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Ayelet Turgeman Nuchi.
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You may think you know babka, especially if you’ve howled over that notorious Seinfeld episode in which Jerry and Elaine are foiled in their attempts to buy a chocolate one. But you haven’t experienced the full potential of this Eastern European specialty until you’ve had Babka by Ayelet. The new babka-focused bakery, which debuted appropriately enough on Rosh Hashanah in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village, sells four sizes ($7 to $40) and seven flavors of the yeasted treat that’s like a cross between a cake and a bread, rolled around a filling and shaped into a tender loaf. Here, they are spiraled with Guittard chocolate ganache, halvah, cinnamon, almond and cherry, or creme fraiche-raspberry. Although babkas are typically sweet, two savory variations are also offered—tomato, and another tinged orange from butternut squash enfolded with thyme, Parmesan and pine nuts.
They are all the creations of Israeli-born Ayelet Turgeman Nuchi, who moved to the Bay Area 18 years ago and promptly fell in love with the vibrancy of California cuisine and living. However, there was one thing she desperately missed from home. Yes, babka. Unable to find one to her liking in the Bay Area, she started baking them regularly for herself. In fact, when the former Spago Palo Alto cook and Peninsula private chef had a catering company for 15 years, her calling card was the gift of a babka at every event. “Whether it was a wedding, bar mitzvah or birthday party, people would email saying how great everything was, but that the babka was the star,’’ Nuchi, 48, says.
What makes her babka special is that it’s incredibly moist with a crumb much more akin to cake. It took her years to perfect it after she hit on the idea of melding her four favorite desserts—brownie, clafoutis, challah and babka—into one. The dough is rolled as thin as the filling, giving each equal prominence. She makes a point to use local and organic ingredients too.
At the bakery-cafe, done up in airy light pink and gray, slices can be enjoyed with coffee or tea, fresh fruit, or a green salad. You can even learn how to make your own babka at Nuchi’s monthly baking classes. Will babka someday supplant cupcakes and macarons in adoration? “I hope so,’’ Nuchi says. “It’s just a really good combination of everything people like.’’ Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real
Originally published in the September issue of Silicon Valley