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I've long used Joan Nathan's Holiday The Jewish Holiday Baker and Marcy Goldman's A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking as my standbys in years past, and was very excited to see the upcoming Holiday Kosher Baker. My Polish grandmother was an excellent baker, and made many wonderful yeast breads and pastries, including cheese babkas, that I've been seeking to recapture.
Beginning with the gorgeous cover photo with its embossed silver pomegranate edges, this is a beautiful cookbook that has pulled out all the stops. The six main sections, which represent the major Jewish holidays chronologically (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, Passover and Shavuot), are color-coded, making it easy to quickly flip to a particular section. Beginning with a handy kosher baking encyclopedia that covers basic baking equipment and tips for cookies, cakes, tarts, mousses and pastries, you'll also find friendly advice on plating desserts, timing and planning holidays, and baking for Jewish lifecycle events.
I instantly fell in love with several of the High Holiday desserts, including the elegant apple and honey challah rolls, whole-wheat chocolate babka, and the babka bites. I found the dough for the whole wheat chocolate babka easy to work with; you use a combination of white whole wheat and all-purpose flour. The babka bites are great for impromptu guests or events; the recipe makes about 48 and they freeze well. Also, because these are individually portioned in mini-muffin cups, they're also less messy than handing out slices of babka. Other recipes I tried and will definitely make part of my regular rotation are the almond and olive oil cake (parve), pignons (parve), and the cheese babka (dairy, obviously) that reminded me of my grandmother's babkas and cheese coffeecakes.
The Passover section represents the bulk of the holiday recipes, with over 45 Passover recipes representing everything from cookies (biscotti, macarons, meringues) to candies, cupcakes and cakes (layer cake, strawberry Monaco, flourless chocolate amaretti cake), and tarts (the chocolate and pistachio tart and lemon tart with basil nut crust are my new favorites any time of year!). Non-gebrokts recipes are clearly labeled, and a sidebar on common baking ingredients not available for Passover also help to simplify planning.
In addition to favorites like babka, rugelach, (apple) latkes, and hamantaschen, you'll find a strong French influence throughout (Paula graduated from the Ritz Escoffier pastry school in Paris). Among the French-influenced offerings are brioche challah (dairy), tart tatin, madeleines, chestnut mousse, kouigh amann, pear and almond pithivier cake, cannelés, éclairs, and a variety of macarons (lime, mocha, chocolate mousse).With the exception of the Shavuot recipes, the vast majority are parve (many rely on margarine; I've had good luck with Earth Balance Buttery Baking Sticks). I also loved the fact that the book addresses special diets: in addition to being kosher, there are vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, and low-sugar recipes, truly something for everyone in your family and community.
Recipes are given in volume and metric measurements. Along the way, you'll find helpful sidebars that explain techniques and tips for success. With the exception of some of the French recipes (and the several that call for passion fruit), most of the recipes call for commonplace equipment and ingredients that should be readily available in your area. At least one calls for Voilà! Hallah Traditional Egg Bread Mix, now available at Walmart. Recipes are also labeled by their level of difficulty (easy, moderate, or multiple step), and there are several that would be perfect for pint-sized helpers. Several of the more difficult recipes come with helpful step-by-step photos, and nearly every recipe features a color photo of the final baked good.
"The Holiday Kosher Baker" is a gorgeous cookbook that I will find myself using year-round; Paula is a fantastic ambassador for expanding kosher (particularly Passover) desserts to include mousse, fresh fruit, and French-inspired dairy-free desserts that prove that "Passover desserts can be both flavorful and visually stunning."
(Review copy generously provided by Paula Shoyer and publicist)