Pastry Chef Mary Coe (left) and Fran Lent inspect the Krembos as they come off the enrober. (Photo/Alix Wall)
Pastry Chef Mary Coe (left) and Fran Lent inspect the Krembos as they come off the enrober. (Photo/Alix Wall)

Kosher bakery is a taste of Israel in the Bay

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

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

Foodie that she is, Fran Lent had a vision for the brand new Lent Chabad Center: It would need an eatery, a place where community members visiting Chabad of the North Peninsula’s facility in San Mateo could meet for coffee before picking up their kids from preschool or fuel up on tasty treats during Torah study sessions.

She turned that vision into Krembo, naming it after the beloved Israeli confection. The bakery is now officially open for business.

Located on the Lent Chabad Center’s second floor and featuring a wall built of Jerusalem stone, the parve bakery is meant to give a taste of Israel in the Bay Area.

The interior of Krembo, on the second floor of the Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo. (Photo/ Alix Wall)
The interior of Krembo, on the second floor of the Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo. (Photo/ Alix Wall)

“The whole vibe is like a shuk,” said Lent, whose career is in brand management. (She and her husband, Bobby Lent, were the lead donors for the new, $20 million Chabad center.) Certain touches, such as the self-serve espresso machine, were added specifically to make the area’s large Israeli population feel at home.

“It was really important to me to present a positive view of Israel,” she said. “And I love food.”

For the uninitiated, a krembo is a buttery cookie topped with marshmallow cream and coated in a layer of chocolate. Available as a packaged, shelf-stable product not unlike a Hostess CupCake, the original confection is full of preservatives and other less-than-wholesome ingredients.

“The gourmet krembo is so much better than the original,” Lent said, stationed near a giant machine called an enrober, which adds chocolate coating to cookies on a conveyor belt (the bakery splurges on high-quality Belgian chocolate). She noted that several Israeli bakeries started the gourmet trend. She spent weeks in Israel learning from pastry chef Nitzan Susid and credits Susid with inspiring many of Krembo’s recipes.

While krembo is the bakery’s signature item, standouts also include a carrot-tahini cake, sesame-tahini cookie and gluten-free almond berry cake. Mandelbrot, coffee cake, challah — both regular and gluten-free — and chocolate and cinnamon babka are also available.

Hamantaschen, including gluten-free options, can be preordered for Purim through Tuesday. Nontraditional flavors include green tea with apricot filling and chocolate chip with raspberry filling.

Daphne Kaufer, designer of the new center’s interior, is gluten-free and called the gluten-free challah “the best ever. It stays moist for a week. And their gluten-free cakes are to die for.”

The space has a few tables, and there’s a large atrium right outside it, both of which can be used for study sessions. Customers can look into the kitchen and see the krembo going through the enrober.

Capable of reproducing photographs on sheet cakes and logos on cookies, the bakery is busy supplying custom cakes and 4-foot challahs to Peninsula families for simchas and cookies bearing logos for events. (Krembo recently supplied the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School gala with 300 cookies.)

At Hanukkah, the bakery sold 800 sufganiyot; by mid-February, 500 hamantaschen had been preordered.

Lent is aware that the reputation of kosher desserts has been sullied by years of reliance on margarine and other less-than-delectable nondairy products. When she hired pastry chef Mary Coe after taking Coe’s classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute, they were determined to formulate a nondairy substitute for cultured butter.

Coe, who’s dedicated her culinary career to pastry, came on board at Krembo to take up the challenge. “I loved the idea of pushing the boundaries of something that’s considered not that great, to a standalone great product, whether it has butter or not. I love the creativity involved.”

Lent said customers are requesting she sell the butter because it’s such a major upgrade to commercially available products. While she won’t give away the recipe, she will say it includes only natural ingredients, such as coconut oil, along with two kinds of vinegar to give it that cultured tang.

While Lent briefly considered opening Krembo in downtown San Mateo, she quickly thought otherwise. With the motto “Taste Good, Think Good” (a riff on the third Chabad rebbe’s saying, “Think good and it will be good”), the business has a built-in client base at the Lent Chabad Center.

Krembo opened quietly months ago, serving the families of preschoolers coming to the center. Challah can be preordered on the website.

Said Michelle Tandowsky, who came to pick up items before Shabbat, “This bakery fills a huge need in the community.”

Krembo, 115 Monte Diablo Ave., San Mateo. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday. Closed weekends. 

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."