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