Food Artisans: Bronx Baking Co.
After a German friend complained about not being able to find good soft pretzels in New York, Alexis Faraci did a lot of research and a lot of tasting, eventually determining that, as she says, "most pretzels in the city are just white bread in a pretzel shape." So she set out to make a traditional lye-dipped pretzel. Once she was satisfied with the product, she started Bronx Baking Co., working out of a commercial kitchen on City Island, to make them available to the pretzel-starved masses.
The idea, she says, was to make the pretzels themselves delicious on their own. "I wanted people to be able to enjoy it without having to slather it with stuff," she explains. But once she was satisfied on that score, she started experimenting with variations, currently offering a bacon-wrapped version. Other flavors, including stuffed pretzels and pretzel rolls, are in the works.
The pretzel dough is shaped, dipped into a food-grade lye solution, then immediately baked. The lye dip is "where the shine, the slightly bitter taste, and the dark color come from," Faraci explains. "Those pretzels you can buy from street carts may just have an egg wash." The lye actually begins "cooking" the outside a little before it goes into the oven, which contributes to the texture of a traditional pretzel, that thin shell of a crust surrounding the dense dough. The pretzels are currently available only in the five boroughs, since freshness is so important to the flavor and texture.
Bronx Baking Co. also makes cookies, a combination of classics like salted chocolate chip, chocolate peanut butter sables, nods to Faraci's Italian heritage like the rum bomb, "a two-bite rum cake," and a cookie currently known as "cannoli cookie" while she thinks up a new name. It combines cannoli flavors like pistachio, orange, and chocolate, but doesn't have any cream.
One thing Faraci is hoping to do with her new business is to help promote her borough, as well as other small food businesses in the Bronx. "There's a lot to see in the Bronx," she explains, much of it informed by the rich food traditions of both long-time residents and newcomers. "Burek have popped up on every corner because there are so many Albanian immigrants," she explains. "Brooklyn has such a positive connotation because of its food," she says, "I want to draw that kind of attention to the Bronx."