When I was a child growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, my mother and grandmother shopped at a little Jewish bakery on Madison Avenue called William Greenberg Desserts. I loved the babka and challah, but my favorite thing in the store was a simple butter cookie topped with slivered almonds. (As I wrote in the Forward several years ago, I have sweet memories of the women behind the counter slipping me one of those cookies every time we went in.)
Back then, the shop was owned by the Greenberg family. Today, owner Carol Becker has expanded and modernized the company by adding a kiosk in the Plaza Food Hall and another store in Hudson Yards. This month, she releases “The William Greenberg Desserts Cookbook: Classic Desserts From an Iconic New York City Bakery.”
“I’m hoping to reach people who don’t know about Greenberg, [who will] pick it up and skim through it and say this looks interesting, and come to us,” Becker said.
The book contains 50 recipes, including classics such as black and white cookies, linzer tarts, challah and schnecken. But it also boasts some of Becker’s more recent innovations, like whoopie pies, rainbow cake, and snowflake cookies — items that she introduced to keep the bakery current.
“Those little kids coming in in strollers or holding their mother’s hand, you want them to look in the cabinet and say, ‘I want that!’ ” Becker said. “We added things that really appeal to the kids visually, and once they taste it, they’re hooked. A kid doesn’t want to come in and eat a babka.”
While that is debatable, Becker’s reasoning is sound.
“The city just keeps losing these iconic places that we all grew up going to and loving, places that are part of our memories,” she said. “It really made me sad. So when I had the chance to [buy the bakery], I thought, ‘I have to make this work; I have to keep this going.’ We were able to turn it around and make it relevant to the New York consumer, and keep it what it is.”
Becker tried to make sure that the cookbook contained recipes for every baking level. “I didn’t want it to be off-putting,” she said. “I wanted people to buy the book and say, I can make this.”
She also included at least one recipe for every major Jewish holiday: honey loaf for Rosh Hashanah, hamentaschen for Purim, sour cream cheesecake for Shavuot and Passover versions of classic walnut brownies and black and white cookies. And of course, there’s Greenberg’s wonderful challah.
For Thanksgiving, there are cranberry-almond biscotti, pecan pie and apple macaroon cake. I made the latter, which was divine.
Becker had to whittle the list of recipes down to 50, which meant making some hard choices. There’s no babka, and much to my disappointment (but perhaps lucky for my waistline), no almond butter cookie. I’ll just have to keep visiting the shop for an evocative taste of old New York — and my childhood.
Liza Schoenfein is senior food writer at The Forward. .Follow her on Instagram @LifeDeathDinner