Holiday Baking Gets a Makeover

By Ruth Abusch-Magder

Published November 25, 2009, issue of December 04, 2009.
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A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking: The 10th Anniversary Edition
By Marcy Goldman
Whitecap Books 432 pages, $26.95

Last Purim, I was touting my hamantaschen recipe to a friend. After years of searching, I had found one that folded easily, held its shape and actually tasted good. When my friend politely declined my offer to share because she was so happy with her recipe, I ventured to guess — correctly — that we were both baking the same cookies from Marcy Goldman’s “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.”

The term “instant classic” is an overused oxymoron that often smacks of marketing meant to pull on the heartstrings. But in the case of Goldman’s baking book, the term is truly apt. Reissued in time for Hanukkah in a 10th-anniversary edition, this book has earned a place of respect in the canon of Jewish cookbooks.

A trained pastry chef who for many years has worked out of her home while raising children, Goldman blends a sophisticated knowledge of how to bake with an appreciation of the home kitchen. She guides her readers through ingredients and techniques in recipes that are easy to follow and that produce reliable results. Her notes and tricks will assure the novice and improve the working knowledge of more accomplished bakers. A measure of the success of this particular work can be seen in the popularity not only of Goldman’s hamantaschen, but also her other recipes, such as her matzah crunch, which are among the most frequently posted holiday dishes — not always with attribution — on Internet recipe-exchange sites and listservs.

Beginning with a chapter on the breads, Goldman’s extensive collection follows the ebb and flow of the Jewish year. There are honey-filled dishes for the New Year and flour-free delights for Passover. A balanced blend of tradition and innovation, Goldman’s book provides instructions for expected staples of the Jewish baking tradition, such as strudel and rugelach, as well as more unusual takes on the classics, such as pomegranate and sour cherry mandelbrot. While sometimes over the top, her own appreciative descriptions often hit the mark. The “Better Than the Bakery’s” babka is so easy and so tasty that I know one self-taught baker who began successfully selling these cakes out of her home kitchen.

This new edition keeps the accessible organization and core recipes that made the original easy to access. Fresh photos and glossy pages add appeal and a more modern feel. The section on sources for equipment and ingredients has been updated. Very welcome is the addition of 30 recipes for such classic Eastern European Jewish dishes as potato kugel and brisket. She has narrowed the pantheon of Jewish cuisine to the best of her repertoire. Again, she provides both innovation and familiarity. Her “New Way Chanukah” potato latkes boil the potatoes before grating, circumventing the perennial problem of gray potato goo to create airy, light latkes. For those who crave the more familiar dense potato disks, she also provides instructions for traditional potato pancakes or latkes. The inclusion of these main dishes, many of which are adapted specifically for Passover, means that Goldman’s book is now a go-to source for all the holiday basics, from soup to strudel.

Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder is a scholar and teacher with a specialty in Jewish women’s history, and the director of continuing alumni education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.


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