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