Jew Review: The Modern Jewish Baker

During a recent purge, we got rid of a whole lot of cookbooks. I didn’t love doing it, but they took up a whole of space and they were just pretty to look at; I’d venture to guess that we cooked from maybe 5 percent of them. Plus, with the internet, you – theoretically, have all the recipes you could want.

So naturally, with all that free space on bookshelves, I’ve started collecting cookbooks again. It’s a vicious cycle I can’t dig myself out of.

Many serve one purpose: Looking pretty on shelves, with no actual value other than occasionally flipping through to say “Oooh that looks good,” only to never be made. However, FINALLY, one that came in handy for hosting Yom Kippur break fast was Shannon Sarna’s Modern Jewish Baker: Challah, Babka, Bagels & More.

Our break fast consisted of the smaller than usual 18 people, but obviously requires enough dessert for many more. This is where Sarna’s babka recipe comes in.

Let’s start with the important stuff: It’s delicious. Seriously good. We made three (as the regular dough recipe will make): one cinnamon, one chocolate, one s’more. The latter two I don’t eat due to my aversion to chocolate, but the cinnamon was delicious. The s’more babka was the consensus favorite amongst the residents of the house.

I enjoyed the “Special Notes” that Sarna included in her introduction to babka: “Making babka can be quite messy, so be prepared to get your hands and your counters dirty.” This is an accurate statement; the kitchen was a mess, but totally worth it.

Beyond the babka, this book is truly an incredible reference manual for the modern Jewish kitchen. For starters, there are 60 pages on challah. That’s right: 60. From braiding a three, four, six or eight strand challah, round or oval, stuffed or not, sweet or savory, this has it. The one downside is that the image of the in-progress braids doesn’t have step by step directions with the words; you’re left to try and interpret the image. Small nit, but one I have to pick.

The “more” in the title is awfully good too. I took a stab at rugalach that tasted far better than it looked (and no, there is no photographic evidence of that). I haven’t broached homemade matzah yet or the savory hamantaschen, but I’m intrigued.

Overall, the book is great. Baking is significantly more challenging the cooking; baking is an exact science, while cooking can be more of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience. But with requisite patience, even the extremely challenging can be totally possible