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Baking with “Inside the Jewish Bakery”

A few weeks ago I reviewed Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg’s new book, “Inside the Jewish Bakery” for my local Jewish book festival committee by testing out the key recipe: bagels. Ginsberg and Berg give the inside scoop on what bakeries do and don’t do to make things work better than you usually can at home. Along the way–and the most interesting part for me–they give a huge helping of Jewish Bakery history. Not just nostalgia (“Weren’t those marble ryes worth wrestling over?”) but the fascinating cultural developments that gave rise to such things the Bagel Maker’s Union (local 338 [number corrected thanks to Stan Ginsberg]) in Brooklyn, and they’d break your legs if you tried to make nonunion bagels, at least through the 1960s.

Ginsberg’s the son of a baking family and Berg is a professional baker; between them they tell the story of Ashkenazi baking and the inside story of what it’s like to start work at 10 pm and head for home around 7 in the morning, all the while giving what turn out to be great technical baking notes.

And yet the recipes themselves are full of errors–and yes, this is the print edition we’re talking about, not an advance reader’s copy. The authors have a 6-page correction sheet (errata) up on the book’s web page, so if you’re going to get to it and try it out–and why not, if you’re ambitious about baking–check it out carefully against the recipe in the book, read everything over very carefully first, and then get to it in a way that won’t send you scurrying for specialty ingredients. NOTE: per Stan Ginsberg (see comments below) the 2nd edition’s recipes have been corrected so things should be easier.

If you can read between the lines and have some experience with bread under your belt, you’ll find the recipes do work (once corrected). My bagels came out very well, with that crunchy crust and dense, chewy bite all of us ex-New York types have missed for decades out here in California (actually, I’m posting this from Montreal, where the bagels are lighter and sweet? have to try, probably won’t love them).

I do have pictures to post (once I can get home and edit them down) of the bagels proofing slowly overnight in the fridge and one of the last remaining survivors–my daughter still had it in her bookbag when we came east this week. Ten days, obviously not still fresh, but not spoiled either. As tough as the dough it came from (which, again with the asides, is very tough compared with regular pizza or challah doughs, and you have to knead it by hand unless you have the dough hook of the century. If not, you’ll develop the right hook of the century.)

So here are my notes to the local Challah Club, which was interested in trying out some of the other recipes. Good luck and eat nice!

Notes for the Challah Club members up for a challenge:

1. Read all the instructions several times first and double-check the errata sheets. It’s 6 pages of corrections for the whole book and it’s up at the Inside the Jewish Bakery web site under a top menu link on the right (Errata). Hopefully we can get the second edition in soon.

The book web site also has lots of info, interviews, links to other related stuff.

Also check notes on special ingredients in the front for unfamiliar names–diastatic malt in the bagels and elsewhere is defined up front; it’s just malt. I think they get a little technical on flour grades–they’re tied in with an aggressively technical bakers web site/forum (NY Bakers, you don’t expect them to be laidback, do you? but most of it’s just futzing around with professional stuff). Chernushka seed is nigella seed–available here at the Armenian groceries. And then do whatever makes best common sense and doesn’t have a huge cash layout just for one loaf!

2. The recipes in this book are weighable on a food scale in grams, which is how I did the bagels (just this once, just to see if it needed me to be that nerdy). Some of the flours are technical grades beyond what you can easily get in the grocery store; you can mix flours to get the right consistency. For example, bread flour is 13% protein, but I added a teaspoon of vital wheat gluten to bring it up to the 14% protein specification for the bagels, and for something that really needed stretch, like rye, maybe, I would have added a little more. Don’t know that you really need to, but if you’re gonna be nerdy, a food scale and a calculator are handy tools.

3. If you go for the pastries, some have a mix of butter and shortening-plus-butter-flavoring. I’m not a shortening fan; I’m just not; I prefer butter or margarine. The laminated doughs add these things in stages, so read the errata pages and double-check the recipe instructions for how much fat to put into the pastry dough when. Gets confusing occasionally.

4. One thing that’s not in the corrections pages: watch the salt. You do not need as much as they throw in for the breads–not for flavor, not for texture. The bagels I made with only half the salt in the recipe because the original would have been 400-500 mg. of sodium per bagel, which is getting up into Campbell’s Tomato Soup territory (or half a South Beach Diet frozen microwaveable “lunch”). And they tasted fine without it and did most of the right things without me having to join the bagel-makers’ union.

2 Responses

  1. Second printing is out and just about all of the errors have been corrected. — Stan Ginsberg

    • Fantastic and thank you for commenting–I have really enjoyed the book’s history sections, but as home bread baker I also really appreciate the working notes you and Mr. Berg have included in the book and up on the web site, even though I’m nobody’s idea of a precision baker. Should have mentioned some of the video clips on your site–the late-’60s bagel clip is a lot of fun and definitely took me back. Now I have to double-check that I got the union local number right since I had to relinquish the review copy to the committee chair… Hope to meet you in November if we can get you out to Pasadena.

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