Mod­ern Jew­ish Bak­er: Chal­lah, Bab­ka, Bagels & More

  • Review
By – May 16, 2017

Mod­ern Jew­ish Bak­er: Chal­lah, Bab­ka, Bagels & More is an essen­tial cook­book for begin­ner bak­ers, or those look­ing for a new take on Jew­ish breads and pas­try. Sar­na, edi­tor of the pop­u­lar food blog The Nosh­er, pulls from her Jew­ish and Ital­ian roots to pro­vide a new per­spec­tive on clas­sic Jew­ish baked goods. She com­bines tra­di­tion­al recipes with inter­est­ing fla­vor pro­files, many of which are not often found in Jew­ish bak­ing. The results are sweet and savory goods that are part famil­iar, part unex­pect­ed, and ful­ly delicious.

The cook­book is divid­ed into sec­tions build­ing off of sev­en basic recipes: chal­lah, bab­ka, bagels, rugelach, haman­taschen, pita bread, and matzah. Sar­na, acknowl­edg­ing that bak­ing is as much about pre­ci­sion — type of flour, rise times, pro­por­tion of ingre­di­ents — as it is about intu­ition, pro­vides the bak­er with a com­bi­na­tion of strict instruc­tion and loose guide­lines for technique. 

Once the basic recipes have been mas­tered, Sar­na’s cre­ative vari­a­tions on top­pings and fill­ings — Pesto and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chal­lah, Onion Jam Bab­ka, and Pesto Parme­san Rugelach, to name a few — are just a start­ing place for inspi­ra­tion, and what sets this cook­book apart from sim­i­lar ones. Make-ahead strate­gies and sug­ges­tions for using left­overs are a nice nod to the mod­ern­iza­tion of the bak­ing process.

Recipes are accom­pa­nied by step-by-step instruc­tion­al pho­tos for braid­ing, fold­ing and shap­ing the var­i­ous doughs, ensur­ing that the food’s visu­al pre­sen­ta­tion is as good as the fla­vor. The shiny loaves come out of the oven look­ing like they came straight from the bak­ery. A clean, easy to read lay­out and beau­ti­ful pho­tog­ra­phy by Veron­i­ca Sage McAvoy com­plete the book.

Sar­na pro­vides the read­er with the con­fi­dence and cre­ative inspi­ra­tion to impro­vise on their own. With this book as a guide, and a few sim­ple ingre­di­ents and tools, any­one can con­fi­dent­ly try their hand at being a mod­ern Jew­ish baker.

Court­ney Gooch is a design­er and part­ner at Por­trait, a graph­ic design stu­dio that cre­ates iden­ti­ties for peo­ple and places. She lives, cooks, and eats in Brooklyn.

Discussion Questions