On the Chocolate Trail

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!

*The Chocolate Babka Project

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