Sweet Treats for Kosher Eats

Bella Nava Creations makes custom desserts and fills a void in the local kosher market.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. For Brandie Itman, necessity was the spark that led to her kosher custom bakery business, Bella Nava Creations.

Just two weeks after she and her husband Brian welcomed their first daughter, now 5, Brian was laid off work. “We had nothing,” she recalls. They were able to keep their home and their cars, “but it was to the point where we had to get food assistance to make ends meet, and that was really hard,” Itman says.

“You’re really limited as to what you can get when you’re on food assistance,” she says. “But you can always have the staples—flour, sugar, butter.” She started baking “to keep morale up.” Even after Brian started working again, Brandie kept baking. “It was a good break for me, going from always working to being a stay-at-home mom; it was something to keep me busy.”

One day she brought a homemade cheesecake to her family’s weekly dinner with extended family. She had not tried baking one before “and they loved it,” Itman recalls. Family members told her she should sell them. Itman had always wanted her own business “but I didn’t think I had much talent in anything. So it just kind of blew me away that they liked it that much and that [the cheesecake] turned out good my first time. ’Cause they’re hard to do.”

With full support from her in-laws, she started exploring business opportunities, beginning with small tastings. She’d bring in people from the neighborhood—and tell them to bring friends—and have them test cakes and treats. After that, she started making desserts for friends’ parties.

It remained just an idea for about a year. Then Itman got serious. “One of my girlfriends asked me to decorate cookies for her twins’ birthday, and I loved doing it,” she says. “I was always the creative type growing up,” favoring art and theater. And she discovered that decorating treats was in that same category. “It’s my creative outlet that I don’t always get as a mom.”

In time, Itman advanced from mainly baking cheesecakes to doing custom cake and dessert decorating. She moved from her home kitchen to the kitchen at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park. As it turns out, her business was more than custom decorations: it was kosher.

A Mississippi-born Southern girl, Itman moved to Minnesota when she was 9 years old. Two years ago she made another big move and converted to Judaism—the faith in which her husband was raised, and in which they were raising their daughters. When she started to keep kosher, it was clear how few kosher options there were in the Twin Cities. For desserts, choice was nearly nonexistent. “The kosher market in general is just really lacking.”

Itman’s kosher bakery gives her the opportunity not only to fill that void in the market, but also to educate people. She says many people contact her asking what kosher is or if it tastes different (see our food notes). “Half the stuff you buy in the grocery store is kosher and you just don’t know it,” she says. “That’s part of what I want to do—just educate people.”

But it’s the custom aspect of the bakery that Itman really loves. Whether it’s for a birthday or a bar or bat mitzvah, she just wants to make people feel special. Itman says she wants to help families create memories, both for kids and adults. “I’ve had adults who have never had a custom cake for themselves,” she says, so when the cake shows up they get a taste of being uniquely celebrated.

Spreading the joy is one goal, but so is wanting to make a name for Minnesota in the kosher market. “You can go to Chicago or New York, or anywhere on the East Coast, but there’s nowhere outside of Chicago in the Midwest for kosher,” she says. “I want to put us on the map.” 

Mini Cheesecakes to Maximum Creativity

Since Bella Nava Creations is mostly custom work, Brandie Itman’s cakes rarely look the same. Inside, they share a solid base of rich and moist chocolate or vanilla cake. Some of her past masterpieces include a carnival cake, which had a big-top tent as the base and was topped with cake and frosting made to look like a bucket of popcorn.

Then there’s the ice cream Barbie cake she made for her daughter last year—who still talks about it, Itman says. Barbie’s dress was layers of ruffles made of pink frosting.

Bella Nava started with cheesecakes, and she still does custom orders. Her cheesecakes come in mini (12 per order), 2-inch (six per order) and 9-inch sizes, and a variety of dream-worthy flavors. Here are just a few:

Strawberry Cheesecake
Sure, you think you’ve had strawberry cheesecake before. But at Bella Nava you get a graham cracker crust cheesecake topped with strawberries and whipped cream—and a strawberry balsamic glaze. It’s your childhood favorite all grown up.

French Silk Cheesecake
It’s the queen of the pie world, combined with the creamy cloud that is cheesecake. A chocolate and graham cracker crust is the base for the chocolate cheesecake filling, which is a vehicle for whipped cream and chocolate chips.

Spiced Truffle Cheesecake
If you’re not a fan of chocolate, you should probably stop reading now. A chocolate cookie crust holds chocolate cheesecake, which is topped with a chocolate ganache that has just a hint of cinnamon and red pepper to give it a kick and bring the chocolate to life on your palate.