I’m going to make a bold statement and declare that chocolate is essential and versatile – found in everything from cookies to chili – it even goes well with cheese! As readers will discover from the enticing, gorgeously photographed recipes in Babka, Boulou & Blintzes: Jewish Chocolate Recipes From Around The World, it’s a food steeped in rich Jewish history going back more than half a millennium.
There were Spanish Jewish chocolate makers in 17th Century Bayonne, France, Jewish-owned coffee houses serving hot chocolate in post-medieval London and chocolate entrepreneurs in Curacao, to list but a few of the countries where Jews set up shop centuries ago.
More recently, no less than Albert Einstein achieved his own footnote in chocolate’s fascinating back story. In the early 20th Century, he was a clerk in the Berne, Switzerland patent office when the makers of Toblerone applied for a patent. Side note: visitors to the Leo Baeck Institute will be able to view two porcelain cups (which the two had used to drink hot chocolate) with childhood portraits of Einstein his sister Maya on them.
Compiled by Michael Leventhal, with a helpful table of contents that lists each chef next to their respective recipe (with bios in the back), the selections come from recognizable names such as Joan Nathan and Leah Koenig, but also cooks and authors from Europe, Africa, and Israel who are not as well known in the US, such as Claudia Roden and Orly Ziv. Leventhal offers up more than just heavenly brownies, Sachertortes, and Babka to please the chocoholics who look down their noses at chocolate that’s less than 70% cocoa. Vegans, white chocolate devotees, and even those who like to mix beets in with their ice cream will delight in drool-worthy sweet (and sometimes savory) possibilities. Oh, and what, you’re no doubt wondering (as I was) is a boulou? According to French and Tunisian chef Fabienne Viner-Luzzato, it’s “a cross between a cake and a biscuit.”
One needn’t be a master of the kitchen or buy out the baking aisle to partake. The Chocolate Soup requires less than 30 minutes from start to finish and just a handful of ingredients. Even something decadent like a Hazelnut Cake With Ganache will take less than 90 minutes and involves nothing fancier than chopped hazelnuts. Have fun and remember: chocolate is never an indulgence!