Get to know a Baker: Leah Kalish, Leah's
On a warm April Monday, Leah Kalish invites me into her even warmer St.Clair bakery and cafe on her day off to chat about her passion for creating confections. Hailed for her biscotti and cheesecake, Leah wants the spotlight to remain on her recipes, though her personality is so big and lovely, it's like a salty-sweet treat that should be shared.
I've read that your career began with you baking out of your parents' kitchen. What's the first recipe you remember?
Probably fruitcake. My sister made a great fruitcake, and a friend of my mom's wanted her to make it for her. She wasn't into baking for other people so I started and the next person came and the next person came. It's not something I make now, but it's I think, the first thing that I sold.
Did you work elsewhere before opening Leah's in 2010?
Yes, I have always done this. The new part to me is the retail component. I've always had a wholesale commissary space, and so I've worked out of commercial kitchens where I supplied, and I still do. It's a huge component of my business - stores, restaurants, hotels, conventions, that kind of thing. All the high end, you know, Pusateri's, Whole Foods, Summerhill Market, all the really beautiful fine food shops, most of them take it.
Your biscotti has become famous throughout the city. What is your inspiration behind these decadent, twice-baked biscuits?
I think the beginning of the biscotti story is that there was a restaurant that wanted to carry the biscotti, but didn't want the hard kind that you had to dip to make it edible, like the old Italian kind that was super super hard. So it was a version of a Jewish mandlebrot. I made it and then, I just started telling other people, 'I have this cookie, I have this cookie,' and it took off. Those kinds of things do it by themselves. It's not something you can control, or maneuver, they have a life of their own.
How many biscotti flavours do you offer?
There are four. Almond chocolate chunk, double chocolate chunk, lemon poppyseed and orange cranberry. And there's a gluten free version of the almond chocolate chunk because it's the most popular flavour we make.
What's the secret to the perfect cookie?
I don't know. In all things you put in your mouth there's no accounting for taste. What's spicy to me isn't spicy to you. I love salt on everything, so I like it sweet and salty, crispy and chewy. I like to really cover bases. And I don't really like my sweets so sweet, that's just me. I'd feel sugared out! So I like to have all those things happening but I LOVE the combination of salty and sweet.
Where do you get most of your ingredients?
I have very large suppliers that, you know, you just place your order one day it comes the next on a big truck. Six 40 kilo bags of flour...huge things you couldn't carry or go and get yourself. And then there's always specialty stuff you have to seek out yourself, like a good vanilla. I researched my espresso seriously before I opened and I serve a bean from Montreal from Toi Moi. It's super easy drinking and very mellow espresso bean. We all love our coffee.
Where would we find you after a long day at work?
I eat out a lot. People count on me for restaurant suggestions in Toronto. I'm very involved in the food world and the chef world and after a long day here I sometimes can't face my own kitchen. In this neighbourhood I go to the Rushton, Ferro, and the Stockyards.
Favourite ingredient? Salt or caramel.
Best kitchen appliance? Our rack oven: it takes 18 cookie sheets at one time.
One recipe you've been wanting to try? 'Crazy little miniature things.' (Currently working on perfecting an Oreo smaller than a nickel)
Book of the moment? Christina Toffi's Momofuku Milk Bar.
Someone who inspires you? Julia Child.
Photos by Natta Summerky.
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