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.