The Mondel Broad Bakery is one woman’s celebration of the ‘Jewish biscotti.’
Making a successful business out of mondel bread might seem like a tough nut to crack for some bakers. But judging by the lines in front of Suzanne Kassel’s stand every Tuesday afternoon at the Pikesville Farmers Market, that’s not a problem for the mondel maven.
Kassel’s business, The Mondel Broad Bakery, currently features 18 different flavors of the so-called “Jewish biscotti,” including such varieties as cinnamon nut, chocolate peanut butter chip and four combinations of “craisins,” or dried cranberries.
And that’s not even counting the eight kinds of cake on The Mondel Broad’s menu or the pumpkin bread and banana bread also sold by Kassel, who grew up in Randallstown.
Kassel, who lives in Owings Mills with her husband, Alan, first began making mondel bread about 20 years ago after getting the recipe from a friend. But it wasn’t until much later that she started to consider making a career out of it, instead of just making mondel bread when friends came over for dinner.
“One year, a friend said, ‘If you will make this for my clients for Christmas, I’ll pay you,’” Kassel recalls. “And it kind of snowballed from there.”
For a long time, Kassel made her mondel bread out of her own home kitchen. But about five years ago, she decided to take her business full-time. Kassel found a commercial kitchen at Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills and started marketing her bread to various stores.
It took about a year for Kassel’s business to really get going. But once Kassel began selling her bread at farmers markets and expanded her menu to include cakes, things really began to take off, she says.
In addition to the Pikesville Farmers Market, which closed for the season on Oct. 31, Kassel sells her items at two other seasonal farmers markets, at the Pikesville-based market Gourmet Again, the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Holiday Boutique, and various craft shows and events, not to mention a steady side business of “shiva trays, small goody bags, brunches and Oneg Shabbats,” to quote some of Kassel’s promotional material.
A lot of time and effort goes into making enough bread and cakes for all these different venues, Kassel says. She says that’s especially true for making mondel bread, says Kassle.
“[With] mondel bread, I mix it in the mixer but I form it all by hand,” she says. “It’s twice baked, so the process takes a little longer. It’s a lot of hands-on effort. You take it out and you slice it through and it pulls a bit. You top it with cinnamon sugar or if it’s chocolate-flavored, it gets topped with cocoa and sugar and then it goes back in the oven for a couple of minutes and then it comes out and it’s done.”
By comparison, Kassel says she finds cakes much easier to make. But because she tends to make more cakes at one time, on a cake-baking day she can get into the kitchen at 7 a.m. and not finish cooling and packaging all the cakes until 5:30 or 6 that evening.
Regular customer and fellow Covenant Guild member Maxine Gordon praises Kassel for her dedication to producing quality goods.
“Her stuff is fabulous,” says Gordon, who lives in Pikesville. “I die for her lemon pound cake. If you like lemon, it’s to die for. Her mondel bread is also very good. … Suzanne’s done very well and works so hard. I’m so happy for her.”
For Kassel, whose 25-year-old daughter, Elyse, lives in Columbus, Oh., the appeal of the food she makes and the reason for its success is pretty simple.
“It’s comfort food,” she says. “People love something that reminds them of an old memory, a grandparent, their mother. What I do I do out of love, and I’ve also found a business that I’m enjoying immensely. It’s something I’ve found I have a talent for and I make people happy.”
Jmore staff tries the mondel bread:
Alex Holt is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
Top photo by Daniel Kucin Jr.
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