Rachel Sundet, Mamaleh’s master baker, talks about bagels and cheesecake

Rachel Sundet, a chef/baker known for the success of Delicatessen & Restaurant Mamaleh, oversees the busy bakery department, making bagels, bialys, challah, babka and more. She was named Boston Magazine’s StarChefs Rising Star Pastry Chef and Best Pastry Chef in 2015. She spoke to JewishBoston about all things carbs and dairy ahead of her Jewish Arts Collaborative’s JLive appearance on June 3.

Bread is traditionally considered vital. What role does bread play in Mamaleh’s culinary range?

Bread is a fundamental part of everything. At Mamaleh, this anchors us in many ways. We make bagels every day, and we also make challah every day. We use our own challah rolls for many of our sandwiches. Bread is also a cornerstone of baking. Baking bread also means going beyond a recipe. With yeast things, you have to use your senses and pay attention to what’s going through your dough to get the best product out of it. These recipes require you to go beyond reading the instructions, to follow and participate.

Which bread-based foods do you prefer to prepare?

I love making bagels! I’m not in the kitchen regularly anymore. But when I was working early shifts, I always loved the boiling shift where you’re responsible for baking all the bagels for the day. It’s difficult because you have to get up early and be ready to move quickly before you wake up. But once you get into that zone, it’s satisfying. And that first opening of the oven, where you get that spice and yeasty smell, it’s just pure satisfaction. It’s one of the best feelings to fill your entire rack with freshly baked bagels and see that project come to an end. It takes three days and many people were involved in the whole bagel making process.

Making bagels seems very involved. Can you explain the steps to us?

Rachel Sundet (courtesy photo)

We do our pre-fermentation on the first day. And it’s a mini version of what goes into bagels. It’s flour and a little salt and a little yeast and water. You mix it up and then let it ferment at room temperature for about an hour. It then goes into the fridge overnight so that when we toss the bagels the next day, the pre-fermentation goes into the final dough. You add more water, flour, salt, a bit of sugar and a bit of diastatic malt powder, which is an enzyme that helps chew the crust and gives it some sweetness. This pre-fermentation changes the texture of a bread product that has just been baked in a round shape to that kind of soft, slightly denser bread that is moist on the inside and more consistent in texture on the outside. Everything happens on the second day. We then shape this dough into a bagel and put it in the fridge overnight. A baker arrives first thing in the morning on the third day and boils and bakes them all. So it’s quite a process. We make 700 to 800 bagels every day!

Shavuot is around the corner. Tell us about Mamaleh’s blintzes, kugel and cheesecake to die for!

We have a New York style cheesecake rich in cream cheese, dense and velvety. It’s very sweet and delicious. It’s a classic cheesecake, and we top it with rotating fruit preserves or a compote. It has a gluten-free crust that tastes like a mixture of honey and oats. It kind of tastes like Nature Valley Honey Oatmeal Granola Bars!

Our cheesecake is a blank canvas for flavor, which is why we like to top it with a rotating fruit option. Fresh fruit is also a great garnish. But our cheesecake is also good on its own. So we have that on the menu, and then we also do kugel. The version we currently manufacture is for our retail freezers. It comes in a gold foil pan that serves two to three people. This is a classic noodle kugel recipe. It has farmhouse cheese, sour cream, eggs, butter, and egg noodles. It’s comfort food. We also top ours with cinnamon, sugar and cornflakes. One of my business partners grew up with cornflakes on kugel. I was skeptical, but we tried it and it was delicious! It’s a nice change in texture for the softness of the noodles and the custard to go with it.

The blintzes are a total labor of love. We make the pancakes from scratch with flour and a few eggs and not much else. There is also a little sugar and salt. You bake these thin, beautiful pancakes and fill them with a mixture of farmhouse cheese, eggs, a little sugar, sour cream and a little butter. Then you fold them up like little burritos and gently put them together. Before COVID, we served them at the restaurant, hot with raspberry jam. Post-COVID, we also turned blintzes into a retail freezer product. We pack four blintzes with instructions for people to bake them at home.

Are gluten-free products difficult to manufacture?

It depends. We have gluten-free items, and when we develop them, we try to make them naturally gluten-free. For example, we’re not necessarily trying to make gluten-free challah, but instead, maybe it’s a dessert we’re making that happens to be gluten-free. It’s my favorite way of doing things. Our cheesecake, for example, is gluten-free with that delicious oat crust that contains no flour. We tried to embrace gluten-free baking and use it as a learning experience. We also offer vegan products. We learn to substitute different products to meet these dietary needs. It’s an educational point for us as we see how things work or don’t work. There are certainly limits, but there are also many possibilities.

Learn more about Rachel Sundet on Friday, June 3 at noon, where she’ll be in (virtual) conversation with Laura Mandel, Executive Director of Jewish Arts Collaborative.

Comments are closed.