(New York Jewish Week) — Several years ago, Jennifer Daniels took a challah-baking class at The Heschel School, the pluralistic Jewish day school on New York’s Upper West Side. It sparked an interest, and she started baking multiple challahs every week and giving them out to family and friends.
One of the lucky recipients of her largesse told Daniels that she couldn’t continue taking the challahs. She wanted to buy them from her. Daniels demurred at first, but during the pandemic she decided she was ready to sell. She was home, had more time to bake and the interest was there. Thanks to word of mouth, her business, Home Cooked Is Best, which was launched in 2020, took off.
These days, Daniels sells between 10 to 50 challahs each week to friends, personal chefs and random people from the internet who have become fans of her baking. “Spreading the challah love,” said Daniels, “has given me great joy.”
Of course, Daniels is hardly alone in starting a home-based food venture during the pandemic. According to David Crabill, the founder of forrager.com, an online community of cottage food businesses, New York State experienced the biggest influx of people interested in making food from home. From 2019 to 2020, there was an approximate 50% increase in the number of cottage food businesses across the state.
This uptick isn’t just due to New Yorkers’ remarkable resilience and propensity for innovation. It’s also the result of recently updated cottage food laws, which have made it easier than ever for New Yorkers to sell those home-baked challahs to people in their community and to local stores, too. (But buyers and sellers beware: Not all foods are covered, and home-produced food sold in New York State needs to be shelf stable and non-perishable.)
Looking to give one of these new food businesses a try? Now is the perfect time! The following six small businesses are turning out delicious treats that are perfect for the uber-busy High Holiday season, which begins with Rosh Hashanah on Sunday evening, Sept. 25. And when your guests compliment you on the homemade babka they are enjoying for Rosh Hashanah dessert, the Yom Kippur break-fast or a festive Sukkot meal, you can nod modestly and thank them. Because the babka is homemade, after all. Just not in your home.
1. Jennifer Daniels, Home Cooked Is Best
For Rosh Hashanah, Daniels will be selling babka and round challahs of myriad flavors, including rosemary, plain, everything, cinnamon and chocolate. She will also make, upon request, za’atar, peanut butter and jelly, tahini and, especially for this holiday, apple cinnamon.
Daniels lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and for a modest fee will deliver. She uses honey and sugar in her challahs, and describes them as “a little sweet and chewy.” Her challahs are pareve — non-dairy — and sell for $18 each. Her babkas, which are dairy, come stuffed with cinnamon or chocolate and also sell for $18. Order by direct message on her Instagram.
Daniels has a kosher kitchen but she is not certified.
2. Jennifer Rak, Heimishe Bilkaleh
Bilkaleh, Yiddish for “little roll,” was Jennifer Rak’s grandfather’s nickname in Poland. Rak started her home baking business, selling rolls and rugelach, as a fundraiser in connection to her daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah. (Rak’s daughter has selected several charities that will receive the proceeds, including Variety, a charity that funds medical equipment for children, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.)
For $20 a pound, you can treat yourself, your guests or your High Holidays host to cream cheese- and butter-infused rugelach stuffed with raspberry, chocolate and walnuts or tahini with chocolate-covered espresso beans. (Gluten-free and nut-free versions are available, too.) If savory’s more your thing, there’s also rugelach stuffed with olive tapenade and pine nuts or harissa with halloumi cheese. Rak also makes challah sweetened with honey that she describes as “rich, fluffy and pareve.” She will deliver if “not too far” from where she lives on the West Side or you can pick up from her — DM Rak on Instagram with questions or to order.
What happens after the bat mitzvah next year? Rak says if people keep ordering, she will keep baking. Rak has a kosher kitchen. All ingredients have a kosher hechsher, or certification, but she is not kosher certified.
3. Beverly Kastner, Nana Kneads
Kastner is best known for her homemade pull-apart challahs, which are designed to be easily ripped apart and shared with the guests at your table. Kastner — whose daughter-in-law came up with the name of the business because Kastner is a nana, or grandmother, to nine — kneads and bakes challah as well as babka in her Bergen County, New Jersey home and delivers locally and to the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan.
Kastner’s large challah, which comes in a 9-inch tin, has 18 balls, or sections, and sells for $10. The medium-sized pull-apart challah, with 10 balls, sells for $7. She offers a variety of flavors including sugar crumb, cinnamon, everything, chocolate chip, sprinkle and zaatar. Her babkas, which come in chocolate or cinnamon flavors, are $12 each. Everything she bakes is pareve and nut-free. Kastner has a kosher home but is not certified.
4. Deborah Gabay, Cake Box 26
If you are looking to really wow your Rosh Hashanah guests, don’t miss Deborah Gabay’s beautiful French pastries. Gabay studied at the Danon Culinary Center in Tel Aviv and at the French baking school Michalak in Paris. These days, Gabay works out of a small rented kosher kitchen in New Jersey and she delivers to New Jersey and to the Upper East and West Sides.
For Rosh Hashanah, Gabay is preparing a 12-inch tarte tatin with honey for $65 and honey cake for $55 — check out her Instagram for more info. Her ingredients and her kitchen are kosher but are not certified.
5. Nicole Michael, Nic’s Desserts
Allergies are no problem at Nic’s Desserts: Nicole Michael prepares gluten-free and dairy-free desserts from her homes in Deal, New Jersey and Midwood, Brooklyn. You can order from her Instagram directly or purchase her treats from the Upper East Side shop Tomer’s or via Kosher Valet, a kosher food delivery service. Michael’s tasty options include thumbprint logs (a nut or almond crust filled with preserves or jelly), which are two for $28; 16 tahini fudge brownies at $22 and peanut butter-stuffed dates that come 10 for $20. Her kashrut is certified by HomeKosher, a kashrut vetting organization led by rabbis of the Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate.
6. Adam Simon, Sourdough Gambit
During the pandemic, Adam Simon left his career in finance and began to bake sourdough bread from his home kitchen on the Upper West Side. Demand grew and now Simon bakes out of a space in Long Island City and sells his babkas, sourdough breads and challahs directly to consumers — you can find him at Chelsea Farmers’ Market on Saturdays or he will deliver directly to your home or office in Manhattan.
Simon will be selling plain and seeded four-strand braided challahs for the New Year for $15.75 each — both are dairy-free. His apple walnut raisin babka is dairy and topped with a honey glaze and sells for $25. The babka are made with dairy products. Don’t forget his buttery rugelach that come in a variety of flavors, including chocolate peanut butter and apricot thyme. Place orders here.