Carrot Loaf Cake

Best Laid Plans

Last week I made this truly beautiful spice marble cake that I was going to share with you. It was a little bit of a production, but it didn’t take any special skills. I was so excited because it was so impressive looking and wasn’t the expected chocolate marble cake that I grew up with.

Unfortunately, I just really didn’t like the flavor profile of the light part of the batter. So before I can give you this recipe, it needs some work. But Passover begins next week so don’t look for it any time soon.

Last Pre-Passover Cake

Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals. It commemorates our liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt by God and our freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. During the holiday, we don’t eat any leavened bread or anything that contains grain that has fermented. Since I need to clear my house of all of these products, this carrot cake is my last leavened product before the holiday.

Cooking With Andrew

These days it would be more accurate to call my blog “Lisa and Andrew Cook.” Andrew is my husband of more than 34 years and the man who takes most of my wonderful photographs. Since we are both pretty much retired, we are getting to spend a lot of quality time together.

Andrew has taken up some of the cooking. He now makes brunches and occasionally even is making dinner. This recipe is from the Bon Appétit website and thought that we could have fun making it together. I was right! With a couple of tweaks, it turned out beautifully. Unlike the layered carrot cakes with LOTS of frosting and those marzipan carrots on top, this is an easy, casual loaf cake that anyone can make. The result is a dense, moist, fragrant cake.

Recipe


Ingredients for One 9 x 5 inch Loaf

1 lb. cream cheese (2 8-oz. packages

¾ cup vegetable oil, plus more for pan

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

¾ tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground ginger

2 tsp. ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting

1 cup chopped walnuts

1¾ tsp. kosher salt, divided

¾ lb. carrots

1¾ cups sugar, divided

2 large eggs

3 tsp. pure vanilla extract, divided

2 teaspoons Bourbon (Optional)

Directions

Do Ahead

First things first, we need to get that 1 lb. cream cheese to room temperature. If you don’t have time to let it sit out on the counter for several hours, cut it into 1″ pieces and place on a heatproof plate on top of your stove. Alternatively, you can microwave the plate of cream cheese in 10-second increments until just softened but not melted, about 30 seconds total. [I left mine out overnight in a cool kitchen and it was perfect.]

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Lightly grease a 9×5″ loaf pan with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Line pan lengthwise with parchment paper, leaving about a 2″ overhang. This will help you lift the cake up and out of the pan. [Important note! If you are using a smaller pan, you’re going to need to hold back some batter—you’ll need at least a ½” between the batter and the lip of the pan to account for oven rise, otherwise your cake will overflow. You can bake remaining batter in muffin tins if you have them.]

Down to Business

Whisk 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 2 tsp. ground ginger, ¾ tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. cinnamon, and 1½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or (1 tsp. Morton) kosher salt in a medium bowl.

Peel ¾ lb. carrots and cut off knobby end. Grate on the large holes of a box grater right into bowl of dry ingredients or use the large-holed grater of a food processor. Use your hands to toss until well coated. Add the chopped walnuts.

Scrape half of cream cheese into a large bowl. (This is for the batter and the other half is for the icing!) Using a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon, spread cream cheese around sides of bowl, working it a few times to help soften. Add 1½ cups sugar and keep working with the spatula to completely incorporate until it’s no longer gritty and all of the sugar is dissolved, about 15 seconds. Crack 2 large eggs into a bowl; then whisk until mixture is very smooth. It might look separated and chunky at first, but whisk vigorously and it will eventually come together. Slowly stream in ¾ cup vegetable oil, whisking constantly to homogenize. Add 2 tsp. vanilla extract and whisk again to combine.

Fold dry ingredients into egg mixture with your spatula until almost no streaks of floury bits remain.

Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with the back of a spoon or spatula.

Ready to Bake

Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 80–90 minutes. (I used a 9×5 inch pan and baked it for 80 minutes; then turned off oven and opened the door a little. I left the cake in the oven for an additional 10 minutes and it was perfect.) Let cool 20 minutes, then remove from pan using parchment overhang. If the edges are sticking, slide a butter knife around the edge to help release. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Making the Frosting

While cake cools, make your icing. Scrape remaining 8 oz. cream cheese into a medium bowl. Similarly to what you did earlier, use a spatula to work it around sides of bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and ¼ tsp. Diamond Crystal (or a pinch of Morton) kosher salt and Bourbon, if using. Mix with spatula to bring everything together, paddling it as necessary, until icing is very smooth and shiny. (This will take some elbow grease, but don’t give up!) Cover and keep chilled until cake has cooled.

Place cooled cake on a platter or board. Dollop cream cheese frosting on top and make swirls and swooshes with the back of a small spoon as you spread it out to make it look cute. Dust lightly with more cinnamon. Slice with a sharp chef’s knife (not a serrated one) to serve.

Store cooled cake in the refrigerator. I used a clean, clear plastic shoe box that I lined with waxed paper. It will keep for several days.

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Caramelized Apple Pancake

Handsome Old Dog Learns New Tricks

I have been married for a bit over 34 years.  I think that it is safe to say that the closest my husband came to cooking in 32 of them had been to pour a bowl of cereal and milk. However, since Andrew has retired, he has become interested in learning to do some of the cooking. I know! (Our son seems to be learning somewhat faster, for which I applaud Frances.)

Andrew decided to first tackle brunch, an especially good place to start since I rarely do that meal myself. He has become quite adept at making different kinds of pancakes and waffles and I enjoy them all. it One of my favorites is the Amaretti Mascarpone Pancake. But for the past couple of weeks, he has made this Caramelized Apple Pancake. This just might be the best pancake yet. It is similar to a Dutch Baby.  This is the third or fourth different recipe he has tried and it is clearly the keeper. The original recipe called for skim milk, but the buttermilk we used gave the batter an almost sponge cake-like texture that absorbed the flavors and liquid from the apples. Try it and you may never need to go out for brunch again.

Lessons Learned

Now that Andrew has experienced some successes, he recently tackled a chicken curry and it was delicious. I made the accompanying dal and the rice pilaf since he hasn’t quite figured out how to put an entire dinner together, but that just made the process more fun. He is even talking about meal planning!

I have learned a few things from all of this: 1) never give up hope; 2) don’t give cooking advice unless asked; 3) don’t be in a rush to eat since his efforts so far take a very long time to come to fruition and 4) don’t get upset that every, bowl, spatula, cutting board and knife was used to make one meal!

You do need a heavy-duty cast iron pan for this recipe and flavorful apples such as Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious or one of the heirloom baking apples now more readily available in many grocery stores. I would not use the ubiquitous Granny Smith unless you truly cannot find one of the alternatives.

Caramelized Apple Pancake

JeanMarie BrownsonDinner at Home from Chicago Tribune Food and Dining, 1/06/2019 

Yield: 2-4 portions, depending on your appetite

Ingredients

3 large or 4 medium apples such as Honeycrisp or Yellow Opal, or a mixture

6 Tablespoons granulated sugar

6 Tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

2 generous teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup buttermilk 

4 large eggs

1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel, core and slice apples into 1/4-inch thick slices. In a large bowl, mix the apples with the sugars and cinnamon
  2. Put milk and eggs in a blender and mix (You can also do this by hand). Add the flour and salt and mix only enough to incorporate the flour.
  3. Heat one large oven-proof skillet (10-inches measure across the top) over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt. Add the apples to the melted butter and cook, stirring occasionally until the apples have softened – about 10-12 minutes. 
  4. When the apples have softened, remove them from the heat. Make sure that the apples are evenly arranged to cover the bottom of the pan but don’t obsess over it, please. Slowly pour the batter over the apples. (While my husband has started in the middle of the pan and worked outwards, you may want to try it the other way around. This might allow the pancake to poof more evenly.) 
  5. Transfer the pan immediately to the hot oven. Bake until puffed and golden (about 25 minutes). Serve immediately, flipping the wedges over on the plate so that the apples are on top, if desired. 

Apple Cinnamon Noodle Kugel

As we prepare to complete the 10 Days of Awe with the observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance, Jews everywhere not only each reflect on how they could become a better person in the coming year, but also on what they will eat to break the fast.  I don’t know about you, but if I have been fasting for more than 24 hours, I don’t want to wait while something heats up in order to break my fast. Some people set out an elaborate dairy spread, but I also want something traditional, quick and delicious. So while I likely will have bagels and lox for my husband, I want kugel. People tend to fall into two camps – those who like potato kugel and those who like noodle kugel. Some swing both ways, but I’m not one of them. And while I always say that I never met a potato that I didn’t like, I’m actually not a fan of potato kugel.

This simple and wonderful recipe is perfect for a “break-the-fast” or as a side to the pre-fast meal. It is sweet and flavorful without being cloying and can be eaten hot or at room temperature. I’ve been known to snack on it right from the fridge. Unlike many noodle kugels, especially the kind you find at synagogue functions, this does not contain cheese or vanilla. While those make perfect-looking pieces to serve, I personally find them overly sweet, overly heavy and often with a phony vanilla taste. This kugel doesn’t require any of that. The natural apple flavor is clean, naturally sweet with just a little “bite” from the cinnamon. The pineapple adds a very subtle background note.

The recipe was passed down to me from the actor Mandy Patinkin’s Aunt Ida – a lovely woman who attended my synagogue and was a neighbor for many years. I have made a few small tweaks, but the essential recipe is from the Patinkin family. It pairs beautifully with roast chicken or brisket and is also ideal for a brunch. Left-overs never last long, but it does also freeze well. I make several different noodle kugel recipes throughout the year, but this one is still my favorite. And you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it!

May you all be sealed in the Book of Life.

Apple Cinnamon Noodle Kugel Apple Cinnamon Kugel

Yield: About 10 to 12 portions

Ingredients

8 ounces medium/broad egg noodles

1 stick (4 ounces) of unsalted butter (or margarine if you need it to be pareve) melted

1/2 cup of granulated sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon or to taste (It will partly depend on how sweet your apples are, but this is generally what I use.) [Reserve about 2-3 Tablespoons for the topping or just make an additional amount which is what I generally do.]

1 lemon cut in half for rubbing on apples to prevent them from turning brown

6 medium flavorful apples peeled, rubbed with a cut lemon and thinly sliced (Macintosh is traditional, but pretty much any good baking apple except for Granny Smith, which I think gets too woody.)

Kosher salt to taste but about 3/4 to 1 teaspoon should be right

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

8.5 ounces of canned, crushed pineapple in juice or syrup (It depends what I can find. Syrup was in the original recipe, but my preference is for pineapple in juice. If it is in syrup, I might go a little lighter on the sugar.)

About 1/4 cup of unsalted butter, melted  for drizzling over the top (Optional)

The original recipe called for crushed cornflakes tossed with cinnamon sugar which was very big in the 1950’s. It goes over the top of the kugel before baking. I don’t use it myself. I simply sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon sugar most of the time, and if I’m getting fancy, I sometimes add chopped nuts or crushed amaretti cookies. 

Apple Cinnamon Kugel1

Directions

  1. Prepare your apples while the water is boiling and the noodles are cooking. Place them in a very large bowl. Squeeze a bit of the lemon juice over the apples to prevent them from browning.
  2. Cook the noodles according to the shortest cooking time on the package directions – usually 8 minutes. Drain the cooked noodles very well.
  3. Heat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. Mix in all of the remaining ingredients to the apples, including the drained noodles and melted butter. Save adding the eggs for last. If you forgot to set aside some of the cinnamon sugar, don’t fret. This is a very forgiving recipe and you can just make a little more to add at the end, which is generally what I do. It will look as if the mixture is too much for the pan, but trust me – it fits. Do NOT skimp on the apples!
  5. Pour the mixture into a buttered (margarined or PAM’d) 11 x 9 x 2-inch rectangular pan and spread it evenly. If you are using the cornflakes topping, add it now. Otherwise just sprinkle with the reserved or additional cinnamon sugar. This would be when you add your nuts or amaretti cookies if you are using them. I like to drizzle a bit of additional melted butter on top, but you don’t have to. It’s just better if you do!
  6. Bake for 20 minutes uncovered. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and continue baking for about another hour or until well-browned. Allow it to cool a bit before cutting in order for the “pudding” to set. If you plan on serving it at room temperature, this won’t be an issue. And no matter how it looks, it tastes AMAZING. My father always used to tell my mother when her incredibly flaky pie crust would crumble when cut that we weren’t making a dress out of it. He would then proceed to eat a huge piece of her apple pie and say that it was a nice sample and cut himself another slice which he also devoured.

 

 

 

Apricot Almond Cake

My husband is 6’3″ and weighs 170 pounds. So let’s just say he is quite thin. His idea of watching his weight is to eat 2 desserts instead of three in the course of a day. I’d hate him, except for the fact that I love him so much. On the other hand, I never feel guilty for baking because I know that I’m not leading him astray. His weight, blood pressure and cholesterol are all textbook wonderful.

He truly enjoys having a piece of cake or some cookies with his morning coffee and after dinner. We are just about finished with my most recent cake so I was looking for something to make that didn’t require me going to the store. I looked through my well-worn copy of Beard on Bread for inspiration and came across his Apricot Bread. However, when I read the recipe it just seemed lacking somehow to me and so I made a few tweaks. This lovely coffee (or tea) cake is easy to make and stores well. In fact, the flavors improve and intensify each day, so if you want it at its peak for serving to guests, I would recommend making it a couple of days ahead. It is not uber-rich or sweet and you will notice that the only fat comes from the 2 eggs and the almonds. My husband likes it best slathered with butter and toasted under the broiler! I enjoy it straight.

Apricot Almond Cake from the Beard on Bread cookbook and tweaked by me

Apricot Almond Cake3

Yield: 1 bundt cake – 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

1 cup boiling water

1.5 cups of dried apricots

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Zest of one orange

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2.75 cups of all-purpose, unbleached flour OR 2.5 cups of flour and 1/4 cup of stone ground corn meal

3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon) double-acting baking powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 cup coarsely chopped almonds (I used mostly blanched almonds but threw in a few raw almonds since I didn’t have quite enough)

Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Pour the boiling water over the apricots and allow them to stand until just tender. Since my dried apricots were very moist already, I only let them stand for 10 minutes. Drain off the water, reserving it. If the reserved isn’t quite a cup, add enough cold tap water to make one cup.
  3. Roughly chop the apricots. Toss the apricots with 1/4 cup of flour and set aside.
  4. Pour the liquid into a large mixing bowl and add the baking soda, salt, sugar and eggs and mix well. Then add the orange zest, vanilla and almond extract and mix through.
  5. Add the apricots, remaining flour, baking powder and nuts and mix until everything is well mixed.
  6. Butter and flour (or use the baking spray which has flour in it and works amazingly well) a large 10 cup bundt pan, preferably non-stick. Pour the batter, which is fairly thick, into the pan and even it out. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake is a lovely golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack and then turn out the cake to continue cooling completely. Apricot Almond Cake4Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Wrap tightly or store in a covered cake plate.

Apricot Almond Cake2

Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins

I have a fairly extensive collection of cookbooks that I have amassed over the years. I enjoy reading them the way other people enjoy novels, although I like those too. I recently picked up my cookbook from Macrina, a popular artisanal bakery in Seattle. I recall buying the cookbook for a particular recipe that I had seen somewhere, only to find that it wasn’t actually included in this collection. Oh well. I hadn’t really made anything from the cookbook yet, but in glancing through it, I came across this vegan recipe for a breakfast muffin. Not actually being vegan, I will only bake things that would be delicious to a non-vegan and which doesn’t require that I purchase a lot of flours and ingredients that I wouldn’t otherwise normally use. This recipe fits that bill. The only purchase I needed to make was for an egg replacement since up until now I have used aquafaba or applesauce. This recipe does not require any special skills or techniques and results in 8 fluffy, fragrant and filling muffins. The texture is light and this recipe produces one of THE best muffins I have ever had. The ginger is a back-note so if you are not a ginger person, don’t let this put you off. Give them a try – you won’t be disappointed! Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins8

Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins from More from Macrina by Leslie Mackie with Lisa Gordanier

Yield: 8 standard-size muffins

Ingredients

Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins5

1.25 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup stone-ground whole wheat flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons egg replacement (I used Bob’s Mill)

1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1 cup walnut halves and pieces, toasted and coarsely chopped

2 ripe medium bananas (I like mine almost black for baking when the flavor is the most developed)

2 teaspoons peeled, grated fresh ginger (I always have a jar of this in the fridge for and find that it works beautifully and cuts down on my effort!)

2 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)

1/3 cup amber agave syrup

3/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/3 cup canola oil

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Garnish

4 small pieces of candied (crystallized) ginger, cut in half on an angle

1/4 cup turbinado or demerara sugar (which actually I forgot to use!)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the rack in the center position. Oil the top of a standard-size muffin tin with canola oil and line 8 cups with paper liners. Set aside.
  2. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, egg substitute and salt in a large bowl. Add the toasted, chopped walnuts and mix well.
  3. In a blender or food processor, puree the bananas until very smooth. Add the canola oil, orange juice, vanilla and agave syrup and pulse through. Using a spatula, mix in the lemon zest and ginger until thoroughly combined.
  4. Working quickly and gently with a rubber spatula, fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients in 2 to 3 additions. Do not over-mix which can result in tough muffins – and who wants those?) Only fold until all of the flour is moistened. Don’t worry about a few lumps.
  5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling them to the top and mounding them somewhat. (As they bake you will see why you oiled the top of the muffin tin.) Top each muffin with a piece of ginger and a sprinkle of the sugar – which I forgot. (If you use the sugar it will glisten a bit more than mine but should not be enough to really affect the flavor. I added a bit post-baking for the photos.) Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins4Bake for 30 minutes or until the muffins are golden brown on top and a skewer or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins3
  6. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then carefully lift the muffins out of the pan and directly onto the wire rack to cool completely. The muffins are still a bit soft at this point. Once cooled – yummmmmmmmmm! Vegan Banana Ginger Muffins7

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

We’ve reached that time in the summer when heirloom tomatoes are beautiful and affordable and my herbs are growing like crazy on my terrace. I like to make do-ahead meals and when the temperatures are in the 80’s and 90’s vegetarian meals are especially welcome. The produce will never be better than it is right now.

I came across this recipe for a tart that with a few tweaks of my own is a perfect dish for a light summer supper or brunch. All it needs is a green salad and a crisp Chardonnay and you couldn’t ask for a more satisfying summer meal.

My recipe for the crust makes extra so you can throw together a quick galette for two later in the week.

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart from Tasting Table and tweaked by me

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta

Yield: One 11-inch tart plus enough extra dough for a 7 to 8-inch galette

Ingredients

For the crust

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus up to 1/4 cup more for dusting

1 cup grated cheese (Gruyere, Parmesan, Asiago or Pecorino Romano)

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons ice water

For the filling

8 ounces whole milk ricotta

8 ounces goat cheese (chevre)

1 cup grated Parmesan, Asiago or Romano

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

2 teaspoons lemon zest (I used 1 large lemon)

3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 large egg

Healthy pinch of red pepper flakes

1.5 teaspoons Kosher salt

For assembly

About 1 pound of heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick (I also used some multi-colored grape tomatoes to fill in spaces and because I liked the look)

1 Tablespoon olive oil (I used a lemon-flavored EVOO but any will do)

1 Tablespoon honey or Agave

Flake sea salt and freshly ground black pepper for sprinkling

Fresh basil and mint leaves for garnish

Directions 

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, cheese and salt together. Cut the butter into small pieces, then add to the food processor. Pulse at 1-second intervals until butter is the size of peas—should be about 10 quick pulses. Add the ice water and pulse again about 10 times until the mixture is crumbly but holds together when pinched. Lay a clean tea towel on a work surface. Dump the crumbly dough mixture into the center of the towel. Grab the four corners of the towel together and twist to create a beggar’s purse, pressing the dough into a round. Use your hands to pack and flatten the round. Transfer to plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate for at least one hour. Any unused dough can be frozen for a future use.
  2. When you are ready to bake, roll out the dough on a floured piece of parchment or a pastry cloth to about a 14-inch round. Brush off any excess flour and drape the dough over the rolling pin to transfer to the tart pan. Press the sides against the pan. In making this again, I would create a bit of a rolled over edge to my crust as I do for all my pies. [The original instructions said to use your rolling pin, run it across the top of the tart pan to trim any excess dough. I did this, which is what you see in the photo, but personally, I prefer a somewhat higher edge and will create one in future.] The excess dough can be frozen and used for a small galette. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour to reduce shrinkage.
  3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  [The original recipe said to bake at 425 degrees F. but I found that to be too high for my oven and my crust is a little darker than my ideal.]
  4. Make the filling by combining all of the filling ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Set this aside until you are ready to use it. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta7
  5. Using the tines of a fork, pierce the dough all over. Line the dough with foil and fill with baking weights or dried beans which can be stored when cool to use over and over. Bake until the dough is puffed and golden along the edges, about 15 minutes.  Remove the weights and foil and continue baking for about 10 minutes more. Remove the tart shell from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Do NOT turn off the oven. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta5
  6. Pour the filling into the tart shell and smooth it with a spatula. Layer the tomatoes in a concentric circle (or any pattern you like) over the filling. Drizzle with the olive oil and the honey and sprinkle the tomatoes with the flake salt and cracked black pepper. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta4Bake until the tomatoes are wilted and the filling is set, about 30 minutes. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta3Allow the tart to cool completely. Garnish with fresh mint and basil leaves, then slice and serve. Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta8

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Babka

Chocolate Babka1

One of the many joys of attending a Shabbat morning service is the Oneg Shabbat that follows (literally “Sabbath delight”). This can be as small as a few cookies or slices of poppy seed cake or can encompass an entire luncheon. There are usually songs and blessings and sometimes a lecture or discussion as well. It’s a nice time to catch up with people and it’s especially nice if you attended an entire service, which in the Conservative and Orthodox traditions will have lasted for several hours. My personal favorite of all the possible Oneg offerings, though, is a really good chocolate babka or krantz cake. This is a yeast cake with swirls and swirls of chocolate running through it. There is nothing like eating it still warm from the oven when the chocolate is a bit oozy, but since observant Jews do not do any cooking on the Sabbath, it is usually eaten at room temperature.

This is a cake that takes some time to make and involves a number of steps. If I were living in Israel – or in a community with a really good Kosher bakery – I probably would simply go out and buy my babka. But since I live in downtown Chicago and my current synagogue doesn’t go in for this treat, I have to make it myself if I am going to indulge in all of its chocolaty, yeasty goodness. I originally made the version by Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook Jerusalem. I thought this time I might try a different recipe that I found online for a Nutella Babka. It killed me to do it, but the dough got thrown out. I just knew that it was simply NEVER going to rise. It was like lead. So I went back to Ottolenghi. I made just a couple of adjustments, including adding a chocolate hazelnut spread which caught my eye in the other recipe. If you don’t mind a bit of a project, this is really worth making. Otherwise, get yourself to synagogue and hope for a great Oneg!

Chocolate Hazelnut Babka

Yield: Two 9 x 5 inch loaves

Ingredients

 Dough
4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons active dried yeast
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
4 large eggs
1/2 cup tap water
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
Canola or other neutral oil, for greasing the pan

Filling
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
About 19 ounces of a good quality chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella

Syrup
2/3 cup water
1.25 cups granulated sugar

Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook on low speed until it comes together; this may take a couple of minutes. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a bit at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you might need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I added a Tablespoon or 2 of flour to the sides of the bowl to make sure that all of the dough came together and pulled away from the sides.

Coat a large bowl with oil and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Since it is the middle of winter and rather cold here, I simply left my dough on the windowsill next to the cold glass. Leave in fridge (or by the windowsill) for at least half a day, preferably overnight. [Dough will not fully double, so don’t fret if it doesn’t look like it grew by more than half. It should, however, be puffy.]

Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper, which is also then oiled. Take half of the dough, leaving the other half chilled. Roll out on a lightly floured counter to about a 10 by 15 inches. The long side should be facing you. Trim the dough to be an even rectangle.

Spread half of the hazelnut chocolate spread evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border all around. Scatter half of the chocolate chips over the spread. Brush the end farthest away from you with tap water. Roll the dough up tightly with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Trim the last 1/2-inch off each end of log so that they are even.

Using a serrated knife, gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay the strips next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan folding extra underneath to fit. Repeat process with second loaf.

Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1.5 hours at warm room temperature. Since I tend to keep my house on the cool side, I heated my oven to the lowest setting (in my case, 170 degrees F.) and when the oven came to temperature I turned it off, while I finished forming the second loaf. I then placed the loaves in the warm oven to rise for 1 hour. After an hour, I removed the loaves to the counter to preheat the oven for baking.

Bake and finish cakes: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the dough comes out clean. Because of all of the chocolate, this is not a perfect process so also use your nose and eyes to tell if the babka is fully baked. If your babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil. Chocolate Babka22

Preparing the syrup: While babkas are baking, make the syrup. Bring sugar and water to a boil and mix until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush ALL of the syrup over each loaf.

It will seem like too much, but it will all absorb into the warm loaf and will leave the babka glossy and moist. Let the loaves cool in their pans until just warm and then transfer the loaves to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating (this is a suggestion from Ottolenghi but I defy you to not eat it when it is still warm!) Cut with a serrated bread knife and prepare to be amazed.

Do ahead: Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. They also freeze well.

Lisa’s Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Bread1

I had planned on surprising my husband with my Ricotta Rum Pound Cake when I realized that my ricotta cheese, which had been shoved to the back of the fridge, had gone bad… I hate when that happens! It was too late to go to the store to buy more and it also was raining heavily. I could have scrapped the whole idea of baking but I was all psyched to make something so decided to experiment with what I already had in my pantry. I tried to think of what I had that was a similar texture and consistency as whole milk ricotta and remembered that I was bullish on pureed pumpkin. At first I was going to try making the same recipe just substituting the pumpkin for ricotta but then decided that the pumpkin deserved its own special bread. I tinkered around and came up with this delicious pumpkin bread with a twist.

Lisa’s Pumpkin Bread 

Yield: One 9 x 5 inch loaf

Ingredients

1.25 cups cake flour

1/4 cup of toasted wheat germ

2.5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1.5 cups granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons unsulphured dark molasses

3 large eggs

15 ounce can pureed pumpkin

2 rounded Tablespoons orange marmalade

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 strips of cooked bacon (any kind) cut into small pieces (Optional but recommended)

3/4 cup lightly toasted, chopped walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. You can toast the walnuts in the oven or in a dry frying pan on the stove top. Either way, be sure to watch them carefully. You really just want to barely toast them – just enough to bring up the flavor.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, wheat germ, baking powder, spices and salt and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Then add the pumpkin, molasses and marmalade and mix well on low speed. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl and mixing until well combined.
  4. Add the dry ingredients in batches, mixing through on low speed so you don’t make a mess or over mix. Add the walnuts and bacon pieces and just mix through on low speed or fold in by hand.
  5. Spray a loaf pan with baking spray with flour or grease the pan well and line the bottom with waxed paper, which you then also grease. Pour the mixture into the pan and gently shake the pan to even things out. Place the pan in the center of your oven and bake for about 75 minutes or until browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. The outer edges make get quite brown which is not a problem. If it bothers you, carefully wrap some foil around the edges after 45 minutes to an hour to keep it from getting too browned. (I didn’t bother doing this.)
  6. Remove the pan from the oven rack and allow it to cool enough to handle – about 20 minutes. Then turn the bread out onto the rack and allow it to cool until just slightly warm before cutting.

Pumpkin Bread2

NOTE: The bread is delicious as is, but it can also be spread with cream cheese or butter. The bacon adds a subtle flavor and makes for a wonderful texture. You could leave it out if you really are averse but it really made this special in my opinion. Wrap any left-overs well and it will keep for up to a week, getting a bit moister and with the spices becoming more intense each day. While delicious at room temperature, it tastes even better when eaten slightly warmed. My husband likes to have some for dessert with a little vanilla ice cream….

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins1 (2)

I don’t obsess about too many things, but I can be quietly dogged over a long period of time in search of something that I want. And I want the perfect blueberry muffin. So far I haven’t found it, but these are coming a LOT closer. I started with the blueberry muffin recipe from that venerable Boston department store, Jordan Marsh, that was published on the New York Times website by Marion Burros. And then I moved on from there. My muffins have the tang of lemon zest (a natural with blueberries, in my opinion) and the addition of pure almond extract as well as some sliced almonds on top, mixed with the sugar of the original recipe. (You can leave out the almond extract and they will still be delicious. You definitely don’t want to overwhelm the pure blueberry flavor with almond here, but the amount I used was pretty gentle in its over all effect.) I also increased the amount of blueberries I used by half a cup based on reader comments. I reduced the amount of salt since I generally find that these recipes have too much salt for my taste. And while I used some beautiful organic blueberries, I knew from past experience that the blueberry flavor needed an extra boost to really achieve the result I wanted. The original recipe had you mash 1/2 cup of the fresh blueberries, but I decided to add some wild blueberry all-natural preserves from France to 1/4 cup of mashed blueberries instead. I’m sure that there are some equally wonderful American brands – this was simply what I had on hand. (Just don’t use jelly, which is too thin and try to buy the brand that has the fewest ingredients, with blueberries listed first.) These muffins are best eaten the day they are made but can be frozen, defrosted and warmed in a 325 degree F oven when you are ready to eat them. If you make them the night before, just don’t cover them or they will be too moist the next day. I did actually store additional leftovers in a glass container and briefly microwaved them to serve. While not perfect, they were still remarkably delicious. These are THE most blueberry-y muffins I have personally ever tasted.

Blueberry Muffins  

Blueberry Muffins2

Yield: About 1 dozen regular-sized muffins (I actually got 15 muffins but could have mounded them a bit higher.)

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) of room temperature unsalted butter

1.25 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Generous 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract (Depends on how much almond flavor you want. I used only 1/4 teaspoon and probably could have used a bit more. You can also leave this out if you don’t want any almond flavor.)

Zest of one small lemon

1/4 teaspoon Kosher or fine sea salt

2 large eggs

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup milk (the recipe called for whole milk but I used skim plus some heavy cream which I happened to have)

2.5 cups of fresh blueberries, washed, well drained and picked over; mash 1/4 cup of berries and set aside

2 Tablespoons wild blueberry preserves (I used St. Dalfour brand)

3 teaspoons of granulated or raw sugar (I used raw for this to give a little extra texture)

Sliced raw almonds for sprinkling over the tops

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a standard-sized muffin tin with paper liners. (You really need to do this if you don’t want the muffins to stick since they are so moist.)
  2. Cream the butter, 1.25 cups of sugar and the lemon zest. This should be done by hand. Over-working muffin batter will make them tough. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla, blueberry preserve and mashed blueberries and almond extract. Gently mix through.
  3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside a couple of tablespoons to toss with the berries.
  4. Add the flour mixture and milk to the creamed butter and egg mixture. Alternate the flour and milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Just mix enough until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over-mix.
  5. Gently toss the whole blueberries with the flour mixture you had set aside. Be careful not to break them up. Coating them with the flour prevents them sinking to the bottom of the muffins. Fold the mixture through the batter very gently trying not to break up more berries than absolutely necessary.
  6. Generously line the muffin cups. You can even mound them slightly over the tops. I did not, which is why I ended up with 15 muffins instead of 12. They will be delicious either way.
  7. Sprinkle sugar and sliced raw almonds over the tops of the muffins and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Ovens vary so go by looks and smell as much as by timing.
  8. Remove the tin from the oven and carefully remove the muffins from the tin onto a cooling rack. I used a very thin metal spatula to help me lift the muffins out. Do not dump them or they will squish since they are so moist and laden with berries. If you leave them in the tin, the bottoms will steam. Just be careful. It takes a bit of practice but is really not difficult. If you can discipline yourself, try to wait about 30 minutes before eating. It won’t be easy!  Blueberry Muffins4

 

 

Cherry Clafouti (Clafouti aux Cerises)

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My husband has never met a custard that he didn’t like, so when he asked me what a clafouti was that was in the case of a local bakery, I decided to surprise him by making one. I confess that I actually enjoy the occasional mindless, slightly tedious task that can be involved with food preparation. It’s a great time to catch up on my own thoughts or to have a cozy moment with a child, spouse or friend. So when this recipe called for 1 pound of stoned cherries, I didn’t flinch. If you don’t enjoy snapping the ends off of crisp green beans or peeling vegetables, then you can use a different fruit or a well-drained canned, pitted cherry. I, however, had some lovely, ripe cherries, a sharp paring knife and 20 minutes to spare for the task.

This recipe comes from an old French pastry book that I purchased in 1977. It is the Gaston Lenôtre’s Desserts and Pastries. So what is clafouti? It’s a baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. This recipe uses a short pastry crust underneath. I know that my husband will be very happy tonight when dessert-time rolls around.

Cherry Clafouti (Clafouti aux Cerises)

Yield: Two 8-inch flans (about 6-8 servings)

Ingredients

Short pastry dough for 2 8-inch pie plates or flan pans

1 cup of whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

6.5 Tablespoons heavy cream

4 large eggs

Generous 3/4 cup, granulated sugar

4 drops orange blossom water (about 1/4 teaspoon)

1 pound of fresh, ripe cherries, halved with the pits removed (You will end up with about 3 cups of fruit)

Directions

  1. Roll out the dough and line 2 lightly buttered 8-inch pie plates or flan pans
  2. Refrigerate the pans for at least 1 hour before baking. This can be done one day ahead.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. Line the 2 pie shells with waxed paper or foil and using dried beans or pie weights, bake the pie shells for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the paper or foil and weights and set the shells aside.
  5. Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan and allow it to gently boil for one minute. (If you are using a vanilla bean, you will add it in with the milk.) Don’t do what I did which was to carry on a texting conversation with my husband while the milk was on the stove. Of course, the milk boiled over. What a mess! After 1 minute, turn off the heat and add the cream and vanilla bean paste, if using. In all honesty, I’m not certain that this step is necessary. I have made plenty of flan and other custards over the years and I never cook the milk first…
  6. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with a wire whisk, until smooth and light yellow in color. Beating constantly, add the milk mixture a little at a time to temper the eggs. Stir in the orange blossom water. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of cold water and continue beating until the mixture is smooth and cold. You should end up with 3 cups of liquid.
  7. Fill the half-cooked pie shells with the cherries. Pour the creamy filling over the fruit. The pie pan should be no more than 3/4 full. Bake for about 20 minutes. Serve the clafouti warm or cold. IMG_3342

NOTE: If you use a fluted flan pan instead of a pie plate, you will have more ingredients than the pan can easily hold. I used one flan pan and one pie plate (both 8-inches) and ended up with a little of the custard left over because the flan pan isn’t as deep as the pie plate. The flan pan baked in exactly 20 minutes. The pie plate which was deeper took somewhat longer.