A Blessing of Bread

Recipes and Rituals, Memories and Mitzvahs

By Maggie Glezer


Two times James Beard award winning author Maggie Glezer is a woman of many hats.

While Maggie and her family were living in Tucson, Arizona in the early 90’s, this stay - at - home mom became passionate and obsessed with the science of baking.  As she told us, “instead of drinking too much, she chose baking too much”. Her baking addiction evolved into a successful avocation and career. Maggie’s interest in artisan bread baking took her to Manhattan, Kansas where she consulted with Tom McMahon, founder of the Bread Bakers Guild of America. an organization with a mission to shape the knowledge and skills of the artisan baking community through education. She contributed numerous articles to the Guild’s professional magazine. Then In 1993 she attended the Culinary Institute of America for an intense 10 day baking course with famed French baking expert, Professor Raymond Calvel.

Maggie’s dream was to write a book about baking. Now, finally armed with the knowledge to do so, she experienced a “chance” encounter with Julia Child, who was a special guest at a 1998 Baker’s Guild convention.  And, alongside Julia was her publisher, Ann Bramson. The publisher was bombarded with accolades about Maggie’s articles on bread baking, and invited Maggie to submit some to her. And so it happened; Maggie’s first award-winning book was born, Artisan Baking Across America: The Breads, The Bakers, The Best Recipes became a best selling reality winning a James Beard Book Award!

After this successful achievement, Maggie’s Atlanta friend, Chabad Rabbi Eliyahu Shusterman, suggested that her next book should be about challah baking. And so it is! A Blessing of Bread became Maggie’s second James Beard Winner, also received The IACP Cookbook Award and is a "must have" book for bread bakers.

It took her several years to research and test the recipes and it shows. A Blessing of Bread features recipes for challahs from around the world, as well as babkas and honey cakes, bagels and matzot, crackers and everyday breads such as deli rye.

The book is a journey into traditions – bread-making traditions of Jews from around the world:  Ashkenazi Jews from Austria-Hungary to Russia. Sephardic Jews from Greece to Syria.  North Africa Jews from Morocco to Ethiopia. Near Eastern Jews from Israel to Uzbekistan.

In addition to fabulous recipes, some beginner level, some more advanced, Maggie shares challah and bread baking tips –  including types of flour and supplies, stories about the origins and history of each recipe, and detailed pictures on multiple challah braiding techniques– tapered braids, single-stranded, high two-stranded, high four-stranded, twinned pan braids - to name a few.

This is a "must have" book if you love to bake bread, love to read about bread and its history, know someone who bakes bread, or just want to give a beautiful gift.

Maggie has graciously offered to share challah baking advice with KosherEye readers. If you have a question, email it to us at: ContactUs.

Some tips from Maggie:
•  Use a kitchen scale to weigh bread-baking ingredients
•  Use instant, quick rise, rapid rise yeast if possible
•  Bread dough can be held in the refrigerator while "ageing" for 2-3 days until ready to bake, at any point from beginning of rise to after shaping.  The dough should be covered with plastic wrap.  Just bring to room temperature and continue process.
•  Bread machines are especially good for disabled bakers – since they can do everything.
•  Freeze challahs in airtight plastic bags, and they can Last for months.

And Maggie shared her latest bread baking tip with us –  she no longer kneads the bread. She skips this step entirely:
"I mix all my ingredients together, make sure the dough is the correct consistency (add more flour or water, whatever the case might be) and put the dough in a container to ferment (rise). I don't use the food processor or the stand mixer anymore.  I have honestly not noticed any difference in my bread when I stopped kneading the dough.  However, that is because the kneading machines available to home bakers are so awful.  When I have used professional equipment, I notice a big difference. So if our kneading machines don't really make a difference in the quality of the bread, why bother? There is really nothing to this method; you are just skipping a step.  Any and all recipes can omit this step.  Try it!"

Please try two challah recipes from A Blessing of BreadCzernowitzer Challah and Savory Olive Oil Challah.

Guess what Maggie’s doing now?  She is following her newest obsession (no not Marshal Arts or Belly Dancing, been there, done that) but she is passionate about her new hobby – gold and silver smithing. We are certain that she will shine!

Maggie's amazing, award winning cookbooks are available on Amazon.com:  Artisan Baking and A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World

January 27, 2011

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