June 17, 2024
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What makes a Jewish bakery Jewish?

While a Jewish bakery may be a kosher bakery, the converse is not necessarily true. A kosher bakery may not be a Jewish bakery, at least not in the classic sense. A kosher bakery merely means one with some form of hashgacha (certification) whereas a Jewish bakery has a far deeper meaning, even deeper than a seven-layer cake.

Jewish bakeries are not easily defined but are nevertheless unmistakable. If the United States Supreme Court had to rule on the definition of a “Jewish bakery,” then it likely would hold that a Jewish bakery is like obscenity in that “you know it when you see it.”

Over the last few decades, the New York/New Jersey area has had its fair share of great Jewish bakeries like Moishe’s kosher bake shop in the East Village, Royal bakery on the Upper West Side, Queens Pita in Kew Garden Hills, Famous Kosher Bakery on Staten Island, Gombo’s Heimeshe Bakery in Brooklyn, Gruenebaum’s kosher bakery in Riverdale, Zadies kosher bake shop in Fairlawn and, of course, Butterflake in Teaneck. Jewish bakeries also can be found overseas such as Carmelli in Golders Green, Kleinblatt bakery in Antwerp and Florence Kahn in Paris. Nearly all of them feature large glass display cases and many have ceiling fixtures from which the traditional red and white baker’s twine is dispensed to tie up those classic white cardboard boxes of deliciousness. While these elements are essential, more is required (and desired) to create a truly Jewish bakery.

For example, a bakery cannot be considered Jewish if it does not offer challah, a non-negotiable staple. It must feature at least egg and water challah in plain, sesame and poppy-seed form. Other versions and flavors of challah would further enhance a bakery’s “Jewishness” but challah alone does not a Jewish bakery make.

A Jewish bakery must, at a minimum, offer the following fundamental items: (1) black & white cookies (the all-white, all-black and blue & white varieties also should be offered but the classic half black/half white must be front and center), (2) rugelach (at least chocolate and cinnamon flavor but raspberry or another fruity flavor would be a nice touch), (3) babka (again, at least chocolate and cinnamon but other flavors are welcomed), (4) hamantaschen (not just on Purim; all year round and at least with poppy-seed, prune and apricot filling), (5) almond horn cookies (either fully or partially dipped in chocolate but who in their right mind would want it only partially dipped in chocolate?), (6) sprinkle cookies (large and small sizes with chocolate or rainbow sprinkles and either as stand-alone singles or doubles with a fruity or chocolate filling in between. Some of these also may be dipped in chocolate but, again, spare us the partial dipping), (7) extra large chocolate chip cookies (with over- or oddly-sized chocolate chips), (8) apple turnovers (triangle-shaped with just the right amount of drizzled white icing), (9) sugar-free cookies (the type that look far better than they taste), (10) macaroons (chocolate, vanilla and coconut), (11) mandel bread (chocolate chip and/or chocolate covered) and (12) kichel (sugar-coated and/or sugar-free).

While the baked goods at Jewish bakeries are usually very good, the people often are even better. At classic Jewish bakeries, the best and most loveable employees, more often than not, are relatively short and elderly with thick accents, old-school names and huge hearts. For reasons that cannot be quantified, such employees add a priceless authenticity to a Jewish bakery’s atmosphere and a charming tenderness to each transaction. Such bakery employees, instinctively and without solicitation, tend to give their customers the best-looking items, knowing, for example, that no two chocolate rugelach are perfectly alike because one always has more chocolate than the other. Such invaluable bakery employees also treat each and every customer like their own grandchild, referring to them with fun, cute nicknames that only a grandmother would utter or could getaway with. Such irreplaceable bakery employees also know precisely when and how to offer a free cookie to a well-behaved child, which is not only a sweet gesture but also a brilliant marketing ploy to instantly create a new legion of loyal customers. The only problem arises when the child returns as an adult and still expects a free cookie (awkward!), but let that be the bakery’s biggest problem.

Ideally, a Jewish bakery should have a massive antique yet fully operational cash register prominently displayed for all to behold. The cash register should have large buttons and levers that the smaller, weaker bakery employees struggle to operate. If it seems like a bakery employee is getting a legitimate workout just by ringing up a transaction, then the cash register is the real deal and the bakery is officially “Jewish.”

Send comments or criticism to [email protected].

By Jon Kranz

 

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