Some of the traditions we learn as children carry with us through our entire lives. For me, that would definitely be my family’s love of baking, as well as the celebration of Jewish traditions. As the owner of Sweet Sally’s Bakeshop, I am able to honor both.
As a child, my Jewish upbringing revolved around food and family. The holidays were much anticipated celebrations that involved baking, eating and the joy of being together. In my home, friends were always welcome at the table, and the more the merrier. Jewish, non Jewish, it didn’t matter. All were welcome and all were lovingly introduced to the Jewish baking traditions that my Grama Gracie brought to the table.
Most people think of Grama Gracie as a farm girl and associate her with her family’s Toms River, New Jersey chicken and dairy farm. Fresh milk, whole butter and just-laid free range eggs were plentiful. She baked everything with love and wholesome ingredients. But despite Grama Gracie’s life on the farm, she was definitely a city girl. Born on Delancey Street in New York City, she lived most of her life in Manhattan and Queens. She herself was a true “New York City Specialty” and was known throughout her circle of family and friends for her baked goods and sweet gifts.
My mom was a gifted baker, as well. She brought many New York family recipes into my kitchen, but it was Grama Gracie who taught me to bake the Jewish specialties that I now lovingly recreate for Sweet Sally’s Bakeshop. My chocolate rugelach, for example, are inspired by the ones my Grama used to make, complete with chocolate filling and a cream cheese dough. Each bite brings back fond memories of Grama Gracie in the kitchen, effortlessly rolling dough and happily singing songs.
I also take pride in recreating my Grama’s recipe for Hamantashen, the always popular fruit-filled pastries baked during the holiday of Purim. The triangle-shaped pastries tell the story of a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination. Haman, the villain who set out unsuccessfully to destroy the Jews, was said to have worn a three-sided hat. As I child, I learned my Grammas recipe and am so happy to share them each Purim – a time of year when troubles are forgotten and Jews are permitted to drink and eat to excess. I must say, it’s easy to eat my Hamantashen to excess!
My grama’s Cranberry Pecan Mandel Bread, a Jewish version of soft biscotti, is another one of my favorites. It has a distinct almond flavor and each piece is filled with nuts, dried fruit and jam. It’s delicious when dunked in hot beverage like coffee or tea. Most times when Grama Gracie visited us, she would bring a metal tin filled with mandel bread. On several occasions I asked her for the recipe, but she never gave it to me. Instead, she agreed to recite the ingredients and approximate measurements. It was impossible to replicate her creation, so when she was 97 years old, I asked if she could show me how to make the delicious mandel bread. Finally, I witnessed her technique. Her trade secrets were revealed and the recipe lives on.
Along with my Grama’s specialties, I’ve added Chocolate Babka to my bakeshop line. While some Jewish baked goods are holiday or event specific, Babka is an all occasion favorite. As I say on my website, “who needs a reason to eat babka!”
And, of course, what’s a Jewish bakery without the traditional Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake? I start baking right after Labor Day with my Grama’s time-tested, much-loved recipe. What better way to celebrate the sweetness of the Jewish New Year!?
Sweet Sally’s Recipe - Cranberry Pecan Mandel Bread
1 cup sugar
2 heaping teaspoons baking powder
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup oil
4 oz dried cranberries
4 oz pecans (chopped)
10 oz jam Cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place parchment on full sheet pans.
2) Mix together eggs and sugar. Add almond extract, oil and baking powder. Dough should be smooth and easy to handle. Add more flour is required and knead like bread.
3) Divide dough into 3 portions. Shape each into a log. Place wax paper on counter and flour well. Roll out dough on wax paper until it is 1/3” thick. (Log should be 3” wide unrolled and 1” wide when rolled) Make sure there is ample flour on the wax paper so dough does no stick.
4) Place 1/3 of the jam down the middle and place pecans and cranberries on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar if desired. Roll the dough over so it makes a “jelly roll” log. Place seam side down on cookie sheet.
5) Wash the top with egg mixture and then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Repeat with two remaining pieces of dough. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
6) Cut into 1” wide pieces. Will typically get 14 pieces per log and 3 logs.
Sally is the owner and founder of Sweet Sally’s Bakeshop, an on-line and wholesale baking company that specializes in Jewish pastries and nostalgic baked goods. Sally and her sweet treats have been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Food and Beverage World, The National Culinary Review and numerous other publications. Additionally, she has appeared as a guest on NBC News, Fox Business News, The Dave Ramsey Show, WABC Eyewitness News and has also filmed a cooking segment for Better TV. Sally holds a BA in Economics from Wellesley College and a Masters of Hospitality Industry Studies from New York University.