In the middle of December’s cacophony of Christmas merriment comes Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights.
Along with the nightly menorah lightings and special prayers are delicious things to eat like challah bread, macaroons, sufganiyot, a type of jelly donut and, of course, chocolate gelt.
A great place to stock up on Hanukkah treats is Simon’s Beach Bakery Cafe in Westhampton Beach. This kosher bakery has been serving up baked goods for nearly 30 years. Owner Simon Jorna caters to his customers, making sure they get what they came in for and leave happy.
“They know they’re getting a good deal, they don’t accept it when you give them crap, and you have to make it right for them,” Mr. Jorna said.
Making it right is making sure everyone’s needs are met at Beach Bakery Cafe. These days the Christmas decorations are up, holiday music plays in the store as customers come and go. Mr. Jorna is a constant blur in motion checking with his salespeople, chatting with customers, and popping into the bakery to check on the baker’s progress.
This past week, along with the day-to-day cakes, pastries and Christmas goodies like gingerbread and stollen, the bake staff have been busy making treats and desserts for the upcoming Hanukkah celebration.
One of those is a mini jelly donut that serves as sufganiyot. The word comes from the Greek word sufan, which means “spongy” or “fried.” The fried treat is perfect for a holiday commemorating the miracle of one night of oil that lasted for eight.
According to an Israeli folktale, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God offered them sufganiyot to cheer them up. While this story has no basis in fact or the scriptures, the idea of donuts creating a little happiness would resonate with most people.
Beach Bakery Cafe’s mini donuts are fried, filled with raspberry jam, then dredged through a thick layer of confectioner’s sugar. One delicious mouthful and the powdery sugar is everywhere—your chin, the floor, everywhere.
Cookies, shaped like dreidels and coconut macaroons are other popular holiday treats made at the bakery.
Macaroons are a staple during Passover and Hanukkah because of their flourless recipe.
Going one step further, Beach Bakery Cafe created what they call “Hanukkah Houses” which are similar to their Christmas gingerbread house.
“We’ve been making the Hanukkah houses for 15 years,” Mr. Jorna said. “We get a lot of requests for those and our Hanukkah cookies.”
Like the gingerbread houses, the Hanukkah houses are made with icing, Hershey’s kisses, hard candies, and sprinkles, but instead of gumdrops, there’s lots of shiny gelt. Gelt are those gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins that are given as gifts and traded during dreidel games.
But the piece de resistance may be Beach Bakery Cafe’s beautifully braided challah. Challah is a brioche-like, egg-based bread, that is served during Jewish holidays.
“Our challah bread is only baked on Fridays or special order,” Mr. Jorna said. “It’s non-dairy, so they are certified pareve.”
According to Jewish law, there are foods that cannot be eaten, as well as foods that cannot be eaten together. Kosher foods are divided into three categories: meat, dairy and pareve. Pareve foods are considered neutral because they contain neither meat nor dairy but can be eaten with meat or dairy dishes.
But for Mr. Jorna, it’s not just about the food he sells, he wants every customer to enjoy and feel welcome in his cafe.
“I enjoy the compliments,” he said. “You work really hard the whole weekend, you make sure that everything is right and people have a good time, then Monday morning you get a compliment, ‘Simon, thank you so much, we had a great weekend’, and that’s why you do it.”
Hanukkah begins on the evening of December 12 and ends on December 20. Macaroons, dreidel cookies, and jelly donuts are all available at the bakery. Mr. Jorna recommends calling ahead for a Hanukkah house, to make sure they’re in stock. They can also be pre-ordered.
Beach Bakery Café, 112 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, (631) 288-6552, open daily 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.