Hidden in the mountains, past miles of cornfields and patches of dense forest lay the Kiffle Kitchen Bakery in Bath, Pennsylvania. When you hear the word bakery, immediately smells of fresh bread and pastries rush into your mind along with memories of visiting grandma’s house for some freshly baked cookies. The Kiffle Kitchen is a family owned bakery started by Lee Kociolek, her husband Frank, and their two sons, Chris and Nick. Focused on family tradition, they have a hardy work ethic and appreciation for the age old craft of baking that sets their bakery apart from the rest.
Pulling up to the back of the bakery, a blue vinyl-sided house with red shutters and a wraparound porch filled with cooling racks and boxes, I knew I was in for a treat. I stepped inside walked down their red carpet to only notice the floor was outlined with tables full of
desserts. A few steps further and I entered a large open room bordered with display cases and chalkboards on the walls. On the walls listed prices of all desserts, coffees, teas, and the one board to my left listed all flavors of kiffles and desserts that were being baked on that day. Although the board listed all the flavors I could tell what they were just by the smell.
Not too long after I was standing in the bake shop, Lee made her entrance. She was wearing a white apron, dusted with flour, with a white Kiffle Kitchen visor on her head. After catching up on the times, since it has been several years since I’ve seen her, we took a seat at a glass table in of the retail shop. I was offered a variety of desserts, ranging from kiffles stuffed with jam to nut-tossies and their Hungarian roll. I was glad to be granted this interview, since the holidays are the busiest time of the year.
The History Behind the Kiffle
After enjoying the desserts I was offered, the interview began. “Being The Kiffle Kitchen Bakery, what exactly is a Kiffle?” I asked.
Lee started off stating, “Not too many people know exactly what kiffles are. Kiffles are an Eastern European pastry made of dough rolled paper thin by hand and filled with an assortment of fillings. They are usually most popular around the holidays. In the U.S., kiffles are mostly found here in Pennsylvania, since many Eastern Europeans immigrated here years ago. Kiffles are similar to Polish Kolacky or Czech Kolache (small, sweet yeast buns with fruit filling injected into its side) but different dough is used. Kiffle dough has cream cheese and butter in it. After filled with jam or nuts, they’re rolled up into a crescent shape and baked. While they’re still a bit warm, the kiffles are sprinkled with powdered sugar.”
Sitting in the brown wicker chair I read the list of “Daily Flavors” that read chocolate, walnut, apricot, raspberry, lemon, Lekvar. I looked at Lee and asked, “What exactly is Lekvar.” Laughing a bit before talking she said, “Well believe it or not it is one of our most popular flavors. Lekvar is a thick jam from the inner walls of fruits, but here we use prune.” I nodded okay and asked, “What do you mean by prune.” “The prune is made from dried up plums, which are mashed up and blended with a few preservatives to keep the filling from spoiling.”
“Are they organic?” I wondered.
She answered, “Not all prunes are organic; we tend to stay away from organics because there are no local suppliers to meet our needs, although going organic would be a healthy addition to our desserts.” I wasn’t too interested in the flavor, but the information was new to me.
“So are there any baked goods you are known for?” I asked.
Lee explained, “In general, Matt, we started off known for our kiffles, but as time passed I would say most people ask for our Hungarian rolls. My two sons, Nick and Chris, spend their mornings making the dough for the rolls. I can’t say what exactly it consists of because it is a secret recipe that is kept in the family.
The Famous Hungarian Roll
I followed up asking, “Are the rolls made from scratch daily.” “Yes,” she said. “My sons and I come in 5 days a week at 5am to blend the
ingredients in our power mixers that are located in the front of our bake shop. The dough is then placed in our refrigerators that are set to 35 degrees Fahrenheit which keeps the milk and yeast in the dough fresh. They are only kept in their for a 24 hour period which we then take the dough out the following day and it sits for an hour or two at room temperature. The dough is then spread out on the dough tables and it is carefully rolled out by hand. Each roll is cut into specific dimensions (which are kept to us) and the flavor fillings are then spread onto our rolls. We offer apricot, walnut, and Lekvar year round. During the holidays we add raspberry cream cheese and lemon to the menu as a seasonal special.
“Are the fillings made from scratch as well?”
“Not all of our flavors are made from scratch, but we do deal with local suppliers for those that we don’t make here. Walnut, however, is made from scratch on a daily basis. We buy specific walnuts weekly from a supplier in Northern California, so we know our ingredient will always be fresh and tasteful. That is the farthest that we go for any ingredient; but we do it because we know Northern California walnuts have the perfect taste for our filling. On top of our mixers we have a grinder attachment that chops the nuts up very fine. The walnuts are then stored in an air tight container until the following morning, for when I begin making our walnut filling. I stay away from grinding the walnuts though, she laughed. That’s what I have my workers do. The process to make the filling takes only about 45 minutes to an hour, but I make 6 batches of filling a day. So it does take up a lot of time, but I ensure a quality consistent flavor for our loyal customers.”
Sitting in the brown wicker chair I could just smell the Nut rolls being baked. I was almost tempted to ask for a fresh roll from the oven. However, I continued on with the interview. I glanced around at the wall near the entrance and I noticed a few framed articles from when the bakery opened.
A Baker’s Dream
“So what exactly made you want to open your own bakery? Did you just decide one day to open one or has it always been a dream?” I asked.
As she smiled ear to ear, she explained, “The bakery has always been a dream of mine, but for financial reasons it took time. I would never have what I have now if it wasn’t for my family. The boys and my
husband Frank devoted much of their time here in the bake shop. Chris and Nick weren’t out with their friends all the time; they were here covered in flour. It took many years of hard work, but now I couldn’t be any happier owning a business with my family.”
“So why do you have a sign saying, Please Excuse the Flour?” I asked.
“That is the reasoning why we refer to our bakery as unique.” Lee continued to explain, “Our unique difference at the Kiffle Kitchen Bakery in comparison to other bakeries is that you may see flour anywhere and everywhere in our retail shop and work areas. It is not dust. This is because our products are made from scratch and mixed here on the premises as you heard before. I would say about 5-10 rolling pins are being used by bakers all day long. At times, our work areas look like a snowstorm and our bakers truly look like bakers because they are dusted from it. Sometimes you see our footprints on the retail shop floor and sometimes we see yours as you are leaving. Our customers are special to us and we like them to know that their footprints matter.”
I thought that was very interesting. It seems rare to find a food environment that enjoys seeing footprints. When I was sitting there listening to Lee I glanced to my right and saw 7-8 footprints leading to the door. It was very unique; I would assume that most bakeries and restaurants have their floors cleaned to a sparkle.
Lee put out her hand and thanked me for coming, “Well Matt, I hate to end the conversation but I have to get back in the shop to finish up. My father is very sick, my husband and I have been taking turns taking care of him. It’s sad to see him ill because he used to help out around the business as we have a satellite location at the Allentown Fairgrounds. He was the man making all of our drives back and forth during our busy days. If we ran out of a flavor up there he would be here in no time picking up whatever it was they needed. But I want to thank you for coming and choosing our bake shop to write about.”
I enjoyed my time hearing the history behind the bakery, the kiffles, and the famous ‘Hungarian Rolls’. It all sounded and smelled so good I decided to leave with a half of nut roll and a variety of kiffles. I will be sure to return to The Kiffle Kitchen again, and I will be sure to leave my footprints behind.
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