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A New World of Israeli Baking–Flatbreads, Stuffed Breads, Challahs, Cookies, and the Legendary Chocolate Babka

Raquel Pelzel, contributor

This is an intriguing and unusual cookbook, aimed at the bread baker. If you’ve never baked bread, start with Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread and leave this cookbook aside for a bit, but if you love baking bread and would like to expand your repertoire, this is an excellent book to turn to. While there is a chapter on Sweets & Cookies, and they are unusual and like the rest of the recipes, clearly laid out and easy to follow for a baker with some skills, the emphasis of the book is on specialty breads.

Scheft opened his first bakery in Israel but is best known in this country for his beloved Manhattan “Breads Bakery” (3 locations,) where people flock for his amazing chocolate babka (and Nutella!) and chocolate rugelach. As the subtitle intimates, Middle Eastern and especially Israeli influences abound. But Scheft also trained in Europe as a pastry chef, so he has some serious skills that he is able to simplify for the home baker.

The chapters:

A Few Classics & New Discoveries
Stuffed Breads
Sweets & Cookies
The Baker’s Pantry
The Baker’s Toolkit

The chapter titled “With…” includes recipes for Hummus, Tahina, Babaghanouj, Kalamata Tapenade, and other savory tapas like dishes. These are used throughout the recipes in this book but can certainly be used on their own. Set a table with a few of these delicacies, and your guests will clamor for more.

The pictures are stunning and really add a lot to the book. Like most serious bakers, Scheft uses metric weight for his recipes, so break out your digital scale and slide it over to grams. Be sure to take a good look at the Baker’s Pantry before attempting these recipes – I bake a lot, and I didn’t have a lot of these things; apricot kernels, bitter almonds, dates, dried chickpeas, nigella, marzipan, labne, etc. Scheft also prefers specific brands like Plugra butter, King Arthur flour, Valrhona or Callebaut chocolate, etc. The Baker’s Toolkit consists mostly of items bakers will tend to have on hand like bench scrapers, digital scale, parchment paper, rolling pins and so forth, but even here there are a couple of unusual items like a kugelhopf pan and couche.

I have to say this is not a cookbook for a new baker or the feint of heart. Many of the recipes are complicated but again, clearly laid out so if you are familiar with baking bread and understand how dough needs to be handled, then you will love this book. The babka recipes alone are worth the price of admission and come two ways, with a Basic Babka Dough and an Advanced Babka Dough, which is a laminated dough. If you’ve never attempted a laminated dough, the pictures are positively inspirational and make the whole process look completely doable.

Scheft offers a basic challah recipe, then takes it further with all sorts of ways to braid and seed it that you have to see to believe, then takes it another step further with a Whole Wheat and Flax Challah, Chocolate and Orange Confit Challah, and next on my list, Sticky Pull-Apart Cinnamon Challah Braid.

If you’ve ever wanted to attempt to make an apple strudel like grandma used to, or hamentaschen or rugelach, then this is your cookbook. I know I will be working my way through it for years to come.

1/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BREAKING BREADS by Uri Scheft. Artisan (October 18, 2016). ISBN 978-1579656829. 352p.

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