Margot Bakery in East Finchley specialises in Jewish baking; sweet sourdough, bagels and babka

Michelle Eshkeri of the Margot Bakery picture by Kerstin Rodgers

Michelle Eshkeri of the Margot Bakery picture by Kerstin Rodgers - Credit: Archant

Even Michelle Eshkeri’s Rabbi comes in for her delicious challah bread she tells Kerstin Rodgers

Michelle Eshkeri of the Margot Bakery picture by Kerstin Rodgers

Michelle Eshkeri of the Margot Bakery picture by Kerstin Rodgers - Credit: Archant

Three years ago, Michelle Eshkeri opened Margot Bakery, which specialises in sweet sourdough and Jewish traditional baking - challah, bagels, babka.

It was an entrepreneurial thing to do, especially for a woman with two small children.

She found a small shopfront in East Finchley, and borrowed around £130k in personal loans, partly via credit cards, including £30k of equipment.

She’s had to learn electrics, plumbing and machine repairs.

Michelle Eshkeri of the Margot Bakery

Michelle Eshkeri of the Margot Bakery - Credit: Archant

“When engineers come here to fix something, I now know whether they are telling me the truth. I can talk to them in a language they understand,” she says.

Why ‘Margot’?

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“I just liked the name. It was feminine and I wanted people to know this bakery was run by a woman. People call me Margot; they think it’s my name. It’s like having an alter ego. Quite useful.”

Her upcoming book - out in September - is about sourdough - and came to fruit after the editor saw her instagram posts.

“She came to the bakery to meet me. I’d been working six days straight and was so tired I could barely articulate. She still gave me a deal! The book is about sweet sourdough, which is relatively unusual, not many people are doing that.”

Eshkeri started “small and slow” with typical days starting at 6am.

“I didn’t come home until ten at night. I worked proper shifts and then went home and did all the invoices. I didn’t see the children for days at the beginning. I did that solidly for two and a half years.

“To get myself out, I had to pay more staff to replace me, so I could write the book, work on the business and see my husband and children.”

These days she has 14 staff who between them make around 200 loaves a day on Fridays and the weekends - plus bagels and all the rest.

“We get through 500 kilos of flour a week. Friday and Sunday are about equal. People come for the challah on Friday which I love: it’s sociable with a typical north London quality to it. Even my rabbi comes.”

It will soon be Passover when Jews traditionally have to get rid of all the flour in their house - how will she manage?

“Yes, Passover is a festival of unleavened bread. It’s not actually about flour but about leavening. Which is a bit at odds with having a sourdough bakery.

“Hebrew slaves had to leave Egypt in a hurry and they had to take their bread unleavened. So production of matzoh is rabbinically supervised.

“Someone is literally watching it, to make sure there is no chance of water having gone near the flour, so it’s not even possible for it to ferment.

“It’s the absolute antithesis of what we are doing here. So once it hits the water, within 18 minutes it has to go in the oven.”

Why 18 minutes??

“I have no idea. It’s tradition. Matzoh is just flour and water with holes docked in it.

“When you eat it, you realise how good bread is. If slavery is about going to freedom, you realise that, when you are free, you can enjoy good bread.

“Jews tell each other stories about this. Unleavened bread is the bread of affliction, of poverty, of fear, of running away. It’s not supposed to taste good.”

Caramel and chocolate matzoh crunch

Matzoh isn’t supposed to taste good, but it does with this recipe. It’s a kind of Jewish Millionnaire’s biscuit. This is adapted from Marcy Goldman’s recipe. Margot bakery sell this during Passover.

Serves 10

6 sheets matzoh

250g salted butter

200g golden caster sugar

100g milk chocolate, broken into pieces

200g white chocolate, broken into pieces

50g pistachios or other nuts (optional)

Prepare a baking tray (30 x 30cm), lining it with foil and parchment paper. Fill it with sheets of matzoh.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.

Melt the butter and sugar together in a heavy bottomed saucepan until both the sugar and butter are melted. Keep stirring.

Pour the caramel over the matzoh and spread with a rubber spatula.

Put the caramel covered matzoh in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and scatter the chocolate over the top. Add the nuts. Wait until cooled and eat with a cup of tea.