Secrets of a Jewish Baker is a well rounded book primarily concerned with bread baking. The title may be a little misleading, because while the author may be Jewish, the recipes cover a broad spectrum of Jewish and non-Jewish recipes.
The book begins with chapters on basic materials and techniques, and then goes on to discuss the essentials of yeast breads in general, discussing different ways in which they can be made. It then goes into a chapter on corn and potato breads, followed by a chapter titled Breads of All Nations. Here you'll find well-written and delicious recipes for everything from Bavarian Farmer Bread and Cholesterol-Free Irish Raisin Bread, to Focaccia, Soft Pretzels, and Pita Bread. But it's the next chapter, simply titled Sourdough Breads, which really captivated me and drew me in.
What drew me in is that the breads in this section are all based on a three-stage rye sour, which is the first recipe of the chapter. I was a little put off at first because generally sourdough is based on dough that is naturally leavened, opposed to using commercial yeast. But after tasting breads that were made using this slow risen starter my thoughts were put to ease. In fact if there were one single reason to read this book it is for the recipe for Jewish Rye Bread, which is the shining star of the book.
The recipe, from start-to-finish took almost three days to make and was worth it. (This includes making the initial sour, which can be kept alive in the same way as a natural starter, cutting down greatly on the time of future loaves.) The loaves that emerged from my oven were as good as any New York bakery.
What I found interesting was the author's use of â€œaltus,â€ which is the utilization of stale rye bread that has been soaked in water and added to new dough. I had heard of this as a method used in Eastern Europe during World War Two as a way to â€œstretchâ€ the bread, but the author states it's more than that, that it is also for consistency. The recipe lists altus as optional, but I now believe the addition of altus (and of course the rye sour) is what gave it its distinct flavor and texture.
The book then goes on to include chapters on rolls, biscuits, muffins, and various quick breads. And it finishes with another interesting (and unique) chapter titled, Twelve Menus: A Morning of Baking. In this chapter the author discusses, and maps out, the difficult task of time management for the baker, which skill in itself.
Secrets of a Jewish Baker is well-written and the recipes work. This book will be a welcome addition to my cookbook library.