For batter or worse

Amateur cook Ginsberg and professional pastry chef Berg have teamed up to take a look back on NY Jewish bakeries.

Inside the Jewish Bakery 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Inside the Jewish Bakery 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Three parts flour, two parts water, a pinch of yeast and a handful of nostalgia seems to be the recipe for Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking, by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg.
The book takes a look back at classic Jewish bakeries in New York in the first half of the previous century, interweaving tales of iconic bakeries with historical data and detailed recipes.
This book will delight baking experts, who will be happy to see recipes given in cups, ounces, grams and baker’s percentages, but also please novices, who will enjoy the step-by-step photos of some of the more complicated braids and designs, like the five photos illustrating how to shape kaiser rolls, or the 10 photos demonstrating how to braid a six-strand halla loaf.
Each section of the book deals with a different staple offering in Jewish bakeries, from rye bread to halla to bagels, bialys and of course sweet options like cheesecake and cookies. There is even a chapter devoted to Passover baking, noting that “most bakeries closed down for the eight days of Passover,” but that “A few hardy souls, however – mostly the older bakers, who were motivated as much by the desire to serve their communities as by profit – stayed open even though it meant going through the tedious process of cleansing their bakeries of chometz.”
Sections of full-color photos dot the book, and readers will recognize some New York favorites, from bagels, bialys and pumpernickel loaves to babka, coffee cake, rugelach and black-and-white cookies.
Heavy on nostalgia, the book paints a broad vision of a utopian New York, “a time when life was slower, simpler and perhaps a little better; a time when childhood wasn’t about preschools and play dates, but about street games and tagging along with our mothers and grandmothers on their daily rounds of the neighborhood merchants,” the authors say.
Ginsberg and Berg, who grew up in Brooklyn and the Bronx respectively, said we “touched, smelled and tasted the merchandise before buying, and we ate the treats that were given to us bare hand to bare hand without a second thought, and you know what? We lived! In our world, people weren’t afraid of germs, crime or each other.” This vision is reinforced with historical black-andwhite photographs culled from a variety of sources, most prominently the “Bakery and Confectionery Union Local 3 Collection” at the Tamiment Library in New York University.
But it is the recipes – enumerated in great detail – that are the heart of the book. With four recipes for halla, seven for rye bread and detailed instructions on how to create either a classic New York water bagel, a Montreal bagel or a New York egg bagel, baking enthusiasts can re-create the treats of the authors’ childhoods. From onion pockets to poppy horns, a danish pastry ring, apple strudel, bear claws, honey cakes, doughnuts, jelly rolls and egg kichels, there is something for every sweet – and savory – tooth to create at home.
The authors – Ginsberg, who is an amateur but avid baker, and Berg, who spent 25 years as a professional pastry chef – met on, a website for “amateur bakers and artisan bread enthusiasts,” and their communications eventually turned it to this book. Berg’s decades of professional experience give him a unique view of the industry, which he shares throughout the book in his “Norm’s Eye View” – covering his time working all-night shifts, why bakers hate the holidays and how to reuse and reutilize every last crumb in the bakery.
He even tells how within bakeries there is an unspoken “caste system,” with a hierarchy of those who make the most profitable items to those who make the least.
Berg details how on his first day working for a Jewish bakery in the Bronx, he introduced himself to the bread baker and told him he loved making bread.
“You vant to be a bread baker?” Berg recounts the man saying “with a thick Yiddish accent. ‘It’s the worst job there is. Stick to cake; you’ll be better off,” he continued, and went silently back to work.”