Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review: Secrets of a Jewish Baker

My latest favorite bread baking book is Secrets of a Jewish Baker, by George Greenstein. George Greenstein owned and operated a bakery in Long Island which sold all kinds of baked goods, from cultures all around the world, including his own Jewish traditions.

What I love about this book: 

  • The introductory material is wonderful. In addition to being helpful, it's fun to read! (Okay, yes, I'm a serious bread nerd.) Lots of helpful tips for getting more professional results at home. 
  • When he says "breads from around the world," he means it! While I am most interested in the basic white and whole wheat bread recipes and the Jewish recipes (challah and bagels, yum!), there is plenty of more exotic fare here - from focaccia to naan. 
  • Each bread recipe has separate instructions for kneading by hand, with a food processor, and using a stand mixer. We recently bought a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, and I am trying to use it for everything. Like a beautiful, classic handbag, it becomes less expensive (in terms of amortized value) the more you use it, right? That's my theory, anyway. So far I have used the stand mixer for three recipes, and hand-kneaded one recipe. Not only does Greenstein include different instructions for different kneading methods - the recipe proportions vary as well, reflecting the greater or lesser capacity of the food processor or stand mixer. Every bread I have tried from this book so far has turned out beautifully, and I would make it again.
  • At the end of the book, Greenstein includes "Twelve Menus: A Morning of Baking," where he gives instructions on how to simultaneously bake six to ten loaves of bread (in theory, enough for your family for the week), plus a variety of muffins and other baked goods. Breaks for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are incorporated into the instructions (e.g., "now is a good time to eat those muffins with butter and assorted spreads!"). I doubt I will ever try to bake this much at once (in my house, we have a hard time eating two loaves of bread in a week), but this section strongly appeals to my inner-pioneer-woman.
Just pulled the 100% Whole Wheat bread out of the oven, and it's the fluffiest whole wheat bread I've baked to date (better than this bread, although it uses similar techniques). Wow. I attribute this success to the huge amounts of buttermilk. And the Jewish baker, of course. Yum.

Edited to add: The 100% Whole Wheat bread and the Sprouted Wheat Bread are not only delicious, but keep amazingly well too. The loaves are still fresh and moist even after four or five days. Again, I can only attribute this to the buttermilk. Perhaps it acts as a mild preservative, being fermented and probiotic and all?


  1. Ah, yet another reason I wish I lived on your block. Bread intimidates me.

  2. someday i will have enough kitchen space to leave my gorgeous blue kitchenaid stand mixer out on the counter all the time. and use it all the time. and get the attachments and use those. around that time, perhaps, i'll get into the bread habit too. we'll see! this seems like the book to help me do it.

  3. I don't really know why I love to bake bread so much - after all, you can buy really amazing Acme Bread at any store in the East Bay. My bread is good, but it's not better than that. I think I just love the idea of it. It's so old fashioned. Totally appeals to the inner-pioneer-woman.

    But anyway, Melissa: Making bread takes a long time, but requires very little actual work and is not actually difficult. It's perfect for lazy days when you're not planning to leave the house anyway. So - this book is wonderful at reducing the intimidation factor, because it assumes no knowledge - everything is explained. It could use some more visual instructions, but you can get that sort of thing elsewhere. Maybe I should do a blog post on how to knead by hand with pictorial instructions? Ooh, that would be fun!

    Elizabeth: The stand mixer is nice, because you can set it to knead and then walk away, but it's definitely not necessary - I actually like hand-kneading, it's kind of fun, and it only takes ten minutes or so. The challah I hand-kneaded turned out just as nicely as the challah I kneaded using the KitchenAid. So you don't have to use the mixer, but it is so shiny and pretty, it does make it more fun. I really love that this book has separate instructions for the mixer, because there are some real differences in technique.


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