The "Beshert" from Flour & Branch.
The "Beshert" from Flour & Branch.

Prison podcast names Frena ‘Lifer Bakery’; French toast stuffed with Jewish nostalgia; etc.

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Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

San Francisco baked goods company Flour & Branch is relying on Jewish nostalgia to market its stuffed French toast.

There are two family-size varieties. The “Beshert,” which in Hebrew means “destiny” and is more commonly used to describe a love match, is “destined to be in your tummy,” according to the website of food delivery platform Goldbelly. The challah is marinated in whiskey and cream, then stuffed with cream cheese, blueberries and honey with a pecan brown sugar crumble on top. The “Mashugana” flavor is “a little bit crazy.” It’s made from chocolate babka and challah marinated in cream, stuffed with peanut butter chips and cookie butter, and finished with a brown sugar cocoa crumble and powdered sugar.

Lauren Arnsdorff
Lauren Arnsdorff

Lauren Arnsdorff left a career in marketing to open Flour & Branch last October, and was looking around for a location when the pandemic hit. She still hopes to open in a storefront at some point. For now, Goldbelly is being used to deliver items locally and ship nationally.

We were able to sample both varieties and found them to be more like a bread pudding–coffee cake hybrid of a dessert rather than a breakfast or brunch dish. One of these could make an excellent brunch dessert for at least 12 to 15 people, as they are lasagna-size. (When you order, you may as well get some of the cookies, too; they’re oversized and in very original flavor combinations, such as stuffed with Nutella or peanut butter and jelly).

The stuffed French toasts made with challah and babka (both come from Wise Sons Deli) “are definitely not a traditional Jewish dish by any means, but it’s such amazing bread, and I felt if I was going to do this, I wasn’t going to use any other breads but these,” said Arnsdorff, who isn’t Jewish but her husband is. Her mother-in-law is a big fan, she said.

Frena, San Francisco’s Israeli kosher bakery, is closing its storefront for the time being, as most business has come from its deliveries throughout the Bay Area. We heard this from an unlikely source: the popular podcast Ear Hustle, which is about life in prison, specifically at San Quentin. Covid has changed the podcast a bit to tell stories about life on the outside, and a recent episode featured Frena, calling it “Lifer Bakery.”

a man in chef's whites looks over a spread of baked goods
Isaac Yosef, co-owner of Frena. (Photo/Cathleen Maclearie)

Owner Isaac Yosef never set out to employ ex-felons, but after he hired one who had learned some Hebrew in prison, it led to the hiring of many more, as many as 25 former inmates over his five or so years in business. Yosef says getting to know the backgrounds of these men made him want to give them a second chance. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Israeli chef Aliza Grayevsky Somekh is teaming up with a chef of Greek Jewish origin, Alison Negrin, to produce a Shavuot event on May 15 featuring local Israeli jazz singer Noa Levy. Held outside at a farm in Sebastopol, the Covid-safe event will celebrate “the land, friendship, good food, good wine and great music.” The menu is still being planned, but there will be a bounty of dairy foods and dishes inspired by Greece and Israel, plus local wines and cocktails. It starts at 5:30 p.m., and information will soon be available at

San Francisco writer Rachel Levin, who co-authored the Wise Sons’ hilarious cookbook “Eat Something!” is back with another humorous cookbook with San Francisco Chronicle food editor Tara Duggan. “Steamed: A Catharsis Cookbook for Getting Dinner and Your Feelings on the Table” is especially appropriate after this past year. The authors want to help people “channel frustration and rage into something utterly delicious.” With sections titled “Anger Management,” “It’s All Right to Cry” and “Chilling the F Out,” the book offers plenty of recipes to pound or cry out one’s frustrations.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."