From scratch is always better where food is concerned, don’t you think? For Erika Hecht and her extended family, that is the essence of Sweet Butter Bakery, a new venture that tastes like success to me. Her “from scratch” recipes we tasted are marvelous. More about the tastes in a minute. Her baking career spans twenty years, much of it in professional pastry shops, and the odyssey in reaching this entrepreneurial effort is worth repeating.
“I graduated with a degree in social work (from Ohio State), and after working a year-and-a-half, I was coming home at night and baking to relieve stress—baking a lot! I got better and better at it and realized that maybe I should take a shot at this (baking) instead of being shot at,” Hecht said, speaking in literal terms. She added that the teens she was trying to help were unlucky inhabitants of communities where murderous violence and flying bullets were part of an average day.
“So, I left social work and went to a French pastry shop and asked for a job. I told them I was a hard worker, eager to learn; and I took some sample Madeleines for them to try. They hired me on the spot,” she said, smiling through her mask.
“I learned French kitchen etiquette there, which is key, because (you are) constantly rotating, constantly cleaning, constantly dating; you don’t leave anything to chance,” she said. The head of the pastry shop was French and a French-trained pastry chef, a taskmaster who knew his business, she said. “If you wanted to learn to do something, he taught it to you; he’d give you two or three chances to get it right” but demanded perfection if you were going to continue making whatever he had taught you to make.
Now, she is in the early stages of building her own pastry-shop business, but with a twist—no shop. Hecht has space in a commercial kitchen, where she prepares the dough and bakes product to order. Want a dozen rugalach? Order today, free delivery to your door tomorrow. Her products are available through her website, where Jewish patrons have begun to place and receive orders (already [3-17-21] she has some 15 orders for holiday flourless chocolate cake). Also, she will sell product at the farmers’ market in Reading, along with working to establish relationships with retail outlets such as Pipkins, Jungle Jim’s, and others.
Hecht claims a knack for Jewish pastries, and features cherished, closely held Jewish “grandmother” recipes in her repertoire. That rugalach you ordered is one of those. “The recipe is half butter and half cream cheese, a little sugar, a pinch of salt, two eggs and not much flour. The dough is less stretchy—a beautiful pastry dough.” She makes raspberry-chocolate chip, almond-apricot, chocolate-chocolate chip, and cinnamon-raisin rugalach. We tried them all and loved them all. Hecht bakes them so that the base of this classically Jewish treat is borderline crunchy and sticky-chewy, while the whole of the rolled portion is moist and flaky and lip-licking tasty. I’m betting if you like rugalach (and who doesn’t?), you will love the Sweet Butter Bakery version. Outstanding!
Also, we tried the Mandelbrot in cinnamon, chocolate, and almond varieties. Mandelbrot is an Ashkenazi type of cookie popular with East European Jews. It is oil-based with no butter, so parve, and a favorite of rabbis in that region of the world. Mandelbrot is a close cousin to Italian biscotti, but not as hard, according to Hecht. “I can add more things to it, because it is a little lighter,” she said, speaking of the varieties she could make going forward. The varieties she offered us were perfect with coffee and with ice cream, and if you love biscotti, be warned Hecht’s Mandelbrot will be a rival for your affections.
Hamantaschen and brown-butter brownies were on display as well, each with rich storylines behind the baking process. Hecht stated that when fruit is in season, she goes to regional pick-your-own growers to harvest strawberries, raspberries and more. These she uses in her baking, thus furthering the scratch nature of her product. “I cannot do that with everything or all the time, but where I can, I make my own jam,” she said, speaking generally of quality, freshness, and fruit free of pesticides.
Soon, she will be producing a wider range of baked goods, including egg challah, babka, and other Jewish favorites. Asked about special orders, she said: “I’m all ears for stuff that is not on my list (of available products). I do a lot of special baking already,” she said. Pies? “Of course! I bake good stuff,” she said, wanting Jewish patrons to try her menu items or ask for special items they may want.
In the spirit of a family business, Hecht’s husband, Sam, orchestrated planning and build-out of the website, and his parents, who are retired, are the shipping department, volunteering to provide free shipping in the Greater Cincinnati area for on-line orders.
Here’s hoping Sam’s parents deliver to your door soon!
Sweet Butter Bakery