Break­ing Breads

Uri Scheft
  • Review
By – March 22, 2017

Open­ing Break­ing Breads: A New World of Israeli Bak­ing to Con Poulos’s pho­tographs of choco­late bab­ka is a most delec­table dec­la­ra­tion of what is to come in this cook­book by Breads Bakery’s Uri Scheft.

The image of floured hands knead­ing dough accom­pa­ny­ing the book’s table of con­tents encour­ages you to roll up your sleeves and get start­ed. The smell of bread bak­ing in the oven,” the intro­duc­tion beck­ons, the promise of its warmth, its sweet­ness, its sup­ple crumb that con­trasts to the browned, some­times shiny-ten­der, some­times rough and sharp-edged crust.”

Peo­ple have been set­tling in the region of Israel for mil­len­nia,” Scheft con­tin­ues, and now through mar­riage and trav­el, it’s not uncom­mon to have some­one like me, a mish­mash of cul­tures and influ­ences, who is mar­ried to a woman, also born in Israel, with Yemenite and Moroc­can par­ents — and we have a child who was born in the Unit­ed States, so she is Amer­i­can, Dan­ish, Israeli, Yemenite and Moroccan.” 

Scheft trained in Copen­hagen and appren­ticed in bak­eries through­out the world, always miss­ing Israel. Even­tu­al­ly it was time for him to open up his own place, and in 2002 Lehamim Bak­ery was born in Tel Aviv, and in 2013 Breads Bak­ery opened off Union Square, ful­fill­ing Scheft’s long­time dream of bring­ing his unique approach to bak­ing — a cel­e­bra­tion of many tra­di­tions, to con­tin­ue with the old ways and cre­ate new ones, too” — to New York.

The intro­duc­tion con­tin­ues with a series of clear expla­na­tions and instruc­tions for basics, ingre­di­ents and fla­vor, mix­ing knead­ing, ris­ing and proof­ing and bak­ing, stor­ing, and even how to cre­ate your own steam oven.

The first chap­ter is on chal­lah. By nature, I am a curi­ous bak­er; I trav­el and take note of all the dif­fer­ent ways of shap­ing and fla­vor­ing bread. Though chal­lah is clas­si­cal­ly con­sid­ered an East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ish (Ashke­nazi) bread, I have seen ver­sions of chal­lah baked on the island of Djer­ba in Tunisia and in Poland, Colom­bia, and dif­fer­ent Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in Israel and Moroc­co.” The chal­lah rolls inspire the author to recall when his moth­er was prepar­ing for Shab­bat: she took pity on me and would turn some of the dough into rolls — mean­ing I could rip into a roll right away with­out dam­ag­ing her loaf of chal­lah, which was des­tined for the din­ner table.”

Round chal­lahs, épi shaped chal­lahs, crazy and fes­tive ones, whole wheat and flax chal­lahs, choco­late, pull-apart, chal­lah falafel rolls… Scheft’s gen­eros­i­ty of spir­it and his will­ing­ness to share are deeply felt in all the pages. One deeply sens­es that the chef wants you to succeed.

His famous Choco­late Bab­ka (laud­ed in var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions) and the accom­pa­ny­ing pho­tos will encour­age any bak­ers of all lev­els to get to work. In addi­tion to the home bak­ers choice of basic or advanced recipes for the dough, there are many vari­a­tions on the clas­sic: Ricot­ta Streusel Bab­ka, Apple Bab­ka, and the Choco­late Kugelhopf.

The Flat­breads sec­tion fea­tures Pan Pita, No-knead Focac­cia, Lach­ma­jun, Malawach and more. The Shak­shu­ka Focac­cia resem­bles a bialy with an Israeli twist on the top­ping; Jach­nun, which bakes for 12 hours, is a hearty, heavy, crêpe — like Yemeni bread that is often served with grat­ed toma­to and spicy z’hug on Sat­ur­days as part of the Sab­bath brunch.

The sec­tion A Few Clas­sics and New Dis­cov­er­ies pays homage to the Light Brioche, Dill Bread and the Jerusalem Bagel — To be clear, the Jerusalem bagel has noth­ing to do with the Amer­i­can bagel. The only con­nec­tion between the Amer­i­can bagel and the Jerusalem bagel is the hole they have in the mid­dle. A Jerusalem bagel is a very airy, light, large oval-shaped ring; it’s also some­times called ka’ak (in Turkey, it’s known as simit).”

There are stuffed breads, haman­taschen of all kinds, sweets, and cook­ies, all dis­played in pho­tographs of an extreme­ly high cal­iber. Scheft’s Apple Strudel calls for helpers if pos­si­ble, as the instruc­tions clear­ly delin­eate the stretch­ing of the dough. 

Break­ing Breads: A New World of Israeli Bak­ing ends with addi­tion­al resources for the home bak­er: the Bak­ers Pantry, a Baker’s Tool Kit, and the excel­lent index.

Relat­ed Reads:

Danièle Gor­lin Lass­ner (wife, moth­er, grand­moth­er) retired after 35 years at Ramaz where she served as Dean of Admis­sions, For­eign Lan­guage Depart­ment chair and teacher of French and Span­ish. She owns hun­dreds of cook­books. She has trans­lat­ed sev­er­al chil­dren’s books from French into Eng­lish. She has recent­ly trans­lat­ed “ A Mem­oir of Sanc­ti­ty “ by May­er Moskowitz (Mazo Pub­lish­ers, Jerusalem, Israel) from Hebrew into Eng­lish. No mat­ter the lan­guage, food is a con­stant.”

Discussion Questions