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 I originally made the version by Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook Jerusalem.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.

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

I was going through some old recipes and came across this one on a sheet of yellowing newsprint. It was from a December 1991 New York Times Magazine. The article was titled “True Confections.” The one that caught my eye and which seems perfect for Valentine’s Day is by Dorie Greenspan from her cookbook Sweet Times. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like chocolate, and this one is ready to eat in about an hour. Of course you don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to serve this little slice of chocolate heaven.

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

Yield: One 8-inch cake

Ingredients  Chocolate Amaretti Cake8

1 ounce of high quality unsweetened chocolate

3 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate (about 64% cacao)

6 large, crisp double amaretti cookies

3/4 cup sliced or julienned blanched almonds

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

3 large eggs at room temperature

Pinch of either Kosher or fine sea salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with waxed paper. Butter that and dust the inside of the pan with flour, tapping out any excess. Alternatively use one of the baking sprays with flour.
  3. Melt the chocolates over a double boiler set over hot water or in the microwave and set aside. Chocolate Amaretti Cake5
  4. Place the amaretti cookies and almonds in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is evenly ground. Set aside. Chocolate Amaretti Cake6
  5. Place the butter, sugar, salt and eggs in the food processor bowl and process until the mixture is satiny smooth – about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl as necessary.Chocolate Amaretti Cake4Chocolate Amaretti Cake3
  6. Now add the amaretti/almond powder and the melted chocolate. Pulse to combine well. Chocolate Amaretti Cake2
  7. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven on the center rack for 25 to 30 minutes. The top will look baked and perhaps a little cracked and the center will still be moist. Chocolate Amaretti Cake1Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Then run a thin metal spatula or blunt knife around the edge of the pan and carefully turn out the torte. I place a cutting board over the pan and turn it out onto that. The cake is too soft and moist to turn out onto a cooling rack. The indentations will eat right into the cake. You could also use a large plate but I find that the flat cutting board works best. Then peel off the waxed paper and invert the torte onto a serving dish. I do this by placing the serving dish over the torte and then carefully flipping the serving dish over while holding onto the cutting board. Dust with confectioner’s sugar or cocoa. Serve at room temperature with a little vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.Chocolate Amaretti Cake9.

Aromatic Chicken and Vegetable Soup (Koli)

Koli Soup

My niece and nephew and I divide all of the Jewish holiday celebration dinners and since most holidays are over multiple days, this makes hosting more manageable, especially since we all live in apartments with limited space. For Rosh HaShana I agreed to host the first night and my niece and nephew did the second night. They wanted to make brisket (which was wonderful) and so I happily decided on lamb for my dinner. In keeping with my love of most things Indian, I decided to make lamb biryani as a main course along with a delicious lentil dal. Jews were living in India since at least the 12th century as reported by a Spanish traveler, Benjamin Tudela. The Jews he came across were in Cochin, and were one of three Jewish groups living in that southwest city on the Arabian Sea. Known as “Black” Jews, they lived in a joint family system, much like conservative Hindu families, that was seen as a way to protect the very young and very old. For more on Cochin Jews check out this article in Wikipedia or on My Jewish Learning.

Koli Soup was often made for Shabbat and while not spicy hot or particularly exotic looking, it is quite aromatic and seasoned in a way that is surprising to Western tastes. My sister, who professes to not like Indian or spicy food, nevertheless loved this soup.

Aromatic Chicken and Vegetable Soup (Koli) from Sephardic Cooking by Copeland Marks and tweaked by me

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

8 cups of water

1 whole chicken with extra fat discarded

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick “coins”

1 medium potato (I used a Yukon Gold), peeled and cut into large dice

1 large, ripe tomato, coarsely chopped (do not bother peeling it)

About 1 cup of cauliflower florets

2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced (with leaves if you have them)

a handful of chopped, Italian flat-leaf parsley

a handful of chopped fresh cilantro

5 whole cardamom pods (Green or Black)

1 cinnamon stick (3 inches)

6 whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste

2 bay leaves

4 whole allspice

6 whole black peppercorns

10 curry leaves (If you have them. They can be bought online fresh through Amazon and then frozen. DO NOT substitute curry powder!)

Directions

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a pot that is large enough to hold everything. Add the chicken and simmer covered for 30 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the top before covering.
  2. After 30 minutes, add all of the other ingredients and cook, covered on low heat for 45 minutes. Allow the soup to cool. The soup can be made ahead up to this point and gently reheated when you are ready to serve.
  3. When the soup is cool enough to handle, remove the chicken and take the meat off of the bones, discarding the skin and bones. Return the meat to the pot.
  4. When ready to serve, reheat the soup and either add the parsley and cilantro to the pot or garnish each bowl with the fresh herbs as you ladle it out. IMG_3647

 

Bene Israel Fish Curry with Fresh Ginger, Tamarind and Cilantro

I mentioned in an earlier post that I made this dish for the Shabbat meal during Passover. Unfortunately, we did not take any photos. However, this is so delicious, I want to share it with you anyway. And to be perfectly honest, it does not make the most spectacular visual presentation, but the taste is amazing and even picky eaters enjoyed it. I saw the recipe  in the Washington Post just before the holiday and because Frances and her sister were also observing Lent, I knew that I needed to make fish as my main course. Since we also wanted to observe the laws of Kashrut where we didn’t mix milk with meat, this opened the door for me to make my Parsley Soup as a starter and to allow dairy in some of my appetizers.

The story of the Bene Israel is an interesting one and I encourage you to read about them. The community, mostly residing in Mumbai, is small, but their food traditions are definitely worth exploring. Some people believe that they are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

The only ingredients that you might have to spend a bit of time searching out are tamarind paste and fresh curry leaves. They are both available online and at any good Indian grocery store. Curry leaves have no good substitute and are not the same as curry powder. I bought mine through Amazon and froze what I didn’t use. Since this dish was so popular, I feel confident that I will make use of them in the future. All this dish needed was Basmati rice and some chutneys to accompany it.

Bene Israel Fish Curry with Fresh Ginger, Tamarind and Cilantro from Joan Nathan

Yield: 6 servings (I made enough for 12 people, using 4.5 pounds net of fish – after skinning and boning)

Ingredients

2 pounds whiting, black sea bass or other firm, light-fleshed skinned fillets, cut into 4 ounce chunks (I used halibut)

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more as needed

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon chili powder (I like the one I get from Rancho Gordo)

Juice of 1 lime

3 large cloves garlic

1-inch piece peeled ginger root, coarsely chopped (I would use about 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped or pureed fresh ginger)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

2 or 3 small green chiles, such as serrano, stemmed and seeded if you want less heat (I used jalapeno. Here is where you can control the heat to your personal tastes)

3 fresh/frozen curry leaves

1 Tablespoon tamarind paste

1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used Grapeseed oil)

1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)

2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into small dice (I used grape tomatoes cut in half – for this amount of fish, I would probably use 1/2 pint, but being exact isn’t that important)

1/2 cup water

Directions

 

  1. Place the fish in a nonreactive bowl or container. Sprinkle with the 1/2 teaspoon salt, turmeric, chili powder and lime juice. Gently toss to coat, then cover and refrigerate for no more than a few hours, but at least 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the garlic, ginger, cilantro, green chilies (to taste), curry leaves, and tamarind paste in a food processor or blender. Puree to form a paste; transfer to a bowl. It is not the prettiest color but don’t be put off by that!
  3. Line a plate with a few layers of paper towels. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the fish (working in batches, as needed). Cook for about 2 minutes per side until golden. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the fish to the lined plate. Be gentle with the fish so you don’t break up the pieces.
  4. Wipe out the skillet, then add the remaining tablespoon of oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and tomatoes; cook for 5 to 8 minutes until the onion has softened, then stir in the garlic-tamarind paste. Add the water and stir through. Reduce the heat to medium-low; return the fish to the skillet and gently stir to incorporate, trying not to break up the fish pieces.
  5. Once the mixture has warmed through, the fish curry is ready to serve.

Parsley Soup

Parsley soup

As I mentioned in my previous post, I made Parsley Soup as part of our Passover Shabbat dinner. Obviously, this can be made anytime, but the lovely bright green color and fresh vegetal taste just say “spring” to me. The fact that no part of the parsley is wasted is a plus for those who care about creating as little waste as possible. The first step is admittedly a bit tedious if you are making enough for a crowd, but if you have someone to help you and you get busy chatting, the effort passes quickly. It’s something that is also fun to do with children since no knives are needed – nor is perfection. Please use real butter and milk for this dish. It simply won’t taste the same with anything else. Since I was serving fish as my main course, there was no problem in meeting the laws of Kashrut. If you have an immersion blender (EVERYONE should have an immersion blender – greatest gift ever!) preparing the rest of the soup is a snap.

I found this soup on the internet years ago and did not take down the attribution so my apologies to the original author. I did make several changes in the proportions, so here is my version.

Parsley Soup for a Crowd

Yield: About 20 cups

Ingredients

6 large bunches of flat-leaf parsley

2 sticks (16 Tablespoons) of unsalted butter

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

7 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into large cubes

8 cups of chicken stock (Whether you use stock with salt will depend on how much additional salt you use.)

Kosher salt and white pepper to taste

1 cup of whole milk

Directions

  1. Separate the leaves from the stems. Place the leaves in a large colander and pour boiling water over them and then run cold water over them. This will blanch the leaves, while retaining the lovely bright green color. Gently squeeze any water out of the leaves and wrap them in a kitchen towel and squeeze out any excess water.
  2. Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and parsley stems and cook uncovered over low heat until the stems have begun to soften – about 20 minutes.
  3. Add the potatoes, stock, salt and pepper and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes more. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until it is simply warm. Once the soup has cooled some, add the parsley leaves and with an immersion blender, puree the soup. This can also be done in batches in a food processor, but aside from creating more clean-up, it’s much more time consuming. Get an immersion blender! You will thank me later.
  4. Once the soup has been pureed, add the milk and adjust your seasoning. Reheat the soup gently over a low heat when you are ready to serve. If it is not Passover, you can garnish this with some croutons. Otherwise, a sprig of parsley is all you need. The soup can be served chilled as well, but I prefer it hot.

Passover 2017

Table setting

Today is the final day of Passover and Matthew and Frances have returned to New York. We had a wonderful week of family and good food and already the house seems way too quiet. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we hosted the first Seder and Shabbat. We were also blessed to have Frances’ sister and her boyfriend joining us for Shabbat along with my niece, nephew, their two children, my cousin and sister. Unfortunately, we were so busy preparing and eating that we neglected to take photos for our Shabbat meal. However, I will be including a recipe for our soup and main course anyway since they were such a hit with everyone. Hopefully I can add photos once I make the dishes again.

Passover Shabbat Menu

Beet Caviar

Minty Sweet Pea Spread

Parsley Soup (recipe to follow)

Bene Israel Fish Curry with Fresh Ginger, Tamarind and Cilantro (recipe to follow)

Basmati Rice

Kohlrabi Salad

Viennese Chocolate Hazelnut Torte (recipe to follow)

A Tower of Vegan Desserts

Tower of desserts

The morning after Matza Brei with almond butter and melted chocolate

Matza Brei3Matza Brei2

Passover Menu

IMG_1497

Passover 2017 begins at sundown on Monday, April 10th. Matthew and Frances will be coming in for the week and we will be celebrating with Chicago family at our house for the first Seder and the following Shabbat. Thankfully our niece and nephew are hosting the second Seder.  I always work on my battle plan and menu for weeks ahead of the holiday, checking my serving dishes, wine etc. to note what needs to be ordered or polished. Today my Shmura (“guarded”) matza was delivered by our wonderful Chabad Rabbi along with my new wine fountain, which I ordered from Israel, so I am in full Passover mode now.

Because I am hosting two holiday nights and my niece and nephew are making lamb, I have decided on a beef main course for the first Seder and a fish main course for Shabbat. The Shabbat choice was also partly informed by Frances, who is observing Lent and will not eat meat on Friday. While I am an Ashkenazi Jew on both my mother and father’s side (and proud of it), my palate tends toward Sephardic foods. One challenge that I face, in addition to producing delicious, Kosher for Passover foods, is that I need to have at least some kid-friendly desserts that don’t include eggs, since my niece’s son is allergic. I will post my Passover Shabbat menu during the interim days of Pesach. In the meantime, hopefully this will get you started on a few ideas if you are hosting a Seder of your own. Chag Pesach Sameach!

First Seder Menu

Seder Plate with my classic Ashkenazi Charoset

Egyptian Ground Fish Balls – Bellahat

Syrian Kibbe Gheraz

Kohlrabi Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad – Barba

Green Beans with Tomatoes

Passover Florentine Cookies (A Frances favorite)

Vegan Almond Coconut Macaroons

Vegan Chocolate Chip Meringue Buttons

Chocolate Almond Bark

Chocolate Covered Orange Peel

Assorted Grapes

Yarden Heights Wine