Do you have a sweet tooth? The question arises because Sweet Butter Bakery has introduced a few new items, and a couple more are close to ready for prime time, all in the sweet category. We tried some: babka in two varieties, sticky buns, black and white cookies, and challah (yes, challah), all of which delighted the taste buds. More about the new items in a moment.
Baker/owner Erika Hecht said the new items are coming to her virtual shelves as she fills out her pastry kitchen and learns the nuances of her equipment. As a Jewish family business only months old, these are the baby steps that lead to a full line of baked goods going forward. Recently, she added a commercial dough hook, which greatly broadens the types of dough she may make, adding to greater selection. Hence the sweet goods and the breads. Also, she is working up recipes that meet her standard of quality, the new babka line being a prime example.
“Babka is more a bread than a cake—a coffee bread—and you can pull it apart. People call it ‘friendship’ bread,” she said, because of how it may be shared and eaten. “This (babka) is a sweet yeast dough, and I don’t let it sit overnight. I’m not folding in butter as I would for a croissant dough, but there is butter in it, so it’s more like brioche dough,” she said. The dough is rolled flat and cut into planks that are layered with Hecht’s homemade filling in between each layer. Then the layered planks of dough and filling are twisted, thus forming the swirled pattern of the babka after baking.
There are two babka flavors available for patrons to date: chocolate and cinnamon. We tried each, and each is delicious. Great with coffee, as Hecht said, but also excellent with a glass of cold milk. And a warning, or confession: do not rule out late-night snacking, with no milk or coffee in sight. Part of the pleasure of eating this babka is its balance. A sweet bread, yes, but not cloyingly so, as some “dessert” breads in this category can be. When you try this babka, you will note the bread-like texture, but also the soft, pleasantly chewy consistency, and the deliciously mild sweetness.
In the works is a lemon-poppyseed babka, Hecht said. “It’s not there yet; it’s too dry, and I need to keep working on it until I get it where I want it.”
In addition to babka, there are two items that share the same type of dough, and each is building a solid following. One is challah bread, for which the bakery has amassed standing orders from within the Jewish community for every Friday. Also, the bread is selling well from a booth at the Reading Farmer’s Market, held just north of the Bridal District on Reading Road each week from 4-7 pm Fridays.
Hecht’s challah recipe features something most do not—honey! “Typically, recipes call for refined sugar. Mine is an egg challah with no refined sugar, only honey,” she said. Turns out, honey, while better for us, is harder to use in bread baking. Hecht uses a local supplier—Chris’ Honey, from Lebanon, Ohio. The beekeeper is head of the Warren County Bee Association, so he knows his way around the honey jar. His honey is sweet, but not too high in sugar, according to Hecht. “If it’s too sweet, it makes the bread over-react; it will over-proof and there is no yeast left over when it hits the oven. When you bake it (the dough) will slump on itself and will not pop up in the oven. Chris’s honey is really good — top notch — for making challah. I use honey instead of refined sugar and have been baking this recipe for more than 20 years.”
Her challah is braided to produce twelve knots in the braid, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Ceremonially, challah is “afraid” of the knife, she says, so at the blessing, her family pulls the bread apart to maintain tradition. Whether sliced or pulled apart, we enjoyed the challah as part of a recent meal, and it was moist, flavorful, and a perfect complement to a crisp summer salad.
The second item made from challah dough is the current east-coast rage — sticky buns. These sticky buns are rolled in the fashion of cinnamon rolls, with cinnamon dusted on the sheet of dough before rolling and cutting into disks. The sticky, gooey part is made from molasses, corn syrup, butter and brown sugar, a dollop of which is placed in the bottom of the muffin pan. Then the rolled dough goes in on edge, and after baking, is turned upside down. The gooey-sticky mix seeps down through the folds of the spiral and flavors all. And the flavor can be summarized in one word: scrumptious! Can’t imagine anyone not loving them.
Which brings us to the black and white cookies, also in the experimental stage designated for the poppyseed babka. The black and white cookies we were treated to seemed to check all the proper boxes for this cookie type, but Hecht is not so sure. “I’m still experimenting with the size of the cookies. And the cookie dough is close, but I need to get it right; it has to be right,” she says. I’m betting that black and whites will be on Sweet Butter Bakery’s menu soon, so look for them if you are a fan.
Why should New Yorkers have all the fun?
Sweet Butter Bakery
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or Reading Farmers Market (Fridays),
or Half Day Cafe in Wyoming (select items)