a combination of vanilla and orange blossom water might be delicious.

    Thank you for these great photos and an interesting story.

  • April 2, 2016 2:59pm

    I love pistachios or “pistaches in french” ;)

  • i
    April 2, 2016 5:36pm

    I’m Syrian. That is the best picture of baklava I have ever seen. Mmmmmmm……

  • Richard Allan
    April 2, 2016 6:35pm

    David—read about this wonderful place yesterday, hopped in the car and drove from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Spent an hour talking to David and the wonder lady who owns the shop. Went home with a bag full of their glorious pastries and had then for breakfast this morning. We will be in Paris for a week in May and can’t seem to find your favorite place for bread. Can you help? Thanks

    • April 2, 2016 7:32pm
      David Lebovitz

      Glad you liked it. They’re really nice people and happy you visited. I don’t list absolute favorite places in Paris usually because everyone likes different things, places change hands (and bakers), and most people in Paris go to places in their neighborhood for bread. I listed my top 25 Favorite Bakeries in Paris on my Paris Pastry guide app (in the free LITE version, too) – but some favorite bread places include Poilâne, 134 RDT, Chambelland (for the grainy gluten-free bread), Du Pain et des Idées (I like the spelt bread, which they only make one day of the week, and I always forget which day it is), and the baguettes (not the ordinaire, but the others) at Maison Landemaine. The pain aux céréales at Kayser is also a favorite.

      • Richard Allan
        April 2, 2016 7:56pm

        thank you!! I am starving myself this month in anticipation for a week in Paris of eating and drinking and seeing and walking and breathing different air.

  • April 6, 2016 5:14pm

    I visited Mansoura with my uncle in the 1960s and remember it to be a bustling cafe. It was his favorite place. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt so it evoked memories for him I suppose. My aunt (his sister) used to travel to Brooklyn from Long Island for the little ‘roscas’ or Kaak, the name changes depending on where you are from. The owners had made him a dish with a raw egg yolk – I’m not sure what it was but it looked like early food porn!
    I loved the article –

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