Warning: Michelle’s sweet potato doughnuts are addictive. After the gentle crunch of the cinnamon sugar-coated outside, a soft and luxuriously delicious inside awaits. It’s all about the textures and the flavors — like everything Michelle Retik bakes.
For years the Millburn resident has shared her confections with friends and family; now area consumers can thank Rabbi Stephen Bayar of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn — where she is a member — for encouraging her to follow a long deferred dream.
This month, she opened Michelle’s Bakery & Cakery. Located in a Springfield warehouse behind the Front and Center Performing Arts Studio, the space was converted by Retik into her own stainless-steel magic kingdom.
With no retail area or room for display cases, her confections are available only by choosing products via her website (www.michellesbakerycakery.com) and then ordering by phone or e-mail; customers arrange to pick up orders at a designated time.
The doughnuts and brownies are certified kosher and pareve.
“It’s hard to find a good pareve dessert to bring to [a friend’s] house for dinner,” she said. “Somebody’s got to do this. I love being in the kitchen, so I’m going to give it a try.”
Retik’s establishment is under the hechsher, or kosher supervision, of Bayar, a Conservative rabbi. Eventually, she envisions having an Orthodox hechsher to expand her customer base, but for now, she will stay with the rabbi who has supported her venture this far.
In addition to regular baked goods, Retik offers specialty cakes for bar and bat mitzva parties, weddings, and other occasions, and she will cater Sunday brunches, particularly following bar or bat mitzva weekends. “Brunch is a pastry-driven meal,” she explained. Orange-infused hallah French toast with a mixed berry hollandaise sauce, anybody?
Retik also said she hopes that synagogues that already preorder hallot for congregants will agree to serve as drop-off points for her preordered Shabbat desserts, and invites caterers to work with her to provide specialty cakes to their clients.
And don’t forget that Passover is fast approaching — yes, she is rekashering all her equipment and preparation surfaces for Passover. Get ready for almond dacquois — a very thin, almost crunchy cake made with nut flour and egg white. She layers it with praline “butter cream” and chocolate ganache and covers the whole cake with a chocolate glaze. And, yes, it’s pareve.
‘A happy part of life’
On a recent morning, as a visitor arrived, Retik had a batch of brownies already cut on the counter, a white chocolate hallah bread pudding — one of her few dairy dishes — cooking in the oven, and she was tossing a batch of sweet potato doughnuts into a pot of hot oil on the stove.
At a petite five feet and 100 pounds, Retik has no trouble filling her 750-square-foot kitchen with energy and enthusiasm. Her blue eyes sparkled and her face lit up as she talked about her work. “Baking is just a happy part of life,” she said, taking the doughnuts out of the oil and placing them on a tray. “You’re there for everybody’s happy occasion.”
In 2007 Retik was just closing a children’s clothing store she had been running in Short Hills, when she had that fateful dinner with Bayar and his family. “His daughters were saying there’s no place to get a really good kosher wedding cake that’s beautiful,” she recalled. “The rabbi — knowing how much I love to cook and be in the kitchen — said to me, ‘Why don’t you do that?’”
As a single mother with four children ranging in age from four to 12, she said, it was no small task to take on. But Retik, now 40, embraced the challenge.
She earned a degree in pastry art from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York last year, completed two internships — at the Manhattan bakery Financier Patisserie and at the Pink Cake Box, a cake-decorating boutique in Denville — and started the search for her own kitchen.
She may have been trained in French baking and can make outstanding éclairs, but she bakes the treats she has always loved. “On Friday night, sitting around the table with family and friends, you just want a comfortable, homey dessert,” she said.