It’s Thursday morning, and Hans Bertele is kneading his balls of dough, readying them for the colander of black olives waiting to be torn and tossed, just so, on the perfect rounds of focaccia.

Over on another counter, Galit Bertele is setting out bowls of caramel and raspberry syrup to adorn two cheesecakes, while a container of deep yellow passion fruit studded with seeds sits nearby, awaiting its own decorative possibilities.

It’s the Galit and Hans show at Gaya Bertele Patisserie, the renowned Petah Tikva bakery unobtrusively situated on the third floor of an industrial building, located in a back alley of car garages. When these two are in the kitchen — which happens frequently, even though they each regularly work night shifts as well — the pace is tremendous, a steady stream of breads and cakes, pastries and petits fours being churned out, from counter to mixer, oven to fridge.

As a couple — there’s a 25-year age difference between them — they’re a match that was meant to be, said Galit; they met during her apprenticeship as a pastry chef. He’s originally from Germany, the youngest son of hotel owners, but has been here for decades, including a long stint at the Hilton. She, a Tel Avivian, first studied math and physics. They also worked together at Kapulsky’s, and then opened their own business, which also included a well-known Petah Tikva café for a time.

Meringues ready for assemblage (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Meringues ready for assemblage (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Now, they bake their daily allotment of some 400 croissants (and 800 on Fridays), yeasted dough specialties, pastries and cakes each day, working with a distributor who gets them delivered to the cafés and restaurants that await their daily Gaya Bertele fix.

But what’s fascinating about spending time with the Bertele bakers is the information gleaned from watching, along with some careful listening. Those details are accessible to everyone; Hans and Galit regularly offer workshops and one-off classes in their bakery. In the meantime, the top five tips and hints from Petah Tivka’s two top bakers.

1) Right now, it’s all about yeast doughs for these two bakers (who just wrote a book on the subject, Baking with Yeast). “It’s alive; you have to live with it and understand it,” explained Hans. “If you change the atmosphere in which it’s rising, it will change.” That means checking the temperature of the room, the temperature of the dough and of the butter being folded into the mix, when putting together a yeast dough. “It’s all science,” he explained. “Everyone gets all worked up about the fact that it has to rise to twice the volume. And that’s true, but it’s not always as straightforward as all that.” So don’t get bent out of shape if your yeast dough doesn’t rise according to the recipe. And, said Galit, as she hefted a chunk of butter onto the counter, never, ever, use margarine.

A Gaya strawberry topped cake (Courtesy Gaya Bertele)

A Gaya strawberry-topped cake (photo credit: Courtesy Gaya Bertele)

2) For Hans — who used to gather strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries from the forest behind his childhood home — Israel’s short fruit seasons are just a tease, and don’t offer the same kind of endlessly sweet, juicy berries for the picking. “It’s just brutal that apricots are around for merely six weeks,” he bemoaned. And added that “strawberries are around for longer now, but start out sour and end up overripe.” To compensate for the berry shortages, the Berteles import frozen fruits from France, using them to decorate cakes year-round, but blend seasonal fruit into mousses and creams, an easier way to use fruits that aren’t always the perfect size or consistency, said Hans.

The pricey tonka bean, black, shriveled, and NIS 5 a pop (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The pricey tonka bean, black, shriveled, and NIS 5 a pop (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

3) It’s true that anything natural is the trend right now, said Galit, and they’ve always included items baked without sugar or butter, for customers adhering to special diets. She also prepares certain gluten-free items, baked with almond flour and quinoa flour, but is always surprised by how relatively few customers buy those products. “Everyone still wants their croissants, poppy seed strip cakes, and mousse tortes,” she explained. “There’s a lot of noise about being healthy, but everyone’s still craving their sweets.” That said, she’s enthralled with tonka beans of late, a seed that is native to Central America and northern South America, with black, wrinkled beans whose scent is a combination of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon, and cloves. The beans, which are available in local specialty stores, sell for no less than NIS 5 apiece, and Galit estimated that she uses one pod per kilo of dough. “But it’s the flavor of some of the best cookies,” she commented.

Galia Bertele working in her kitchen (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Galit Bertele working in her kitchen. (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

4) What’s most annoying about baking for the locals? Their relative lack of sophistication, said Hans and Galit. “Israelis don’t like to take risks,” said Hans. “I’ll put together a vanilla mousse with crushed pistachios and strawberries, and they have a fear of the pistachios.” Their revenge? One of their best-selling cakes — a mascarpone cream cake lined with crumpets — is covered with a strawberry sauce that includes sweet cherry tomatoes. “Don’t tell them!” chuckled Hans. “It’s the salty sweetness that they love. But if they knew it included tomatoes, I’m not sure they’d eat it.”

Hans Bertele chopping his olives for a yeasted bread (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Hans Bertele cutting his olives for a yeasted bread. (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

5) Finally, a recipe for Bertele’s European-style Cheesecake — a firm cake that offers the perfect platform for any kind of fruit sauce, whether made from frozen or fresh berries. Based on one of Hans’s original recipes for Gaya Bertele Patisserie.

European-style Cheesecake (makes one 24-cm cheesecake)

Cake base

  • 170 grams crushed biscuits
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 100 grams melted butter

Cake batter

  • 750 grams drained cheese or cream cheese
  • 200 grams egg whites (about six medium eggs)
  • 125 grams egg yolks (use all of the yolks remaining from the whites)
  • 40 grams + 150 grams sugar
  • 50 grams cornflour mixed with 45 grams plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • Optional: If you are using low-fat cheese, add 45 grams melted butter. If using cream cheese and the mixture looks thick, add 50 grams milk.
  1. Preheat oven to 220°C.
  2. For the base, you could use a thin layer of pre-purchased sponge cake. Otherwise, if using a springform or disposable pan, mix 170 grams of crushed biscuits mixed with ¼ cup sugar and 100 grams melted butter. Tightly pack the bottom of the pan with the mixture.
  3. Mix the cheese (butter, if using), yolks, flavorings, salt and 40 grams sugar. Add sifted flour mixture. If mixture looks too thick (needs to be firm, but still runny), add milk.
  4. Beat egg whites and 150 grams sugar until firm, but not too stiff (does not need to be like a meringue). Fold mixture into cheese mixture.
  5. Pour batter over base and place in oven for approximately seven minutes. The cake will rise up quite high. Remove the cake from oven, and reduce the oven to 160°C. Quickly run a thin, small knife along the sides of the top of the pan to release the top crust and allow it to continue rising and falling, without cracking the cake (this is the baking secret, Galit shared). Return the cake to the oven immediately, and bake for about 45 minutes more.
  6. Remove from oven, chill to room temperature, and refrigerate overnight.