With the Jewish New Year approaching, we think back to tables laden with holiday food, and desserts both homemade and from New York’s great Jewish bakers.
Immigrants from Europe contributed much deliciousness to our childhood. As a youngster we were lucky to live in a town rich with postwar refugees from Germany, Hungary and Eastern Europe. Among the trades they brought with them, our favorite artisans were (of course) the bakers.
Bagel makers, bread bakers, pastry makers: We loved them all for the scrumptious products of their artisan skills. Alas, we are now their age, and not one bakery from those memorable times survives in Manhattan. The last one we knew of—Jon Vie Bakery, 492 Avenue of the Americas between 12th and 13th Streets—lost its lease in 2004, unable to afford double the rent on slender bakery margins. At last glance it was a 16 Handles frozen yogurt shop, where the inventory doesn’t go stale at the end of the day.
The owner of Jon Vie was a third-generation baker, the manager was the fourth-generation of a baking family, both families originally from Poland. Both men were in their mid-70s when the bakery closed. Needless to say, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
The bakery specialized in German, Hungarian and Jewish specialties—almost a memory today—along with cream puffs, éclairs and napoleons that met customers’ desires for French pastry.
While there will always be French pastry for sale somewhere—and rugelach and strudel at outposts like Zabar’s, —we’re left with only the memories of great babka, mandel brot and marble cake with ganache icing.
While we can still find cheese danish, they don’t compare to the wonders from those European bakers, stuffed with plentiful, sweet cheese and topped with slivered almonds and a honey glaze. We bought one daily from Éclair, which—ignominously—lost its lease to Krispy Kreme, itself long gone.
And now, a paean: Louis Lichtman: Life hasn’t been the same since you retired. Bloom’s Bake Shop, we remember you well. Sutter’s, you are in our heart forever.
The Hungarian Pastry Shop by Columbia University, another hangout of our youth, is still there, but has undergone a succession of management changes. It sells some items that look like the ones from yore, but taste nothing like them. Don’t even go there—it will just break your heart.
For those who remember, or want to understand that joyous past, bake a marble cake in remembrance. Here’s the recipe.
By the way, marble cake arrived on these shores with German immigrants before the Civil War. Here’s the history of marble cake.
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