Passion for pastry

Master chef Rossella Jones makes baking dreams come true at the heart of a bustling factory with an army of workers

Rossella Jonas 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rossella Jonas 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hayarkon Street lies in Bnei Brak’s industrial zone. Trucks arrive and workers unload their contents into dingy warehouses. Shirt-sleeved men stand at factory doors, barking orders into cellphones. Cars cruise carefully around the trucks and garbage bins set out on the street. Searching for No. 67, one sees a pleasant contrast to the industrial workaday scene: the Biscotti bakery, a clean white building.
Tables set up under an awning offer a nosh and a break from work. Stepping inside, one finds an air-conditioned café with a friendly waitress serving coffee, every kind of sweet and savory pastry, artisanal breads and salad. It’s all very pleasant and ordinary.
But behind the cashier’s desk a narrow door separates the noshing public from one square kilometer of rooms in which an army of workers labors to produce baked goods.
At the heart of the bustling factory, master pastry chef Rossella Jonas stands at her private work station and dreams up the next wonderful pastry or bread.
Everything about this pastry magician seems warm, from her olive skin and brown eyes, to her slightly Italianaccented Hebrew, yet she directs the bakery operations with calm authority.
“I work on a high,” she says, alternating between Hebrew and English. “I just really love working with the flour. Especially bread. I’m perfectly capable of coming home from work, baking bread late at night, then getting up at three in the morning to taste the loaves.”
Looking around at the displays of beautiful focaccias, whole-grain loaves, and exquisite pastries, one begins to understand that the basis for this alternative world is the chef’s passion for all things flour.
I follow Jonas through a maze of work rooms. The first thing that hits my senses is a divine fragrance of cool, fresh butter, sugar and spices. Exhaling I notice, here a pallet stacked high with bags of rich cocoa, there men setting down trays of lasagna gleaming with tomato sauce. Stainless steel tables bear rows of glazed fruit tarts and chocolate pies.
A door opens into another department, and I almost walk into a tall wheeled rack loaded with warm tomato and broccoli quiches. | METRO 15 savory smell makes me hungry. In the “yeast room,” a chef supervises men and women creating cinnamon buns, chocolate twists, and piles of folded puff pastry that will eventually become flaky croissants. In yet another room, workers pack prepared meals into boxes.
For all the work going on, it’s surprisingly peaceful: no radio, no yelling, only a hum of enormous whirring food processors and mixers and people taking or giving orders.
Surrounded by delicious odors, an unimaginable variety of tempting baked goods and dozens of busy, cheerful people at work, it’s like being in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, only it’s all pastry.
The baking bug first bit Jonas at age 14.
“I taught myself to bake,” she says.
“My mother baked like any other housewife, but I accumulated books and studied the art alone. I’m still studying, and still learning from my mistakes. Baking gives me a satisfaction in life like nothing else.”
She is surprisingly indifferent to sweetness, preferring natural flavors.
She has two tasters in the bakery who tell her if a new creation needs the sugar adjusted. Being self-taught, her working method is to jot down ideas in big notebooks she keeps at her work station.
“I develop all the recipes, but I don’t know how to work tidily,” she says.
“My notebooks are a mess, all scribbled over with notes and recipes.”
Still, the “mess” doesn’t extend to the orderly, spotlessly clean facility where the products of her imagination take shape.
“I work between nine and 12 hours a day,” she says. “This and my family, are my life. Even if I’ve worked until 8 or 9 at night, if there’s a crisis in the bakery, I come. I usually find the solution.”
Jonas was widowed four years ago and has four grown children. Born in Libya, she grew up in Italy, and she and her late husband made aliya from Rome in 1982. They first established a small restaurant in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Aviv neighborhood, where she developed her baking skills. Eventually she began supplying desserts to other eateries, and the couple gave up their restaurant. The owner of Biscotti, Amir Porat, noticed her talent when he bought out a bakery where she was working.
“I love to feed people and create new products, but I’m not a businesswoman,” says Jonas with a smile. “Amir runs the business. He was only 27 when he first asked me to work with him. I was doubtful about working with such a young man, but he turned out to be a powerhouse, doing whatever it took to get the business off the ground.”
Biscotti now supplies baked goods and prepared lunches to hospitals, offices, chain restaurants and catering halls all over the country. It acquires a new facility each year to accommodate kosher-for-Passover baking.
Jonas’s advice to aspiring pastry cooks? “Bake at home. Read lots about baking. Take a serious course. But most of all, work. Get your kitchen dirty. Measure carefully. Learn from your mistakes, because sometimes you will buy ingredients, bake, and wind up throwing your work out. Travel to other countries to learn, but know something about baking before you go.
People aren’t born knowing, they have to experiment. Yes, and be willing to receive criticism. If two people give you two different [kinds of] feedback on your product, think it over and reach your conclusions about what needs to change.”
CLASSIC BISCOTTI 3 medium eggs 1 cup minus 2 Tbsp. sugar Zest (grated rind) of one orange 1 tsp. vanilla essence 13/4 cups sifted flour Pinch of salt 1 tsp. baking soda 1/2 cup whole almonds 1/2 cup walnuts 1/2 cup dried cranberries 1/2 cup hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 170°.Sift together flour, salt and baking soda.In another bowl, beat eggs with vanilla and orange zest.Add egg mixture to flour. Mix.Add nuts and cranberries. Mix, then knead firmly until a uniform dough is formed.With wet hands, roll the dough out to make a sausage. Bake it 10 minutes.Cool dough thoroughly. Slice it into rounds about 1/2 cm. thick.Reduce oven temperature to 150°.Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the biscotti rounds on it. Bake 10-15 minutes or until the biscotti are dry through.