Author Chat: Inside the Jewish Bakery


— by Hannah Lee

On Tuesday night, I attended a fascinating lecture by Stanley Ginsberg, co-author of Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking. Ginsberg has a diverse background, including a Ph.D. in Chinese literature and a career in marketing and financial writing, but he hungered for the Jewish foods of his childhood. An amateur baker, he found his co-author, Norman Berg (who died in May), on a baker’s forum on the Internet and asked for the one item he savored most, onion rolls. Berg, a Bronx native and a retired baker, provided a recipe and it came out great. Next was the Russian coffee cake, with its New World extravagance of butter, cinnamon sugar, nuts, and apricot syrup. The two of them, living on opposite coasts, embarked on a journey of nostalgia and research and culminated in a thick volume packed with tangible sweet and savory memories of our Jewish communities.

More after the jump.  
What is a Jewish bakery?  Well, you may simply think of it as a bakery using Jewish recipes, serving Jewish customers.  But, it is also a living document of the Jews who lived under the Holy Roman Empire as they moved up the Rhine Valley, then eastward towards the Pale of Settlement, established in 1791 by Empress Catherine (the Great), consisting of western Russia and Poland.  We have linguistic souvenirs of their odyssey, such as bentching which derives from the Latin for benediction, and we have culinary artifacts. Challah, which American Jews think of as our unique Sabbath bread, was also eaten by 14th century German Christians.  (The Sephardim had no special bread for Shabbat, maybe because of the Inquisition and the remaining hidden Jews’ need to hide their ritual observance.) The decorated challah comes from Czechoslavkia, Bohemia, and the Balkans, where they had the custom of decorating their holiday breads with symbols.

Many of the items featured in the book are no longer found in our bakeries, such as kornbroyt (corn rye), poppy horns, and bialys, for which no machine has been devised.  Other recipes are for authentic, labor-intensive methods that commercial bakeries now eschew or substitute with time-saving or cheaper replacements. A poignant example is the sad decline of the mass-produced bagel. In the early 20th century, the International Beigel Bakers Union of Greater New York and New Jersey had a tight monopoly; you couldn’t break into the business unless your father or father-in-law were themselves bagel bakers. Ginsberg writes: “In the 40’s and 50’s, it was said, a Jewish boy could more easily get into medical school than become an apprentice bagel baker.”  And we all know about the exclusion of Jews from medical schools.

The stranglehold was broken by three men: Mickey Thompson and his son Daniel who devised a bagel-making machine in 1962 and Murray Lender who expanded his market by distributing bagels through local grocery stores, thus introducing the bagel to “consumers of all ethnicities.”  The new machine could produce a mind-numbing 300 dozen bagels an hour with one unskilled operator. Lender bought the first six machines manufactured by the Thompsons. However, mass production necessitated changes in the recipe. The original stiff dough clogged the machines, so they increased the water content up to 65%. The resultant dough was now soft and stuck to the machines, so they added oil to soften the crumb.

In contrast to the traditional method of chilling the dough for 24-48 hours for a slow fermentation to develop the flavor nowadays prized by artisanal bakers, Lender sped up the process by adding sugar and dough conditioners. Then, he eliminated the initial step of boiling in malt, which created a shiny, chewy brown crust, favoring steam-injected ovens. The resultant bland bagel necessitated the addition of unorthodox flavoring– such as blueberry, cheddar cheese, jalapeño pepper, sun-dried tomato, and pesto — and it became “a doughnut with the sin removed.”

The Montreal bagel, in contrast, is made in under an hour, and uses oil, sugar, eggs, more yeast, and no salt.  It’s boiled in honeyed water, not malt, and it’s baked in wood-burning ovens, which has areas that heat up to 650 °F and thus blacken parts of the bagel. Partisan as a native would be, Ginsberg touts the New York bagel, which is baked in a gas-fired  or electric oven maintained at an even 460 °F for a “more pronounced oven spring and a harder, darker crust.”

“If challah was the queen of the Shabbes table,” writes Ginsberg, “rye was the poor but honest yeoman who served during the other six days of the week.” This is another example of the decline of quality: rye flour is more costly than wheat flour, so rye bread is now often made with only 10% rye with the addition of caraway seeds.  Pumpernickel is a generic term for dark rye bread, but nowadays it’s colored with coffee or caramel coloring.

Inside the Jewish Bakery offers step-by-step instruction, including the sequential timing of recipes, such as the implementation of the same sweet Vienna dough for the first rising, making onion pockets, then another hour’s proofing, shaping sandwich bread, and, with the final hour’s rising and with the gluten fully developed, making kaiser rolls.

Ginsberg now calls San Diego home, but he was a lay leader of Har Zion while Rabbi Gerald Wolpe was alive. His wife, Sylvia, is a Philadelphia native and they still have family ties here. Ginsberg is a ready story-teller and a walking encyclopedia of food facts. What is the difference between rugelach and schnecken? The former is made from triangles rolled up like croissants while the latter is made from long rolls that are sliced before baking. While mandelbroyt is baked only once and contains almond paste, kamishbroyt is baked twice, like the Italian biscotti.

Inside the Jewish Bakery includes complicated charts listing ratios of ingredients, and not simply volumes (as lay people use) or weights (as professional bakers use).  The book won the 2012 Jane Grigson Award given by the International Association of Culinary Professionals for distinguished scholarship in the quality of its research and presentation.

My copy is from the first printing in May 2011 and it’s full of errors, but the website, www.insidethejewishbakery.com/, has a downloadable list of errata as well as nifty videos on how to shape a four-braid and six-braid loaf of challah. Ginsberg also runs a baker’s supply website, www.nybakers.com, where you can find ingredients not available from your local supermarket, such as medium and dark rye flour, malt syrup, dehydrated chopped onion, and nigella seed.

This lecture, held at the Gershman Y, is part of the “What is Your Food Worth?” series coordinated by Temple University’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History. Upcoming programs include: “Just a Pinch: An Unofficial History of Jewish Cooking in America” at the National Museum of American Jewish History on the 24th at 6:30 pm and “They Were What They Ate: Immigrant Jews and the Encounter with America,” at Gladfelter Hall, Temple University on the 30th at 3:30 pm.  For a complete calendar and on-going conversations about Jewish foodways, log onto www.whatisyourfoodworth.com or www.temple.edu/feinsteinctr.

The Deja Vu Primary

Slate’s David Weigel draws some interesting parallels between this Republican primary and the last one:

“I’m thinking of a Republican primary. It starts with a candidate (John McCain/Mitt Romney) who ran once before, came in second place, and won over the party’s elite class without winning over its base. Other candidates, understandably unwilling to accept this, line up: An under-funded social conservative (Mike Huckabee/Rick Santorum), an elder statesman who’s walked to the altar three times (Rudy Giuliani/Newt Gingrich), a libertarian who wants to bring back the gold standard (Ron Paul/Ron Paul). The conservative base is displeased. In the year before the primary, it pines for a perfect candidate. At the end of summer, on (September 5/August 13), it gets him: (Fred Thompson/Rick Perry). The dream candidate immediately rises to the top of national polls, but collapses after lazy, distaff debate performances… The Republican base looks at the wreckage and shudders. It can never allow this to happen ever again.”

However despite the parallels Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is now singing a different tune about Mitt Romney’s leadership at Bain Capital:

“These attacks on, quote, Bain Capital is really kind of anathema to everything that we believe in.”
— McCain on CBS News, January 12, 2012, about attacks on Mitt Romney’s track record in business.

“As head of his investment company he presided over the acquisition of companies that laid off thousands of workers.”
— McCain in the New York Times, January 28, 2008, taking a different view.

Agreement Among States to Elect President by National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.

The bill has been enacted by the District of Columbiaand 8 states (VT, MD, WA, IL, NJ, MA, CA, HI) shown in green on the map. They total 132 electoral votes bringing us almost halfway towards the 270 necessary to activate the National Popular Vote.

Eleven more states (shown in purple) have passed NPV bills in at least one chamber of their legislature. For example, recently the Republican-controlled New York Senate passed NPV in a 47-13 vote. Republicans supported the bill 21-11 while Democrats supported it 26-2. Across the country, NPV has been endorsed by 2,124 state legislators.

The shortcomings of the current system stem from the winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state).

The winner-take-all rule has permitted a candidate to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in 4 of our 56 elections – 1 in 14 times. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected Kerry despite Bush’s nationwide lead of 3,000,000.

Another shortcoming of the winner-take-all rule is that presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign visits and ad money in the November general election campaign in just six closely divided “battleground” states — with 98% going to 15 states. This makes two thirds of the states mere spectators. (The maps on the left show a similar situation during the final five weeks of the 2004 Bush-Kerry election. Each purple hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice-presidential candidate and each dollar sign represents $1,000,000 spent on TV advertising.)

The winner-take-all rule treats voters supporting the candidate who comes in second place in a particular state as if they supported the candidate that they voted against.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives the states exclusive control over the manner of awarding their electoral votes:

“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”

The winner-take-all rule is not in the Constitution. It was used by only three states in our nation’s first election in 1789. The current method of electing the President was established by state laws, and that these state laws may be changed at any time.

Under the National Popular Vote bill, all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes – that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

The bill preserves the Electoral College, while assuring that every vote is equal and that every vote will matter in every state in every presidential election.

The bill has been endorsed by New York Times, Sacramento Bee, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times, Common Cause, FairVote, LWVUS, and NAACP.


As seen in this state polls are extremely favorable. Supports ranges from a “low” of 67% in Arizona to a high of 83% in Tennessee. On this map, shades of blue represent the highest support and 50/50 support would be represented in purple.

The movement for the National Popular Vote is bipartisan: The national advisory board includes former Senators Jake Garn (R-UT), Birch Bayh (D-IN), and David Durenberger (R-MN) as well as former congressmen John Anderson (R-IL, I), John Buchanan (R-AL), Tom Campbell (R-CA), and Tom Downey (D-NY). Former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Governors Bob Edgar (R-IL) and Chet Culver (D-IA) are champions.

This Spring, Pennsylvania House Bill 1270 was introduced by Rep. Tom C. Creighton (R-Lancaster County) and Senate Bill 1116 was introduced by Senators Alloway, Argall, Boscola, Erickson, Fontana, Leach, Mensch, Solobay, Vance and Waugh. These bills have not yet be acted upon action by the State Government Committees.

Additional information is available in the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.

Pennsylvania poll results follow the jump.

To support National Popular Vote efforts, donate money, contact your state legislator and get involved.
Pennsylvanians Strongly Support Popular Vote for President

Two out of three Pennsylvanians believe the President should be the candidate who “gets the most votes in all 50 states”, according to a recent poll conducted by noted Political Science Professor Dr. Terry Madonna.

The strong showing came in Madonna’s March Omnibus Poll involving a telephone survey of more than 800 Pennsylvania residents and voters. Among those interviewed, seven in ten agreed “it would be unjust to have a President who did not receive the most popular votes.”

The survey findings were released by the National Popular Vote Project even as state House and Senate sponsors are garnering additional support for enabling legislation on the matter.

Madonna said polling showed bipartisan public support for the project. “A clear majority of Republicans and Democrats favor popular voting in place of the Electoral College’s current method for choosing the President,” Madonna said. “The fundamental reasons the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College system no longer exist, and the voters of Pennsylvania understand that.”

The prime sponsor of the legislation in the House, Republican state Rep. Tom Creighton of Lancaster County, is quick to point out that his legislation (HB 1270) does not seek to supplant the Electoral College, but rather seeks to direct the electors as provided in the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution, Creighton notes, spells out in Article II, Section 1, that only the state legislatures may set rules on electors and that, in fact, the term “Electoral College” does not appear in the Constitution.

“Right now, most states allow electors to abide by a ‘winner take all’ approach which casts all of a state’s electoral college votes for the candidate who wins that state,” no matter if the candidate wins by a single vote or in a landslide. That “winner take all” practice has resulted in four elections where the candidate who received the most popular votes was not seated as President. A half dozen other elections resulted in “near misses.”

Only about one in four persons surveyed believe that electing a President by the national popular vote will favor one party over another. And of those who believe that, there is a clear split over which party would be favored.

Support was strong for the popular vote across the state although the most vigorous support was noted in Northwestern Pennsylvania, where 72% supported the concept. Philadelphia and suburban counties came next with 69% supporting a National Popular Vote. 63% supported the concept in both Southwestern(including Pittsburgh) and Northeastern Pennsylvania. A clear majority (58%) supported the idea in Central Pennsylvania.

The Madonna survey included the questions on the presidential election at the request of the National Popular Vote Project, a non-partisan, non-profit organization promoting the issue nationwide. Interviews were conducted with 807 residents, of whom 659 were registered voters, using a random digit telephone number selection system that allowed for the inclusion of cell phone users, in addition to regular landline respondents. The sample error was plus or minus 3.4%.

Results in the survey were similar to those reported in a 2008 automated survey of more than 1,000 Pennsylvania voters conducted by Public Policy Polling. In that poll about 70% favored the election of the President by the national popular vote.

Supreme Court’s Affirmation of Employee Rights

David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We commend the Supreme Court for unanimously reversing the Sixth Court of Appeals and upholding the intent of Title VII‘s anti-retaliation provisions. In Thompson v. North American Stainless, the Court found that Eric Thompson, who was fired in 2002 soon after his fiancée-who worked at the same company-filed a sex discrimination complaint, had the right to sue his employer for retaliation under Title VII. Writing for the Court, Justice Scalia made clear that a worker could reasonably be silenced by fear of retaliation in the form of firing against a fiancé and that such a situation violates essential civil rights protections.

Building on our strong legacy of civil rights advocacy, the Reform Movement was pleased to join an amicus brief coordinated by the National Women’s Law Center, urging the Justices to decide the case in Mr. Thompson’s favor and ensure the continued vitality of civil rights protections. We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was largely drafted in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s conference room.

The decision in Thompson v. North American Stainless is particularly heartening given its deviation from the recent trend of Supreme Court decisions prioritizing corporations over individuals.

We praise the justices for discontinuing this disturbing trend and hope to see more decisions recognizing individual rights in the future.