Discover the Israeli bakery deep in the heart of a US-Danish community

A taste of Israel in a Solvang bakery.

LEYLA WILLIAMS bakes challot for Shabbat in Solvang. (photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)
LEYLA WILLIAMS bakes challot for Shabbat in Solvang.
(photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)
SOLVANG, California – Being in Solvang, the charming Danish-themed town in Central California’s Santa Ynez Valley, is like being magically transported to Denmark.
There are buildings with classic Danish design, Danish flags flying next to the Stars and Stripes, and shops serving aebleskiver, a favorite Danish pastry. Indeed, Solvang has every reason to be called the Danish capital of America.
The town, located about 33 miles north of Santa Barbara, and founded by Danish immigrants in 1911, draws visitors who detour off Highway 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
So imagine my surprise on a recent visit when I discovered a coffee house-pastry shop with a Hebrew insignia on the menu, braided challot ready for Shabbat, and a link to a baker in the Jerusalem suburb of Ein Kerem.
Welcome to the Good Seed Coffee Boutique, where Leyla Williams is likely kneading dough for her delicious breads in tandem with her husband, Brad, a coffee specialist – much like a wine sommelier – who is known as a Q Grader and is the roaster.
Filled with boundless enthusiasm for bread-making, Williams stresses the “4,000-year-old tradition” of bread and blessing, which in her words, is “so core to our [Jewish] heritage.”
“Even when you land at Ben-Gurion Airport,” she says, “the thing that you see as you are exiting the ramp before you get to your luggage says ‘We bless your coming.’ There’s such a deep heritage of blessing, and the bread goes with it.”
Williams’s breads open up a whole new world of styles and tastes. What makes it all so special, she says, is that “you’re always working with a living culture.”
That living culture is a fermented sourdough starter – the ingredient that makes the bread rise – which in her case comes from Israel. “So, essentially, every single loaf of bread I make,” Williams says, “comes from Israel, which is really cool.”
The starter was supplied by Erez Garini, an Ein Kerem bread-maker who one day walked into the Good Seed Coffee Boutique with his family while on a visit to California. Williams heard their Hebrew, which for her is “pretty much like a magnet for me, because if I hear Hebrew, I go over and start talking.”
Since that first meeting, Garini and Williams have combined their creativity, in both Solvang and in Israel, to enrich what she calls their “primitive craft” with out-of-the-box thinking, where the important thing is to listen to the bread.
Garini used to operate a bakery on Moshav Bnei Dror near Netanya, but he has since moved to Ein Kerem, where he bakes bread from home and gives small workshops for groups of no more than seven participants. His Instagram site is @the_breadtree.
GARINI LIKES to keep the groups small, explaining that there is “a lot of sensitivity in the art of making bread, and I would like to give all my attention or as much as possible to the people that come and want to learn.”
Captivated by a love of bread-making since before his army service, Garini is “fascinated by the magic of it because it’s real magic knowing that you mix water and flour and something happens.”
That magic produces sourdough – a culture of bacteria and yeast living in harmony inside flour and water. “This combination,” Garini says, “makes magic. It allows bread or what I consider to be good bread to be what it is.” If this culture is properly taken care of, it will “reproduce and grow and will be happier, like every other culture basically.”
Commercial breads bought in the store, Garini explains, are made out of commercial yeast, which is “not bad, but what they usually do is they make the bread rise way quicker, and so you don’t get a lot of the deep flavor that you can get when you let the dough rest for a longer time, sometimes even days if you want.”
Then there are the ancient grains, or grains that have not been genetically modified, which both Garini and Williams prefer. The breads are also very moist because of “high hydration.”
Williams’s adventurous approach to bread-making, where unusual ingredients are added to the mix, reflects the influence of Garini, who notes that when you work as a baker, “usually you get to do the same thing over and over again, which has its good parts, but you want to make life more interesting and be creative as much as possible.”
Most of the loaves Williams spread out on a table had a heavy, rich color with crusts that were very robust in appearance, like her hard red and hard white made from organic heritage grains. These included spelt and einkorn breads, which come with what she described as “a mellow, friendly taste.”
A variety of ancient heritage rye breads, such as semi-rye made with walnuts, as well as 100% rye with either pecans and tart cherries or whole rye berries, was based on a recipe Garini contributed.
Then there was a very interesting espresso ganache loaf made with hard-red heritage grains and single-origin Kenya espresso, which Brad had roasted, along with 73% Valrhona cacao mixed with real vanilla bean and high-grade maple syrup. I tasted a slice of this bread with a spread of salted, organic, cultured butter and found it to be magnificently rich in coffee flavor.
“THIS BREAD is special,” Williams said, “because it brings our two crafts together – my husband as a coffee roaster and me as a sourdough baker.”
Williams’ classic Yemenite-Jewish kubana bread, based on Garini’s recipe, is savory and tasty with nigella seeds and samna, and a smoked cultured butter, which was spread all over the work surface and on top of the dough.
Just the samna alone takes a month to make. Needless to say, the process is very involved. Williams smokes a jar with an olive branch for 24 hours and then roasts and grinds fenugreek seed to add to the butter that she clarifies and seals for half a month to get a rich flavor.
She shapes this three-day, slow-fermented sourdough loaf into rolled sections, which makes it easy to break apart by hand. Like the kubana bread, Williams’ challot are also topped with butter rather than the more traditional egg yolk.
One of my favorite breads of the day was an oval-shaped loaf, which again reflected Garini’s interest in developing new and different bread ingredients – in this case a combination of miso, nori seaweed, and green onion. Williams served this wonderful bread with tasty mozzarella cheese, basil and heirloom tomatoes. The only thing missing, I thought, was a glass of fruity wine!
Williams was born in the United States, but she lived in Iran until the age of four, when she and her parents returned to the US. Her mother is American and her father is Iranian. Recognizing “the tremors of the [coming] revolution,” the family left for the United States.
Williams visits Israel twice a year, and for her next visit, planned for this March, she hopes to take along a childhood friend who has never visited the country and who was recently diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.
Williams is raising money to finance this trip by donating profits from all the bread she makes from January 1-March 10, in addition to money from a sourdough workshop and a GoFundMe project (“Fundraiser by Leyla Williams: Unicorn in Israel”).
Williams, who has two California teaching credentials, has taught subjects ranging from English to Bible and, of course, bread.
A sign outside the Solvang shop announces the Good Seed Coffee Boutique, while the specific name of the bakery, Rewards of Life, is shown on the menu with the Hebrew letters gimmel and het.
As Williams explains, “The gimmel represents the camel. On the [ancient] spice trail, the camel would bring the wealth or the rewards. The het, which covers the camel in the logo, is the picture of life, like when we say ‘l’chayim [to life].’”
For more details, visit The shop is located at 1607 Mission Dr. in Solvang.