Magic from the Oven
Tatte’s Boxes of Nuts
Written by Rachel Travers Photography by Katie Noble
It is a rare day that you step into a shop, particularly a food shop, and find yourself perusing each and every item, like paintings in a gallery, intent on finding all the visual delights and surprises they convey.Tatte Fine Cookies & Cakes is such a place. And frequently this happens before you’ve even tasted one of the exquisite offerings.
Cakes and cookies and tarts and pastries are artfully set about on shelves and tables in this tiny spot. The nut boxes catch your eye first, filled with carefully placed toasted cashews or pecans or a colorful mix of nuts, all blended with caramel and surrounded by a buttery crust. Baguette-size biscotti stand in a vase like proud plants. Tiny pistachio meringues in clear plastic cylinders are wrapped with a piece of raffia.
The refrigerated case holds fruit tarts and cheesecakes made with a special Israeli cheese. And the glassed-in counter protects the rose shaped breakfast pastries and other delights.
At Tatte the alchemist is Tzurit Or, an Israeli transplant to Brookline. She reminds one of Vianne in the movie Chocolate, who moved into a town she didn’t know and opened a chocolate shop just as Lent was beginning. And like Vianne in the movie, Tzurit has worked her magic and won over everyone—not only the Town of Brookline and the City of Boston, but also New York City and beyond.
Tatte is that special. AndTzurit puts heart and soul into baked goods that taste as spectacular as they look. But we’re jumping ahead of the story.
Schooled at her mother’s side from the age of 7, Tzurit learned her skills on an Israeli kibbutz where her mother was the baker for all special events. She watched with wonder at the creativity and tenderness that went into everything her mother made, effortlessly hours and hours, week after week, mixing and rolling and shaping and baking. “We made tons of yeast cakes and braided breads for a thousand people,” says Tzurit. “We did baklava, we did brioche, the roses that I do, the cheesecakes... My mother baked every day and so did I. It’s a different state of mind.”
Eventually Tzurit went on to become an independent film producer of what she terms “weird big projects,” high-budget documentaries like the history of Rome and a movie on the whale shark, a specific species that migrates to a specific spot in Australia to mate, a complicated project for National Geographic.
Then life changed. Tzurit married and moved to the United States. Suddenly she knew no one, and over time began to miss her previous life as an acclaimed big-budget producer. She moved to the West Coast before she came East, but hated it—hated “the glitz and glamour and phoniness” that was part of the Los Angeles film world. Almost returning to Israel, the now-pregnant woman decided to give the East Coast a chance, and she and her family settled in Brookline.
“Basically, I didn’t know that I wanted to open a store, but I knew that I wanted to bake,” she explains. “I needed my life back.” She knew nothing about American baked goods. “I’ve never baked a muffin in my life,” she says all the while knowing that what she bakes is much more special.
“I decided that I was going to do farmers markets, but it was winter, and I couldn’t check anything out,” she says. So she did her research online, Googled her way around, and ultimately found the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets (FMFM).Tzurit was drawn to farmers markets because she knew it wouldn’t cost much, plus she’d be there on the spot to witness the reactions to her goods and weigh the strengths of her products—all for a nominal investment.
She applied to every farmers market in the area, including snapshots of her goods. However, Tzurit had learned enough to know she wanted to be at the Copley Square Farmers Market, the biggest one in New England and the best in terms of foot traffic and the money she might be able to make. The drawback: There was a five-year waiting list. And then came the phone call. “I couldn’t even breathe,” admits Tzurit, the usually fearless woman. “But I was taking my daughter to day care, and had to call them back—and I was nervous about my understanding English, or of them understanding me.”
She need not have been. Her product overwhelmed the staff of FMFM, and they offered her any market she wanted. “I couldn’t talk. I just asked him very quietly if that included Copley. And he said, ‘Well, we can give you Copley on Tuesdays for now, and we will work on Fridays for you. But you can be in any market that you choose.’”
With the guidance of FMFM and a market manager, she was mentored through the logistics of where to buy tents, how to get certification and what permits were necessary.
And Tzurit began to bake again. She was quickly given a space on Tuesdays and three weeks later got a Friday booth at the Copley Market. It’s been an ongoing love affair ever since.
“Copley basically exploded. I was overwhelmed; there was a line the whole day. I never got to take off the latex gloves I had to wear—I was always working. And everyone asked if I had a store,” she says.
And so Tzurit opened a store in February 2008. “I found a space and just opened. I designed everything, sketched it all out like a film’s storyboard,” she says. And the rest is history—well, history in the making.
The newspapers and magazines found her shop and her exquisite products very quickly, and business was booming. But in the back of her head was one more thing she wanted for her baked goods. While still living in Israel, Tzurit visited New York City and quickly fell in love with Dean & Deluca. So, in November 2009 she made just one trip back to New York City, this time with samples. She left cookies, roses, pastries and nut boxes, then left without a word to anyone, just her business card, and came back to Brookline.
Then came a call for more samples for the “big bosses.” She brought another round of samples to the New York and it was love at first bite. It was too late to get into that year’s holiday catalog but Dean &Deluca began ordering for their Soho store, and soon after for their Madison Avenue store. he first year she was in the holiday catalog, they gave her the back page, and offered five of her products. Now they carry 15 products in the catalog and she’s in every holiday version they print.
And Dean & Deluca still sells her goods. The stores carry 22 products and Tatte delivers to New York once a week. Everything is made fresh in the little Brookline store, with 13 bakers working hard. “My production background plays into this. If you have smart people working for you and you know what you’re doing, you can make it work.” When New York asked for her morning pastries, she began delivering them unbaked and Dean & Deluca finishes them off. But everything else is baked fresh for them, even the tiramisu—and irony of irony, even her cheesecake! Tatte’s cheesecake is huge in the city known for cheesecakes.
We wondered: How does she do it all? “You need to get everything right. And that includes the way I work, the way I live, the way I think. The only thing I know is to be honest—with ingredients, customers, employees, my life. Always tell the truth. That’s how I live my life,” Tzurit states in a soft-spoken voice.
She tells a story that begins “A woman came into the store and said we just bought a cake here last week.” Tzurit didn’t know what was coming next, but the story left her speechless.
The elderly woman went on. “My husband was in hospice in Boston and his last wish was to have your pistachio crush [a gluten-free cake with a meringue crust and pistachio mousse, then caramelized pistachios on top]. I just wanted to tell you, he ate your cake, the whole nine inches, without even sharing it. And he was so happy. He was enjoying every bite. And I just wanted to tell you he died the morning after. It was important for me to tell you that he enjoyed your bakery and your cake, and I wanted to let you know the story.”
But Tatte’s love and acclaim (and even dying wishes) have gone far beyond the local community and New York City.
When the mixed nut tart was chosen by O Magazine, Tatte’s mail order business went wild. They do a lot of mail order, across the country and overseas. “I once shipped one tart to Hong Kong, and the shipping cost $87,” Tzurit says with surprise.
How does she manage to put out vast quantities of the wonderful baked goods, all from her tiny little shop?
Tzurit smiles her Mona Lisa smile and says that’s the thing with production—whether bakery production or film production. “When doing the whale shark film, I was in the middle of the sea in a storm and some equipment broke and I had to get Sony on the line and it was a holiday in Japan and no one was answering, and I was afraid the shark would disappear before we did the important part of the shooting,” she says.
We never asked her how she solved the problems but we know she got the footage she needed. After all, that’s part of Tzurit’s—and now Tatte’s—magic.
Tatte Fine Cookies & Cakes
1003 Beacon Street, Brookline
For anyone wondering what’s next, look for another Tatte to open soon in the South End. And Soho probably won’t be far behind... Rachel Travers is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer who contributes regularly to the Boston Globe and Edible Boston, as well as many other regional, national and online venues. She can be reached at email@example.com.