As the aroma of freshly baked challah wafts down Passyunk Avenue, South Philly is returning to its Jewish roots. The source of the heavenly smell is Essen, a new Jewish bakery. “Essen,” which means, “eat!” in Yiddish, is the creation of Tova du Plessis.
Tova du Plessis, originally from Johannesburg, was dutifully studying to be a physician. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biology, she pivoted toward her true love and attended culinary school. Ms. du Plessis honed her craft at Citron & Rose, Le Bec Fin, and The Rittenhouse Hotel. After the birth of her first child, she felt ready for another new challenge, and decided to open her own shop.
Serendipitously, the proprietor of her local bakery decided to pursue other opportunities. Tova du Plessis was able to rent the bakery with all of its equipment. She tapped into the memories of preparing Shabbat dinners with her mother in South Africa. Then, she tweaked the recipes a little bit.
Three types of challah are baked at Essen. There is a fragrant, slightly sweet plain challah, a saltier seeded challah, and an exotic za’atar challah. Fresh labaneh with olive oil and za’atar is available for purchase to pair with the za’atar challah. These challahs are soft, chewy, moist, and pareve. I bought all three for Shabbat dinner. When my father bit into the plain challah, he told my mother, “this is just like the ones you bake!”
Jewish apple cake, chocolate chip – sea salt cookies, and cheese cake with house made strawberry preserves are baked on the premises. The crowning cakes of the display case are the babkas. These delicious yeast cakes are baked with cinnamon and hazelnuts or chocolate and halva.
I must confess that the chocolate-halva babka was so wickedly decadent that I knew that it would be a sin for me to tempt anyone who knows me with it. This is why I sat at a table in the corner of Essen’s cozy café and ate the whole delicious slice by myself.
Address: 1437 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Creating flavorful and appealing desserts that are kosher has been a challenge in Jewish households for decades. Without access to dairy products, creating a memorable dessert to go with any meal, let alone a holiday meal has been a challenge. With the High Holidays just around the corner, pastry chef and teacher, Paula Shoyer, has put together the go-to kosher cookbook to make the perfect dessert for any meal. The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy has a wide array of desserts and breads from family favorites to time-honored holiday classics, all dairy-free with many sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan as well. Paula, a Paris-trained pastry chef, has included dessert recipes not usually found on a kosher table, such as creamy key lime pie, luscious flan, rich tiramisu, and many classic French pastries.
More after the jump.
I love to entertain, often cooking meals for a lot of people. I find that what drives my choice of a dessert recipe is based upon how much time I have to make it. Too often people leave desserts for the last minute. I wanted to create a cookbook that would allow you to find just what you and need quickly and easily.
The first three parts of The Kosher Baker are organized by preparation time:
- Part 1, under 15 minutes;
- Part 2, 15-30 minutes;
- Part 3, 30 minutes or more.
A fourth part is devoted to Passover and no-sugar-added desserts. Many of Paula’s recipes can be mixed in one bowl and ready for the oven in less than 15 minutes.
Parve desserts are no longer something less than their dairy counterparts. The age of the kichel and the rainbow sponge cake is over. If you keep kosher you can now enjoy fabulous desserts any time, for any meal.
For the High Holidays, Paula suggests serving your family and guests a fun and easy dessert that can be made days ahead of time.
Babka Cupcakes with Crumb Topping
Makes 14 to 15 cupcakes
These mini Babkas can be made ahead of time when the kitchen is not so frenzied. Store them in plastic at room temperature for up to four days or freeze up to three months.
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/2 ounce (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) parve margarine, softened, divided, plus extra for greasing muffin pan
- 1 large egg plus 1 white
- 1/4 cup parve unsweetened cocoa
- 1/3 cup parve mini or regular-size chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 4 teaspoons canola or vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Place the warm water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in a large mixing bowl and let sit 10 minutes, or until the mixture bubbles.
- Add 1/4 cup of sugar, the flour, 1 stick of the margarine, and the eggs.
- Combine by hand with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook in a stand mixer until all the ingredients are mixed in.
- Cover bowl with plastic and let rise 2 to 4 hours.
- Meanwhile, for the chocolate filling, combine the remaining 1 cup of sugar with the cocoa in a medium bowl. Add the remaining 2 sticks of margarine and mix well with a hand-held or stand electric mixer, or by hand with a whisk. You can let the filling sit out covered while the dough is rising.
- To make the crumb topping: In a small bowl, place the sugar, flour, oil, and cinnamon and mix with a silicone spatula.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease 14 to 15 cups of a muffin pan or pans.
- Divide dough into four pieces. On a large piece of parchment, roll each piece into a rectangle, as thin as you can. Spread 1/4 of the chocolate cocoa and sugar mixture on one of the dough rectangles and then sprinkle on 1/4 of the chocolate chips. Roll the dough up working with the long side of the rectangle to create long, thin rolls.
- Slice each roll into 3/4-inch slices. Place 4 slices into each muffin cup, by placing the first 2 at angles in the bottom and then the second 2 on top, also at angles, none with the chocolate swirls facing straight up. Use your fingers to sprinkle some of the crumb topping on top of each babka cupcake; use up all the topping.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until browned on top. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan. Run a knife around the babkas and then remove from the pan and let cool. Store covered in plastic at room temperature for up to four days or freeze up to three months.
Want something more traditional but with a twist, Paula has this delicious take on a Jewish classic.
Cinnamon Apricot Pull-Apart Babka
Serves 10 to 12
My late Aunt Lillian was a fantastic cook and baker. One of my favorite recipes of hers was what she called a “conversation cake.” She took little challah dough balls, dipped them in margarine and sugar, and then baked them in a pan, placing candied fruit between the balls. This recipe is a tribute to her.
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1/2 ounce (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup sugar plus 1 teaspoon, divided
- 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
- 1 cup (2 sticks) parve margarine, softened
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup apricot preserves
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) parve margarine
- Spray oil, for greasing pan.
- To make the dough: Place the warm water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in a large mixing bowl and let sit 10 minutes, until the mixture bubbles. Add the remaining ½ cup of sugar, flour, margarine, and eggs. Combine by hand with a wooden spoon or by using a dough hook in a stand mixer until all the ingredients are mixed in. Cover bowl with plastic and let rise 3 to 4 hours, until the dough has increased in size at least 50 percent.
- Meanwhile, for the filling, combine the 1 ½ cups of sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.
- Place the remaining stick of margarine in a heatproof bowl and heat in the microwave for 45 seconds or until melted. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a large Bundt pan with spray oil.
- Divide the dough into 4 parts. Place a large piece of parchment on the counter and sprinkle generously with flour. Place one part of the dough on the parchment and roll out as thin as you can, less than ¼-inch thick. Use a cookie cutter or glass, about 2 inches in diameter, to cut circles of the dough as close to each other as possible. Reroll all the scraps and cut out circles. Place ¼ teaspoon of apricot preserves in the center of a circle and sprinkle on ¼ teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar. Close the dough around the filling and squeeze with your hard to form a ball. Do not worry if some jam squeezes out. When you have all the balls made, dip each into the melted margarine and roll in the cinnamon-sugar. Place around the bottom of the Bundt pan. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough and place the balls evenly around the pan.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until golden on top. Let cool for 30 minutes in the pan and then turn onto a rack. To serve, I turn it back over onto a serving plate so it looks like a crown. To eat, each person pulls off the balls. Store covered in plastic at room temperature for up to four days or freeze up to three months.
From The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy by Paula Shoyer, Brandeis University Press.