Baking and breaking breads

The Baltimore Sun

A Taste of Challah

By Tamar Ansh

Secrets of a Jewish Baker: Recipes for 125 Breads From Around the World

By George Greenstein

Ten Speed Press / 2007 / $29.95

George Greenstein's grandfather was a baker. His father, a Czech immigrant, also was a baker, and Greenstein himself owned and operated a Jewish bakery, the Cheesecake King, on Long Island for more than two decades. What he learned he shares in Secrets of a Jewish Baker.

The book, first published in 1993, won the 1994 James Beard Award for Best Baking and Dessert Cookbook, and with good reason. It is packed with wisdom and useful tips, and the chapters titled "Basic Materials" and "Bread Making A to Z" are recommended reading for any serious baker.

Greenstein offers detailed recipes for scores of baked goods, from Sourdough Country Corn Bread to Cajun Corn Muffins to Quick Irish Soda Bread and what he says is "authentic" Jewish Rye Bread. (Sorry, no pictures.)

I tried his recipe for Rich Bran Muffins. The recipe calls for more oil, eggs and sugar than I would normally use in making muffins. The finished product was disappointing, with an unexpected overlay of bitterness. For a remake, I outsourced the baking to my wife, who improved the recipe with ample and healthful substitutions - flaxseed for oil, applesauce for sugar. Her bran muffins were divine, though a little too sweet.


-- Makes 16 to 20 bagels

5 cups flour (divided use)

3 tablespoons sugar (divided use)

1 tablespoon salt

50 grams fresh yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

sesame seeds or other toppings (optional)

Mix 1 1/2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar and the salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

In another small bowl, place yeast, warm water and the rest of the sugar. Leave for a few minutes until it starts to activate.

Add this mixture to the mixture in the first bowl. Mix well. Add the rest of the flour and knead until a smooth and workable dough is formed.

Cover loosely and let rise for 20 minutes. Punch down, then divide the dough into 4 sections. Each section makes 4 to 5 balls of dough. Roll each ball into a log and then pinch closed into a circle shape. Leave to rise for 20 minutes on parchment baking paper.

Fill a pot with 5 to 6 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then drop the bagels into the water. Boil for 90 seconds, then flip, and let them boil another 90 seconds on the other side. Remove immediately from water and place on a towel to cool. If a topping such as sesame seeds is desired, dip the bagels in it now.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the bagels on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned all over. Cool on a wire rack.

Note: In our test cooking, bagels on a crowded cookie sheet took 45 minutes to bake at 325 degrees. Three bagels on a separate sheet took 35 minutes to bake at 325 degrees.

From "A Taste of Challah" by Tamar Ansh

Per bagel (based on 20 bagels): 128 calories, 4 grams protein, trace fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 351 milligrams sodium

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