After pursuing her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in her home country of Indonesia, Ann Kusnadi made her way to the United States to obtain her masters and then doctorate degrees. Little did she know that she would meet and marry a fellow student; live in Gaziantep, Turkey, for two years; and then start a business based on one of the region’s most famous treats — baklava.
After several years of friends complimenting her baking and commenting that she should sell the Turkish specialty, Kusnadi founded the State College company Koo-Weh Nana last August. She acquired certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and began working with the Small Business Development Center at Penn State and, more recently, Happy Valley Communications. The brand has appeared at local farmers markets, Pop Up Ave and the State College Culture Crawl.
Koo-Weh Nana offers a handful of baklava varieties, but all are a bit different from what you might buy at the supermarket and is something you won’t find anywhere else in the area.
“It’s very different than the baklava you’d usually have, (which is) gooey, sweet and dripping in syrup. Mine is dryer, it’s less sweet and I have different flavors you don’t normally find in the market,” Kusnadi said.
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The delicate dessert, which is traditionally painstakingly created by layering paper-thin dough with nuts and spices before baking and soaking in a sweet syrup, can sometimes be over-the-top sweet and sticky — a decadent treat, but not one suitable (or palatable) for frequent consumption. Kusnadi’s method, however, creates just the right balance of light sweetness and flakiness, for a crave-able snack that you’ll have a hard time putting down.
Kusnadi says her take on the traditional recipe receives a positive response from her customers, some of whom have never tried baklava before. The newbies and younger set, she said, often prefer the chocolate hazelnut baklava, which has a flavor comparable to Nutella. Those who already are familiar with and enjoy traditional baklava go for the pistachio and walnut. Kusnadi’s favorite flavor is the almond and she also offers hazelnut, cashew, peanut and chocolate variations.
In addition to baklava, Koo-Weh Nana offers some other sweet and savory treats.
“I have two types of cookies (available) on my website,” Kusnadi said. “One is a very traditional cookie from Indonesia ... and then there’s a walnut cookie. In the savory section, there’s (the peanut-potato snack). It’s very traditional of Indonesia (and) Malaysia ... it’s a little bit spicy.”
Kusnadi said there’s still lots of room to grow and continues to experiment with other baklava flavors in her kitchen, before adding them to her lineup. In the next year, she hopes to potentially partner with some local restaurants and further promote online orders.
As Koo-Weh Nana no longer appears at the local farmers markets, customers can make purchases at koowehnana.com, with shipping available around the 48 contiguous United States. In addition to being a great dessert or small bite to add to your holiday spread, the baklava comes in a nicely packaged white gift box, with additional gift wrapping available, for a unique host or hostess gift.