Book Review: Inside the Jewish Bakery AND a tried-and-tested Sweet and Rich Challah recipe

I love baking bread…and my hubby appreciates that the I don’t consider the kneading, proofing (and the waiting can be as short as 1 hour or as long as overnight in the fridge) and shaping homemade breads as one stressful and intimidating kitchen activity.   He enjoys freshly-baked or warmed homemade breads to start the day…and there’s always sweet and soft homemade breads in the house for him to slather with honey butter.  And I’m very much enthusiastic about finding more bread recipes to try, and get my big bag of flour replenished every 2 or 3 months.

I was delighted when this “good-looking” book, Inside the Jewish Bakery, finally came in the mail (thanks to Trina Kaye, Lisa Ekus Group and Camino Books).   Bread formulations and applications are pretty much universal that I don’t have to embrace Jewish religion or culture to appreciate reading this book.   It’s got all the elements of a good cookbook — there’s interesting narratives of Jewish/Yiddish culinary traditions (specific type of dress to denote the different status of the bakery’s staff, all breads made from scratch and of real ingredients — butter, eggs, and sugar), and of course, the many pages of recipes, complete with detailed instructions and clear directions.  In just the Challah bread, which may not be available in all bakeries, but is well embraced by the foodies and homebakers all over the world, there are more than 2 ways to braid a Challah bread.    I enjoyed the inclusions of old photos from the early 1900s, specially the scribbled bread formula in a baker’s notebook — only proves again the point that baking is such an exact science.   Use a wrong formulation and expect an unacceptable baked bread.    The colored photos in the middle section of the book were so mouthwatering — so deliciously photographed that I could see myself making elephant ears and a chocolate loaf babka soon.

I’m giving my 2 thumbs-up on this and encourage you to get one for a nice addition to your cookbook collection.”  It is a gem of a baking book for all bakers, including homebakers.   The recipes in the book were downsized for the homebaker, but the book is lavished with detailed instructions (including the hows and whys) and images of baking steps and finished products.  Again, one doesn’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this book….one particular recipe that is well-embraced is the Challah (Egg) bread.   Several versions were provided in the book, including an eggless water version.  The difficult part of this bread is in the braiding; the authors (Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg) made sure to offer simple shapes and braids.  It will be a while to master the 6-strand Bakery braided Challah, so for my practice, I followed the easier braiding technique from Baking Illustrated book.  I can’t wait to do the Chiffon Cake recipe in the book that only calls for less than 2 cups flour for a regular chiffon cake, mmm, I am that intrigued.   This book brings back my memories of watching in fascination professional bakers kneading, rounding, folding, stretching and shaping bread doughs inside their bakery work area.

Other recipes in this handsome book —

Pumpernickel Bread
Rye Bread
Kaiser Rolls
Danish and Puff Pastry
Apple Strudel
Fruit-Filled Buns
Yeast-Raised Doughnuts, including Honey Glaze
Wine Cake
Seven-Layer Cake
Checkerboard Cake
Linzer Cookies
Chinese Almond Cookies (this is on top of my to-do list)
Passover Coconut Macaroons and Cream Puffs

(Excerpt from Inside the Jewish Bakery by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg © 2011 Camino Books
Reprinted with permission.  To learn more about the book go to

1 3/4 cups bread flour  (225g)
3/1/2 teaspoons Instant yeast (14g)
1 cup Water (225g)
4 cups bread flour (565g)
3/4 cup granulated sugar (155g)
2 1/4 teaspoons table salt (14g)
3 Large eggs, beaten (150g)
1 egg yolk, large (18g)
1/2 cup Vegetable oil (100g)
1 large Egg, lightly beaten for glazing (50g)
2 Tablespoons poppy, sesame or chernushka seeds (15g)

1. Combine the first quantity of four, instant yeast and water into a mixing bowl, or the bowl of the mixer and beat by hand into a smooth, thick paste. Set in a warm place, covered, for 30 to 45 minutes until sponge mixture becomes frothy.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, and oil until blended and set aside.

3. Add the liquid ingredients to the sponge. Use the flat (paddle) beater to blend at a low speed until blended, then gradually ass remaining flour, sugar and salt and continue mixing until the dough is evenly is evenly hydrated and comes together in a shaggy mass, about 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Switch to the dough hook, if using a stand mixer, and knead at low speed for 6 to 8 minutes, until the dough forms into a smooth, glossy ball that leaves the side of the bowl. If kneading by hand. turn the dough onto a well-floured work surface and knead for 10 to 12 minutes.

5. Form the dough into a large ball, put into a greased bowl, cover with a damp towel or cling wrap and let ferment until doubled in bulk, 60 to 90 minutes.

6. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, punch it down, and knead it for 1 minute or so, then divide into 2 pieces of approximately 24 ounces/680 grams each.

7. Divide into as many pieces as appropriate for the braid you’re using. Roll each piece into a tight ball, cover them with a damp towel and allow them to rest for 20 to 30 minutes to relax the gluten.

8. Using your hands, roll each piece into a long sausage that is thick in the middle and tapers to a point at the ends.  (Sarah:  I followed Baking Illustrated easy braiding — Divide each  24 oz dough into 2 pieces, 2/3 and 1/3 portions.  Shape the large piece of dough into 3 ropes.  Line up the three ropes of dough side by side.  Pinch the top ends together.  Take the dough rope on the right and lay it over the center rope.  Take the dough rope on the left and lay it over the center rope.  Repeat this process until the ropes of dough are entirely braided.  Pinch the ends together, tuck both ends under the braid and transfer to prepared baking tray.  Do the same braiding process with the smaller piece of dough.  Brush the larger braid with egg wash and place smaller braid on top.)

9. Put the braided loaves on a piece of baking parchment, cover them with a damp towel and allow them to proof until the dough doesn’t spring back when a finger is pressed into it.

10. About 30 minutes before bake time, preheat your oven to 350F/175C with the baking rack in the middle. (Sarah: I preheated oven to 375 F and reduced to 350 after placing the baking tray inside the oven).

11. Brush each loaf lightly with the beaten egg (Sarah: I thinned with 1 tablespoon of water), wait one minute then give them a second coat.  Sprinkle with poppy, sesame or chernushka seeds to taste.

12. Slide the loaves and parchment onto your baking stone or bake on a sheet pan for 30 to 40 minutes, turning the loaves halfway through baking so they will brown evenly.   Transfer the finished loaves to a rack and let cool for at least an hour before cutting.

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Here’s the press release provided to me….

Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age Of Jewish Baking
By Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg
Camino Books; October 2011
ISBN: 978-1-933822-23-5

Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the

Golden Age of Jewish Baking

“This is a book of enormous importance, both as social history and for its traditional recipes. The authors have managed to artfully entwine bread and Jewish cultural identity like the very challah that has become its popular symbol. I learned many things I hadn’t previously known and wanted to capture in my own loaves the tears I felt welling in my eyes as I was reminded, through their words, that bread is always more than just bread.”
-Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

There is nothing like being in a bakery, staring at counters full of baking delights, trays full of breads and bagels, and deciding what to buy.  I should know; I grew up in a Jewish bakery.  My fondest memories are of watching my father make bread and bagels, whistling while he worked, greeting friends and neighbors as they came to shop.  In fact my first after-school job was working the counter in my father’s bakery.

Small, family-run Jewish bakeries that once lay at the heart of  close-knit urban neighborhoods all over America have fallen victim to the demise of the old-school bakers, shifting demographics and economic realities.  But two authors, Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg seek to keep the memories of these Jewish bakeries alive with their new book, Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Ages of Jewish Baking (Camino Books; October 2011; $24.95/hardcover; ISBN 978-1-933822-23-5). More than a collection of recipes, Inside the Jewish Bakery chronicles the history and traditions – as well as the distinctive baked goods – of Ashkenazi Jewry in Eastern Europe and its immigration to America.   Utilizing a vast array of sources, the authors have crafted an engaging “edible history.”

“We wrote this book to preserve and celebrate the tastes and traditions of real Jewish baking and feelings of community they evoked. As such, this book is more than just another compendium of recipes and instructions; rather, it’s about a time when life was slower, simpler and perhaps a little better,” explains Stan Ginsberg. “Both Norm and I grew up in New York City’s outer boroughs in the decades following World War II. We both lived in close-knit, largely Jewish neighborhoods where neighbors knew neighbors, shopkeepers knew their customers, and mothers felt safe enough to park their baby carriages—infants included—unattended outside stores while they shopped. Business was based on trust, and rarely was that trust betrayed.”

Inside the Jewish Bakery provides home bakers of all skill levels recipes to recreate the authentically Jewish breads, pastries, cookies and cakes that once filled the shelves of neighborhood bakeries. The recipes themselves are based on the professional formulas used by America’s Jewish bakers during their Golden Age, adapted and tested for home kitchens.

Several chapters showcase traditional Jewish breads such as Challah and Rye and the authors provide a range of recipes that span the histories of these breads and the many ways to present them.  Chapters also cover the roots and Americanization of bagels, bialys and a vast assortment of rolls. Ginsberg and Berg have also included chapters on pastries, cakes and cookies, showcasing recipes that have all but disappeared from American bakery shelves.  There is even a chapter devoted to Passover baking.  Other recipes include:

Passover Coconut Macaroons

Passover Honey Cake

Russian Coffee Cake

Pound Cake

Sour Cream Coffee Cake






Egg Kichel (Bowties)

Linzer Cookies

Black and White Cookies

Sandwich Cookies
In order to make high-volume bakery recipes easy for the home cook, the authors broke down their recipes into two elements: formulas for the doughs and batters that are the basis for most of the recipes, and the techniques used in mixing, shaping and finishing.

“Baking is a form of chemistry, and professional bakers use formulas exact as those in a chemist’s lab. The formulas in this book have never appeared in print, but were passed down from one generation of bakers to the next, whose task it was to carry on the old traditions and skills. Over the years, Norm accumulated thousands of these formulas. Many of them survive in battered notebooks, jotted down in baker’s notation; others were never written down but survive only in memory. Many more have been lost forever as aging master bakers leave this world and fewer younger people step up to carry on their craft.”

Inside the Jewish Bakery takes you inside a fast-disappearing tradition. It is a book that is timeless in its appeal and is a must-read for anyone interested in history, culture and baking.  For home bakers who love and appreciate the lost art of the full service bakery the recipes preserved inside this unique cookbook recall those special Sunday mornings, holiday dinners and family occasions.

Inside the Jewish Bakery is your ticket to the sumptuous tastes, techniques and memories of baking that were and [now] are a luscious amalgamation of many centuries and many countries, united under the banner of Jewish cuisine, a diverse heritage that is as much about what is on the plate as all that preceded it.”

Marcy Goldman, author of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, and The Baker’s Four Seasons


Stanley Ginsberg, a native of Brooklyn, grew up in a close-knit neighborhood where generations lived side by side. He learned to cook and bake from his grandmother, who lived just upstairs in the same apartment building, and has continued cooking and baking ever since. His baking repertoire is eclectic, with a bias towards traditional Yiddish breads and pastries, as well as Central and Eastern European-style artisan breads. Stanley spent the greater part of his professional career as a business and financial writer, with time out for a stint on Wall Street. He and his wife, Sylvia, have four adult children and two standard poodles, and currently live in Southern California.

Norman Berg, a Bronx native, graduated from the baking program at New York City’s Food and Maritime Trades High School and spent the next 25 years as a professional baker and general manager at several bakeries that became Bronx institutions, including Weber’s, Enrico’s, Yonkers Pastry and Greystone Bakery. Over the years, Norm amassed more than 1,000 recipes for breads, cakes and pastries of every imaginable variety. Norm and his wife, Janet, still live in the Bronx. Their son, Nathan, followed in his father’s footsteps and has a successful career as a pastry chef at several well-regarded Bronx and Westchester, New York restaurants.

Too learn more about the book go to

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