Bab­ka, Boulou, & Blintzes: Jew­ish Choco­late Recipes from around the World

  • Review
By – August 23, 2021

Rich, fra­grant, entic­ing, heav­en­ly choco­late — it’s almost too good to be true! Michael Lev­en­thal presents a recipe book filled with spec­tac­u­lar gourmet offer­ings, lush pho­tographs in col­or, and fas­ci­nat­ing bits of Jew­ish his­to­ry that tell the sto­ry of choco­late as it relates to Jew­ish cul­ture and his­to­ry all around the world. It’s almost too good to be true, but it is tempt­ing­ly, sen­su­ous­ly, sat­is­fy­ing­ly real.

The book’s col­or­ful­ly illus­trat­ed intro­duc­tion delves into the his­to­ry of choco­late and choco­late-mak­ing, with a par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties and their many, many con­nec­tions to choco­late lore. For exam­ple, the Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors learned about choco­late from the Aztecs and, when they car­ried the knowl­edge home, Jew­ish traders in Spain, barred by anti­semitism from many oth­er trades, devel­oped an enthu­si­as­tic mar­ket for the spec­tac­u­lar new treat. The French learned choco­late craft from the Jews and then banned them from pro­duc­ing it. In Bel­gium, a Jew­ish immi­grant was grant­ed the first license to man­u­fac­ture choco­late. The Caribbean was a Jew­ish choco­late-mak­ing cen­ter as ear­ly as the 1600s. Choco­late Chanukah gelt, which seems so tra­di­tion­al, was devel­oped in the Unit­ed States in the 1920s. Choco­late’s deli­cious his­to­ry flows onward into mod­ern times.

The sweet cen­ter of the book fol­lows this engross­ing his­to­ry: the recipes them­selves. Each con­tains a brief intro­duc­tion, often includ­ing the coun­try in which the recipe orig­i­nat­ed. The recipes are clear, con­cise, easy to fol­low, and are accom­pa­nied by scrump­tious pho­tographs of the fin­ished prod­ucts. Clas­sic choco­late rugelach, three dif­fer­ent bet­ter-than-basic recipes for brown­ies, unusu­al offer­ings such as Choco­late Beet­root Cake, exot­ic recipes such as Tunisian Choco­late Tart with Mahlab, veg­an choco­late chip cook­ies, Israeli White Choco­late Cheese­cake, and so many more. There seems to be no end to the fab­u­lous creativity.

Per­son­al favorites include Tahi­ni Choco­late Chip Banana Bread, tru­ly mag­i­cal Mag­ic Squares, and the ever-pop­u­lar bab­ka with­out which this cook­book would feel incom­plete. There’s a sec­tion called Savoury Dish­es and Drinks” which includes such unusu­al inter­na­tion­al delights as Choco­late Chili and Sicil­ian Capona­ta. Who ever imag­ined that read­ing a cook­book could be so fascinating?

The only thing that could pos­si­bly make this book any bet­ter is know­ing that all the pro­ceeds are being donat­ed to a char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tion, in this case, Chai Can­cer Care of Lon­don. Deli­cious choco­late, fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry, and tzedakah, too? Who could ask for more?

The book is pub­lished in the UK, but each recipe has cup, met­ric, and impe­r­i­al mea­sure­ments. A glos­sary of UK-US terms is also includ­ed to avoid con­fu­sion and to be sure that as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble are wel­comed into this world of choco­late delight. A short biog­ra­phy of each recipe’s con­trib­u­tor is includ­ed as well.

For the Epi­cure­ans among us, those for whom choco­late is prac­ti­cal­ly a reli­gion, this book is for you. It’s a valu­able addi­tion to the cook­book shelf for every­one else, too.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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