A Portland baker whips up Jewish classics and not-so-classics.
Hanukkah cookies, and, from top to bottom, chocolate babka, Nutella-rolled rugelach, potato knish, sliced babka, and black-and-white cookie (897 Brighton Ave.; 207-310-4405). Not into pastries? Check out Elise Richer’s latke recipe in her cookbook, Always in Season, from Islandport Press ($19.95).
By Will Grunewald Photographed by Mark Fleming
Classic Hanukkah foods are fried, like potato latkes and the jelly donuts called sufganiyot. They signify the little bit of oil that, some millennia ago, kept a menorah lit in Jerusalem’s temple for an entire week. So the potato knishes, chocolate babka, and rugelach that Elise Richer bakes at Tin Pan Bakery, in Portland, aren’t inherently Hanukkah-y. They’re year-round snacks. But her shop gets extra busy this time of year anyway as families stock up for holiday gatherings.
Richer is the daughter of a Jewish father from New York and a none-too-religious mother from Norway. She celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, but she’s raising her two sons as Jewish. When she opened Tin Pan a few years ago, she tapped into some childhood memories of visiting her grandmother in New York. “I guess it’s a do-what-you-know thing for me,” she says. “It felt like I couldn’t really have a bakery without rugelach.”
Rugelach are a particular favorite of hers. “Flaky and not too sweet,” she says. “Although mine aren’t very traditional.” Instead of nuts and raisins, she fills the little rolled cookies with Nutella. Tin Pan’s one Hanukkah-specific treat isn’t very traditional either: sugar cookies, shaped as dreidels, Stars of David, and menorahs. Lindsay Torrey, a local artist, decorates them. “She’s not Jewish,” Richer notes, “but she really practiced those letters for the dreidels.”