First off, let me admit just how excited I was to get my hands on a copy of this book – I was REALLY excited. I’ve been following Shannon Sarna’s amazing looking breads, cakes and other delicious recipes online for a while. How fabulous to have them all together in one handy book! Read on to get a taste of this terrific new recipe book and see how you can WIN a copy for yourself…
When I first opened the book and had a riffle through it, I found it was not at all as I imagined. Instead of having dozens of different recipes for umpteen kinds of cakes, cookies, breads, desserts, etc etc, the recipes in this book are divided into just seven categories of dough – challah, babka, bagels, rugelach, hamantaschen, pita bread and matzah. And that’s it – just seven types of bake… plus of course DOZENS of creative and mouthwatering variations, ideas on how to use leftovers (if there are any), what to serve alongside, fillings, toppings, tricks, techniques, and inspiration to create your own unique flavours using the book as a guide.
For instance, I decided to try and make babka (see below) and was faced with the choice of chocolate babka, cinnamon babka, s’mores babka, tropical babka, peanut butter and jelly babka, and three different savoury babkas! Oh my!
Each chapter has an introduction and guidance about ‘how the dough should feel’, notes on rising, storage, the best kinds of flour for each bake, and the essential tools that will be required for success. There are clear photographic illustrations showing how to roll, fold, braid, cut, fill and shape the various breads, cakes and cookies, and all-in-all it feels like Shannon is almost there in the kitchen holding your hand and guiding you towards perfect results.
Never having made a babka before, I was quite nervous as the dough seemed to be extremely soft and more than a little sticky. Normally, I would probably have added more flour and tried to ‘correct’ it. However, having read Shannon’s introduction and directions carefully, I put my faith in her recipe and simply followed it to the letter. And I was rewarded with the most amazing cinnamon babka! By the time the dough had proved it was silky, smooth and beautiful, and rolled out like a dream. My cinnamon babkas looked fabulous going into the oven, smelled incredible while they baked, and came out looking divine. I can’t believe these are my first ever babkas – just look at those swirls! Thanks Shannon 😀
Kipper and I taste-tested the cinnamon babka for elevenses, and blimey it’s delicious! Soft, sweet, fluffy, rich, gooey, decadently cinnamony, and incredibly moreish. I had meant to stick to one slice each but neither of us could resist a second. YUM!
If I have one niggle with the book, it’s that it is unashamedly American. (Both babka and rugelach are fairly recent additions to the British Jewish baking repertoire, whilst they have a much longer history in the USA.) The recipes give measurements only in cups, tablespoons etc, so there is an amount of conversion to do to turn them into grams and ml. (I think I found this particularly annoying as Shannon several times calls for a kitchen scale to accurately divide the dough into equal parts. If you have a scale there, why not use it to weigh the ingredients?!) No doubt my copy will be full of pencil annotations to the measurements in the fullness of time.
Overall though, this is a gorgeous book. Every photograph in it is either informative, mouthwatering, or usually, both. The recipes are clear and accessible, and the layout of the book makes it easy to use. Shannon’s fun and interesting introductions give a real flavour of her personality and background, and her journey to becoming an obsessive Jewish baker.
If you’d also like to try out the cinnamon babka, here is the recipe, with permission. I decided to make a babka, because a) it’s not something I’ve made before (see above), and b) a stuffed loaf overflowing with rich filling seemed like a perfect Succot treat. I chose cinnamon babka because it’s one of my favourite flavours, so if you want the recipe for a chocolate babka, you’ll just have to buy the book! OR enter the rafflecopter below to be in with a chance of winning a copy – hooray!
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Recipe reproduced with permission from Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna, published by Countryman Press.
For the dough
- 1 tbsp dry active yeast
- 1/3 cup (+ 1/2 tsp) sugar (70g + 1/2 tsp)
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water (110ml)
- 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (575g)
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk (or almond milk) (110ml)
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter or margarine, melted (170g)
- 2 eggs
For the sugar syrup
- 2/3 cup water (150ml)
- 1 cup sugar (200g)
- 1 tsp vanilla
For the filling
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (170g)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar (300g)
- 2 tbsp cinnamon
- pinch salt
Place the yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar in a small bowl. Add the lukewarm water and stir gently to mix. Set aside until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
In a medium saucepan, scald the milk (bring almost to a boil, until milk is just simmering.) Allow to sit for 1 minute to cool just slightly.
With mixer on low, add the water-yeast mixture, milk, and melted butter. Add eggs one at a time.
When the dough begins to come together, after 2 to 3 minutes, turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides. Raise the speed to high and mix for another 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is shiny, elastic, and smooth. It may seem like a long time to mix, but the result is worth the wait.
Place dough in a greased bowl with a damp towel on top. Allow to rise 1 to 2 hours.
Make sugar syrup while the dough is rising: Combine water, sugar, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside and cool. This syrup can be kept in the fridge for 2 to 3 months and makes enough for at least 2 batches of babka (6 medium babkas).
To make the filling, combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl.
Prepare three 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch greased loaf pans. Note: you can also make two larger round babkas that can be baked on baking sheets.
Cut the dough into three equal parts (use a food scale for precision). Roll out one part into a rectangle. Spread with one-third of the filling and roll up along the shorter side (to create more swirls inside).
Once the dough is formed into a swirled log, cut it straight down the middle so the filling is exposed. Cut 1/2 inch off each end. Layer each cut piece on top of on another and twist. Place in a greased loaf pan.
Repeat with the other two pieces of babka dough. Lightly drape a kitchen towel over the top of pans. Allow to rise another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F while the dough rises.
Bake for 20 minutes. Brush each babka with two layers of sugar syrup. Place back in the oven for approximately 15 minutes. The edges should be slightly brown and the middle should be slightly doughy.
When the babkas come out of the oven, immediately brush each with another 3 light layers of sugar syrup.
Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a butter knife, loosen sides of the babka from the pan and place on wire rack to cool.
I made the dairy-free version of the recipe and it came out beautifully. (I also substituted margarine in the filling).
Rather than grease the tins, I lined them with greaseproof paper (see photos). This seemed to work well.
Modern Jewish Baker: Challah, Babka, Bagels & More by Shannon Sarna is published by Countryman Press, and is available from Amazon, RRP £22.99. Or enter below for your chance to win a copy!