Left: Baker Jennifer Schwartz in action .a wizz with a whisk
Right: most people forget to add salt, she says
Janine Levy chats with Jennifer Schwartz, of The Maven Bakery, the famous Florida kosher bakery
When I was asked to interview Jennifer Schwartz, the owner of ‘The Maven Baker’, I panicked. I am more of a chef than a journalist, but I took my job seriously and I read up as much information as I could prior to our meeting.
I was impressed with what I read. She seemed to have accomplished a lot and not only had a successful bakery, but also had won competitions and produced a prize-winning spice rub.
You can imagine my surprise when I walked into the coffee shop and found this petite, young woman. How can someone so young have accomplished so much and how can the owner of a bakery be so slim?
Eager to find out, I jumped straight in.
So, how did you get into baking?
“It was never my initial goal. In fact, I was originally a pre-med student and I used to take my home-made baked goods to study groups. The cakes soon became more important than the studying and baking became a passion.”
So what is your best baking tip?
“Most people forget to add salt. By just adding a little salt to balance the sweetness will make a great difference to your final product. Not to mention using fresh ingredients and no GMO products.”
Tell me more about that…
“My bakery, The Maven Baker, is strictly non-hydrogenated and non-GMO. Genetically modified foods have no place in my bakery. It is more important to me to have a healthy product than to keep the cost down.”
How did you come up with the name?
“It actually came from my Torah classes. The word ‘Maven’ means expert in Yiddish which I thought was quite fitting for my bakery.”
What is your ‘best seller’?
“Without a doubt, it’s our Lemon Meringue Pie. Not only do we sell it in the bakery but we also sell it to restaurants in the area. People go crazy over it. Everything is made from scratch using only the best ingredients – even our lemons are sourced in Florida and we juice them and zest them by hand.”
What is your biggest challenge?
“Probably pareve desserts. It is a challenge to try and keep the flavor and the quality using alternatives like coconut oil and sunflower oil. It’s not about profit margins, I would always choose quality and health over cheap ingredients.
What do you think about Israeli cuisine?
“What is amazing about new Israeli cuisine is they have taken traditional Jewish foods and put a Middle Eastern twist on it, for example, using halva spread, or the addition of figs and dates, or simply adding Sephardi spices.”
What’s your earliest food memory?
“I grew up in New York next to an apple orchard, and my earliest food memory is picking apples of all different varieties straight from the tree. I guess that concept has stayed with me as I still love fresh, locally grown produce.
Tell me a little about your award-winning spice rub that you created?
“It’s called ‘Holy Smoke’. I came up with the name before I came up with the recipe. There was a competition being run in Miami and I was up against national competitors from all over the country. Believe it or not I had to cook pork! So, I wore double gloves and couldn’t taste it. Because of this I had to work extra hard developing my flavors and invented a unique spice rub using spices from Cuba and Latin America. The judges said it was the best pork they had ever tasted!
What is your ‘go to’ dish when you are just cooking for your family?
“It will always be dairy. My favorite thing to make is sautéed kale with white beans or pasta with goats’ cheese and mozzarella. These can both be made in minutes and are firm favorites in my home.”
I was sorry to leave Jennifer as we had so much to talk about with food being our common interest, but I had to leave as we both had to prepare for the upcoming Chag. I couldn’t resist asking her what she was making: ‘braised leg of lamb’, she answered and I knew it was going to be equally as delicious as her pies.