A Traditional, Jewish Dessert Gets a Facelift

de'asia collins

Yonkers, NY resident De’Asia Collins didn’t grow up eating babka. In fact, she hadn’t even heard of the quintessential Jewish staple until she stumbled upon a recipe for it in her cookbook collection. Encouraged by her boyfriend (and a Seinfeld episode), Collins baked her first babka and fell in love. After perfecting her recipe, she started selling babka professionally in newfangled flavors like birthday cake, baklava and S’mores – along with the classic chocolate and cinnamon – through her company Bitchin’ Babkas’ Etsy store. We chatted with the New York native about her passion for baking, how she perfected her craft and what the future holds.

What is your culinary background?
I’m a self taught chef and baker. I’ve always wanted to work in the kitchen since I was little, but never knew in which realm. My initial inspiration came from recreating dishes I grew up eating and quickly evolved as I became a cookbook fanatic.

Where was the first babka you tried?
My first babka was actually in my old apartment in December of 2019. I was so fascinated by the plethora of babka recipes and different cultural takes that I invested a good amount of time developing the Bitchin’ Babka recipe.

chocolate babkas

Did you do a research taste test?
Always! As someone who is self taught, I’m very critical of myself and know that I can always learn and grow more in my skills. Back in 2019, I mentioned making babkas to a few coworkers and they urged me to do so. At that time, I was baking smaller items such as cookies, brownies and birthday items for the team, and they loved it, so when they offered to be my guinea pigs, I had to jump at the opportunity. I brought in my birthday cake, triple chocolate and chocolate peanut butter babka, and they absolutely loved them and encouraged me to make more. Aside from this, I home tested multiple iterations of babka before I landed on a recipe I felt was both a quintessential babka yet still unique in the market.

What was the response from other people (especially those who grew up eating babka) to your version?
My boyfriend and his family are HUGE babka lovers, citing the Seinfeld episode to make sure I knew which one was king, and they are my biggest supporters. As a cinnamon lover, I vowed to make Jerry Seinfeld eat his words by reimagining the look, taste and feel of the cinnamon babka. Everyone is now a fan of our ooey gooey cinnamon babka. This past winter we were selected by Bank of America’s Small Business Spotlight at Bryant Park Winter Village, which put us to the test of not only native New Yorkers, but also international visitors who have grown up with babkas. They all had rave reviews. Many of them are now steady customers.

What is so fascinating is how diverse the babka is in itself. Depending on where you grew up, where your family was originally from and where you first tasted babkas, you may have a slight (or major!) difference in opinion on what an authentic babka is. Our focus on elevating fillings while remaining steadfast in mastering our dough recipe definitely endeared us with babka fans off the bat.

de'asia selling babkas

How did you know yours was good enough to sell?
We knew, not only through taste tests and reviews, but also, when you’re in this industry, especially as a small business of only two people, you become your own hype man. You fall in love with the craft and try everything there is to create the best product you can. The process of putting hours upon hours into R&D on the dough, research on specific ingredients that we use, and utilizing the best marketing tactics all go into making Bitchin’ Babkas what it is today.

Why did you choose the name Bitchin Babkas?
Bitchin’ Babkas is truly a reflection of who I am: native New Yorker, fun, exciting, tattooed, inviting and a sucker for some good alliteration. This all came together for what I wanted the brand to be. The name kind of came to me overnight; I hopped onto my computer and started creating the logo from scratch, everything from the color scheme, font, placement and all the other goodies that make the name pop.

Where do you get flavor inspiration?
Our flavors are inspired by childhood favorites, which trickles into what’s in season and what I wanted as a kid during these seasons. I have a list of over 250+ babka flavors (sweet and savory) that are ready to be spread on the canvas which is babka. The intersection of nostalgia and innovation means a lot to me as we develop our flavors. Fusing together different ideas, cultures and flavors while reaching back into our best dessert memories creates some of the most fun and delicious flavors possible

What makes your babkas stand out?
I’ve crafted the dough to be like no other, and our fillings give you all the feels that they’re supposed to. We did our research before entering the market. I was hard pressed to find anyone creating babkas with as diverse a flavor profile or the number of options we offer. I was and still am so excited to utilize what I consider one of the greatest canvases in baking to deliver new and exciting flavors that may remind you of your other favorite desserts or introduce you to something you’ve never experienced!

I’m a consumer and always think “if I were buying this, what would I be looking for” and I carry that ideology into every aspect of the business. My babkas are also hand twisted so no two babkas are the same, which I think gives you the handcrafted feel that consumers are looking for. We also make our babkas as fresh as possible. If you order a babka for pick up on Tuesday at 10 AM, the babka will be freshly made, warm and ready to eat.

birthday cake babka

How do you reach your audience?
Instagram and Etsy have been our main source of marketing in the online sphere. Local events, catering to larger local businesses, partnering with our city’s government, as well as private dinners and catering opportunities have all been major ways we’ve grown our brand and introduced ourselves over the past year. Doing holiday markets on a major scale as well as contributing to cultural celebrations in our community such as Juneteenth have allowed us to grow into new demographics and introduce our products to those who may not have been as familiar with babkas previously.

What do you see as the future for your brand?
I’m very much a sky’s the limit type of person. In the next few months I’m hoping to have a special place for our customers to come and shop at Bitchin’ Babkas. We have a lot of our Westchester community wanting to have the full experience of reaching a location and grabbing that freshly made babka off the shelf or straight from the oven for onsite consumption.

We’ve also been digging deeper into more Jewish delicacies such as our Rad Rugelach, Passover Brownies (which are 100% GF free), Hautematachen, Matzo Toffee and creating our first vegan babkas (we’re coming for your vegan community!). My goal is to create a space where everyone can enjoy the deliciousness of Jewish confections and art.

What did you learn about the history of babka and its place in Jewish culture when you started this business?
I dug deep into researching not only the history of babka but also about the Jewish culture and community as a whole. I have tons of cookbooks and bakery books that explain the origins of this bread and why it’s such a delicious dessert. It’s amazing how many different variations of the babkas are around from the Kokosh Cake to Paska, and it amazes me how many people have not even tried one. Everything from why the babkas are twisted to traditional flavor profiles to even how it should be eaten just gives me more respect for the culture and the craft.

AUTHOR

Sarah Strong

Beyondish Assistant Editor Sarah Strong is a New York City based writer who holds a master’s degree in food studies and is obsessed with television. You can follow her on Instagram at @feedsstrong to see where she eats, what she cooks and what sneakers she’s wearing.

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