Winter Duo: Betty C Meet George G! December 12, 2009

Wednesday, December 9:  news flash – Montreal receives 28 centimeters of snow!

After a long mild spell, the cold has finally settled in…with a vengeance.  Later that day, the traffic was bumper-to-bumper.  I looked out the window and thanked my lucky stars that I no longer have to commute to work.  Freelancing has its rewards and being able to work from home is a blessing.

My street was pristine and all-white.  At 5:00 pm, it didn’t look like the snow was going to stop any time soon.  Drivers were on their cell phones and I wondered if they were asking their significant other if there was any hot soup at home.

Many years ago, I used to work in Old Montreal where parking cost $10.00 a day forcing me to take public transportation.  I remember waiting in bus stops, my fingers and toes frozen.  I’d come home weary, teary and hungry. 

Back in those days, I would have given anything to have something like this waiting for me at home.

betty milk combo

That’s Betty Crocker’s southwest cheese soup on the left and on the right, George Greenstein’s milk bread which I worked into a “dunno what you call it” shape.  I was feeling inspired in spite of the frenetic snow outside and my fingers were itching to create – now that they no longer get frozen.

Betty Crocker’s soup has all the yummy goodness you’d expect from a southern kitchen in America.  It has black beans, tomatoes, corn, cheese and milk.  It’s easy and quick – the kind of soup that you can whip up for someone who’s coming home after a long commute home.  You can have this soup with your favorite crackers, but I think it would go better with George Greenstein’s milk bread.    

You can get the Betty Crocker recipe here:

As Betty C says, “All you need are five ingredients and 20 minutes!”

George Greenstein’s milk bread is on page 37 of his book Secrets of a Jewish Baker.  He uses the sponge method and the usual loaf pan for this.  But like I said, I felt like experimenting so I did not use a loaf pan and opted for a free standing loaf.  I also took a section off the dough to do the patches and twists.  My sister had given me some cookie cutters with serrated sides last summer and this was a good time to take them out of their box.  I cut out three pieces and put them on top of the loaf, and then did two twists to line each side of the bread.  Fancy schmancy, you’re saying.

If you want the recipe for Greenstein’s milk bread, e-mail me at  You’ll find plenty of milk bread recipes on the net, but I have  absolute and unwavering trust on this famous Jewish baker!

Instead of the egg wash, Greenstein said to brush this bread with water and bake it with steam (meaning put a pan of water inside the oven).  I chose not to do it this way.  There’s something about water inside the oven that unsettles me, have no idea why.

For the holidays, I’m thinking of coloring my breads to make them look more festive. Food coloring – once in awhile – does not worry me.  I know some people deliberately snub food coloring for health reasons.  I’m also thinking of doing other crazy shapes, and I’ll definitely share them with you and post them here…that is, if the shapes don’t collapse on me!


Church Bazaars: Thy Bread be Done December 5, 2009

Filed under: Breads — sotsil @ 11:27 am
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I thought it was time I did something for my parish this year.  I wanted to make something home made for the annual church bazaar tomorrow, instead of donating store-bought baked goods.  I made four loaves of molasses and oat bread.  Here they are:


I was pleased with the rise.  I had four small loaf pans and when I divided the dough into four equal parts, they looked puny.  I was afraid that they would not rise enough but…they did!  I refrigerated them overnight and was surprised to see that even during refrigeration, the dough had risen some more.

The rich brown color of the loaves was visually appealing.  This is a trick I learned from George Greenstein (Secrets of a Jewish Baker).  He suggests doing two coats of the egg wash.  The first coat must be air-dried, and then a second coat is applied right before the loaves go into the oven.

When Father Moon – our parish priest – reminded everyone last Sunday that Saturday’s bazaar can only be successful if everyone pitched in, I realized that I haven’t been as generous with my time as my fellow parishioners.  Yes, of course, I’d attend Sunday mass and leave a little something for the collection box, but an inner voice kept nagging that I should play a more active role.  Attending church service every Sunday is the easy part; helping the church accomplish its goals is harder.  As motivational speakers say, it’s in the harder things that we force ourselves to do that take on more meaning.

After the loaves were baked, I wrapped them in transparent paper using the UNICEF stickers that I received a few days ago.  I added tiny ribbons to “perk up” the appearance of the loaves and typed the ingredient list on yellow strips of paper.  The recipe is from Canadian Living Magazine and was posted in an earlier blog (  When I made these loaves the first time, I had used a thick cream wash.  I think I prefer the two-coat egg wash of George Greenstein.

These were loaves before they were delivered to the parish:


I hope some parishioners buy them for the sake of the parish’s fund raising campaign (and for the sake of my ego).

My dream?  That someone will take all four loaves and send them off to a shelter for homeless kids.  I know I can make that dream come true myself.  I should select a Montreal shelter next year and commit to provide bread.  And…from now on, Father Moon and our parish can rely on me!




Another Secret from Greenstein, Jewish Baker September 30, 2009



This is a lovely cheese bread recipe from George Greenstein which I plucked out of his book, Secrets of a Jewish Baker.

Any novice “breadster” can make it.  The recipe won’t jangle your nerves; you simply follow the steps without feeling intimidated that you’re doing something wrong. It’s not a recipe that resembles a calisthenics session in the kitchen (I’ve had my share of recipes that read like an Olympic marathon). Greenstein writes it like you’re both in his kitchen and he’s talking to you as he goes through the steps, minus the mumbo-jumbo. 

In Secrets of a Jewish Baker, Greenstein offers you the choice of doing this bread using either the sponge method or the direct dough method.  I chose the sponge method.  The making of a sponge gives bread that extra soft texture, almost like getting a milky finish.

Greenstein says that this bread recipe is a favorite of many farm families.  That clues you into the kind of bread it is:  homemade, wholesome and farm-tasty goodness.  I used sharp cheddar cheese but he says you can vary the recipe with an assortment of hard cheeses.  Another option is to mix in your shredded cheese with the dough when you’re combining the ingredients prior to kneading; or before the second rising, flatten your dough into a rectangular shape, sprinkle the shredded cheese over it and roll it up jelly style.  Doing it this way gives you that wonderful swirl inside the bread.  Greenstein says he prefers this method because it “has more cheese flavor and added eye appeal.”

The top picture above shows one loaf already brushed with egg wash (I applied the egg wash twice, by the way) with Kraft parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, ready to go into the oven.  The second picture shows the two loaves coming right off the “hot presses.”  The parmesan gives it that appealing crusty look, as if saying, come, sink your teeth in…

At first, I doubted that the swirl would be apparent.  I had made raisin bread before and the cinnamon swirl was very subtle; you could see it but the swirl lines looked anemic.  So when I made this bread, I was expecting to see a similar faint swirl. 

Was I wrong!  Here’s the final product, sliced:


How could I have doubted a master baker like Greenstein?  That rich yellow swirl tickled me pink.

To respect the author’s copyright, I won’t post the recipe here.  If you’re interested, send me at email at I’d be happy to send it to you, although a better alternative would be for you to buy his book (no, I’m not on commission) or else borrow it from your local library.  Title:  Secrets of a Jewish Baker.  Author:  George Greenstein. Recipe title:  Cheese Bread.


Why Sponge It? July 3, 2009

milk loaf Ever since I took up bread baking early this year, I’ve been trying to “rise” above the flurry of terms used by bread experts and enthusiasts.  When I joined a discussion forum, I had to learn how to differentiate the French poolish from the Italian Biga, and swim through sourdough mania.  For the most part, I focused on sweet breads, rolls and loaves.  I’m not ready to go into starters and monitor them with a watchful eye and to start counting bubbles, or spraying mist, or making sure my oven stone is hot enough.  In fact I bought an oven stone but it’s still in the box.  I understand that it comes in handy when making breads where the crumb is # 1 priority.  I may go into more sophisticated bread baking when I get tired of my rolls, loaves and sweet breads, but I’m enjoying this “lower-level” baking and still a little intimidated by all the theories that go into making the perfect crumb. 

I kept reading about the sponge method and have tried a few recipes using it.  The end product has always been a pleaser, both to the eyes and to the taste buds.  I once made Chinese steamed buns that called for a sponge method and had doubts I could pull it off.  To my delight, they came out of my Asian steamer with the best texture and taste comparable to store-bought steamed buns.

Then I saw this milk loaf recipe from George Greenstein’s Secrets of a Jewish Baker (his book was the subject of an earlier blog:  When the loaves were done, I could not get over the tremendous rise and the texture.  As for taste, it rated a 9!

I decided it was time to know more about the sponge method.  The recipes I made with it were all winners so it was only fitting I learn a thing or two.  A little bit of knowledge is NOT a dangerous thing; next time I get into a bread conversation, at least I can sound like I did my homework:

  • the sponge method is similar to the sourdough method (don’t ask me anything about sourdough because I haven’t graduated into that level) except that the fermentation period is shorter (anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours)
  • it is made by combining yeast, part of the flour and part of the liquid
  • the bowl has to be covered and placed in a warm environment to allow the fermentation to take place
  • advantages of the sponge method include:  better taste, softer texture and a larger volume bread
  • it helps stabilize the hydration of the dough

I have a confession to make:  Greenstein’s recipe called for skim milk powder which I didn’t have at the time so I was afraid I’d come out with an inferior loaf.  The result?  My milk loaf was well above average in terms of taste or texture. 

Some bakers have a preference for milk powder.  Others insist on it.  I wanted to do the recipe again, this time with skim milk powder to see if there was a marked difference.  I bought the no-name store brand.  Maybe it was the type of skim milk powder, but  I must say, I liked the fresh milk version better!

Another valuable piece of bread wisdom I learned:  instead of the usual egg wash to brush over the breads before they go into the oven, Greenstein recommended a cornstarch wash which, as you can see from the color above, produces a rich tinge of golden-yellow.  The loaves were brushed with the cornstarch wash twice:  once after the final rising and before slashing and then allowed to air dry; the second time when they’re about to go into the oven.

If anyone wants the recipe for Greenstein’s milk loaf, you can email me at



George Greenstein, Do You Give Classes? June 22, 2009

greenstein2 In a bread discussion forum that I joined in early winter when I was struggling not to be such a greenhorn with breads, the book Secrets of a Jewish Baker kept popping up.  Members would praise it to high heavens and some thought it was the bread bible of the 21st century.  The author, George Greenstein, seems to be a favorite of many bakers and bread fanatics.

Lingering in the food section of my local library this afternoon looking for herbs and spices to write about for my other blog on translation, something caught my eye.  At first I saw the word “Jewish”, and then the other word “baker.”  That’s when it clicked.  I bent over and eureka – it was THE book that forum members have been treating with unusual reverence!  Others were proudly announcing that they had put an order on the book and couldn’t wait to start trying the recipes.

Secrets of a Jewish Baker must be in everyone’s kitchen.  At first I thought that Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice would suffice.  No.  You ought to add Mr. Greenstein’s book if you like creating bread – yeast or non-yeast.  greenstein The Reinhart and Greenstein combo will help increase your baking confidence.  Keep them within reach! 

What rare gems did I find in Mr. Greenstein’s book, you ask.  Plenty.

The first chapter deals with basic materials.  In chapter 2, he discusses bread making from A to Z.  The subsequent chapters cover all kinds of bread:  from different countries, from corn and potato breads of the Americas, from sourdough to rolls, biscuits and muffins.  He includes a menu program for what he calls a “Morning of Baking.”

What I enjoyed reading were the baker’s secrets that the book is generously sprinkled with.  I gained valuable tips and I don’t want to offend Mr. Greenstein by putting them all here.  Besides I do encourage you to purchase the book.  It’s available on Amazon for about $20.00 (ISBN:  13:978-1-58008-844-2 and ISBN-10:1-58008-844-9).  As I’m scrolling down the Amazon site, I see that Mr. Greenstein has also published Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets:  The Art of Baking your Own Babka, Danish, Sticky Buns, Strudels and More (April 2009).  Amazon does not have it yet on stock but will inform customers once the book arrives.

A few tips from Mr. Greenstein:

  • If you leave fresh bread flour to age for 5 to 6 weeks, its flavor and color are enhanced.
  • Before sprinkling seeds on challah, allow egg wash to air dry.  Brush bread with egg wash the second time.  This gives it more shine.
  • When you have empty muffin cups in the muffin tray (because you ran out of batter), put 1-2 tablespoons of water on the empty cups to keep them from burning.
  • “Irish soda bread made with whole wheat flour is nutritious and has a sweet, nutty flavor.”

When it’s time to return this book, I’ll have to order my own copy and maybe treat myself to his pastry book. 

A very minor disappointment with Secrets of a Jewish Baker: there are no color photos of Mr. Greenstein’s masterpieces.  But the absence of color photos does not in any way diminish the quality of the book.  It reeks of wholesome flavor…and expertise you don’t come across everyday!

So Mr. Greenstein, do you give classes?