What? No Babka at Catskills Hotels? *
The borscht belt must have been a babka belt. When thinking of chocolate babka, the Catskills came to my mind given the immense quantities of meichelach treats overflowing the tables there in the 1940’s-60’s. Babka must have been ingrained in the Jewish palate then, as it is now, I figured.
Surprisingly, my search through several histories and memoirs about the Catskills found that though desserts were quite plentiful, of course, there was no mention of babka, neither chocolate nor cinnamon.
So I reached out to Catskills maven Dr. Phil Brown of the Catskills Institute to learn more. He could not resist opening his email response with a critique of new wave, artisanal babkas, “I do love classic babka, though not the chocolate variety so much as the regular raisin and cinnamon. To my mind this doesn’t exist anymore, only super-sweet chocolate babke or other super-sweet varieties.” And, with regard to the Catskills, he notes that he never thought the Catskills had much in the way of the best traditional Jewish baked goods like rugelach or babka.
Brown pursued my burning babka question further. He checked Your Just Desserts, a collection of recipes from the Concord Hotel by Fred Angeloh; no mention of babka. When Brown contacted Elaine Etess, a member of the iconic Grossinger’s Resort Hotel family, she agreed that babka had not made it to the laden Catskills’ menus. Babkas, she explained, require a “lot of labor and [they were] not fancy enough.” Guests preferred sweet pies and chocolate cakes.
However, my Facebook friend, Sandford Tarrington reports that he recalls “mini-bobka’s,” mint chocolate chip even, from when he and his parents stayed at the Concord and at Brown’s in 1979, 1980, 1982.
It makes sense that babka–with its yeasty, time consuming complexities–may not have accompanied families on their vacations in the Catskills. Or, maybe it did. Ironically these days, one of the most popular New York area sources of chocolate babka, Oneg Heimishe bakery, shuts down its Williamsburg, Brooklyn location and heads to the Catskills (Monticello) for the summer. So, yes, now there’s definitely babka in the Catskills!
Launching The Chocolate Babka Project
Admittedly, by heritage I am more a German kugelhopf than an Eastern European babka. I remember eating homemade kugelhopf and bundt cake at family celebrations in Los Angeles. When I mentioned babka to my German speaking father, he looked puzzled and asked, “What’s a babka?” Babka, much less chocolate babka, was just not in our pastryRead more ›
On the Chocolate Trail in Belize’s Jungle
Mark and I happily signed on for three distinct rainforest chocolate experiences within a 15 mile radius of our home base, the romantic Cotton Tree eco-lodge which is nestled among Mayan villages near the Caribbean in the Toledo District of Belize. Not only did Belize envelop us in an exotic rainforest experience, our tourism contributedRead more ›
Is that coffee or chocolate?
Having just eaten my daily portion of chocolate covered coffee beans, I am primed to consider the questions I hear about coffee when I teach on the chocolate trail. How do the two foods really differ, other than taste? I think back to when the layout for On the Chocolate Trail was being designed andRead more ›
A Chocolate Cake for October’s Tricks: Devil’s Food
Heading into October and its culmination in Halloween, I find myself hankering for Devil’s Food Cake, despite its initially derogatory name. Supposedly in 1690 Pilgrims traveled to Plymouth Rock via Amsterdam. They stayed in a house near the city’s biggest chocolate houses and called that chocolate “the Devil’s food.” Later, a chocolate cake, perhaps simplyRead more ›
Some Previous Posts
(in alphabetical order)
- A Chocolate Cake for October's Tricks: Devil's Food
- Announcing Second Edition: On the Chocolate Trail
- Book Optioned: Museum Exhibit
- Celebrating Ice Cream Month with Chocolate
- Choco-Travel Tips
- Chocolate Exhibit Hits the New York Times
- Chocolate Trail Broadens: "Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate" Travels
- Chocolate, Coffee, Tea and Me
- How About Some Mindful Chocolate Tasting?
- Jews on the Chocolate Trail
- Lunch & Learn: Central Synagogue
- Lunch and Learn: Tasting the Best Chocolate
- Mothers and Survival by Chocolate
- No End to Chocolate Exhibits Part III: Visits #3, 4 & 5
- Of Chocolate Exhibits There is No End: Part 2
- Super Food Chocolate for Super Bowl Sunday: Three Recipes
- Talking Chocolate in February
- Warm Up: 3 Historical Drinking Chocolate Recipes