Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft

Uri Scheft is the bread whisperer. His Breads Bakery in New York and Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv are all the rage and rightfully so. Breaking Breads, his debut title, is one of the most beautifully done bread books I’ve come across. I must be honest, I’m not one to crave bread – bagels – yes – a hollowed out, well toasted New York everything bagel with a little cream cheese is my death row request. Uri’s book has me wanting all the breads, rolls, croissants, and bagels too! 

The pictures is this book are stunning – yes stunning. How can a Pain de Mie rise to stunning accolades? Trust me – every single recipe in this book is a thing of carby beauty – and I haven’t even hit upon the Sweets & Cookies portion yet. Does the thought of making bread from scratch seem overwhelming? Do not fear, there are many step-by-step process photos that will guide you along the way. I have a few friends that have already made several and are happy with the results. Now that the rush of the Fall cookbook season has calmed, I am going to be a baking up a storm from this book.

The recipes don’t stop at bread – Ricotta Streusel Babka, Savory Potato Hamantaschen, Date Mamoul (the falafel of cookies in Jewish and Muslim kitchens), and variations of Krembos (a variation of the English Whippet or Mallomar) are all awaiting us in this stunning collection of this baker’s work. There are many books that are keepers but there are few that cause me to audibly gasp with the anticipation of greatness – Uri Scheft has created such a book. 

If there is a baker in your life or someone who wishes to become a baker, this is the perfect gift this holiday season. Make someone happy, buy them this book. 

Artisan and the author are allowing us to share two recipes for our members to try now. This Chocolate Babka will be made soon – as I have a breakfast meeting next week – it will be perfect to take along. I will report back on my results. Please head over to our giveaway post for a chance to win a copy of Breaking Breads.

Jerusalem Bagel  Makes 6 Bagels

To be clear, the Jerusalem bagel has nothing to do with the American bagel. The only connection between the American bagel and the Jerusalem bagel is the hole they have in the middle. A Jerusalem bagel is a very airy, light, large oval-shaped ring; it’s also sometimes called ka’ak (in Turkey, it’s known as simit). There is also a Polish version that has a larger hole and a twisted ring. The dough is quite sweet, which is nice against the warm and toasty flavor of the sesame seeds and salt that coat the outside of the ring.

In Jerusalem, these bagels are sold with a little bit of za’atar and wrapped in a small square of newspaper. If you can wait until you get home, you rip off a piece of the bagel and dip it into a small dish of olive oil and then dunk it into the za’atar-wow, it is so good! I don’t think there is one vendor in all of East Jerusalem who sells the bread ring without za’atar. This is a bread that must be eaten fresh-it dries out quickly and once it does, it isn’t nearly as delicious. Many of the best vendors sell the fresh-from-the-oven rings throughout the day. The good news is that Jerusalem bagels freeze beautifully and defrost quickly- a brief warm-up in a hot oven brings them right back to life.

For the dough:

  • 280 grams (1 cup plus 3 tablespoons) cool room-temperature water
  • 25 grams (3 tablespoons) fresh yeast (or 8 grams [2¼ teasoons] active dry yeast)
  • 500 grams (4 cups), plus extra for kneading and shaping, all-purpose flour (sifted, 11.7% protein)
  • 60 grams (2½ teaspoons) dry milk powder
  • 50 grams (¼ cup) granulated sugar
  • 15 grams (1 tablespoon) fine salt
  • 20 grams (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) extra-virgin olive oil

For the egg wash and topping: 

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • A pinch fine salt
  • 60 grams (6 tablespoons) sesame seeds
  • A sprinkle of course salt

Make the dough: Pour the water into the bowl of a stand mixer, add the yeast, and whisk briefly to combine. Add the flour, milk powder, sugar, and salt. Attach the dough hook and mix on low speed until the flour is about halfway incorporated, about 30 seconds. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, and once the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until it looks smooth, 3 minutes.

Stretch and fold the dough, then let it rise: Use a plastic dough scraper to transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Take one corner of the dough and stretch the dough until it tears, then fold it on top of the center. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat until it has been stretched and folded about 12 times and is shaped into a nice round ball. Lightly flour a large bowl, set the dough in the bowl, and lightly flour the top. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside in a draft-free spot at room temperature until the dough has nearly doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.

Divide and round the dough, then let it proof: Remove the dough from the bowl and set it on a lightly floured surface. Divide it into 6 equal pieces. Fold the corners of one piece up onto the center, then flip the piece over and using a cupped hand, push and pull the dough in a circular motion on the work surface to create a round ball. Repeat with each piece. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Shape the dough: Pick up a piece of dough and stick a finger into the center to create a hole (like a doughnut). Gently use 2 fingers to make the hole larger until the dough is the size of a large doughnut. Set the shaped dough on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and repeat with the other pieces. Cover the shaped pieces of dough with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for a few minutes. Then repeat, stretching the hole to be a little bit bigger (being careful not to deflate the dough), cover, and set the dough aside to rest for another 10 minutes.

Adjust one oven rack to the upper-middle position and one to the lower-middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

Bake the dough: Stretch each shaped piece of dough to make a 12-inch-long oval ring. Set 3 rings on each prepared sheet pan. Make the egg wash by whisking the egg, water, and salt together in a small bowl. Brush the top of each ring with egg wash (see Note), and then sprinkle heavily with sesame seeds and coarse salt. Place a sheet pan on each of the oven racks and bake for 8 minutes; then rotate the bottom sheet to the top and the top to the bottom, turning the sheets as well. Continue baking until the bagels are golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and cool on the sheet pans. Jerusalem bagels are best eaten within a few hours of baking.

Note: Always brush egg wash over dough from two different directions so you don’t get any drips. I like to brush all of the loaf or rolls in one direction, then turn the sheet pan around to brush from the opposite direction.

The Famous Chocolate Babka  Makes 2 Babkas

When I create a new pastry, it is very important for me to make a psychological connection to the pleasures of childhood, and in Israel, just about every schoolchild eats a lunchtime sandwich made with a chocolate spread. To tap into that taste memory, I use Nutella to give this babka its intensely chocolate taste. The croissant-like babka dough is loaded with Nutella and chocolate chips and then twisted into a loaf shape.

I first called this chocolate krantz cake, but in all honesty, that name didn’t effectively communicate the deep, ephemeral pleasure of biting into the wonderfully rich and deeply chocolaty pastry. We decided to call it chocolate babka instead, and within 3 months, our babka was selected by New York Magazine as the best in New York City. We went from selling a few dozen a day to a few hundred a day. It remains the most popular item at Breads Bakery, and we are very proud that our babka sparked a babka trend across the country.

For the dough:

  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 120 grams (½ cup) whole milk (at room temperature)
  • 20 grams (2½ tablespoons) fresh yeast or 6 grams (2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 280 grams (2¼ cups) all-purpose flour (sifted, 11.7%), plus extra for dusting, kneading, and shaping
  • 220 grams (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) pastry or cake flour (sifted, 8.5 to 9%)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 75 grams (⅓ cup) granulated sugar
  • Large pinch fine salt
  • 80 grams (5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) unsalted butter (at room temperature)

For the chocolate filling:

  • 420 grams (1½ cups) Nutella
  • 150 grams (1 cup) bittersweet chocolate chips

For the simple syrup:

  • 160 grams (3/4 cup) granulated white sugar
  • 120 grams (1/2 cup) water

Make the dough: Whisk the vanilla into the milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Use a fork or your fingers to lightly mix the yeast into the milk. Then, in this order, add the flours, eggs, sugar, salt, and finally the butter in small pinches.

Mix on the lowest speed, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, and to pull the dough off the hook as it accumulates there and break it apart so it mixes evenly, until the dough is well combined, about 2 minutes (it will not be smooth). If the dough is very dry, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time; if the dough looks wet, add more all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and mix until the dough is smooth and has good elasticity, 4 minutes.

Stretch and fold the dough: Lightly dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out on top; lightly dust the top of the dough and the interior of a large bowl with flour. Grab the top portion of the dough and stretch it away from you, tearing the dough. Then fold it on top of the middle of the dough. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the stretch, tear, and fold. Continue to do this until you can stretch a small piece of dough very thin without it tearing, about 5 minutes. Then use your hands to push and pull the dough against the work surface and in a circular motion to create a nice round of dough. Set the ball in the floured bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Chill the dough: Set the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours before proceeding with the recipe.

Roll the chilled dough: Lightly coat 2 standard loaf pans with room-temperature unsalted butter. Unwrap the cold babka dough and set it on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the babka dough into a 9-by-24-inch rectangle.

Fill and roll the dough: Spread the Nutella in an even layer over the dough, all the way to the edges. Then sprinkle the chocolate chips in an even layer over the Nutella, across the entire surface of the dough. Then roll the dough from the top down, forming a tight cylinder. Pick up the cylinder, holding one end in each hand, and gently stretch it. Using a bread knife, slice the cylinder crosswise into quarters so you have a total of 4 filled segments.

Twist the strips to make the babkas: Take 2 pieces of dough, overlap one over the other to form an X, and twist the ends together like the threads on a screw so you have at least 2 twists on each side of the X. Repeat with the remaining pieces.

Let the babkas proof: Place each twisted babka in a prepared loaf pan. Cover the pans with a dry kitchen towel and set them aside in a warm, draft-free spot until the dough rises 1 to 2 inches above the rim of the pan and is very soft and jiggly to the touch, 1½ to 2 hours, depending on how warm your room is.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the babkas: Place the babkas in the oven and bake until they are dark brown and baked through, about 40 minutes; check them after 25 minutes, and if they are getting too dark, tent them loosely with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Meanwhile, make the simple syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and set aside the syrup to cool.

Remove the pans from the oven and, while the babkas are still hot, brush the tops with the simple syrup. Once the babkas are completely cooled, turn them out of the loaf pans, slice, and serve.

Excerpted from Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft.

Photograph Credit: Con Poulos.





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  • ravensfan  on  December 3, 2016

    Definitely a novice.

  • Jenny  on  December 3, 2016

    Ravensfan – to enter the giveaway- please make sure you leave a comment on the giveaway post.

  • vellner  on  December 17, 2016

    The ultimate 😊

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