Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Conversation with Marcy Goldman

Photo Courtesy Marcy Goldman

Some things never change and we don't want them to. We want to hold on, and treasure our Jewish culinary roots because it's important to cherish where we come from.

15 years ago I found myself at Coles Bookstore, standing and gazing at the line-up of Jewish cookbooks. I didn't plan on buying anything that day, but I did, and it was Marcy Goldman's A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking cookbookSo when I had a chance to interview Marcy on our common passion last month, I was excited! With over 6 baking cookbooks, this fellow Montrealer had a few AHA moments before she knew baking was her calling. Between giving a helping hand in her feminist mother's kitchen, feeling such gratification each time her live-in blind grand-mother qvelled over her baked goodies, her passion was fueled. The idea that baking was so mysterious, and magical, and she loved the challenge, she was IN. Today, she spends her time in Montreal writing, pitching, baking, developing recipes for cookbooks, her BetterBaking.com website or a series of ebooks she is working on.


Leslie:
 What got you on your journey into baking?
Marcy: I started young – loving the freedom in the kitchen and a chance to be creative but still produce something not as ethereal as a poem or song but something that could be eaten and nourish. Baking for me, wasn’t evident – even with Julia Child Cookbooks and The Time Life Series at hand – there’s so many techniques I had to learn and it drew me in. I love difficulty. I ended-up in English literature and tried to become a copy writer/writer in Montreal (meh... "Smile"/impossible at the time) and then decided I would do my other passion: baking.

I went from home baking and supplying friends, to working with professional bakers, renting a bakery, wholesaling to restaurants and then consulting/setting-up other bakeries and then, Hotel School for 3 years at night where I got my diploma as a professional pastry chef. Around that time, I remembered I was also still a ‘writer’ and began pitching newspapers and magazines like Bon Appetit, the Gazette, New York Times etc. and built up a platform, experience and a following.

Leslie: How is Jewish baking unique from mainstream baking? If any?

Marcy:
 
The three main differences are the foundation of the kashruth/kosher laws which made for two types of baking (pareve and dairy). Then there’s the fact that all our foods are often symbolic of the holidays they celebrate so you can’t easily remove the recipe from the religion or culture and three – Jewish food, since it’s from a wandering group – is necessarily global in flavors and evolutions. Then there is the heritage of inventiveness and open-ness to new tastes and flavors – and it infuses this diverse genre of baking.

Leslie: What motivated you to write A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking? What was the outcome?
Marcy: 
I wrote a lot of freelance Jewish baking holiday features throughout North America for quite a while. There were little resources to research except for old cookbooks that had some antiquated methods...and our tastes change too. Few people even know what Carrot Nuant is let alone want it Smile (or stuffed derma). I used to just wish SOMEONE would write a definite book on it. One day – I realized – it might have to be me. I found an agent – she told one publisher and the rest is history. It sold thousands of copies since 1998 and it’s 10th anniversary edition is amazing. Although I write all about baking in general – I did get a reputation as a queen of Jewish baking :)  I am known for the Matzoh Buttercrunch, my Majestic Honey Cake , Montreal Bagels and some other things. I am very proud of all that. And from that book – came 5 more.

Leslie:
 
Where do your recipes come from?
Marcy: My head and imagination or I see an old recipe that has amazing elements but needs an overhaul (active dry yeast is not a great yeast to use, for instance) but mostly -  my head, heart, research and sensibility as a Jewish woman who is blessed to be a professional baker. I build recipes respecting their history and roots and use professional baker’s techniques to bring them ‘forward’ and also ensure success for someone else.

Baking makes me feel capable, grounded, happy, connected – I think I always wanted to be really great at something, and baking is (to me) so noble. It’s old-fashioned and yet timeless.

Leslie: What are your favorite baking recipes that you've created?
Marcy: That’s like asking me who my favorite son is Smile. I would say the bagels, pastries, healthy baking things (nutrition AND taste), all my scones, my biscotti....Nottinghill Brownies, Terre Etoile Bread and buttermilk biscuits....hamantashen Smile....The recent bubka. Overall, I prefer fruity things or caramel vs. chocolate. I also love my breads.

Leslie: How has baking changed since blogging?
Marcy: I think there are more photos and talk ....and more step by step stuff – which is great but sometimes – you just want THE RECIPE! But it’s opened-up a rich channel of bakers chatting worldwide and connecting and getting spurred to do things and do them better.
It’s allowed both pros and amateurs to share their passion. There’s also great inspiration in seeing a great photo of something... it triggers in all of us a response of "Hey – I can try that or make it this way instead of that way or..." i.e. it opens up the mind and palate. I think some of the best baking comes from blogs - bloggers are more caring of their readers sometimes, than celebrity sites (TV network) and the bloggers are more responsive and accountable. But there are a ton of amazing celebrity sites, King Arthur for example does a good job – and it’s also overall, upped the game photographically speaking. Some of the talent in that end is jaw dropping.

Leslie: What are your go-to tips for new bakers?
Marcy: 1. Double sheet your pans/top with parchment (put baking pans on a baking sheet –not directly on a rack)
2. Use fresh yeast or instant yeast (like Saf or Fermipan ) – it’s better yeast.
3. Take your time.
4. Never quit mid way (people bail sometimes, when they bake).
5. Never apologize for imperfection.
6. Use amazing, fresh spices.
7. Eat other  people’s baking – appreciate other tastes and styles.

For more on Goldman and to read her magazine, go to BetterBaking.com and be sure to tune into my next post, Marcy's Almost-Like-a-Bakery Traditional Hamantaschen.