Although it gestated for many months, The Altamont Bakery Project was born on Sunday, August 28, 2011. On that afternoon, Rabbi Marc Fitzerman convened a group he called "The Altamont Bakery Research and Development Team" in the Dairy Kitchen of The Synagogue | Congregation B'nai Emunah.
The group consisted of Molly Berger, Kenny Cohen, Nancy Cohen, Rebecca Fine, Hilary Kitz, Hilary Zarrow, and Rabbi Fitzerman. Unfortunately, the two Hilarys were not present in person. Hilary I was in Nova Scotia, enjoying the charms of historic Lunaberg. Hilary II was in New York City, flattened by the full impact of Hurricane Irene.
Each baker came with his or her preferred recipe and any necessary supplies beyond the basics. The Team was ably supported by Synagogue Administrator Betty Lehman, who has given her soul and strong right arm to this project. This despite her aversion to high glycemic index baked goods. Rebecca Fine graciously agreed to bake her samples from two of Hilary Zarrow's recipes.
First up was Rabbi Fitzerman, who produced his version of the famous Tate Bake Shop Chocolate Chip Cookie. These cookies are thin and crisp at the edges, with a magnificent chewy center. Rabbi Fitzerman has baked them for many years and considers them his signature life achievement. Although Kenny Cohen found them "interesting" and "genuinely worth eating," the rest of the group was unmoved. Nobody thought that the coconut and raisins were a good idea, and the cookie looked meager and dead in a glassine bag. Rabbi Fitzerman professed to be unphased by the rejection, but was secretly distraught. He came out of the exercise feeling wounded, wary, and aggressive.
Molly Berger's sample cookie was a roaring success. The recipe was drawn from the oeuvre of Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery, faithfully reflecting the standards of that famous Boston institution. There was special buzz around this cookie since Ms. Chang had appeared in a stimulating session at the Synagogue days before. Molly baked two versions, one with and the other without nuts. The result had excellent taste, but this cookie also failed the bag test. It looked better than Rabbi Fitzerman's cookie (so what else is new?), but fell short of radiant. Sigh.
Kenny Cohen's cookie was a dark, powerful affair, studded with chips. All felt that it had strong possibilities. Although Kenny is an excellent baker in the tradition of the Cohen family, he was distracted by the fact that he was heading back to Tufts the following day for his sophomore year. The cookies stayed in the oven a hair too long and stiffened as they cooled. Sigh squared. We may revisit this recipe in the future, but for the moment we have set it aside. Kenny has since gone on to great things, so it may not be necessary to throw him this bone.
Rebecca Fine, badly assisted by Rabbi Fitzerman in the role of sous-baker, prepped two batters according to Hilary Zarrow's instructions. Looking back, we would have done better to wait out the hurricane and reschedule the session for Hilary's triumphant return to Tulsa. Alone in the kitchen, Rebecca is superb. With Rabbi Fitzerman, not so much. There's a very strong possibility that we messed up. It is also possible that Rabbi Fitzerman, sick with existential sorrow, sabotaged the Zarrow recipes in the name of bringing down a competitor cookie. The truth will never be known.
The great, screaming winner of the day was Nancy Cohen's cookie, titled "Loaded with Chips." Quite remarkably, this was a cookie Nancy had not baked before, but looked promising on the page. It held its shape beautifully in the oven and developed a gorgeous textured surface on cooling. The taste was judged excellent by the entire team, and people (meaning Rabbi Fitzerman) couldn't keep their hands off it. On top of everything else, it passed the glassine bag test with excellent marks, communicating beautifully that it was One Cookie to Rule Them All. Despite his sense of failure tinged with violent revenge fantasies, Rabbi Fitzerman concurred. We had our cookie.
What followed in the early weeks of September was an elaborate set of tests to confirm that we could replicate Nancy's success. A first failure was followed by a hugely successful second round, giving Nancy time to tweak the recipe, confirm measurements, and nail the precise proportion of chips to batter. We were also able to establish that the cookie was indestructible, holding its taste and mouth feel for over a week without preservatives.
More importantly, people other than the baking team loved the cookie. Our first sale, to Vernon Mudd during Rabbi Fitzerman's Monday afternoon's Talmud Class, yielded a charitable contribution of $5. Do we believe in omens for success? Yes.
We have since added two cookies to the roster: Raisin Oat Jumbles and SugarTops. Both enjoy enormous acclaim and have helped to establish the Altamont as a "real" bakery. That was our goal all along: a pro-social business capable of turning a profit and sustaining its own growth.