ITJB- A Home Bakers Review
My plan to do a book review as a baker of “Inside The Jewish Baker”, has taken a turn. After reading the thread titled “Join the ITJB Challenge” and seeing the activity and enthusiasm generated by the book, I’m disappointed by what I will have to say. It is obvious that there is much interest in replicating the breads of old. Now that I have had a chance to look more carefully, I’m shocked that this book is loaded with so many errors. Point taken that every technical book has errors. This one certainly fits nicely at the top of that list.
A few examples;
On page 12 at the bottom, the author says, "follow the recipes exactly as printed". This should be the first change on the errata list. Page 62 has a formula for a quick rye sour. It calls for ¼ tsp of Instant dry yeast, or 3 grams. In my kitchen a teaspoon of IDY has always weighed 3 grams. That’s a significant difference which would change the outcome if I followed the metric weights.
Other examples; page 73, 1-1/2 tsp of IDY weighs .6 Oz or 18g. On page 103, the same item and amount weighs half that at .3Oz. and 8g. On the same page, 2 large eggs weigh 4 Oz or 100g. On the prior page (101) a single egg weighs 1.3 Oz or 35g. I understand eggs are hard to scale but the book should use the same weights for the same ingredient throughout. A 30% variation in the amount could make a difference.
On Page 73, a Tablespoon of table salt weighs 6 grams. Really, my teaspoon of table salt weighs 6g. Elsewhere in the book the weight of this common item changes back to other amounts. Not to pick apart every recipe but for me to be able to trust the book as written or for that matter even with the “errata”, there needs to be consistency in each recipe as to what the ingredients weigh. I looked at the errata and I didn’t see any changes in the weight columns that reflect an error in calculating based on volumes. So these errors are not noted in the errata sheet. The reader is left trying to make sense of the recipe when the values may be considerably off.
On page 74 the Old School Jewish Deli Rye is a bread I have made and most recently with the Tzitzelbroyt changes. It’s delicious bread that turned out wonderfully using the grams column. The bakers percents listed with the recipe are totally confusing. Each of the prep stage recipes use percents based on the finished product rather than that particular build. It would have been much more helpful to show an overview of the total recipe for the purposes of building a larger batch. Showing 7% as the weight of the water in a pre ferment isn’t very helpful IMO. They seem to get it right on more simple 1 day recipes but the more complex, multi stage recipes are needlessly complicated.
The above examples are but a few of many inconsistencies and errors I found in just a few minutes. Yes, there are some recipes that are printed so they work. Yes there are some beautiful breads that can be baked using some common sense and experience or by trial and error. The fact that these errors exist is evidence that it is hard to publish a good book.
The question then is, would I recommend or give this book to someone wanting to learn about these kinds of baked goods? Knowing that many of the recipes cannot be baked as written or without digging through a long list of errors and, knowing about the inconsistencies, I’d have to limit the recommendation or gift to non bakers who would enjoy the history lesson for what it is. If I wanted to help a friend learn to bake Jewish breads, I would look to Glezer or Greenstein for an introduction to this arena.