The Toronto Star
I arrive expecting bubbies. Instead, I find babes.
Sisters, business partners and inseparable best friends Heather Rajf and Sharon Stemerman wave at me enthusiastically as I enter the spacious Second Cup in the Lawrence Plaza for our interview one recent afternoon.
Both women have thick, shiny hair laced with streaks. Both look chic yet casual in black pants, turtleneck and jacket. Both reveal gleaming Chiclet teeth as they each flash me a wide grin.
I sit down at their table on which sits a big tray containing a slab of something chocolate. It turns out to be the latest creation of the twosome's burgeoning business Bubbies Biscotti, "bubbie" being Yiddish for grandmother.
"This is an idea we're working on," explains Rajf (pronounced Raif), 45, slicing into it with gusto. "It's Bubbies Biscotti Bark. Try a piece." Ever the critic, I deem the bark tasty but suggest it would be perfect made with larger chunks. "I agree," Rajf replies, cutting herself another slice. "It needs bigger crunchy bits."
Stemerman, 42, chimes in, finishing her sister's thought, as each is wont to do. "The first batch Karl made was much thicker," she notes, referring to the "high-end baker in Mississauga" who does all their baking. "You could have broken your teeth on it."
Bubbies Biscotti was born two years ago after Rajf and Stemerman found themselves with a culinary hit on their hands. The Compl-EAT Cookie Jar was a do-it-yourself baking kit they devised. "It was a pre-measured cookie mix in three flavours that came in a Lucite jar," Rajf says. "It was idiot-proof. You just had to add eggs and butter, then stir."
Stemerman elaborates. "We used to do demos at Pusateri's. It took off like crazy. People would say, `Can't you sell them baked?'"
The answer, it turns out, was yes — with a twist. "Heather and I said, `Let's make Mom's and Bubbie's cookies and see what happens.'" The confection in question was mandelbrot: the twice-baked Jewish cookie traditionally made with almonds that's a dead ringer for Italy's biscotti.
When it came time to order a second batch of jars to the tune of $60,000, the pair opted for a new scheme. "We took variations of our mother's and grandmother's recipes for mandelbrot," Stemerman says, "and put together the best of both worlds."
The pair called them biscotti for one simple reason: "No one wanted to buy mandelbrot," Rajf explains. "Most people don't know what it is."
The pair baked 300 cinnamon biscotti and drove around town trying to find stores that would sell them. After Pusateri's eventually agreed and sold 150 in one day, business began to build. Soon, two new flavours were added — lemon poppyseed and chocolate marble — and their biz gained more accounts.
Today, all three flavours come in iced versions drizzled with Belgian milk and white chocolate. My favourites and two bestsellers are the iced marble and cinnamon biscotti, which have the addictive texture contrast of crunchy cookie and soft chocolate coating.
Made with vegetable oil instead of butter, the biscotti are lactose-free and contain no nuts or preservatives. They are "kosher-style:" All ingredients are kosher but not blessed by a rabbi.
Bubbies Biscotti are so popular, the company now bakes thousands a week and sells them to many outlets of What a Bagel, Second Cup and Baroli Caffe as well as food shops like Bruno's Fine Foods, Pusateri's Fine Foods, Nortown Foods and Daiter's.
Rajf cuts herself another piece of bark. "Heather's always on quality control," Stemerman quips. "She can eat anything," she adds. "She takes after our father's family; I take after our mother's."
That's not the only difference between the sisters, who call themselves "bookends." Claims Rajf, "We're totally opposite." Stemerman doesn't miss a beat: "I'm the outgoing, vibrant one — the nutbar." She adds, "We laugh all day." Her sibling agrees, "This isn't like a job — it's a fun time."
However, it is hard work. These energetic entrepreneurs do all their own deliveries. Still, they find time for family and friends. Both have husbands. Rajf has two teenage children; Stemerman has three girls aged 14, 9 and 5.
She notes: "We all get together for Friday night dinner and sit down as a family every night." That's important to both of them. "Our parents were always working," Rajf notes fondly.
As I write this, the doorbell rings. It's a courier delivering a package of Bubbies Biscotti Bark. It's perfect: smooth milk chocolate loaded with big bits of broken biscotti. Watch for it and a sugar-free biscotti that's in the works.
Check the Bubbies Biscotti Web site: http://www.bubbiesbiscotti.ca
Here's a recipe for the traditional Jewish brisket that Rajf and Stemerman got from their late mother Ruth Drew and often make for Friday dinners. I added onions for a richer sauce.
Use Heinz or other similar chili sauce.
2 large onions, peeled, sliced
1/2 cup each: chili sauce, ketchup
1 envelope (38.5 g) dry onion soup mix
3 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1 double beef brisket (5 to 6 lb/2.2 to 2.7 kg)
3 cups water
Place onions in bottom of large roasting pan.
In bowl, stir together chili sauce, ketchup, soup mix, garlic, paprika and salt.
Trim all but a thin layer of fat from brisket. Rub chili sauce mixture over brisket. Place on top of onions, fat side up. Cover with plastic wrap. Marinate in fridge overnight.
Remove plastic wrap. Pour water into roasting pan. Cover pan tightly with foil. Cook in centre of preheated 350F oven about 4 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes and re-covering pan, or until brisket is tender.
Pour hot pan juices through sieve set over bowl, pressing with back of spoon; discard solids in sieve. Return sauce to pan with brisket. Cool 30 minutes, cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.
Skim hardened fat from sauce. Thinly slice brisket across grain; return to sauce. Cover pan with foil. Cook in centre of preheated 350F oven about 45 minutes or until heated through.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.