Challah Back, Girl!
William Greenberg Desserts’ Challah, Round for Rosh Hashanah. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein
An email landed in my inbox this week from William Greenberg Desserts, a tiny kosher bakery on Madison Avenue — and with it came a flood of memories. My grandparents lived practically around the corner from Greenberg’s (we lived nearby too), and my grandmother would sometimes take me there on Friday afternoons after school to pick up one of the lovely braided challahs flecked with raisins, so eggy and sweet they were more like cake than bread.
We’d walk into the cool white space and I’d be hit with the scent of sweet butter, of cookies and babkas and all manner of delicious treats. As Nana ordered, an aproned woman behind the counter would catch my eye, pull out a bin of cookies, and hand me one with a sly smile. It happened every time. My favorite was a thin, crisp butter cookie topped with slivered almonds, which both my grandmother and my mom would pick up for special occasions. I loved the white cardboard box they arranged the cookies in, and the red bakery string, descending from above, that they tied around it.
William Greenberg’s challah is my quintessential holiday bread, the one I measure all others by.(It’s the same way that New Yorker’s seem to measure every slice of pizza by whichever one they grew up eating.) So it’s strange that I hadn’t been in since my childhood—until today.
Inspired by that email and the upcoming holidays, I tromped across the park this morning and paid a long-overdue visit to William Greenberg’s. The shop smelled exactly as it always had, and it has a similar feel, but it’s been renovated by owner Carol Becker, who bought the place seven years ago. It’s cheerful and bustling, and on this beautiful Friday it was packed with customers.
As I chatted with Carol, sharing my childhood recollections and asking about the store, she pulled on a pair of thin rubber gloves, reached into a huge plastic container of almond cookies, put a few into a little white paper bag and handed it to me. It was a gift straight out of the past, happily unchanged.
Not to get all madeleine about it, because that’s so cliché, but I am always struck, particularly at the holidays, by the way foods can trigger memories and connect us to family who are no longer here.
William Greenberg Desserts delivers by messenger throughout Manhattan and by mail anywhere in the U.S.
Liza Schoenfein is the new food editor of the Forward. Contact her at [email protected]