The bread revolution seems to have left the UK’s kosher bakery market behind.
In the past 10 years, artisan bakeries have sprung up all over the country offering all sorts of breads from sourdough to spelt. Israel is regularly touted as one of the trailblazers in the new fashion for handmade artisan loaves — their bakers flocking here.
However, UK kosher bakeries idle in the 20th century with an unchanging menu of bagels, cheesecake, rye and rugelach. A wholemeal challah or mini bagel is about as radical as it gets.
Avraham Cohen spent considerable time studying various bakeries when he moved here from Israel seven years ago. He worked as a Kedassia and London Beth Din shomer for a number of different retailers including Carmelli, Sharon’s and Paradise.
“Every kosher bakery has pretty much the same line that hasn’t changed for 30 years,” he explains. Now he and wife Simona are on a mission to change that.
The Cohens have recently opened Cohens Bakery on a new 5,500 square foot kitchen site in Brent and have plans to introduce a whole range of exciting new breads to the kosher market.
“I have always loved food — my whole life revolves around it,” says Eilat-born Mr Cohen.
As a boy, he spent much time helping in his father Jacob’s bakery in Rehovot. He also ate well at home: “My mother’s heritage was Polish-Austrian and my father’s is Tunisian, so we tasted a wide variety of foods at home,” he recalls.
He began his formal catering training during his national service when he spent time as an army chef. “I used to cook meals for the 1,200 soldiers on the base where I was stationed,” he smiles.
After he completed his Israeli army military service he worked in restaurant management — “I worked as a manager in the kitchens of the two restaurants at the Herods Hotels in Eilat. It was gourmet, upmarket food.”
Italian-born wife Simona — who heads up the administrative side of the bakery — also has a strong foodie heritage. “My family have restaurants and coffee shops all over Rome,” she explains.
Mrs Cohen is passionate about baking: “I experiment with dishes at home. I really like the homemade foods I used to eat in Italy, and I want to bring them here.”
Which is what has inspired them to develop a new range of Italian desserts like tiramisu and Italian breads like ciabatta and focaccia.
Mrs Cohen’s family are helping the couple to build a range of recipes. “They have been here helping us adapt their recipes for the UK. French and Italian bread is the best in the world because of the water. Our water is different and breads rise and prove differently in our cooler, damper climate,” Mr Cohen explains.
He has also just returned from a course with master Italian baker Gabriele Bonci and has also changed some of the bakery’s suppliers so they have the best quality ingredients at their disposal.
Ironically, the first experience that many will have of their bread will be the traditional challah they are baking for Waitrose.
The couple have taken over the licence to bake the Buckingham’s Boulangerie challah, which has been stocked by Waitrose for the past 10 years and is one of very few kosher challah lines to be sold by a supermarket chain.
Mr Cohen was working as shomer there when the opportunity arose — “Robert Simon — the owner — and I are friends and had a very good business relationship. He was looking for someone to take over the kosher bread line, so I started in mid-June last year.”
And you will soon be able to find kosher challot in more than 180 Waitrose branches across the country giving many more access to a freshly baked kosher loaf for Shabbat.
The Cohens also hope to bring kosher bread lovers across the UK a greater range to choose from, as plans are afoot to expand their kosher product range at Waitrose to include baby challah loaves, bagels, pitta and a multi-seeded loaf as well as a marbled chocolate cake.
And those who are already fans of the Buckingham’s Shabbat staple need not worry. “Our customers won’t allow us to change the recipe — I’ve had no complaints,” laughs Mr Cohen.
The Cohens Bakery range, which includes 40 types of biscuit and 20 breads, is currently sold wholesale to kosher caterers, schools and residential homes but they have also not ruled out opening a retail shop in the future.
“It’s a new beginning for us — we’re bringing a new taste,” says Mr Cohen proudly.