Daily Bread is my middle-grade historical novel set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 1911. The story follows eight-year-old Lily, an American-born child of Sicilian immigrants, who loves to sing out her artist heart and prove she is not a little kid. She learns that it is not easy to be a big kid in the crowded tenement neighborhood, skirting old-world traditions, tackling bigotry, disasters, and screwy bakers, and learning to cross the street by herself.
Daily Bread was inspired by one of my grandmother’s stories. As I bring Daily Bread to publication, I will share the story’s character and plot developments, the fun research adventures, and my writing process. Get comfortable and join me on the journey. You may need to get something to eat. Share your impressions and your stories.
Mrs. Goldberg’s Knot Surprises
Mrs. Goldberg, the baker’s wife, is a fictional character in my middle-grade historical novel, Daily Bread. To 8-year-old Lily, the protagonist, Mrs. Goldberg, is a magical ballerina with glittering cheeks and an artist’s heart. Although Mrs. Goldberg and her loving baker husband struggle to make ends meet in Manhattan’s crowded Lower East Side neighborhood, simple acts of kindness eventually save the bakery and save Lily’s family. Mrs. Goldberg insists children need sweet treats to satisfy their hunger and brighten their day. She bakes Knot Surprises using bread dough, a little sugar, and bartered cinnamon and jams. The children who bake their families’ Daily Bread each day are treated to a Knot Surprise each morning and at midday. Mrs. Goldberg also manages to give away her sweet treats to other children for birthday celebrations and just to see them smile.
Mrs. Goldberg inspires impressionable Lily. The pretty baker’s wife flits and twirls about the bakery basement where bread baking takes place. She is always happy to see Lily, a girl who loves to sing and play despite the oppressive life on the Lower East Side. But there is a dark side to Mrs. Goldberg. She is prone to sadness and paralyzing depression. Her life before America holds unspeakable tragedy and pain. Mr. Goldberg, her hero, may have committed crimes to make their way to America and the bakery. Secrets weigh heavy on fragile Mrs. Goldberg making the sweet part of her day- dance, children’s happy smiles, and Knot Surprises, her means to survive.
I will admit that my grandmother did not have a recipe for Knot Surprises. She baked pies and beautiful bread and rolls but never wrote down her baking secretes. Instead, I experimented in adapting bread recipes my mother had to create my version of Mrs. Goldberg’s Knot Surprises. Be mindful that I am not an accomplished baker. Like a chemistry lab exercise, one must measure, follow directions, and pay attention. I barely passed required chemistry classes—saved only by my smart choices in lab partners. While making up the Knot Surprise recipe, I had a few baking mishaps( my finger burns are healing nicely), but this version worked out best.
If you bake Knot Surprises, please let me know if you like them and if the recipe was a success. Could you share your tweaks?
Mrs. Goldberg’s Knot Surprises
1 package of active dry yeast
1Tsp sugar plus a little extra for sprinkling
1 cup of warm water
½ Tsp salt
3-5 cups of flour
Optional: melted butter, jam, 1:1 mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Stir the flour and salt together.
- Use a measuring cup to mix the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Gently stir until the sugar and yeast dissolve.
- In a separate bowl, mix the sweet yeasty water with 2 cups of flour. Stir until the flour is smooth. Add flour until the mixture is well incorporated, and the dough pulls away from the sides.
- On a board dusted with flour, knead the dough, adding sprinkles of flour until your hands come clean.
- Place the dough back into the bowl. Brush with oil and cover the top of the bowl with a clean towel. Let the dough rest and rise in a warm spot.
- When the dough is almost twice its original size, knead out the air. Cut and roll palm-size balls.
- Shape the balls in a long oval. Spread a dollop of jam in the middle or spread a bit of butter and sprinkle a 1:1 mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
- Roll the oval longwise, twist and knot. Place the knot on a parchment-lined pan.
- When all of the knots are on the pan, brush them with oil or melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Let stand for 30-45 minutes. Bake for 15 minutes (about-keep an eye on them).
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.