The Jew And The Carrot

Toronto's Harbord Bakery Embraces Artisan Tradition

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Rafi Kosower

When a stooped, ball cap-wearing elderly man buying challah, salad and stewed chicken fricassee at Toronto’s Harbord Bakery says, “they’ve been keeping me alive for years here,” he is by no means exaggerating. Indeed, the Kosower family, owners of this legendary establishment since 1945, have been provisioning loyal locals with exceptional quality breads, baked goods and Jewish appetizing items for generations.

Today, as the only remaining Jewish retail bakery in downtown Toronto, Harbord Bakery is still in its original location on Harbord Street and is still using its original family recipes. They are attracting the young Jewish singles and families who are moving back into the neighborhood, now referred to as The Annex and considered a prime, trendy residential area. It’s the kind of crowd that appreciates the fresh, artisanal and gourmet food offered not only by Harbord Bakery, but also far more recently opened neighborhood Jewish food businesses like the Israeli Aroma espresso bar and Caplansky’s Delicatessen.

On a Friday afternoon, customers like Faggie Oliver, who has always lived in the neighborhood and who has been coming to the bakery for 45 years, mingle with newcomers like 32-year-old Marni Perlis who maneuvers her two little boys through the aisles in their stroller while picking up a challah for Shabbat.

Indeed, it is the bakery’s challah for which it is best known, and for which patrons come from all over the city to buy. Many swear that there is no better challah available in Toronto than Harbord’s sweet, dense, exceedingly moist and chewy version of the braided egg bread. Harold Troper, a professor of education and expert on Toronto Jewish history, looks forward to every Friday afternoon when he walks over to the bakery from his nearby University of Toronto office to pick up his standing order of the $4.00 each non-kosher (the bakery does not have kosher certification) loaves.

Harbord Bakery’s reputation, however, does not rest entirely on its challah. “Their breads, especially their rye bread, are outstanding,” said Hindy Hirt who grew up a few streets away and still comes down to Harbord Bakery from time to time. “This is good food,” exclaimed Oliver as she stood at the display cases surveying the variety of savory items like chopped liver, farfel and gefilte fish, as well as sweet ones like carrot cake, cheese danishes, sour cream coffee cake and fancy fruit tortes.

Originally opened in 1926 by a baker with the last name of Elishevitz, but whom everyone called “Mr. Ellis,” as Hirt recalled, Harbord Bakery was bought in 1945 by Albert (Alter) Kosower, a Polish immigrant who “was from an Orthodox home, but rebelled and learned the baking trade from local bakers in Kosow,” according to his daughter Susan Wisniewski. At the time, the bakery was located in the heart of what was then Toronto’s Jewish neighborhood. “I remember as a girl in the 1940’s that we used to buy this most amazing black bread from Harbord Bakery,” recalled Hirt. “The loaf was so big that we would cut it up and give half to my grandmother and keep the other for our family.”

A big seller today, that the bakery has served for a long time, is the apple geviklts, or cookie dough roll up (recipe below). According to Wisniewski, Albert Kosower was originally skeptical about this recipe, thinking that it was “too homemade” for a retail bakery. Nevertheless, his geviklts were a hit, and he taught his daughter Roslyn Katz (Wisniewski’s sister) to make them. She, in turn passed the recipe on to her brother Rafi Kosower’s son Naftali, who comes in to the bakery every Friday to make it for the Shabbat shopping crowd.

Wisniewski admits that running a bakery can be challenging, and there have been ups and downs over the years. She attributes the longevity of her family’s business to the “very loyal neighborhood.” She is heartened to see children and grandchildren of original customers regularly coming in the door today. “They’re a really nice group of people,” she said.

Her brother Rafi Kosower, who took over from his father, pegs the Harbord Bakery’s success to the fact that it has been an artisanal bakery before “artisanal” became a buzzword. Everything is baked on the premises and “everything here is done in a real artisanal way. He continued, “We’ve been doing this since day one and our recipes haven’t changed. We’ve always used high quality ingredients like real butter and whipped cream.” And “of course, there’s the magic bacteria in the air at the bakery that makes the starters for the bread ferment in just the right way,” he said with a wink.


The recipe yields one large geviklt or two smaller ones


4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup oil
1/8 cup orange juice
1/8 cup cold tea
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

1) Sift all dry ingredients into a large bowl.

2) Form a well in the center of the bowl.

3) Mix the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl.

4) When combined well, pour into the well and mix until combined.


4 grated apples
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon jam
orange zest
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
old honey cake (The honey cake can be any kind, it should not be fresh, it is used to absorb the juice from the apples. This will help the dough from being soggy. Bread crumbs can be used as a substitute. You should use enough to cover the bottom of the geviklts.)

1) Roll out dough until thin.

2) Grate honey cake and sprinkle on dough.

3) Add apple mixture. Roll up dough, the apple mixture will become a swirl.

4) Glaze dough with oil.

5) Bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees or until brown.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Toronto, The Annex, Kosower, Harbord Bakery, Geviklts, Challah

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.