Jelly Doughnuts for Chanukah

The perfect Chanukah jelly doughnut.

The perfect Chanukah jelly doughnut.

Back when I was a kid, we called Chanukah the Festival of Light, in commemoration of the eight days that the candelabra (hanukkiya) in the Temple burned on one day’s supply of oil.

As I got older, however, I began to think of it more as the Festival of Frying, since oil plays such a central role in the holiday. We eat latkes (potato pancakes), fried chicken and/or fish, french fries (a non-traditional favorite), and anything else one can imagine that’s both kosher and deep-fried.

Jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot in Hebrew), were never part of my grandparents’ Chanukah traditions (we ate latkes), but for many Jews are an integral part of the holiday. So herewith, Norm Berg’s recipe for sufganiyot, straight out of Inside the Jewish Bakery .

Makes: about three dozen





Baker’s Percentage

½ cup Shortening




2/3 cup Granulated sugar




2¾ tsp Table salt




½ cup Nonfat dry milk (optional)




2 Large eggs, beaten




2¼ cups Water




1¼ tsp Vanilla extract




Zest of 1 lemon




6 2/3 cups Bread flour, unsifted




2 tbs + 2¼ tsp Instant yeast





  1. Put the shortening, sugar, salt and dry milk into a mixing bowl and blend until smooth, about 8-10 minutes, if by hand and about 4-5 minutes using the flat (paddle) beater at medium (KA 4) speed if by machine.
  2. Beat the egg lightly and incorporate into the shortening mixture and continue blending until smooth, 2-3 minutes, then add the water and flavorings, mixing to form a slurry.
  3. Reduce the speed to low (KA 2) and slowly incorporate the flours and instant yeast, forming a smooth dough.
  4. Switch to the dough hook and knead for another 8-10 minutes, until the dough forms a ball around the hook and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  5. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board until it’s no longer sticky, then form it into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic and ferment until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a moderately floured board, flour the top surface lightly but evenly to prevent sticking and punch down.  scale the dough to 1.0-2.0oz/30-55g pieces, roll into balls and flatten to ¼”-3/8”/0.6-1.0cm thick.
  7. Preheat your frying oil to 350°-375°F/175°-190°C.
  8. Place the dough pieces on a frying screen (I use 10″ pizza screens, available at kitchen supply vendors). Proof until slightly less than doubled in size and a finger gently pressed into the dough leaves an indentation that doesn’t spring back, 45 – 60 minutes.  Be very careful when you handle the doughnuts, as too much touching will result in a collapsed product.  Don’t under any circumstances transfer the doughnuts to the oil by hand.
  9. Lower the frying screen with the doughnuts into the oil and fry until golden brown on the bottom.  Turn the doughnuts using the handle of a wooden spoon or a pair of bamboo chopsticks and fry for another minute.
  10. Lift the frying screen and the doughnuts out of the oil, let any excess oil run off and transfer to paper towels to drain.  When they’re cool, use a pastry bag and plain tip to inject them with jelly, custard, pudding or other smooth filling. Finish the with honey glaze, simple icing or powdered sugar.

No Honey Cake This Year

strudelThis year, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t bake honey cake for Rosh Hashanah. Not because I don’t love it; I do. I love the sweet-sour spiciness of the fruity-sweet, slightly sour honey; the fragrant bite of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. I love the firm consistency that reminds me of a fruit cake, but without the fruit. I love the way the top crust of my rye-flour honey cake softens after a few days and turns into a caramel-like self-frosting that melts in my mouth and carries with it the concentrated essence of sugar and spice. And I love the idea that by baking a honey cake, I’m carrying on a tradition that has bound Jews together, across centuries and generations.

But no, I didn’t bake honey cake this year. Why? Because my wife and I wanted something different for Rosh Hashanah; something equally sweet and equally special, something equally evocative of the holiday and of our European roots. I baked an apple strudel.

We chose apple strudel for many reasons, some practical, some symbolic. On the practical side, stretching the strudel wrapper is an adventure akin to magic. I’m enthralled by the idea – and the reality – of transforming a few ounces of dough into a nearly transparent membrane the size of a kitchen table and filling it with fresh apples, sugar, raisins, walnuts and spices that have macerated for hours.

stretchstrudelThen there’s the wonder of rolling the strudel. Few baking experiences can compare to rolling a strudel, starting with the first fold over the filling, and then gently pulling and lifting the tablecloth on which I’ve stretched the dough so that the strudel rolls itself, like the body of a snowman, without the damaging interference of hands and fingers. The aroma of baking strudel  – the same honey-cake perfume of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg, but with the added fruit-sweetness and subtle tang of cooking apples, brings its own aura of sweetness in the coming year.

On the symbolic side, this year’s baking united us with generations and traditions past. It brought me closer to my late grandmother, my bubbe, who came from a shtetl southeast of Warsaw and who, as my father recalled to me many years ago, rolled her strudel on a tablecloth in the kitchen I remember so well.

rollstrudelFor my wife, Sylvia, it brought back memories of her mother, Gertrude, who grew up in a town called Judendorf (Jew-town) just outside of Graz, in eastern Austria. My late father-in-law fled the Holocaust in 1938 and returned to his native Austria with the U.S. Army. There, he met and married Gertrude and brought her back to Philadelphia right after the war. She, too, baked strudel, stretching her dough thinner than paper, filling it, rolling it with a tablecloth.

I made the strudel for a family of close friends who came to celebrate the New Year us, and especially for the patriarch, Laszlo, whose family survived the Holocaust in Budapest and escaped to Canada following the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

When it came time for dessert, we served the strudel warm, dusted with powdered sugar. We ate, our stomachs full and our eyelids heavy with wine and food. The dining room was filled with contented laughter and the sweet smell of apples and spices. Around us, as if borne on that fragrance, hovered the spirits of those we loved and had lost, enfolding us with their warmth and bestowing their blessings for a sweet and prosperous year.

“It’s the Water” and Other Bagel Fictions

bagelbasketOver the past year, while I was doing personal appearances to promote my IACP award winning book, Inside the Jewish Bakery – a great read, by the way, and worth every penny – I learned that I could count on being asked two questions: “What ever happened to corn bread, aka corn rye?” and “Is it true that New York bagels are better because of the water?”

Of corn rye, more in a future post, perhaps (my list of to-do topics is growing larger). As for the water, the first time I answered it, I did so with a vehemence that surprised even me, and I can be a pretty vehement guy. But here it is, vehemence and all.

Let’s talk about water. Admittedly, there are wide swings in the taste and quality of municipal water supplies. New York City, for example, where I grew up, has water that’s sweet and drinkable right from the tap, with no off-tastes or chlorine.  Nor does it scale the teakettle. Madison, Wisconsin, on the other hand, where I spent many years earning a PhD and avoiding an involuntary trip to Vietnam, had (and presumably still has), hard-as-nails water that tasted of limestone and sulfur, and which instantly coated the bottom of every pot I owned with a hard white crust. Southern California, where I live now, is somewhere in the middle: the water isn’t nearly as sweet as New York water,  and the scale it deposits is negligible compared to what I contended with in the Upper Midwest.

DSC02562That being said – and all else equal – water, as a primary ingredient in bagels, is going to contribute to a bagel’s taste, while the mineral content may also affect the baking characteristics of the dough. On the other hand, the question then becomes, “If all else isn’t equal, what else can contribute to the wretched quality of those Wonder Bread doughnuts that continue to besmirch the bagel’s name?”

In a word (actually three) lots of things. So let’s start by deconstructing the New York water bagel. At its core, the traditional bagel recipe consists of five ingredients: high-gluten flour (100%), water (50%), salt (2%), malt (2%) and yeast (0.5% for fresh, half that for dry).  Mix it up, let the dough sit for 20-30 minutes, shape the bagels and then chill them for at least 12 hours. When you’re ready to bake, boil them in water, plus a tablespoon or so of malt, right out of the fridge, and bake them at 460°F (238°C) for about 15 minutes, flipping them after 3 minutes if you’re into that sort of thing.

Those are the basics and those were the bagels I and others of a certain vintage grew up with and remember so fondly.

DSC02563The compromises started when Daniel Thompson began marketing his father, Meyer’s, bagel-forming machine (first customer: Murray Lender), which, like the steam drill and John Henry, put the hand-rollers of New York’s Local 338 out of business. But to make the machine work properly, the water had to be increased from around 50% to more like 65%, so that the dense crumb became softer and more bread-like. Then, of course, the softer, stickier dough began to gum things up, so the steam drill guys added oil, which softened the crumb even further. So now, what once was a bagel now was becoming more like circular white bread. But the machines made mass production not only possible, but financially desirable. Enter the corporations.

BagelBoilAt that point, of course, the finance guys took over. Chilling takes time and costs money, in the form of energy and cooling equipment. Why not just add dough conditioners to speed gluten formation and some sugar (another crumb-softener) to give the yeast an added kick? And what about boiling, which gelatinizes the bagel’s surface starch and forms that shiny skin? Well, let’s bake them in steam-injected ovens, said the bean-counters. That way, we can save even more on the labor and equipment needed to dump the bagels into giant vats of malt-water, scoop them out, and rearrange them on boards or pans or whatever. Flipping? Nah, those schmucks out there won’t know the difference, but our shareholders will love us for cutting costs (at the price of quality, but when did that ever matter?) and giving profits a nice bump.

Which brings me back to the idea of “all else equal,” because in the bagel world, all else is not equal.  Dunkin’ Donuts, the world’s largest bagel manufacturer, Einstein Bros./Noah’s, Bruegger, and all those Korean-owned mom-and-pop bagelries have gone over to the dark side, substituting size for quality and factory flavors like strawberry, cinnamon, blueberry and jalapeño for time, labor, and the natural action of enzymes on complex carbs.

BagelBoards1When I make bagels, I do it the same way the Local 338 guys did, hand-rolling, chilling, boiling and flipping on burlap-covered cedar boards. Even with that so-so Southern California water, I’ll put my bagels up against anyone’s, anywhere in the world. And I guarantee you, I’ll prevail 99.999% of the time – that 0.001% being when I go up against a properly made bagel using New York water.

So does the water make a difference? Of course — if you’re eating one of those 0.001% New York bagels and one of mine. But most of the time, it’s just an excuse for incompetence.


Guest Blog: Temps Gone Wild

Paul McCool is a baker and teacher from Lawrence, Kansas, who’s been a long-time voice of reason on my favorite (well, second-favorite) bread site, Recently, he sent me this tale of what can happen (and indeed, has happened to me more than once) when one loses their focus during bake time. Fortunately, this cautionary tale also contains its own redemption. Lemonade, anyone? And many thanks, Paul.

You’ll probably enjoy this.  I have been preparing for another rye breads class this Friday which includes the Rustic Pumpernickel from Inside the Jewish Bakery.  Since the class runs from 10:00-3:30, lunch is provided for the students.  What I do is bake a batch of each of the breads being taught (this class also includes a Vort Limpa and Eric’s Fave Rye) in advance.  This lets me give the students a visual of the finished breads and plenty of material for lunch-time sandwiches.

Everything was going spectacularly well with the Rustic Pumpernickel this weekend.  Fermentation, shaping, final rise, docking, steaming; I had it all together.  Everything, that is, until I opened the oven to check the loaf’s temperature before calling it done.  At that point I realized that I had missed the step which says to turn the oven temperature down from 470 to 300 after the final steaming.  Oops!  It spent the entire bake at 470!  The loaf is a deep mahogany brown, with just the tiniest bit of charring along the edge of a natural ear where the top of the loaf fissured from oven spring.

Instead of panicking, I brushed the loaf with a generous amount of boiling water, let it cool, then wrapped it in a towel for the next 30 hours or so, then bagged it in plastic.  All the while I was kicking myself for having made such a bonehead mistake.  Finally, I resolved to bake another but take this one along as an object lesson.

Just for grins, I cut into the loaf last evening.  The crust had softened from being in the plastic bag.  The interior was moist and cool.  The flavor!  Oh, the flavor!  It’s as good a rye as I have made in a long time.  Lots of that weirdly good earthy/spicy combination inherent in the rye, a gently assertive tang (mostly lactic but some suggestion of acetic, too), hints of citrus.  This is seriously good bread, in spite of my screw-up.  Norm would probably give me a whack for messing up the bake but I think that he would love it, too.  So, in case you or your students ever make the same mistake, know that all is not lost.

Sour Notes

Wheat sour at 8 hours

Wheat sour at 8 hours

It never fails to amaze me how a lot of home bakers, especially newbies, turn their sourdough starters into objects of obsessive-compulsive desire. Recently, in fact, I was bemused to read a sourdough neophyte’s post in which he mentioned, with as dead a pan as Grant Wood ever painted, that he was feeding his established sour twice a day. Twice a day!!! And people wonder why their breads don’t get sour enough.

Or how about the endless debates on which flour is best for feeding a yeast culture – as if those cute little eternally hungry fungi care where their next meal is coming from, or whether it’s the carb equivalent of filet mignon or pâte de Dumpster.

And another thing: sours localize. After about the fifth or sixth feeding, that authentic SanFran culture – Saccharomyces sanfransiscensis, for all you yeast nerds out there – that you shelled out big bucks for has been completely replaced by your local wild yeast, which you could have gotten for nothing simply by building a starter from scratch (of which more in another post).

Wheat (top) and Rye (bottom) at 5 weeks. Note the absence of hooch.

Wheat (top) and Rye (bottom) unfed for 5 weeks. Note the absence of hooch.

I’ve always been of the opinion, and the facts bear me out (as you shall soon see) that those splendid wild yeasts and their lactobacillius symbiotes can take far rougher treatment than a lot of us give them credit for and still remain robust and ready to leaven at a moment’s – well, several hours’, actually – notice. After all, the airborne yeasts and bacteria in which we respirants swim have to survive not only warm weather, when naturally occurring carbs abound, but also the carb-famine cold months. Their survival is a testament to evolution and the vitality of the meanest and sourest.

As a case in point, take my sours (please!), one rye and one wheat, which I haven’t coddled, overfed, or even given cute names, as have some hardcore breadies. To me, they’re simply fungal-bacterial-enzymal ménages à trois, teeming with ever-ravenous microbes, that have found a home in my fridge. I feed them when I (a) want to bake sourdough, (b) remember to do so, or (c) when my conscience gets the best of me.

Rye (left) and Wheat (right) after feeding and ready for their nap.

Rye (left) and Wheat (right) after feeding and ready for their nap.

Nor do I agonize over their next meal. While I confess that my love of Jewish rye compels me to feed my rye sour with white rye flour only, I give my wheat sour whatever I have on hand, whether it’s first clear flour, bread flour, AP, or even (gasp!!!) cake flour. In fact, cake flour makes a pretty good nutrient for established sours, since it’s so rich in complex carbs (read = starches), which all those enzymes – maltase, amylase, diastase – will happily break down into the simple sugars that their yeasty roommates crave. The yeasts, in turn, throw off CO2 and alcohol, on which the lacto get high and return to the mix as lactic and acetic acid. The one thing I do pay attention to, though, is hydration, which I scrupulously maintain at 60% for the wheat and 80% for the rye.

After 3 hours.

After 3 hours.

A balanced and robust sour needs time to develop – not a huge amount; maybe a couple or three days. So to me, overfeeding not only is wasteful, it’s actually counterproductive. Rather, I want to give my microbial pals the chance to work their magic and send it around the food chain so that all of us can eat well, live long and prosper.

Refrigerating slows the process down, giving us an enormous amount of control over our sours.  Those little yeasty beasties are busiest at 80°F to 100°F (27°C to 38°C), and go into near-idle mode at refrigerator temps of 38°F (3°C) or so. At those same temperatures, the lactobacilli also doze off, but remain active enough to produce small amounts of acid: the longer my starters sit in the fridge, the sourer they become.

At 6 hours.

At 6 hours.

So there it is: call me a fungus abuser if you will, but I’ve found that those little guys do just fine as long as I keep their environment cool and moist and throw them a carbo-bone every once in a while. In the meantime, they sit patiently by in my fridge, waiting to play their critical role in my next batch of sourdough; and if I take more time between bakes than other bakers, they never complain. A nice feeding, given a day or two before I mix my dough, resuscitates them and keeps them happy as mushrooms on a rotting log.

My sours are loyal retainers who’ve never failed me: perhaps I should give them names after all – something endearing, like Popeye and Olive, or maybe just Wheat and Rye.

What is a Jewish Bakery? (12/15/2011)

Not too long ago, during a radio interview centered on “Inside the Jewish Bakery,” the host asked me, “What is a Jewish bakery?” I have to confess, I was stunned: no one had ever asked me that question, nor, indeed, had I ever asked it of myself. In my world, everyone knows what a Jewish bakery is – a bakery that sells Jewish baked goods.

BakeryCounter1940sBut here’s where it gets complicated. What exactly are “Jewish baked goods?” The ones that come first to mind – bagels, rugelach, onion rolls, challah – appear to be no-brainers, but in fact all can be traced back through their Yiddish forebears to the gentile Central and Eastern European societies in which the Jews found themselves living at various times.

Take bagels, for instance.  In America, we think of them as a Jewish food that made good, rising to the pinnacle of the American mainstream and assimilating away their “Jewishness”. But boiled/baked ring breads made of double-helix dough strands, called obwarzanki are the signature street food of Kraków, Poland, and have been for centuries.  And lest anyone argue that “Jewish” bagels don’t feature that ropelike twist, I would point out that a 1936 photo in the collection of the New York Public Library shows a Jewish New York City bagel peddler selling what clearly are twisted obwarzanki. At the same time, a 1938 photo in the YIVO collection shows a bagel seller in Lithuania selling the untwisted bagels we’re all familiar with. Go figure.

So how about challah? Nothing more Jewish than that, right? Well, although the term “challah” is derived from the Torah, the bread itself was a loan from 14th and 15th century German Christians, who honored their Sabbath with braided loaves, according to Jewish foodways historian John Cooper. On top of that (and on top of the loaves), the custom of decorating breads with symbols of faith such as birds, hands, keys and ladders – also often thought of as uniquely Jewish – also can be traced back to the Christians of Central Europe. Even the term “koyletch,” an alternative name for challah throughout Yiddish Europe, is of Slavic origin. And to bring things full circle, a braided, egg-glazed sweet bread called chałka is a staple offering in the bakeries of today’s Poland.

Behind the counterThe same is true of knishes, babkas, rolls (bulkes), rye breads – you name it and the gentile host cultures had it before the Jews. Even most modern favorites come from someplace else, most obviously rainbow cookies, whose horizontal layers of red, yellow and green reprise the Italian flag and trumpet their origin.

So if everything in the Jewish bakery came from someplace else, what, after all is a “Jewish bakery?”

In my view, nothing less than the history of a people’s wanderings from place to place – from Eretz Yisrael to the Roman Empire, from Rome northward into the Rhine Valley, then west into France and England and east into Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. At every stop, the Jews found the foods of their gentile neighbors and adapted them to the laws of Kashrus. And when it came time to move again, they took those foods with them and added to their repertoire the foods of their next home, again adapted to Kashrus.

And so the Jewish bakery is really a time capsule, a distillation of a thousand years of Diaspora, come to rest in a row of glass-fronted display cases and shelves full of bread and rolls behind the counter. Every bread and roll, every pastry, cake and cookie, reflects a specific time and place in our communal history and connects us tangibly (and edibly) to our shared experience. And you thought it was only a bakery!

Today, the world’s food culture is rapidly homogenizing. You can find U.S. fast-food franchises in Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow;  Japanese ramen-chain outlets in New York, Los Angeles and London. And bagels are everywhere. TV food porn, as my daughter likes to call it, has universalized once-obscure ingredients and globalized technique and plating to the point where cooking has morphed from the deepest, most visceral (pun intended) expression of a culture rooted in time and place to a media-driven vehicle for individual creativity.

And while I do apkroyt_borschtpreciate the pure sensual pleasures of sculpturally composed, artfully conceived and executed coups de table, I’m also very much aware that even the best of them lack the authentic Yiddish tam of my grandmother’s kroyt borscht, a long-simmeredsoup – a stew, really – made from beef flanken and an abundance of winter vegetables – cabbage, beets, turnips, carrots, potatoes and onions.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the mass-market processed food industry is wreaking its own Holocaust on family-run, made-from-scratch restaurants and bakeries, and in the process, severing the connection between people and their personal and communal histories. And sadly, as those restaurants and bakeries die, so too, dies a piece of our cultural history that most of us barely recognize, let alone miss, until it’s gone.
Photos courtesy of Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Tamiment Library, New York University

Me and Chocolate (11/22/2011)

When I was a kid, back in the 40s and 50s, chocolate was for special occasions and taken in small doses – a square of Hershey’s milk chocolate from the bar my grandma kept squirreled away in her purse, a candy bar at the Saturday matinee (double feature, assorted shorts and 5 color cartoons 5) at the Benson, and the crowning moments when I got to choose one or two pieces (usually the cherry cordials or butter toffees) from the oblong black box of Barton’s kosher chocolates that was put out at holiday meals or when company was coming.

SONY DSCAs I got older and my family moved up the economic and social ladder, chocolate became less of a novelty.  It was always around, and as a teenager I was one of those kids who could work his way through an entire box of Mallomars, carefully picking the chocolate coating off of each one and savoring it flake by flake before chomping down on the now-naked marshmallow and vanilla wafer in anticipation of the next cookie in the box.

The bakeries raised chocolate to a whole new existential plane.  Chocolate-enrobed rainbow cookies, chocolate filled lace cookies, almond-fragrant french cookies which a thick dot of chocolate in the center in place of the usual glacé cherry – not to mention Ebinger’s blackout cake, a double chocolate high-ratio layer cake filled with chocolate pudding and frosted with chocolate fondant and covered in chocolate cake crumbs. It was to die for – at least until I discovered overdose vehicles like Death by Chocolate, chocolate mousse cake and chocolate lava cake.

Funny thing is, I never thought of myself as a chocoholic, since my cravings are infrequent and no longer excessive – thinking back to the time I finished almost 2 pounds of extra dark block chocolate in the space of an hour and paid for it with severe shakes and tachycardia for the rest of the day. That was 25 years ago, and it was my last true binge.

But of course, having written a baking book it was impossible to stay away from chocolate for very long, especially since the stuff figures so prominently in so many of our recipes. During the testing, I reacquainted myself with goodies I hadn’t tasted in years – wonder cake, made with almond paste and marbled with thick veins of pure dark chocolate;  chocolate-dipped sandwich cookies and almond horns; and checkerboard cake made with both yellow and chocolate high-ratio cakes, plus lots of chocolate buttercream and dark chocolate enrobing. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

One of the added pleasures of having written the book was learning more about chocolate’s history and idiosyncrasies.

I was amazed to learn that the connection between Jews and chocolate goes back to at least the mid-1600s, when Sephardic Jewish merchants from Holland came to the New World to engage in the sugar trade – which in itself is an interesting counterpoint to the pivotal role Jews played in the Eastern European beet sugar industry. But more interestingly, those same Sephardi also were instrumental in laying the foundations of the Dutch chocolate industry when they imported Venezuelan cacao into Holland – and then spread the chocolate gospel into northern France, and, a century later, into England. Fascinating stuff.

I also learned a lot about the chemical and physical mysteries of chocolate, and why it exerts such a powerful hold on those who work with it. I have  to confess, the idea of tempering chocolate intimidated me – and I’m not someone who intimidates easily – but the idea of controlling temperatures that carefully was really pretty daunting.

It didn’t get any easier – although it did get much more interesting – when I discovered that chocolate forms six different kinds of structures, depending on its temperature at the time of application, and that only one of them – Type 5 – produces the smooth, shiny finish we associate with the highest-quality baked goods.  But Type 5 molecules only predominate between 93°F and 97.7° F – equating to 27.3°C to 33.8°C – which is a very narrow band, especially if, like me, you melt your chocolate in a double boiler and not one of those classy, expensive tempering pots they use on the cooking shows.

So I figured it out: Bring the chocolate up above 125° F (52°C), and then drop in chunks of unmelted chocolate and stir it in until the mixture gets to within that Type 5 band – then apply it as quickly as possible, putting it back onto the double boiler as soon as the temp reaches the lower limit. Annoying? Tedious? Yes. Worth the effort? Absolutely.

So that, in a nutshell, is all about me and chocolate, and in closing I’d just leave you with this paragraph that, sadly, never found its way into Inside the Jewish Bakery:

During the Golden Age of Jewish baking, chocolate was – and remains, in the handful of surviving Jewish bakeries – everywhere.  Melted and tempered, it enrobed rainbow cookies, seven-layer cakes and checkerboard cakes.  Swirls of it marbled wonder cakes.  Drops of it decorated the centers of French cookies.  Coatings of it graced the ends of sandwich cookies and almond horns.  Melted and unsweetened, it is the focal point of chocolate cakes.  Shaved, it forms the filling for chocolate babka, schnecken and rugelach.  Dried into powder, it performs its magic on butter creams and simple icings.

So what’s not to like?

Bakebook Chronicles III (2/13/2011)

It’s been a good while since I last chronicled our adventures and misadventures in the world of publishing, and a lot has happened in the interim.

IJBcoverMany of you know that our publisher wasn’t entirely happy with our original title — The New York Bakers Jewish Bakery Book — and so after putting out several suggestions for informal feedback, we finally settled on Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking. Looking back at it, Norm and I both agree (as does the publisher) that this title is much more indicative of the contents of the book and leaves a lot more room for Norm’s stories and reminiscences of how it was back in the day.

It’s also amazing how content inflation works: originally, our contract called for a 70,000 word book, which translates into about 250 pages. In September, when the manuscript was due, it came to about 90,000 words, but the publisher didn’t make an issue of it. With additions — more Norm stories and a whole section on Passover baking — and revisions, we suddenly found that we had 100,000 words — about 350 pages — and the publisher freaked.

Someone once asked Ernest Hemingway to name toe most important quality of great writing, and he answered, “a willingness to murder your children.” And so I murdered about 28,000 of my kids and got the book down to around 72,500 words — which probably isn’t a bad thing, since the discipline of self-editing made me think about what was really essential — the must-includes versus the nice to includes. So basically, most of the background info in ingredients, techniques and equipment went bye-bye, along with redundant recipes and those that people can find elsewhere.

I expect that a lot of the cut material will end up on the NYB website at some point. Norm suggested that we try to sell it as Volume 2 — The Lost Chapters. We’ll see ….

Also, it looks at this point like the pub date will be more like July than the March-April timeframe Camino Books was thinking about before … understandable, given the complexities of editing, design, marketing, etc etc.

And speaking of marketing, one of the things we’re also learning is that being an author is different from being a writer. Writers write and get paid for it; authors become public personas and have to go out and do signings, shows, media, etc etc. More than that, if you’re an unknown at a small publishing house, you have to pay for it yourself. Fortunately, we found this terrific publicist who not only has done a bunch of cookbook work, but whose father owned a Jewish bakery in West LA in the 50s and 60s. So not only did we get a great professional; we also got a member of the family, so to speak … and we even got a great photo of her dad rolling bagels that’s gonna appear in the book.

So okay, that’s where we stand coming into Valentine’s Day weekend. Stay tuned!

Bakebook Chronicles II and Some Recent Baking (1/7/2011)

thought you might be interested in what i’ve been up to lately, so here are some recent pics.

The book is moving along.  The editing is done and I’m going over the corrected manuscript and getting some more photos together.  Our publisher has a designer working on the internal design, and I gather that the finished book is going to run somewhere around 320-360 pages.  We’re moving toward the prepublication home stretch and I can’t believe it’s actually happening.

Besides all that, some of you have probably noticed that we did a radical redesign of the website.  After over two years in business, we decided it was time for a more polished look … the idea being that we’re pretty sure we’ll be in business for a while.  thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement.

A great story:

We had to re-shoot a bunch of the photos, including the rainbow slices and French cookies, and Norm was having some health issues (all resolved now), so it was up to me to do the baking. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find glace cherries, needed for the French cookies, in quantities less than 30#, so I went to a local bakery and asked if I could buy some. The woman at the counter went in the back and came back out, telling me there was no problem with that. The baker himself followed, with 1/2 a pound of the cherries and told me “no charge.”

I thanked him, introduced myself and told him what I was doing and we talked shop for a bit, then his wife came out. “Ooooh, rainbow slices, I love them. He made me a tray for my birthday!” Jerry, the baker, smiled. “A lot of work,” he said. So cherries in hand, I went home and baked.

After the cookies were finished and photographed, I took a plate over to the bakery and got huge smiles and thank you’s from both Jerry and his wife — talk about positive reinforcement: I floated on air for days!