Baking

These small local Jewish businesses are baking treats for Rosh Hashanah

(New York Jewish Week) — Several years ago, Jennifer Daniels took a baking class at the Heschel School, the pluralistic Jewish school on New York’s Upper West Side. This sparked interest and she began to cook several challahs each week and distribute them to her family and friends.

One of the lucky recipients of her largesse told Daniels she couldn’t keep taking the challahs anymore. She wanted to buy them from her. Daniels was hesitant at first, but during the pandemic she decided she was ready to sell. She was at home, had more time to cook and the interest was there. Thanks to word of mouth, his business, Home Cooked Is Best, launched in 2020, took off.

These days, Daniels sells between 10 and 50 challahs every week to friends, personal chefs, and random netizens who have become fans of his baking. “Spreading the challah love,” Daniels said, “gave me great joy.”

Of course, Daniels isn’t the only one starting a home food business during the pandemic. According to David Crabill, the founder of forrager.com, an online community of artisanal catering businesses, New York State has seen the greatest influx of people interested in preparing meals from home. From 2019 to 2020, there has been an approximately 50% increase in the number of artisan food businesses statewide.

This increase is not just because of New Yorkers’ remarkable resilience and propensity for innovation. It’s also the result of recently updated cottage food laws, which have made it easier than ever for New Yorkers to sell these homemade challahs to members of their community and local stores as well. (But buyers and sellers beware: Not all foods are covered, and home-produced foods sold in New York State must be stable and non-perishable.)

Looking to try one of these new food companies? Now is the perfect time! The following six small businesses are baking delicious treats that are perfect for the holiday season, which begins with Rosh Hashanah on Sunday evening, September 25. And when your guests compliment you on the homemade babka they enjoy for Rosh Dessert of Hashanah, Yom Kippur breakfast or festive Sukkot meal, you can nod modestly and thank them. Because the babka is homemade, after all. But not at your place.

1. Jennifer Daniels, Home cooking is the best

For Rosh Hashanah, Daniels will be selling round babkas and challahs in a myriad of flavors, including rosemary, plain, everything, cinnamon and chocolate. She will also make, on request, za’atar, peanut butter and jelly, tahini and, especially for this holiday, cinnamon apple.

Daniels lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and, for a small fee, will deliver. She uses honey and sugar in her challahs and describes them as “a bit sweet and chewy”. Its challahs are pareve – non-dairy – and sell for $18 each. Its babkas, which are dairy products, are stuffed with cinnamon or chocolate and also sell for $18. Order by direct message on his Instagram.

Daniels has a kosher kitchen but it is not certified.

2. Jennifer Rak, Heimishe Bilkaleh

Bilkaleh, Yiddish for “little roll”, was the nickname of Jennifer Rak’s grandfather in Poland. Rak started his home baking business, selling rolls and rugelach, as a fundraiser for his daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah. (Rak’s daughter has selected several charities that will receive the proceeds, including Variety, a charity that funds medical equipment for children, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.)

For $20 a pound you can treat yourself, treat your guests or your High Holidays host to a cream cheese and butter infused rugelach stuffed with raspberries, chocolate and nuts or tahini with chocolate covered espresso. (Gluten-free and nut-free versions are also available.) If you prefer savory, there’s also rugelach stuffed with olive tapenade and pine nuts or harissa with halloumi cheese. Rak also makes sweet challah with honey which she describes as “rich, chewy and pareve”. She will deliver if “not too far” from where she lives on the West Side or you can pick her up – DM Rak on Instagram with questions or to order.

What happens after bat mitzvah next year? Rak says if people keep ordering, she’ll keep cooking. Rak has a kosher kitchen. All ingredients have hechsher or kosher certification, but it is not kosher certified.

3. Beverly Kastner, Nana kneads

(201) 755-2707

Homemade treats by Beverly Kastner of Nana Kneads. (Courtesy)

Kastner is best known for her homemade removable challahs, which are designed to be easily torn apart and shared with guests at your table. Kastner – whose daughter-in-law came up with the name of the business because Kastner is a nine-year-old nana, or grandmother, – kneads and bakes challah as well as babka at her home in Bergen County, New Jersey, and delivers locally and to the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan.

Kastner’s large challah, which comes in a 9-inch box, has 18 balls, or sections, and retails for $10. The medium removable challah, with 10 scoops, sells for $7. It offers a variety of flavors, including sugar crumbs, cinnamon, everything, chocolate chips, sprinkles, and zaatar. His babkas, in chocolate or cinnamon flavors, cost $12 each. Everything she prepares is pareve and nut free. Kastner has a kosher house but is not certified.

4. Deborah Gabay, Cake Box 26

If you’re looking to wow your Rosh Hashanah guests, don’t miss Deborah Gabay’s beautiful French pastries. Gabay studied at the Danon Culinary Center in Tel Aviv and at the Michalak French Bakery School in Paris. These days, Gabay works out of a small rented kosher kitchen in New Jersey and she delivers throughout New Jersey and the Upper East and West Sides.

For Rosh Hashanah, Gabay bakes a 12-inch tarte tatin with honey for $65 and a honey cake for $55 — check out her Instagram for more. Its ingredients and cuisine are kosher but not certified.

5. Nicole Michael, Nic’s desserts

Allergies aren’t a problem at Nic’s Desserts: Nicole Michael makes gluten-free and dairy-free desserts from her homes in Deal, New Jersey and Midwood, Brooklyn. You can order directly from her Instagram or purchase her treats at Tomer’s Upper East Side store or through Kosher Valet, a kosher food delivery service. Michael’s tasty options include Fingerprint Logs (a nut or almond crust filled with jams or jelly), which are two for $28; 16 $22 tahini fudge brownies and peanut butter stuffed dates that come 10 for $20. Its kashrut is certified by HomeKosher, a kashrut verification organization run by rabbis from the Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate.

6. Adam Simon, Sourdough Gambit

During the pandemic, Adam Simon quit his career in finance and started baking sourdough bread in his home kitchen on the Upper West Side. Demand has increased and now Simon bakes in a space in Long Island City and sells his babkas, sourdough breads and challahs direct to consumers – you can find him at the Chelsea Farmers’ Market on Saturdays or he will deliver directly to your home or office in Manhattan.

Simon will be selling single and seeded four-strand braided challahs for the New Year for $15.75 each — both are dairy-free. Her apple and raisin babka is dairy and covered in a honey glaze and sells for $25. Babkas are made with dairy products. Don’t forget their buttery rugelach which comes in a variety of flavors including chocolate peanut butter and apricot thyme. Place your orders here.