How one Tulsa synagogue is baking its way to a better world


Walk into Congregation B’nai Emunah on any Tuesday afternoon and you’ll barely get through the massive, light-filled foyer before it hits you: an aromatic wave of warm oatmeal and raisins, or perhaps a sweet surge of rich, melting chocolate chips.

What you’re smelling isn’t catered food for a bar mitzvah bash. Rather it’s one of the most highly regarded bakeries in the region, which is also an innovative social justice project that might just be a model for civic-minded synagogues everywhere.

The Altamont Bakery, which operates weekly from the synagogue’s dairy kitchen, is a successful commercial enterprise in which formerly homeless and mentally ill Tulsans work alongside synagogue volunteers. Together they weigh, measure, mix, shape and bake artisanal cookies that have won the admiration of foodies, selling briskly in coffee shops and cafeterias across Oklahoma and beyond.

Yet whether you believe this is the “Greatest Cookie on Planet Earth” (as the label boasts) or merely the best chocolate chip cookie in the city (according to a blind taste test conducted by the Tulsa World newspaper), it’s not the most important thing the Altamont endeavors to create.

“We are baking our way to a better world,” said Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman, who has served the Conservative congregation since 1985.

Fitzerman developed the idea for the bakery five years ago in conjunction with the Mental Health Association Oklahoma, which aids those facing mental-health challenges through advocacy, education, research, service and housing, and the Housing Faith Alliance, which facilitates connections between faith-based institutions and those in recovery from mental illness.

The core of the baking staff is made up of individuals served by the Mental Health Association, including some who live at the nearby association-run Altamont Apartments, from which the bakery takes its name. They are paid what Fitzerman calls “a dignified wage”— currently as much as $13.75 per hour.

The synagogue volunteers they work beside see this as a meaningful opportunity to effect change in their community while broadening their own horizons.

Kimberly Ferry, who had endured years of homelessness and mental health struggles, working at the Altamont Bakery in Tulsa. (Courtesy of Congregation B’nai Emunah)

“I love this collaboration — it’s really unique and powerful,” said Alex Aguilar, a workforce readiness clinical coordinator at the Mental Health Alliance who’s at the bakery every Tuesday. “When we’re able to give someone employment and support — skills and purpose and something to do with their lives — that is the best care that they need.”

Mental health has long been a focus of the synagogue’s volunteer efforts, Fitzerman said, due in part to the significant number of congregants already working in the field.

The rabbi realized he could feed the appetite for social justice work through one of his synagogue’s particular strengths: large-scale baking.

“Like many congregations in frontier outposts, we make everything ourselves — rye bread, rugelach, hamantaschen, apple cake, babka — it’s a very full menu of traditional favorites,” he said.

With Tulsa’s Jewish community numbering about 2,200, the Altamont is the only kosher-certified bakery in town. The synagogue also recently launched a monthly pop-up deli serving house-cured kosher pastrami.

“This is more than dabbling,” Fitzerman declared. “Brooklyn artisans would recognize our seriousness and commitment.”

On a typical Tuesday afternoon, six salaried “Altamonters” and another half-dozen volunteers will produce about 1,200 cookies, which will be bagged, labeled and delivered by another multi-generational cadre of volunteers that meets Wednesday mornings. Unsold leftovers — a rare phenomenon — might wind up at Shabbat kiddish.

Come Christmas and Hanukkah — when orders for 5,000 or more aren’t uncommon — the bakery will more than triple its workforce and production. And next March, when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament returns to Tulsa, demand will likely drive madness in the kitchen, as well.

Nancy Cohen, a former marketing and retail manager who also oversees the synagogue gift shop, is “the presiding genius” of the bakery, Fitzerman says, serving as volunteer director and, until recently, oven master. She is the source of the chocolate-chip cookie recipe that started it all, as well as the two that followed, oatmeal raisin and the newest offering, sweet “sugartops,” with just a hint of lemon. (Incidentally, these are no little noshes, but quarter-pound helpings of richness.)

Cohen is equally passionate about the bakery staff.

“This is our sugar-cookie queen,” Cohen said, introducing Kimberlee Koenig, an Altamonter who was loading the last ingredients into a massive mixer.

“If they’re not perfect, we don’t sell ’em,” Koenig said, detailing her process. “We don’t even put our name on ’em.”

Koenig explains bluntly how much that sense of pride means: “You see, I used to be a street person. Not by choice … but by bad choices, mostly of men.”

Now happily married, she found the bakery two years ago and has only missed work two times — once due to pneumonia, the other following hernia surgery.

“You’ve come a long way, baby,” Cohen said.

Kimberly Ferry has worked in the bakery from its beginning. Cohen remembers that first day — Ferry, following years of homelessness and mental health struggles, had trouble looking her in the eye. Now, between Tuesdays at Altamont and another job at a grocery store, she can afford her own apartment — and to buy her 13-year-old son a new pair of shoes.

“I hadn’t bought him anything in a long time,” Ferry said, lips curling into a smile.

The synagogue volunteers baking alongside the Altamonters say the impact on their lives has also been profound.

“I love it — I love the people we work with,” gushed Jamie Siegel, a mother of four. “It’s the one thing in my week that I really couldn’t give up. I really feel like I’m getting more out of it than I’m giving.”

Dennis Johnson, a retired project manager, was active in a weekly Torah study at the synagogue when he first heard about Altamont. That was a year-and-a-half ago, and he hasn’t missed a Tuesday since.

“As long I’m able and as long as they need me, I’ll be here,” he said. “It’s a good mitzvah.”

Since its inception in 2011, the bakery has sold more than 150,000 cookies, at $2 each. The profits cover salaries and supplies; the synagogue underwrites the use of the kitchen and Fitzerman raises outside funds to replace equipment and make capital improvements. Anonymous donors furnished two new high-end ovens that can bake up to 220 cookies in 14 minutes.

Karra Beck, left, works at Altamont every week, and Mary Nixon is a former employee. (Courtesy of Congregation B’nai Emunah)

For the second consecutive year, the Altamont has been recognized by Slingshot, a fund that supports and promotes innovative Jewish initiatives across the country.

“This type of collaborative endeavor serves as a model for successful partnerships between religious institutions and government agencies,” the evaluation reads, “and shows how the repurposing of synagogue assets can impact an entire community.”

The Altamont Bakery hopes to see its impact grow both in Tulsa, by increasing sales and adding more shifts and workers as the kitchen schedule allows — B’nai Emunah’s 150-student preschool also uses the kitchen — and beyond. Synagogue administrator Betty Lehman said she recently fielded a call from a congregation in Indiana that was interested in launching its own program.

Even the product line is expanding. Cohen has been furiously fine-tuning a “centennial cookie” to be introduced this year, celebrating the synagogue’s 100th anniversary. After testing nearly 20 formulas, she’ll reveal only that it will likely be a version of “double fudge.”

Fitzerman is thrilled, but cautions his model is not easy magic.

“In our initial flood of arrogant do-gooderism, we felt that we would be able to change the lives of our bakers,” the rabbi said. “We’ve held some of them in this project for four consecutive years, but many more have moved through the kitchen for a short period and then wander on to other things.

“We understand that we will fail as often as we succeed. Our goal is to do as much as we can without expecting miraculous transformation.”

Yet for bakers like Koenig, the change is evident. Through the bakery, she has developed confidence and strong friendships, broadened her social network and gotten her foot in the door at a local supermarket, where she now also earns a wage as a cashier and bagger.

But working in the “cookie factory,” Koenig said, is still “the best job.”

“I’ve been very fortunate — God has blessed me,” she added, as the mixer began to whir. “And the cookies are amazing.”

Recipe: Chocolate and raspberry swirl cookies


Having been married for more than two decades, I realize many factors contribute to the longevity of my marriage. Perhaps the most important is how my husband and I blend.

People often ask how we’ve done it, as if there is a secret. But there really is no secret. Just like the pairing of raspberry and chocolate, my husband and I are together despite our differences. We know how to compromise and work together, which we actually do most of the time.

Love is not “never having to say you’re sorry.” Chocolate is temperamental, so if you add the wrong amount of moisture from, say, fresh raspberries, you will have something to apologize about. But you get another chance. As in longtime relationships, you learn and grow.

Better together than apart

I love offering up treats that focus the partnership of raspberries and dark chocolate because of the magical synergy that makes them better together than individually.

In the past, dark chocolate was relegated to the lowest shelves in grocery stores. Over the last two decades, though, it has become very au courant. I would like to say that the only reason I give myself permission to eat dark chocolate is because of possible health benefits. But in truth, I like the taste. I find its bitterness to be complex and appealing.

What makes dark chocolate dark?

Dark is only defined relative to all other chocolates. It’s darker in comparison with milk or sweet chocolate candy bars. It has a higher percentage of cocoa, less milk fat and less sugar. The higher the cocoa percentage, the deeper and more intense the chocolate flavor. My favorite for baking and cooking is around 72%.

When choosing your dark chocolate, like choosing a mate, there are two more issues to consider: Where it was born and where (and how) it was processed. Dark chocolate is often labeled with the place of origin, the cocoa percentages and where it was processed. Climate and soil give chocolate its inherent nature, and that’s part of its heritage. The style of preparation is also key. To many, Switzerland's chocolate production is the gold standard. In my book, it’s equaled or even bettered by Belgian chocolate.

Equal partners

Lest you think that chocolate is the alpha dog of this relationship, raspberries are an equal partner. They are more than just juicy and lovely to behold. They are rich in cancer-fighting compounds and vitamin C, and full of fiber. They taste sweet — with a uniquely tart undertone and a deep complexity. Just like chocolate. Raspberries aren’t mild-manned, singular sweetness, like the ever-affable strawberry or cherry. They are an assertive flavor in their own right.

Like any paramour partnership, each ingredient brings something unique and yet retains its distinctive character even as it blends with the other ingredients. Raspberries are juicy, but chocolate is silky. Both have a little sexy undertone that makes them interesting. Together they make a wondrous bite.

May they live happily ever after.

Chocolate and Raspberry Swirl Cookies

These charming swirl cookies, tucked, wrapped and snuggled like the spiral of a snail or a conch shell, are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The dough is oh-so-gently sweet, and the filling bursts with both the tartness of raspberry and a cacophony of rich chocolates. Like a good relationship, they contrast but support each other and together they create an enticing synergy. These cookies have one more touch of meaning: I developed them for my fantasy meal for Rashida Jones, an actress and writer I admire greatly. She is the co-author, co-producer and star of one of my favorite sad but sweetly tender and real films — “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” I wanted to make a cookie that hinted at the Jewish facet of her identity, so these cookies are a bit rugelach-ish. These are simply a joy to eat and fun to make.

Yield: About 28 to 30 cookies

Prep and baking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 cup (116 grams/4 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/2 sticks (¾ cup/170 grams/6 ounces/12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup (54 grams) dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon (1.5 grams) salt

1 egg

1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (see Notes)

1 3/4 cups (228 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped

3 ounces milk chocolate, very finely chopped

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons water

1/4 cup brown turbinado sugar

1/2 teaspoon any large-crystal salt

Directions

1. Prepare the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or if you are using a hand-held mixer, in a large mixing bowl), combine the cream cheese and butter and mix until completely blended. Add the brown sugar and salt, and mix for 3 to 4 minutes, until light and fluffy.

2. Add the egg and mix well. Add the vanilla bean paste and mix well. Add the flour and mix just until fully combined. Prepare a large piece of plastic wrap and scrape the mixture onto it, wrap, shape into a rough square or rectangle and seal well. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until fully chilled.

3. Wet a work surface with a few drops of water or a swipe of a wet paper towel. Quickly place a large piece (11 x 14 inches or larger) of parchment paper on top. It should stick. Dust the parchment paper very lightly with flour. Roll a rolling pin in the flour to coat it lightly. Place half of the dough on the floured parchment and roll it into a 6-by-9-inch rectangle that is 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick.

4. Using a pastry brush, coat the rectangle with raspberry jam, leaving a 1/2-inch border bare around the edges. Sprinkle the chocolates over the raspberry jam, distributing the pieces evenly. Position the parchment and dough so that the short side of the parchment is in front of you. Using the parchment, lift the short side of the dough up and over the filling, covering it by about 1/2 inch. Continue rolling to make a cylinder, rolling as tightly as you can. Place the roll on a large piece of plastic wrap and wrap well. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until fully chilled.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats and set aside.

6. Remove the rolled dough from the plastic wrap and, with a very sharp, long knife, cut it crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Place the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between the cookies.

7. Prepare an egg wash by beating the egg yolk and water gently in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, liberally brush the egg wash over the cookies, making sure to cover both the dough and filling. Sprinkle with the sugar and salt and bake (both sheets at once) for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely on the baking sheets before removing them, as the raspberry jelly will be very hot. They will crisp as they cool off.

Notes:

1. Vanilla bean paste is a form of vanilla flavoring that is made from vanilla extract and vanilla bean powder (sometimes it’s what’s left over from producing the extract and sometimes fresh vanilla bean seeds), mixed with a binder such as sugar syrup, corn syrup or, in commercial preparations, xanthan gum. It has the consistency of a paste and an intense, distinctly vanilla flavor. It’s available in well-stocked markets and online, but if you can’t find it, use pure vanilla extract.

2. Turbinado sugar is a minimally processed, minimally refined sweetener made from cane sugar. Brown in color, it is often confused with brown sugar. Turbinado sugar, however, has a higher moisture content, which will make a difference in baking, so it’s best to use the sugar that is called for in the recipe unless you are skilled enough to reduce another liquid in the ingredient list. With its large crystals, it’s great for sugar toppings on cookies and other baked goods. Like demerara sugar, it is made by drying the juice of the sugar cane and then spinning it in a centrifuge to purify it. Store in a cool, dry place.

Cookies for a Koz: How mom’s cookies made a difference


Audrey Koz was a pharmacist, but her best medicine was the love she baked into her chocolate chip cookies.

“The cookies pack my mom’s magic in every bite,” said her daughter, Roberta Koz Wilson.

They were so good, Audrey Koz credited her cookies for launching the musical career of her son, Grammy Award-nominated saxophonist Dave Koz. When he started out in the jazz world, she sent cookies with him to every meeting and performance, and Capitol Records even took her — and her goodies — to meet record executives.

“We would send my mom in with batches of cookies to grease the way,” Dave Koz said.

When Audrey Koz died suddenly in 2005, Wilson decided that she needed a way to impact people like her mother did. She already had left her role as longtime vice president for affiliate sales and marketing at MTV Networks in search of a new challenge.

After tinkering with other small-business ideas, Wilson started baking her mother’s cookies for her daughter’s elementary school holiday boutique. Her success there gave her an idea, and with no previous experience in baking or starting a business — aside from her background in sales and marketing — Wilson launched Cookies for a Koz in 2008.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I learned everything I could.”

Wilson created a Web site and moved into a West Valley commercial kitchen as demand increased. When clients asked for different flavors, she introduced oatmeal raisin, white chocolate raspberry, snickerdoodle and red velvet. Seasonal specialties developed, too, such as pumpkin chocolate chip for Thanksgiving and apple pie cookies for Mother’s Day.

“I try very hard not to eat too many cookies while I’m baking them,” said Wilson, a Calabasas resident whose favorite cookie is shortbread.

To honor her mother, Wilson donates 10 percent of retail purchases to Starlight Children’s Foundation, Audrey Koz’s favorite charity. The organization, for which Dave Koz is a global ambassador, works to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children through entertainment, education and family activities.

“Anything that anyone can do on any level to make the world a little bit better for those in need is tikkun olam (repairing the world), and working with an organization like Starlight lets us see a tangible impact that we make on the lives of others,” Wilson said.

So far, her company has donated more than $30,000 to the foundation, but that’s not all that keeps her going.

“The greatest joy, by far, has been that it has kept me feeling connected to my beloved mom,” Wilson said. “I know this was her dream, and I feel like I am helping to fulfill that for her.”

Wilson’s brother, who is also her best customer, said there is something that sets his mother’s cookies above the rest.

“It’s like the way someone sings that takes your breath away. It’s not definable,” Dave Koz said. “When I tasted the cookies, there was a secret ingredient of love — a big, huge helping of it that sets them apart from other cookies.”

Hollywood has noticed. The cookies have been featured on the “Rachael Ray Show” and “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” and they have been included in gift bags for nominees and presenters at the Academy Awards and at numerous celebrity events.

With efforts to grow the business, Wilson hired a food consultant who shared the cookies at meetings across the country, and, in November, Cookies for a Koz hit the shelves of 375 HomeGoods stores. More recently, they were introduced at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, resulting in a total of 2,200 stores across the United States and Canada that will sell a dry mix and cookie assortment.

Wilson said this is especially satisfying because Marshalls was her mother’s favorite store to shop at for bargains. Now its shelves feature packages with Audrey Koz’s photo and story.

“The fact that her cookies are at Marshalls truly gives me the chills,” said Wilson, a mother of two teenagers who she hopes will one day run the growing enterprise.

Her brother, who is the owner of Koz Wine, donates proceeds of his sales to the Starlight Children’s Foundation as well. Now the two are working to expand their brand as a socially conscious food company known as Koz Kitchen. Once again, their inspiration is their mother, whose kitchen was home to a steady stream of friends, family and love.

“My mom had the ability to make everyone in her presence feel like they were the most important person in the world,” Wilson said. “And it was all truly genuine.”

The siblings recently paired up on Dave Koz’s tour aboard a Royal Caribbean Mediterranean cruise. Wilson was on board to teach cooking school.

“The great irony is that when she started out, she was really lousy,” he said of his sister. “Over the years, she has become a really great chef.

Karaite-style Passover recipes


KARAITE MATZAH (From Amy Gazzar)

NOTE: To make sure that dough does not rise, matzah should be put in the oven within 10 minutes of adding water.

2 cups unbleached flour
1/3 cup warm vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seed

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix all ingredients together until dough is soft but not sticky.

Spread on a cookie sheet and cut into squares. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.


KARAITE MATZAH USING MATZAH CAKE MEAL (From Remy Pessah)

NOTE: To make sure that dough does not rise, matzah should be put in the oven within 10 minutes of adding water.

3 cups (kosher for Passover) matzah cake meal
3/4 cup oil
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix all the ingredients together and knead dough until soft but not sticky. Spread on 2 cookie sheets, 12 by 17 inches. Cut dough into 2-by-2-inch squares. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.


PASSOVER ALMOND COOKIES (LOZETTO)

4 egg whites
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 pound almond powder
Whole almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites until foamy, add sugar gradually, gently fold in almond powder, and mix with spatula.

Drop by heaping teaspoonsful onto prepared cookie sheet. Top each cookie with a whole almond.

Bake on middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool

10 minutes and carefully remove from sheets with spatula.


MAROR

1 fresh anise, chopped
1 endive, chopped
1 red lettuce, chopped
1 romaine lettuce,  chopped
1 curly lettuce,  chopped
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch dill weed
2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 pickled lemons, diced
1 teaspoon salt

Combine the above ingredients and serve on homemade matzah during the Passover Seder.


ALMOND MERINGUE

5 egg whites
1 cup sugar
4 cups slivered toasted almonds

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Mix egg whites with sugar; add almonds. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spray with cooking spray.

Scoop out 1 teaspoon at a time, and place the scoops on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing scoops about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 15 minutes.


ORANGE MARMALADE

4 large seedless oranges
2 lemons
8 cups water
8 cups sugar

Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices. (If you have a mandoline, this will be quite fast.) Discard any seeds. Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless steel pot. Add water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.

The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Turn the heat up to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms on the top. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer. If you want to be doubly sure it’s ready, place a small amount on a plate and refrigerate it until it’s cool but not cold. If it’s firm — neither runny nor too hard — it’s done. It will be a golden orange color. (If the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it;  if it’s too hard, add more water.)

Pour the marmalade into clean, hot Mason jars; wipe the rims thoroughly with a clean damp paper towel, and seal with the lids according to the package directions. Store in the pantry for up to a year.

Don’t Get Plagued by Tricky Desserts


Many a great cook has been sent over the edge trying to produce some beautiful Passover baking. Any other time of the year their kitchens produce perfect pies, crunchy cookies and lovely cakes — but the Passover arrives and the kitchen becomes the enemy: cakes flop and the cookies crumble.
This year plan on easy desserts. After a huge meal (is there anybody out there that doesn’t have a huge seder meal?) why not serve coffee with some fresh fruit and an assortment of cookies.

Amoretti Cookies
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups ground almonds

Preheat oven to 300 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using an electric mixer with a whip attachment beat the egg whites and salt until frothy. Add vanilla and continue beating on high.
As you beat the eggs, slowly add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the eggs are stiff and glossy.
With a spatula, fold in the almonds.
Use two spoons to drop heaping tablespoons of the mixture on the baking sheet.
Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool.

Makes 16-20 cookies.

Chocolate Macaroons
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups coconut, shredded

Using an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites with the salt until frothy and very soft peaks form. Add the vanilla and continue beating on high.
Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat until the eggs are glossy and stiff peaks form. Add the cocoa and beat until incorporated.
Add the coconut and fold in.
Use two spoons to drop batter on a parchment lined baking sheet (they should be heaping tablespoons). Leave the macaroons on the counter for at least 30 minutes before baking.
Place in a preheated 325 F oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the macaroons are no longer glossy.
Remove from oven and cool.

Makes 18-20 cookies.

Pecan Cranberry Passover Biscotti
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups ground pecans
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder — (Passover)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup potato starch
1 3/4 cups cake meal
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to combine the eggs, oil, vanilla, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest and mix on medium to combine well. (You can also use a wooden spoon and mix by hand.)
Turn the machine off and add the potato starch, cake meal and pecans. Turn the machine on low to combine and mix until all of the ingredients come together to form dough.
Add the cranberries and mix to evenly distribute throughout the dough.
Divide the dough in half and form into two logs, approximately 3 inches by 12 inches by 14 inches. If you find the dough too sticky, dust your hands with cake meal to work with the dough. Place the formed logs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place into a preheated 350 F oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The biscotti will crack and loose the shine it had when it first went into the oven. Let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F.
Carefully slice the logs into pieces, about 3/4 inches each. Arrange on a cookie sheet so that there is space between each cookie and return to the oven.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until dry.
Makes 20-24 cookies.

 

Hamantashen Goes Mainstream


First it was bagels. Then rugelach. What’s the next Jewish food to go mainstream?

Could be hamantashen.

Hamantashen now can be seen next to mini-bundt cakes and lemon poppy-seed muffins in the display case of your local coffee shop.

Several large supermarket chains now carry them, and it’s no longer something they bring in just around Purim time. The triangular pastries — shaped to reflect the three-cornered hat of Purim villain Haman — increasingly are being sold year-round.

"It’s a staple," says Chris Calfa, who manages Lassen and Hennigs, a small gourmet food store in New York.

He carries them throughout the year and says he sells approximately a dozen a day.

"They’re definitely more popular than they used to be," says Renee Apostolou, who manages Prolific Oven, a local bakery and coffee shop in Palo Alto.

While the shop used to sell hamantashen only at Purim, about five years ago they began offering them year-round because of customer demand. People treat them just like any other cookie, Apostolou said.

"We fill ours with figs, so to them it’s like a Fig Newton," she says.

In Yiddish, the word "hamantashen" means "Haman’s pockets." According to "The Jewish Book of Why," this reflects a tradition that Haman filled his pockets with bribe money. The cookies are folded to form a pocket that is usually filled with poppy seeds, fruits, jam or nuts.

In Hebrew, the cookies are called "oznay Haman," or "Haman’s ears."

Many people apparently do not know that the cookies are connected with a specific Jewish holiday. Calfa, for example, was surprised to learn that hamantashen are connected with Purim.

"I had no idea," he says.

Tish Boyle, food editor of Pastry Art and Design Magazine, said she thinks the increasing popularity of hamantashen is due not only to new interest among non-Jews, but also among Jews who aren’t religious.

"They recognize the shape and are willing to buy it for nostalgic reasons," she says. "It’s like comfort food."

She also thinks non-Jewish bakeries may be making them because they’re easier to make than many other pastries.

"It’s an easy shape" to make, she says. They’re like little pies, but, "you don’t have to use a pie tin."

Joan Nathan, cookbook author and host of the weekly PBS program "Jewish Cooking in America," says the popularization of hamantashen has stripped them of their cultural meaning.

"I like the fact that you can only have hamantashen at Purim. To me that’s special," Nathan says.

The new year-round popularity of hamantashen is "like getting challah all days of the week," she says. "I don’t want to get challah all days of the week. I want it on [Shabbat]."

Among the stores where hamantashen have gone mainstream is Costco, a membership wholesale club where people can get discounts by buying products in bulk.

Like two other wholesale clubs, Sam’s Club and B.J.’s, Costco gets its hamantashen from David’s Cookies.

"Costco just got 140,000 pounds," says John Griner, the plant manager of David’s Cookies, which manufactures more than 6 million hamantashen a year.

The company sells most of its hamantashen to large supermarket chains and wholesale clubs.

Bob Goodman, who markets David’s Cookies to major supermarket chains, says supermarkets started carrying hamantashen to appeal to Jewish clients, but discovered that they appeal to non-Jews as well.

"One of our supermarket chains ordered about 14,000 packages in the past seven weeks. I can’t imagine that’s all for Jewish people," he said. "You don’t have to be Italian to like pasta sauce."

Many stores don’t even call the cookies hamantashen.

"Different places call them different names," Goodman says. "In New England, they call them ‘patriot hats’" — a reference to the three-cornered hats worn by Colonial-era Americans.

Jim Dolan, a vice president for retail sales for David’s Cookies, says his company markets hamantashen not as a Jewish product, but as a variation of the chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies that David’s Cookies is known for.

That’s because the company’s products weren’t kosher when David’s Cookies first opened in 1979.

Ari Margulies, an Orthodox Jew, bought the Fairfield, N.J. company in 1995 and made all of the cookies kosher.He kept the company’s predominantly non-Jewish client base, but began marketing Jewish products to them.

Margulies, who moved to the United States from London 10 years ago, hopes to make hamantashen even more popular than they already are, perhaps as ubiquitous as rugelach.

The smell of baking hamantashen fill the air of the factory. This is not a mom-and-pop operation. The flour is held in 18-foot-high metal containers that look like miniature grain silos. The dough is mixed in a 360-quart mixer.

In the weeks before Purim, Margulies’s factory dedicates half its operation to hamantashen.

To fill the flood of incoming orders, David’s Cookies has to bake hamantashen 24/6 — the factory is closed on Shabbat — for three weeks straight.

Hamantashen are more labor intensive than most cookies.

While the dough is rolled and cut into circles mechanically, the cookies must be filled, shaped and packed individually by hand.

While David’s Cookies produces some hamantashen under its own label, most of the cookies are produced for other companies, such as Rokeach, that sell them using their own names.

Raphi Salem sells them under his own label on his Web site, www.purim.com.

"Everyone says I sell the best hamantashen around," he says. "I feel like I’m fooling people, but then I tell them. No one ever minds."

Sweet Sorrow


A wall of neatly coiffed ladies charges up to the counter to place their orders for baked goods on one of the last days before the holidays and one of the last days before Brown’s Bakery in North Hollywood closes its doors forever. Some of the customers have been buying their cakes, cookies and bread here for as long as the bakery has been open, and that’s 42 years. Some have been Brown’s customers even longer, when it was Brown Brothers Bakery on Wilshire Boulevard; some for longer still, when Brown’s was in the Bronx, during the war.

Watching this crowd, it’s hard to believe they could possibly purchase their baked goods anywhere else. When Brown’s closes its doors April 15, God only knows what they will do. (In preparation for the bakery’s closing, one customer bought her birthday cake six months in advance and froze it.)

"Things have changed in this area," said Sheldon Brown, the burly, friendly second-generation owner of Brown’s Bakery. "The retail structure of the whole neighborhood has gone downhill. There’s nothing here now."

Looking up and down this stretch of Victory Boulevard, one can see ghosts of a Jewish neighborhood’s past. A dry cleaners, the Ventura Kosher Meat Market and the Circle M Market, all of which used to serve the large Jewish population of 30 years ago, are gone. Now there are only nondescript offices and empty shops. The only other store on the block is a beauty school, which might explain all the nifty do’s but doesn’t generate a lot of customers on this stretch of the Valley.

As far as closing his shop goes, there were other problems besides the neighborhood, Brown said.

"The Health Department told us that no one could walk through from the parking lot [in the rear] to the front of the store," Brown said. "Have you ever tried telling Jewish people they couldn’t walk through? A tank wouldn’t stop them; they’re going to walk here anyway."

Case in point: a stream of elderly ladies marches through the narrow kitchen, looking around at the freshly baked goods, nodding approval, and making their way to the front of the bakery.

"The baker just kissed me," one of the ladies said before disappearing around the corner.

Ten years ago, as the neighborhood went through changes, Brown saw his wholesale business take off as his retail portion began to decline. Brown realized it would be a waste of time and money to remodel.

Even with old customers traveling from all over the Valley to buy, the North Hollywood neighborhood could no longer sustain enough business. Finally, the landlord asked for more rent.

"That was it," Brown said, and decided to get out of retail. After April 15, Brown’s wife, Judy, will become new owner of the wholesale portion of the business. She plans to lease another space and continue to deliver to clients such as Brent’s, Art’s, Bagel Nosh, Billy’s, Roxy’s, Wylers, Robertson Ranch, and a number of other delis and temples and synagogues in the Valley.

"When people heard we were closing down, they began calling: ‘What are we going to do?’ ‘Where are we going to go?’" said Judy, who married Brown shortly after he opened the bakery in 1959. "We’ve gotten hundreds of flowers and notes; I never would have imagined the response. We try and do a good job and have a good product, and [Brown] loves being with customers, but after 42 years, it’s enough."

Enough, however, is not a word Brown’s customers have ever used.

"I am really going to miss this place," said Ruth Crystal of Valley Village. "I’ve been coming here for 56 years. We’re like family." She said she was a customer also when Brown’s was on Wilshire.

"I’m going to cry a lot," said Gladys Horowitz, who travels from Encino. "I’ve been coming since 1960."

"My whole family has been raised on Brown’s products," said Isadore Widre, an elderly gent from Encino who is accustomed to hanging around the kitchen. "I used to send packages up to my daughter when she was in college in San Francisco; I think she paid her way through school with Brown’s strudels and chocolate chip rugelach. Now she’s a successful speech pathologist, and she’s still getting packages from home."

"I moved away from this neighborhood, and I’d come back here to buy and put [baked goods] in the freezer," Joan Stein said. "Now I don’t know what I’m going to do."

"Please put a big caption in your story: We will miss you!" said Magda Hoffman.

"I used to be a customer of theirs in 1941 in the Bronx," said David Berger, an incredibly fit 87-year-old. "I worked on Park Avenue, and I’d buy Brown’s bread and rolls; I’ve been a fan ever since."

"You see what’s going on here," said Brown, standing in the kitchen, listening to his customers’ accolades. "Everyone’s schmoozing; it’s a happening. We’re like one big family."

Unfortunately, like all good things, even bakeries must come to an end, but one wonders how Brown, the preeminent baker of chocolate-chip sponge cake and babkas, who so obviously enjoys the social interaction of his customers, will adjust to not having a bakery. A guy like this must have his hands and back involved in his work and in the neighborhood. But if the neighborhood no longer exists, what does a person like Brown do?

"I can’t really talk about that now," he answered.

Instead, turning to his wife, he said, "Fix her up with a little something, Judy."

That’s a refrain his customers will sadly miss.