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EST. 2011 BY LIZ RUEVEN
Modern Jewish Baker & Pizza Rugelach; Basics & Way Beyond
Spicy Pizza Rugelach

Modern Jewish Baker & Pizza Rugelach; Basics & Way Beyond

Modern Jewish Baker; Challah, Babka, Bagels & More by Shannon Sarna, is a cookbook that will serve as both guide to baking basics and boundary bender for those ready for  adventures and mash-ups. Just as autumn’s chill arrives, you’ll want to fire up your ovens and start baking from this inspired volume.

Great news! We’ll be running a give-away of this tantalizing cookbook later this week! Be sure to check back in.

Chocolate Chip Hamantaschen Modern Jewish Baker
Chocolate Chip Hamantaschen; Modern Jewish Baker

Ready to finally master the perfect challah dough and some new braiding techniques? Sarna is a masterful instructor, using straightforward descriptors to explain how the dough should feel (easy to work with but not too loose), how to best achieve correct texture (you want fluffy), useful information on flour variations and essential tools (yes, it’s time to buy a digital scale so you can divide your strands evenly for braiding).

Modern Jewish Baker
Author, Shannon Sarna; photo: Emily Goodstein

In her first cookbook, Sarna focuses on seven iconic Jewish doughs: challah, babka, bagels, rugelach, hamantaschen, matzah and pita. With sumptuous photos, most of which she shot herself, the author touches lightly on history and launches each chapter with the basic doughs upon which she then builds recipes that veer off into both sophisticated (harissa and goat cheese rugelach) and playful (chocolate peppermint rugelach) directions.

There’s a comforting order to each chapter meant to build skills and confidence along this Jewish baking journey.  Basic Sweet Babka (with all of the recipes for chocolate filling, cinnamon sugar and crumb toppings) is followed by Basic Savory Babka (savory onion jam filling or kale basil pesto).

Modern Jewish Baker
Sweet Babkas; Modern Jewish Baker

Once you’ve mastered those mysteriously beautiful swirls, Sarna heads straight into S’mores Babka laced with the perfect trio of chocolate, gooey marshmallows and crisp graham crackers. Four pages in this chapter are dedicated to photos of shaping both oblong and round babkas.

Whew! You’re finally gonna nail this!

Basic challah is followed by whole grain challah and then all sorts of seeds and toppings are introduced. Everything bagel toppings (topping and filling recipes included) are followed by seasonal ideas like Walnut Cranberry Raisin Challah and what will definitely be my first deep dive into a sweet/savory realm called Balsamic Apple Date Stuffed Challah.

I’ve spent hours with Shannon’s book, maybe because baking is my weakest skill and I want to commit this season to improving my game. OR maybe because my grandfather, Simcha, was a baker of Jewish breads and sweets and this book has reminded me of his thick but nimble fingers and those pillowy onion rolls be brought to us every Sundays (OK- maybe her individual Onion Challah Rolls will be my first project).

bagel baking Modern Jewish Baker
Photo: Shannon Sarna

Ever thought of baking bagels? After checking out these recipes for basic, whole wheat, rye and a few more, you may want to take the challenge. Sarna is one step ahead as you may be thinking, SOOO if I go through the effort of baking my own bagels should I go 100% and make my own gravlax?

bagel and gravlax Modern Jewish Baker
Photo: Shannon Sarna

You’ll be relieved to see how easy it is to do just that.

After considering some of the more involved projects here, I’m ready to start with making Basic Pita Bread. With a short rise time of just 1.5-2/5 hours, early risers can have these warm pockets ready by lunchtime.

home baked pita bread

Shannon is Mom to two little girls and her playfulness, which many know well via her instagram feed, facebook page and through working with her as editor of the mega successful Jewish food blog, The Nosher, is all over these pages.

Mash-ups like pizza rugelach (recipe below) seem easy and approachable by following step-by-step instructions with encouraging notes about how simple rugelach dough is to make (I agree).

Watch for our give-away of Shannon Sarna’s Modern Jewish Baker; Challah, Babka, Bagels and More later this week.

Thinking about gifts for housewarmings, engagements, first apartment dwellers, Chanukah, those looking for inspiration? Modern Jewish Baker will surely thrill any recipient.

All images and recipe reproduced with permission, The Countryman Press, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

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