“To bake bread is to nourish, in the most fundamental way, self, family, and community; to eat a piece of homemade bread is to merge with generations past and, hopefully, with generations yet unborn.”
There was a time in America’s major cities when authentic Jewish bakeries churned out fragrant breads like challah and rye, sweet treats like rugelach and lindzer cookies and cheesecakes and honey cakes. They used real ingredients, no preservatives, and time-honored baking methods. Unfortunately, those traditions and bakeries have largely disappeared, taking with them a way of life and a part of a rich culture. With their book, Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking, longtime Jewish bakers and authors Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg are trying to restore some of what has been lost.
Inside the Jewish Bakery is both a cookbook of recipes and techniques and a history of Jewish culture and food. The first part of the 302-page hardback book retells the history of the Jews in Europe through their migration and integration into American culture in the 20th century. However, the authors don’t just give us dry facts and figures. The authors offer, especially in the section on Jews in American, rich stories about immigrant Jews and their lives and food and include some wonderful historic photos, even a page from a baker’s notebook for the formula (in pounds and ounces) for chiffon cake.
In their About the Recipes chapter, Ginsberg and Berg remind us that baking is an exact science based on unforgiving formulas and demystify the different measurements given in the recipes: volume, ounces and pounds, metrics, and baker’s percentages. Home cooks will find baker’s percentages most unfamiliar and helpful if they want to increase the size of a recipe and still achieve good results.
In Building Blocks chapter, the authors give readers an education in flour, yeast, and salt. They include various baker’s formulas for making different types of bread. They also offer a helpful table that converts fresh, active, and instant yeasts for various recipes.
The Bread from the Land chapter offers more on Jewish bread history, including the fascinating story of challah, the bread most associated with Jewish culture. It includes a telling memoir by Norm Berg that gives readers an up-close-and-personal look into his daily life as a baker. This chapter is also where the bakers provide basic recipes for various types of challah, barches, and rye, black, pumpernickel , and other breads. They give step-by-step technique photos, including various ways to braid challah, that home bakers will find helpful.
The chapter on bagels is similar, with plenty of bagel history (who knew bagels go back to the 1600’s?). They tell us how bakers in New York and New Jersey unionized in the early 1900’s and tell of the union’s stranglehold grip on bagel making. “My father ran a bakery in Brooklyn, but he never made a bagel because he couldn’t get into the union, and they would have broken his legs if he made bagels without being in the union.” Like the challah chapter, the bagel chapter features a number of different bagel recipes and step-by-step techniques that untangle this now-Americanized Jewish treat.
They also include similar informative chapters on rolls, kuchen, pastries and cakes, and cookies. All offer the same historical insights, basic dough formulas, and illustrated baking techniques found in previous chapters. There are also three eight-page groupings of beautiful color photos with references to the recipe page numbers. While I prefer photos next to their recipes, the photos are absolutely gorgeous and made me want to fire up the oven immediately.
One of final chapters is on Passover Baking with recipes for basic short dough, coconut macaroons, almond horns, honey cake, cream puffs/éclairs, and more. There’s also a chapter is on fillings and toppings because that is how professional bakers think – dough and then fillings. It includes recipes for basics like buttercream and almond , lemon, and poppy filling. And there’s one fina, brief chapter on resources like where to buy flours and equipment and blogs on Jewish baking that the authors like.
Real bottom line: Ginsberg and Berg have produced an important book that captures the history and some essential recipes from the fast-disappearing world of neighborhood and production Jewish bakeries. They know their subject well and give readers easy-to-understand information and techniques that will, hopefully, inspire a new generation of Jewish bakers. – Reviewed by BH