A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets is the second cookbook from George Greenstein. He worked on it for 15 years. Unfortunately, it was not published before his death on July 20, 2012. His family (Elaine Greenstein, Julia Greenstein, Isaac Bleicher) found the manuscript and helped finish it in his memory. The completed book contains baking tips, over 200 variations of Jewish and European pastries, and an abundance of fillings and toppings to take your baked goods to a new level.
George Greenstein was a third-generation baker born in New York City in 1929 to a Hungarian father and Russian mother. In the late 1950s, Greenstein opened a bakery on Long Island with his parents, The Cheesecake King, which he ran for 20 years. He was also the author of Secrets of a Jewish Baker: Recipes for 125 Breads from Around the World, a James Beard Award winner.
Chapters are divided based on type of dough: Equipment, Tools, and Ingredients; Basic Techniques and Recipes; Bundt; Babka; Strudel; Gugelhopf and Portuguese Sweet Bread; Stollen and Polish Kolacz; Puff Pastry; Charlotte Dough; and Danish Pastries.
The beginning of the book has a beautiful introduction by George Greenstein’s daughters, Elaine and Julia. They write about their experiences in the bakery with their parents, from folding cake boxes in front of the TV to waiting on customers and forming dough into pastries. The chapter introductions also include memories from Greenstein himself and a history notes for the pastries.
There is a detailed overview of tools you will need to be successful with baking. It is followed by basic techniques and recipes, all the fillings and glazes you will need to assemble the finished product. The recipe for the Processed Almond-Paste Filling may be my new favorite. I could eat it straight out of the bowl. There are also tips and tricks scattered across the pages, from quickly softening chilled dough by pounding it with a rolling pin to how to keep the tops of cakes from overbrowning or how to create steam while baking.
The chapters are divided in a way that a master dough recipe is provided that will work for several types of pastries. The dough is then combined with the required fillings or glazes to create the finished product. Many variations are listed and using your imagination to mix/match doughs and fillings is encouraged. Greenstein also offers nondairy substitutes for many of the fillings and doughs. Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric.
One important note is that the book only has two photographs (by Ed Anderson). They are on the front and back covers. They are beautiful and really leave me wanting more. I am familiar with some of the pastries, but it would have been nice to have step-by-step photos on some of the recipes requiring detailed folds or even the finished product on some of the lesser known pastries.
This book is best for experienced bakers. There are no photos to help guide the reader, particularly one that is new to European and Jewish pastries. I also had to tweak a couple of the recipes to make them work (amount of dough used and baking time). Most of the recipes include long rise times of up to 2 days, plus the addition of fillings. The doughs also tend to be heavy in butter and sugar, so keep that in mind if you are avoiding these ingredients. If you love baking and working with dough, plus are familiar enough to tweak as needed for the ingredients to work for you, then this is a great resource for your kitchen.
Butterkuchen (sometimes called Zuckerkuchen) is a German sheet cake that is often served at large gatherings or even perfect with a cup of coffee or tea. It is spread across a baking sheet or pan and filled with small pieces of butter before being covered with sugar. Greenstein’s recipe uses two types of sugar, granulated and confectioners’, that combine with the butter to create a delicious, crisp crust over the top of the cake.
Greenstein uses bundt dough, a sweet yeast dough, as the base for the cake. The recipe for the Bundt dough makes more than you will need to make the Butterkuchen. There are plenty of other delicious ways to put the dough to good use, from Lemon-Poppy Seed Buns to Streusel Cake and Sticky Buns. Greenstein describes how to refrigerate or freeze the extra dough for future use.
I did have a slight issue with the amount of dough to use and the cooking time. The first time I tried the recipe, I used the recommended 8 ounces (x2 for two cakes). The dough was way too thin and barely covered the pan. The cooking time was also a bit too long. I tried again with 1 pound of dough per pan and decreased the cooking time by 10 minutes. It came out perfect. The cake wasn’t too dry, with little pockets from the wells of butter and a crisp sugar crust.
This is best the day it is made. The sugar coating will quickly absorb moisture. Butterkuchen is sometimes served topped with toasted almond slices or cinnamon sugar.
As far as assembling goes, the Butterkuchen was on the easy side. The dough is pressed into prepared pans, dimpled to make room for drops of softened butter, and simply dusted with granulated and confectioners’ sugar before baking.
I also made Almond Pressburger Crescents and Hungarian Walnut Loaf.
The Almond Pressburger is a Hungarian pastry filled with a rich almond paste. The dough and filling can be formed into crescents, a popular shape in Austria. This was an easy dough to work with. It has yeast, but does not require a long rise time and easily gives when rolled into a rectangle. The amount called for was perfect. After rolling out the dough and forming it around the almond filling, the tops are brushed with egg yolk, then allowed to refrigerate overnight. Before baking the next day, the pastries are brushed again with the egg white. Brushing with the egg yolk and white separately, then allowing to dry, creates the beautiful cracked glaze pattern in the crescents.
The Hungarian Walnut Loaf is made using the Babka base. I also had an issue with the amount of dough called for in this recipe. It states to use 8 ounces of dough rolled 1 inch thick into an 8 inch rectangle. That just didn’t work for me and double the amount of dough would have been better. I used the 8 ounces of dough but had to roll it about 1/4 inch thick to make the rectangle large enough. The babka base was rich and flavorful with the addition of multiple eggs, orange juice, orange marmalade, sour cream, and butter. After rolling out, the rectangle is covered with a delicious almond filling, toasted walnuts, cake crumbs, and cinnamon sugar. Greenstein offered easy to read, step by step instructions on how to roll up the rectangle and form the interesting design on top using a spatula. The bake temperature and time were spot on. This was quite the addictive cake. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too sweet even with all the additions inside the roll. I also liked the use of the cake crumbs instead of bread crumbs to add a little texture. This is the first time I have ever done that for a pastry (I used leftover pound cake). For chocolate lovers, Greenstein also provides a chocolate variation.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Butterkuchen with Two Sugars (German Butter Cake)
Adapted from A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets: Recipes from a New York Baking Legend for Strudel, Stollen, Danishes, Puff Pastry, and More
1/2 cup (4 fl oz/115 ml) warm water (95-115 degrees F)
3 scant tablespoons (21 grams) active dry yeast
1 cup (8 oz/237 ml) milk, room temperature
3/4 cup (5.25 oz/149 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (6 oz/ 170 grams) unsalted butter, diced
6 cups (29 oz/822 grams) bread flour
1/4 cup (1 oz/28 grams) nonfat dry milk
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (optional)
2 (8-16 oz/255-510 grams each) portions Bundt Dough (ingredients above)
1 cup (8 oz/227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
Granulated sugar for topping
Confectioners’ sugar for topping
To make the Bundt Dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water. Mix lightly and allow to sit until frothy, 5-10 minutes.
Mix in the milk, sugar, butter, eggs, flour, dry milk, salt, vanilla extract, and cardamom on low speed, then change to a dough hook once the ingredients have come together. To mix by hand, mix with a wooden spoon until dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Knead using the dough hook or by hand on a floured surface until elastic and smooth, 8-10 minutes.
Oil a large bowl and add the dough, turning to coat. Cover with a towel or plastic and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. It can also rise in the refrigerator overnight.
On a lightly floured surface, punch down the risen dough and fold the ends toward the center and roll into a tight rectangle. Allow to rest 10-15 minutes. Return to bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight. It can also be divided into 8 ounce portions and frozen, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for a week.
To assemble the Butterkuchen: Grease two 10 inch round or 9 inch square cake pans with at least 1 inch tall sides.
Shape the prepared bundt dough into two balls, cover, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into a 10 inch wide circle. Transfer the dough to the prepared pans, gently pressing to fit the bottom of the pans. Lightly dimple with your fingertips, cover, and allow to rise until puffy, about 1 hour.
Dimple the dough in straight lines across the cakes with your fingers again, pressing down to the bottom of the pan. Place the softened butter in a pastry bag fitted with a #4 or #6 round tip or a ziploc bag with about 1/4 inch of the corner snipped off. Squeeze small dots of butter into the wells created by the dimpling. Cover again and allow to rise until doubled, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C) and place oven rack in center.
Sprinkle a light coating of the granulated sugar over the risen Butterkuchen, then a coating of the confectioners’ sugar.
Bake in preheated oven until golden brown. The top will be firm and spring back with lightly pressed, 25-35 minutes.
Allow to cool in pans on wire rack for 10-15 minutes before removing.
Serve warm or at room temperature. It is best to day it is baked.