Top critical review
13 people found this helpful
on June 1, 2007
I was looking forward to reviewing this book for my food blog. The bread is traditionally served on Shabbat (Sabbath) meals by Ashkenazi Jews. It generally includes eggs and, at least in the U.S., comes in a braided loaf form for most of the year, and a round turban shape for the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
There was much good I found in the book. The author is a religious Jew and offers a lot of information on the theological and culture links. There is also more information than I've ever seen in one place on how to handle and shape the dough, including variations like a braided round challah that I've never seen. We'll get to some more good points in a moment.
But calling the volume A Comprehensive Guide to Challah and Bread Baking is overblown and inaccurate. For example, the only recipe for "regular" challah dough is called Always Perfect No-Egg Challah. The title alone suggests what anyone familiar with the bread knows: eggs are a normal component. I wondered whether strict kosher food laws might consider eggs as meat, and so something that could not be served with dairy, but a little research showed that eggs are considered pareve - neither meat nor dairy. Nothing wrong with variations, but I don't see how a book can be "comprehensive" without a version of the most traditional approach.
The basic recipe also called for 16 to 17 cups of flour for what it said were 6 large loaves. Three cups of flour are about a pound, adding the weight of oil, sugar, and sugar, I'm guessing that the "large" loaves would be about a pound each - not so large from my view. I didn't bother making this fundamental recipe because that's also far more bread than my family will go through before it goes stale, though under Jewish law you're supposed to eat three meals on Shabbat and start each with two loaves, so I'm guessing that's where the volume came from. However, those who are not religious Jews are likely to be overwhelmed by the amount.
Back to what I liked: I learned a technique of using a rolling pin to make perfect dough ropes which, in turn, helps create the proper braided shape. The only hint that I thought was missing was doing a double egg wash: once, letting that dry, and then a second time to help achieve the perfect color a good bakery can get. There's also an interesting collection of other recipes, ranging from bagels and pita (though either a long-baked or no-pocket type, again not the traditional one) to some Middle Eastern breads and dips that I've never before seen.
The upshot: some people, like me, will find a lot of good in the $35 book - and you can see that more money than usual went into a nicely crafted hardbound with abundant color photography. But if you're new to bread baking and want a traditional loaf of challah, you'd at least need to supplement this volume with a recipe from another source.