By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & San Francisco ambassador
If you’ve ever returned stateside to find yourself perusing the goods of every local bakery for Egyptian baklava, San Francisco’s Bitchin’ Baklava has your fix for the warm and flaky taste of golden goodness you thought you left thousands of miles away. Located in a brightly colored storefront in the Outer Richmond neighborhood on Balboa Street, Chef Sausan Al-Masri continues the celebration of Egyptian life, food and culture through her line of authentic baklava for international foodies in the bay area.
Family-owned and operated, the shop’s Chef Sausan cares that “every piece looks undeniably homemade, just as if it had come out of an Egyptian mother’s oven.” Known for its aroma of just-baked ingredients, the shop’s baklava is layered with crunchy rows of phyllo dough, a bouquet of spices, butter, and nuts that conjure up scents from the streets of Cairo, she says. “With every crunchy sound it’s easy to picture oneself sitting at one of Egypt’s sidewalk cafes or corner bakeries while savoring every bite,” she continued. Surely, every passersby is likely infectiously treated to the sounds of ‘mmm, mmmm’ from every unapologetic and content bite.
In the 1980’s Chef Sausan started Bitchin’ Baklava after learning to make the pastry from her Middle Eastern friend, and introduced it commercially only after perfecting it for her local restaurant customers, where it was picked up by Marin County’s Whole Foods Market soon after. Although, “after a few years, I stopped distribution to take care of some personal affairs but kept it on the menu [for bulk orders],” she said. In 2012, after the encouragement of close friends and persuasion from loyal customers, Chef Sausan started an online shop for the unique offerings of Bitchin’ Baklava (www.bitchinbaklava.com).
Rightly invoking the senses through an authentic slice of Egypt, Bitchin’ Baklava comes out fresh from the ovens of its sister shop, Al-Masri Egyptian Restaurant as it ordered, not through a major processing and distribution plant like some other American baklava makers. Chef Sausan credits the bakery’s recipe of “fresh ingredients using made-from-scratch syrups, Grade A butter, and careful attention to flavor and appearance,” for its authentic taste.
While baklava (or baklawa) is a common treat throughout the Mediterranean, what makes Bitchin’ Baklava different and unique is inherent in the culture of Egypt itself—a result that is influenced by the cultures of the entire Middle East. Online, Chef Sausan wanted her baklava to carry on that uniqueness—her Egyptian baklava is available with different and innovative fillers such as dried or candied fruits, exotic nuts, chocolate chips, and other alluring and unusual ingredients including bacon and mincemeat.
While many have probably tried baklava at least once, “Before Bitchin’ Baklava, much of the available baklava offered looked and tasted moderately the same,” she explained, “Bitchin’ Baklava strives to change all of that through the traditionally crunchy and crispy baklava experience, but with enough sweetness and flavor in each unique bite to want more.”
She credits the unique qualities of her signature products to be distinguished by features that have gotten the attention of locals—such as her use of turbonado sugar sprinkles and innovative nut ingredients in addition to the classic walnut and pistachio. From nuts including almonds, macadamia, Brazilian, filberts, cashews, and peanuts, to candied flavors such as ginger and dried fruits, as well as seeds including sunflowers, pumpkin, sesame, and much more she is innovating through every bite.
“Not a single baklava was left on the tray…” one review said of the party platters, while another found the shop through Google and left a review noting it’s intrigue with the shop’s name.
When asked about the name, Chef Sausan said “I wanted [it] to stand out and be remembered, so I had to think of a unique and catchy name.” She explained. “I went through several possibilities, like ‘Benevolent Baklava, Beautiful Baklava, Bountiful Baklava,’ but those names didn’t have that certain ‘remember me’ ring, but then, driving through the park one day the word Bitchin’ popped into my mind.” She raced home and said she was relieved and elated to find that no one had claimed the domain name, and so Bitchin’ Baklava was born.