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ITJB- A Home Bakers Review

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ehanner's picture
ehanner

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.

Eric

MichaelH's picture
MichaelH

I remeber when Norm and Stan were testing recipes with help from so many members of this forum. The excitement was electric. I so looked forward to the book being available so that I could share in the experience. I have no doubt that these men are very accomplished bakers who have much to share, and tried to do so. Unfortunately the book does not live up to the expectations of the readers or to the expertise of the authors.

If I remember correctly, you were one of the testers. This review was undoubtedly difficult to write for you. You have my respect.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Michael,

Yes, this was difficult to write. You seem to have understood my feelings perfectly.

Eric

GrapevineTexas's picture
GrapevineTexas

a question (and I certainly don't mean this disrespectfully), did you recipe test?  

There's nothing more frustrating than working a recipe that results in a less-than-rewarding result due to discrepancies or inconsistencies of the printed documentation(s).  I feel your pain!

I have wanted this book from the first day I read about it; It's fascinating history and recipes appeal to me.   Going forward, I will note your observations.  

Thanks for offering your insight(s).

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I tested for the first 4 or 5 recipes but got involved in a work project that require most of my time. The book has other redeeming qualities which will no doubt make it a successful venture.

Eric

Elagins's picture
Elagins

and painfully so. One never wants his child to be held up as an example of how not to raise one.  Unfortunately, there were a huge number of ingredients to account for and conversions to make, and yes, there are a lot of errors. 

That being said, it's only through this kind of candid and detailed feedback that we'll be able to get the book to where it should be, and I'm enormously grateful (and somewhat embarrassed) that  you took the time to go through the book so carefully and to identify those mistakes.

Fortunately, the first printing was a small one, and from the looks of things, we'll be going into subsequent printings within a matter of months, which will give us the opportunity to correct as many errors as we can. In the meantime, thanks for pointing these things out and please bring them to our attention as soon as you find them.

Thanks and happy New Year,

Stan

tikidoc's picture
tikidoc

Is there an online list of errata?  I am one of the people who purchased the book, and I DID buy it to try to learn to bake many of these breads.  Although I enjoy reading the history, the primary reason I bought the book was to learn the breads.  Now I don't want to try recipes if there is such a large number of errors.  I work full time, and I love to bake on the weekends, but I don't want to waste a lot of time trying to fix errors, and I don't want to spend the money for a second copy when the new edition comes out.  

If there is a list (the above will be noted), I can make notes to that effect in the book and go ahead and bake.

ehanner's picture
ehanner
tikidoc's picture
tikidoc

Awesome, thanks.  I have it bookmarked and will check it for new ones before baking.  That helps a lot.

Any chance of an electronic version for the next edition?

ehanner's picture
ehanner

You are a class guy and you can't imagine how much I appreciate your response. I know you will make every effort to get the train back on the rails.

Eric

varda's picture
varda

Eric,  Just a point here.   I have Greenstein and Glezer.   From what I've seen so far, I'll stick with ITJB errata and all.   I have only made 2 from it so far - the rye bread and the honey cake.   It's the real deal - not some dumbed down version.    Really amazing stuff.  -Varda

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

So once again we are all reminded that the world is less than perfect....shocking I know !!!!  No doubt the next printing will correct a great many of the mistakes and life will march forward.  A nice review Eric and the review that needed to be written in the face of all the cheering and applauding for the book.   We can all look forward to the second printing just as we anticipated the first.  With or without errors,  I believe the baking world has been bettered by creation of this book.

Jeff

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I agree completely Jeff. And, I'll be at the front of the line for the second printing.

Eric

Candango's picture
Candango

Eric, thanks for a tough review, one that I agree was not an easy one to write,  given the enthusiasm for the book and the background and anticipation for its publication.  Your comments were greatly appreciated and I have written them into my copy of the book so as to take note of them when I try new recipes.  

Just a word of possible defense for Stan, however.  Might some of the problem have been caused by the scale used to convert volume measures to grams?  I use a digital scale, and I have noted that when building a dough recipe and using the tare weight function to  weigh each ingredient as it goes in to the bowl, small amounts of an item such as flour by the spoonful do not seem to register as accurately when I have two kg of dough in the bowl and am adding the final amounts to it as they would if the bowl were empty.    If Stan's original recipes were in volume measures and had to be converted,  might something like this have caused discrepancies?

Stan, thanks for a great book.  So it's not perfect yet.  We can aim for perfection, but pencils still have erasers.  Errata sheets and continued comments such as Eric's will only help.  Could you comment, hoewever, on some of measurement points Eric raised?  When it comes to small amounts of ingredients suct as IDY and salt, would it be better to follow the volume measures?

Thanks again,

Bob 

Elagins's picture
Elagins

Bob, I think all the problems are in the volumes and percentages; the weights, which were given in Norm's original formulas, scaled down properly, so when there's any doubt, I recommend that you go by weight.

We converted on an Excel spreadsheet, using a lookup function linked to the ingredient weights/volumes given on the table at http://www.insidethejewishbakery.com/ingred.php. That all had to be done manually, and that's probably where the mistakes occurred.

Hope this helps.

Stan

Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

As a former typesetter (for a Jewish Hospital, no less) I can well understand the many opportunities for error in undertaking so complex a task. I pre-ordered the book knowing full well that there would be errors. Still, I'm frustrated enough at this point that when I decide to try one of the recipes I find other published versions first and if there are discrepancies I go with the other source. 

Speaking for myself, I would rather have bought scans of Norm's original formulas —stains, notes, scratch-outs and all— even at twice the price. I'd feel more confident making my own weight conversions and scaling to my needs from Norm's originals than I do with any of the formulas in the book.

A book such as I'm describing, something like a "facing page" edition, lefthand page is handwritten original, righthand page is typeset transcription, could be seen as either a companion piece to IJTB as part of deluxe edition, or a stand alone piece. Call it The Kitchen Journal of a Master Baker. I'd be happy to help with the project, which could be pitched directly to Amazon. 

bridgebum's picture
bridgebum

I think that Stan and Norm are doing a great service to the purchasers of the book by maintaining an errata listing.  Some authors are not keen on doing so.  But since the changes come in over time, it would be nice to find out when NEW corrections have been made.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

for handling this difficult conversation in such an honorable and respectful manner.   A difficult topic, in a difficult place due to the many enthusiastic supporters (myself included I must admit) for the book, and hard thoughts to hear for Stan and Norm.  My respect and admiration to all of you, as much for the manner in which you have conducted this conversation as for having conducted it at all.

Stan, I agree with the suggestion about managing errata:  it would be most helpful to include a "date noted" or some such on each new addition to the list.  I know you must be working furiously in the background to find as many of these yourself as you can before the next printing, so there will no doubt be some new items to come.  By including a date, we consumers of the information can tell newer from older, and you can still maintain the helpful page by page order of the list.

OldWoodenSpoon

tikidoc's picture
tikidoc

Agreed.  Dating the list would be helpful.  I have bookmarked the link and plan to check it before making something new from the book, but it would be nice to have the date at the top so we can easily see if we have the most recent corrections.  And thanks again to the authors for keeping this list.  

proth5's picture
proth5

since this is being handled well by all concerned and there is a second edition in the offing.

I haven't baked a lot of the formulas in the book (ok, none...), but I did look to the braiding instructions.  From a layout point of view, your copy editor should have pointed out that all of the braiding instructions require a page turn in order to see the complete set of instructions.  It would be better book layout if they were across from each other when the book was opened.  A small thing, but something that is usually taken into account.

Of course, as you shift the page layouts for that, you will need to be careful with formulas, etc to be sure that they maintain integrity.

All part of the transition from enthusiastic baking to publishing, I'm sure and no real harm done, but something easily fixed in a second edition to get a more professional end product.

And no offense meant on the formulas.  To tell the truth I have no memories of most of the baked goods you present in the book, so no burning desire to bake them.  I did, however enjoy the window on the past - even if it wasn't related to any part of my past. 

Peace.

Pat

Elagins's picture
Elagins

Please let me know as soon as you find other errors so I can make the appropriate additions. Errata sheet now dated.

Stan

Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

First of all,

Stan and Norm, Thank you for the book,

Eric, Thank you for the review.

I had a bit of trouble with some of the conversions myself.

I have a couple of thoufgts about the representation of the formulas.

The most important thing missing is for me the yield of  a formula in ounces, percent and grams.

The yield is an ideal control instrument to see if a formula has been converted properly, and it is also very useful for scaling a formula. (I am sure most of the scaling errors could have been caught with checking against the yield.)

I don't think of baking using 980g of flour,  when I bake I want to know whaty i need to mix for 2100g of dough.

Andy (ananda) follows in his contributions the schema which is also used in ITJB (percentages of preferment ingredients as percentages of total flour weight) but he also includes the yield and the conversion factor for his specific batch. Quite exemplary.

Happy Baking,

Juergen

Elagins's picture
Elagins

and will definitely keep it in mind for the future, publisher willing.

Stan

GrapevineTexas's picture
GrapevineTexas

Stan and Eric!  

I have the greatest respect for folks that can have a discussion.  

I admire you, both, sincerely.

 

KMIAA's picture
KMIAA

I can't find the link for the updated Errata Sheet.  Has the link changed?

KMIAA's picture
KMIAA

Thanks, for some reason I had your site bookmarked for the Errata Sheet, but the link I had no longer worked.

ananda's picture
ananda

To Stan and to Eric,

and with much respect to you both as great bakers.

As a 46 year old Englishman, I sort of sit in the middle of the complexity at the heart of much of the difficulties here.

Some people over here in the UK like to use volumetric measurement to produce their recipes, although there is no formalised method as is common in the US.    Many would look at a US recipe and ask the question "What is a cup?"

I first started at school in 1969 [a long time ago now], and I was taught to use the metric system for the purposes of weighing.   When I started making a living working in the food industry, I realised I needed to be able to work in both Imperial and Metric, as the older lbs and ounces are still prevalent in the UK.   Yet in France the metric system was apparently adopted at the end of the 19th Century.

My personal opinion is that the metric system, weighed carefully and accurately in conjunction with use of bakers percentages is the only way I want to work.   That may well be the case for Stan, Norm and Eric too?

But if you choose to publish a book, that luxury goes out of the window, as that will not necessarily be the wishes, desires or will of the target audience who will read the book.

No doubt Eric is making a valid point that there are errors in the book that could be [and should be] corrected.   Stan is gracious in acknowledging this too.

But I just wanted to note that volumetric measuring and use of weighing scales, with different systems, are not necessarily compatible, and that this makes for a very hard task for an author.   I am sure Eric and the 2 authors are well aware of this.   It is something that has oft played on my mind when considering how I would compile a baking recipe book which would achieve mass audience appeal; very difficult indeed.

As an example of how I tackle this thorny subject; when I use Hamelman's recipes in "Bread:...", I look at his industrial quantities given in metric, and find a factor to divide by to convert to Baker's %, or, to the weight I personally want to make.   I like this particular text for a number of reasons, but probably the primary one is that he has written for BAKERS; it's in the title, and so it makes sense to me in the large-scale that I am familiar with.  Stan gives reference to the accuracy of the weights of the recipes above.   But the point here is, that is me, Stan, Norm, and Eric!

I really don't know how to produce a recipe which I could confidently claim to be accurate in Bakers%, metric and imperial by weight, and by volume using US cups.   Frankly, I would not know where to start; yes, it is that difficult.

To that extent, I totally go along with Jeff's sentiments above.   Juergen, thank you for your generous words about the way I present a formula.   I wholly agree with you about the yield.   I teach that if you are given a formula in % and instructed that you are required to produce a given total [ie. yield] of the same dough, then all that is needed is to find the relevant factor to multiply by, and, hey presto, there is your recipe.   So, yes, the yield is fundamental.

Very best wishes to all

Andy

 

 

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

It's gratifying to come across a discussion like this, conducted with such civility. Like Eric, I am a straight shooter and believe in telling my truth, but I am very wary of doing so these days because of the near-hysterical defensive reactions that have so often resulted on other forums. Indeed, I found myself bracing when I read Eric's post, but Stan's response was exemplary. Result? Eric's courage in being honest was rewarded, not denounced as some sort of personal vindictive attack, and Stan gained the respect of all readers for his maturity and cool-minded sense in seeing Eric's post for what it is - a courageous contribution, not merely a criticism.

BTW, Stan and Norm, I treasure my first-run copy, errors notwithstanding, because it is signed by the authors and is a memento of a community test-baking project that was quite thrilling, and that I will always look back on with great fondness. I'm sure others feel similarly.

Happy New Year all, and long may this great site and its terrif community continue to thrive!
Ross

Elagins's picture
Elagins

here's my response to Eric, posted in a Message:

it's never easy to take that kind of criticism, but I know where you're coming from and that we both want the same thing: a book that's as good as it can be. so never any offense taken; in fact, deep gratitude for your courage (dare I say "chutzpah"?) in posting the feedback.

Like I tell my kids: anyone can give a compliment; a true act of love is telling someone the truth, as painful as it may be. So thanks again.

Stan

carlene's picture
carlene

I am fairly new to this website and am participating in the challenge for the book.  Stan and Norm-- I love the book and am so glad that we have the web as a method of communication and a forum for dealing with the errata.  I love the history and the side bar commentaries. The recipes that I have made so far are wonderful.  I am so grateful that you are willing to compile and post the errata and be so gracious about it all.  I too have great respect for you.  I will always cherish my first edition and will also be in line to purchase the second edition/printing.

Carlene

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

Has the weights and measures in the aforementioned "ingred.php" list on the web site been double-checked by an independent party?  

I understand the feelings behind writing a review that is constructive in nature as this one was ...I have a friend who wrote a book on building a particular boat, and after I reviewed the book I presented him with a list of errors and measurements that were off ...I still remember the sad "Well ...I guess the honeymoon's over" response that I got, but he also appreciated the honest feedback and did, as Stan et al are, produce an errata.  I think that large new undertakings are difficult to get right on the first try and an errata is of course expected.  I think more important than the typo or volume-weight conversion errors however, are the inconsistencies that Eric pointed out.  I would be nice to see different recipes use the same weights for the same amounts of the same items ...it's as though different look-up tables were used for some of those weights?  Dunno ...but I do love and appreciate the book regardless, and the online errata, the attentiveness of Stan et al to jump onto getting things corrected, and all the extra information and 'unpublished' stuff on their web site as well.  It's obvious that the authors have been, and will continue to be, making every effort to please us bakers at large and to provide good info ...Thanks for that, guys!

Brian