Babka, Pavlova, and Crepe Cakes – Oh, My!

Book CoverWhat do you get the Jewish baker who has everything? Who loves a great French sabayon or nougatine or tarte tatin?
I would like to offer the humble suggestion of Paula Shoyer’s brand new “The Holiday Kosher Baker,” newly released this month.
Ms. Shoyer is a graduate of the Ritz Escofier pastry school in Paris – and it certainly shows. Her first book was the fully-dairy-free “The Kosher Baker” – and now she is taking another step forward, into the Jewish holiday kitchen. The book features modern, French-inspired desserts – tweaked for the needs of the Jewish kitchen.
Now, this isn’t your basic Jewish baking book, featuring challah, kugel, and hamentaschen.
While it certainly makes its nods to tradition, this is a thoroughly-modern Jewish baking book that features honey cake biscotti, orange and honey madeleines, and a whole wheat chocolate babka. There is cream cheese flan and brioche challah; the hamentaschen comes in gluten-free and green-tea varieties (in addition to the usual variations). There is a lemon tart with a basil nut crust, quinoa pudding, and rosemary nut brittle.

Raspberry and Rose Macaron Cake

Raspberry and Rose Macaron Cake

More central to the book’s concept, there is a gorgeous raspberry-and-rose macaron cake and a lemon and passion fruit pavlova, a moscato granita and nougat glacé, and caramelized mocha-and-vanilla-bean napoleons.
If you’re the kind of person who looked at that list, and thought: “Yum! I could just go for some pavlova tonight! And luckily, I have all the ingredients!” – then this is absolutely the book for you!
For this is a book for the baker who would make a “Butterscotch Whisky Glaze” for their Sunday morning sticky buns (the recommended whisky brand is specified, naturally).
The book is divided into six sections, each focused around a specific Jewish holiday, though many of the recipes are certainly interchangeable (quick – which holiday goes with amaretto cookies and chestnut mousse?)
Chocolate Babka Bites

Chocolate Babka Bites

Each section is then further sub-divided, between simpler “snack-like” desserts – like honey cake biscotti, chocolate babka bites, or cranberry-orange spelt scones – and more elegant and elaborate, “entertaining” desserts – like the aforementioned macaron cake, pavlova, or chestnut mousse (each taking several hours to assemble, but oh so worth it!)
There are several pages of well-written and useful general baking tips and advice – focusing separately around cookies, cakes, tarts, and mousses. The recipes are well-written, with clear, detailed instructions, and every recipe comes with a story to introduce the recipe and provide a little context – about the origin of the dish, or the inspiration for it. There are also useful little side-note advice sections, detailing such baker’s notes as the relative merits of parchment paper vs. silicon mats and the proper temperature of cream cheese for cheesecake.
Author Paula Shoyer

Author Paula Shoyer

The book is particularly an excellent choice for people on specialized diets of all kinds. Many recipes are tweaked to cater to specific dietary needs. Nearly every recipe comes with notes on how to make it Parve – or is explicitly designed to be dairy-free, sugar-free, nut-free, vegan, or gluten-free to begin with. The author clearly put significant effort into providing options for non-dairy, sugar-free, and gluten-free desserts – like a non-dairy pumpkin pie and a gluten-free key lime pie (along with 37 other gluten-free desserts).
An alternative index is very conveniently sorted by dietary-type, grouping together recipes that meet specific dietary restrictions, for easy retrieval. Recipes are conveniently categorized for easy reference as nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, low-sugar, Passover-friendly, and even non-gebrokts.
In fact, there are more than 45 Passover dessert recipes alone (I counted!) – including a Flourless Chocolate Amaretti Cake that’s decidedly good enough to eat year-round.
The gorgeous colorful photos by Michael Bennett Kress make this a beautifully-presented and extremely appealing book – giving your guests something beautiful to leaf through while they munch on the chocolate crepe mille feuille cake.
Paula Shoyer's Chocolate, Zucchini and Walnut Muffins

Chocolate, Zucchini and Walnut Muffins

This may not be your first choice of book for a new baker, who’s just looking to make some kugel and some hamentaschen.
But for an experienced baker, who loves the French pastry tradition, and is looking to up their baking repertoire, and get some contemporary, unique and delicious recipes under their belt – this book is a real find!
You can see a preview of the book from the publisher (Sterling Publishing). Or take a look inside the book – and examine the full recipe index – on Amazon.
To get a feel for the author and her recipes, check out Paula Shoyer’s blog – featuring her recipes and instructional baking videos (check out her chocolate, zucchini, and walnut muffin recipe on the blog!)

Watch Paula demonstrate her chocolate babka cupcakes and a fruit tart:

* Reader beware: do not watch while hungry!

[Images: Paula Shoyer and Sterling Publishing]