Stepping into the Blessed Braid in Irvine is like stepping into owner Cheryl Honig’s kitchen. The modern kosher bakery, which celebrated its opening earlier this month, is not set up like a traditional bakery with a case of baked goods behind glass. Instead, Honig’s bakery has a marble counter in the center that she calls “Welcome Island” with plates of cookies, rolls and bread displayed under glass domes.
“When I was designing the bakery, I didn’t want there to be a divide between guest and host,” Honig said.
Honig has cooked her entire adult life, mostly for the family at home, where she has two farmhouse-style tables that she sets with food whenever she hosts an event.
“Everyone walks around with their plate and gathers their food. It allows everyone to come together, converse and blend in and feel at home. I wanted the same for my bakery.
Honig started selling Challah, a three-ply braided bread, at her house about three years ago.
“I got a permit from the Orange County Health Department to do this,” she said. “Then at some point I had to decide if I wanted to keep my business small or go into a brick and mortar business.”
She began transforming the Irvine space, formerly a bookstore, into the bakery of her dreams with blue paneling and pendant lights hanging above the reception island, creating a cozy atmosphere.
Customers tour the island and feast their eyes on traditional products like Challah bread which she bakes in the traditional way, with raisins, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and marble chips. Vegan Challah is also available upon request.
“We started with 10 staples, which were all my recipes,” Honig said.
The treats from its chef bakers arrive on the island as a “weekly surprise”.
“Then we get feedback from our customers, and then it gets promoted to a regular item on our home island, like our gluten-free chocolate soufflé cookie,” Honig said.
Honig’s business philosophy goes beyond the layout of its bakery. Blessed Braid is non-dairy and kosher certified.
“We are a fully kosher-certified bakery, which means every ingredient, every equipment, has been inspected and tested by rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of California,” Honig said. “And we’re all non-dairy, so there’s no cream, no butter.”
Kosher certification means a few extra steps for his team.
“Before opening, anything made of glass, ceramic or metal had to go through a mikvah,” Honig said, referring to the ceremonial bath designed for the Jewish rite of purification.
Sometimes keeping kosher presents unique challenges. For example, Honig recently worked with the Jewish Israel Club at Woodbridge High School on a fundraiser to support Ukraine and searched high and low before finally finding kosher-certified blue and yellow decorating sugar for a cookie on the Ukraine theme.
Although the Blessed Braid is kosher certified, it is not certified for Passover, which would mean many more additional requirements. The bakery closes on the occasion of the Jewish holidays and will close its doors from April 18 to 22 for Passover.
But Honig said ensuring his business is kosher-certified also means more people can benefit. Part of Jewish dietary law states that meat and dairy products should not be mixed.
“Any Jew of any level of observance can eat any product, at any meal, and feel free to give it to any friend and not have to worry about the presence of any product. dairy,” Honig said.
Besides Challah, popular items include kichela Yiddish name for a crisp, bow-tie-shaped cookie dressed in turbinado sugar and kamishbroyt, a maraschino cherry and raisin candy whose name is derived from the word used in Ukraine to describe a cookie and the Yiddish word for the bread.
Non-traditional dishes are also on display, such as a peanut butter and jelly cookie topped with salty potato chips, and a butterscotch haystack made with salted peanuts and crunchy chow mein noodles held together with shavings of melted caramel and peanut butter.
“One of our signatures is our Belgian street waffle,” Honig said. “We make them right here when the guest is waiting, then they come away with a hot waffle containing pearl sugar and dusted with powdered sugar.”
Two waffle makers sit in the corner of the kitchen, visible from the large bay window that allows guests to see directly into the kitchen.
“I wanted people to see that we’re totally transparent, that we only have healthy ingredients that you can easily spell and pronounce,” Honig said.
Customers aren’t the only ones watching the bakery.
As part of the process of maintaining her kosher certification, Honig works closely with the Rabbinical Council of California, a nonprofit organization that addresses food, legal, and other issues for California’s Jewish community. Every quarter, Honig’s kosher certification is renewed by the board.
“There are six cameras in the bakery, and the rabbis have 24-hour access to them,” Honig said. “And then every month there’s a secret rabbi who comes and he doesn’t tell us when, and he inspects everything.”
Honig maintains that the Jewish community in Orange County needs a kosher bakery, and she is happy to provide this location. By making everything kosher and non-dairy, the items are accessible to all members of the Jewish community, and there are no restrictions on when and what they can purchase in terms of Jewish dietary law.
And making everyone feel welcome in their kitchen is the icing on the black and white cake.
“It’s like we’re throwing a party and our customers are really our guests,” Honig said.
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