Maggie Glezer’s labor of love “A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around The World” is truly that: a blessing. Not just a survey of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, North African, and Near Eastern breadmaking traditions, she also sprinkles in family stories, folktales, Yiddish proverbs, and prayers, including a section on the mitzvah of challah.
In addition to providing the blessing for Challah, Glezer also includes the Hebrew Shabbat blessings of the washing of hands and Hamotzi (Blessing of Bread).
On to the recipes themselves: divided by region, there are numerous challahs, from the relatively plain Lithuanian Challah (no sugar or eggs) to Doris Koplin’s Sweet Challah, liberally glazed with confectioner’s sugar, maraschino cherries, raisins, and pecans. For those of you who enjoy working with sourdough, nearly every recipe has a sourdough version available. Although I’ve yet to experiment with sourdough starters, I appreciated the versatility.
In addition to challah, there are also yeast breads like the Polish coffeecake Babka, an onion and poppyseed Purim ring, onion rounds, bagels, and Hungarian walnut and poppyseed pastries. From the Sephardic tradition, we have the Churek, Greek walnut and currant rolls, and the intriguing Pan de Calabaza (Pumpkin bread). North African recipes include whole wheat Sabbath Bereketei, the incredibly ornate Chubzeh, and Rarif (Egyptian Cheese Rolls). From the East, Persian and Iraqi flatbreads, pitas, several Yemenite recipes for pancakes and smoked preserved butter, Israeli matzoh, and Syrian and Iraqi pastries.
The preface also includes an incredibly detailed guide to braiding challah, from a simple single strand braid to a challenging nine-strand compound braid, along with folkloric shapes like little birds, braided wreaths, pinwheels, key challah, ladder challah for Shavuot, and hand challah.