Celebrate your love with this deceptively simple yet extravagant Valentine’s Day Cake. Once you have tasted this luscious cake made with dessert wine and olive oil, you will forget all about chocolate.
I’ve been married for over 35 years. And during that time, my husband a and I send each other love notes and texts daily. So I tend not to get too worked up about Valentine’s Day, if I’m being honest. We usually buy or make cards for each other and maybe I’ll make a special dinner or dessert. If I’m in the mood.
However, when I came cross this recipe in the Wall Street Journal by AleksandraCrapanzano a few weeks ago, I knew that it was going to be my Valentine’s Day Cake this year. It’s everything that I love in a cake. It uses top ingredients but there is nothing fancy or precious about it. There are no sprinkles or cloyingly sweet, artery-clogging frostings. This is a cake for adults. And best of all, it comes together quickly!
I became a fan of dessert wines when I was introduced to them on a cruise throughout the Mediterranean years ago. They still haven’t taken hold in the United States the way they have in Europe and that’s a shame. While some can be very pricey, there are lovely and affordable ice wines, Tokaji and Muscat wines. The worst are overly sweet and syrupy, but the best are as light as a kiss on a summer’s breeze.
For this cake, don’t choose a dessert wine that is too light in flavor. You want something that is lovely and fruity. So if you are unfamiliar with dessert wines, ask your local wine store for suggestions. While delicious immediately, the flavors of the wine and the citrus will develop even further if you make this a day ahead of serving.
Moments of Perfection
So go ahead and take a bite. Then just close your eyes for a moment and inhale the amazing flavors and wonderful moist texture. Remember, if your dessert is wonderful, it’s okay if the rest of the meal isn’t perfection.
¾ cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (I actually used an orange EVOO to bump up the orange flavor)
½ cup Sauternes, ice wine, Tokaji or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (I used Beaumes de Venise)
¾ cup whole milk
Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic
Zest of 1 orange, preferably organic
For the syrup:SEE NOTE
½ cup sugar
½ cup Sauternes or alternative
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup crème fraîche OR 1 additional cup of heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Splash of Sauternes
1 to 2 Tablespoons of Confectioner’s sugar (to taste)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for convection). Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
2. Use an electric mixer to beat together sugar and eggs until pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Add oil, wine, milk and zests, and beat to combine, 1-2 minutes. Then add sifted ingredients and beat until just combined, about 1 minute. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a knife emerges clean, 35-45 minutes.After 12 minutes open the springform and remove the outer ring. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before inverting onto a cake plate.
3. Make the syrup: In a small pot over low heat, dissolve sugar completely with a few spoonfuls water. Bring syrup to a simmer and cook until almost golden. Resist the urge to stir the syrup! You are trying to lightly caramelize the sugar and that simply won’t happen if you stir. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the wine.
NOTE:Okay, full disclosure. I had a terrible time with this syrup and I have caramelized LOTS of sugar. As soon as I added the wine, the sugar formed into the ball stage and I had to rewarm the mixture to dissolve the sugar crystals. It also spattered everywhere, burning me slightly in the process. SO BE CAREFUL! Honestly, I thought the cake was delicious on its own with just the whipped cream, but after eating it with the syrup, it puts things over the top.
4. Before serving, whip cream(s) until billowy with a heaping tablespoon or two of confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and a splash of Sauternes. Sprinkle cake with confectioner’s sugar, if using. Serve slices with a generous drizzle of syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.
FURTHER NOTE: While this cake is wonderful as set forth, it would also be great with some sort of stewed or roasted fruit or with some fresh berries.
I’ve decided to take another look at some of my recipes and this week it is Lisa’s Challah Revisited. It isn’t always about blogging something new, but instead, it’s reminding people just how good a recipe is. Shabbat may come every week, but it still is the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar after Yom Kippur. It is an island in time where we don’t answer the phones or watch TV. No matter how busy and hectic the week was, we always sit down as a family, to a table set with our best glasses and dishes and a lovely meal. We light the Sabbath candles, sing songs and b’rachot (blessings) and take the time to really be present for one another.
When my son was little he would help me clean up and prepare the table. Like all children, he would sometimes balk. So I told him the story about how two angels would come to our house each week – a good angel and a bad angel. If the bad angel saw us fighting and the house not ready to welcome Shabbat, he would tell the good angel that he had won control and that our family would have a bad Shabbat and following week. But if our house was in order, the table set and we were into the spirit of Shabbat, including giving tzedekah for those less fortunate then she would turn to the bad angel and say that she had won control. Our house and family would be blessed with a peaceful Shabbat and a good week. Not surprisingly, the good angel won more times than not. These are precious memories and traditions that we built and ones that our son now continues with his family.
So why am I revisiting my challah recipe if I had made it for decades? Well for a long time now I was only making my Vegan Challah. We would celebrate Shabbat with my niece’s family and since her son is deathly allergic to eggs I developed a challah recipe that everyone could enjoy. I never wanted my great-nephew and godson to miss out on anything because of his allergies. If you are vegan or have a food allergy, this is a great recipe. However, as good as that recipe is, it simply is not the same as traditional egg challah. Now that my niece has moved away and we have our first grandchild, I wanted to ensure that she would grow up with the absolute best traditional challah. Lisa’s Challah Revisited delivers. It is everything an eggy, tender, sweet challah should be.
So Why the Need for a New Recipe?
I returned to my original challah recipe that I had developed over two decades. The only problem was that it no longer worked for me. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, but after several less than stellar attempts, I decided to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. Thus Lisa’s Challah Revisited. My husband and I now make this every week. We recently returned from visiting our beautiful granddaughter in San Francisco and we passed on this improved version to our son, who is the challah maker in his family.
Making Challah When You Work
Clearly it is easier to bake bread when you are at home all day. But there still are ways to enjoy homemade challah even if you work outside the home. You can start it the night before and then refrigerate the dough to slow down the rising process, completing the last rising and baking after you return home. I used to prepare my dough before I left for work and then brought a sealed plastic bucket of dough with me to the office where I could punch it down as needed until I was able to leave for the day. Bread can be pretty forgiving and an extra rising will just make for a finer crumb. Of course the first time I did this my supervisor came into my office and asked if I had been drinking beer! The yeasty smell had permeated the office. After that, though, my co-workers used to like to come into my office to check out the dough and even to punch it down on occasion. So if you don’t work from home, you can still bake your own challah. Nothing gets me in the mood for Shabbat quite like the smell and taste of fresh baked challah. If you can’t do it every week (and the bread can be frozen as well so you can make a big batch) at least make it for a special Shabbat or holiday.
I believe that welcoming and observing Shabbat is the most beautiful tradition we Jews have. And in this crazy world we live in it is actually a necessity for keeping our sanity and bringing families and loved ones together. But the truth is, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this bread.
A word about tradition. When it comes to food, I am all about tradition. I understand that with the plethora of food blogs and bloggers out there, everyone is looking for the new “it” recipe to fill space and gain new followers. Over time, I have even tried many of these recipes and rarely do I find that they are an improvement. New is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to food. So you can take your stuffed challah and challah using all kinds of different grains and strange ingredients. For my money and my family, Lisa’s Challah is the one that will stand the test of time. The only tweaks that I will allow are whether to use raisins or not (my husband loves them; my son – not so much) and to add sesame or poppy seeds to the glaze or to leave it plain. Okay, I did once make my vegan challah using chocolate chips instead of raisins as a special treat for the children.
The Pupil Surpasses the Teacher
And while this recipe and method is mine, I will happily admit that the student has surpassed the teacher. My husband retired a few years ago and has taken an interest in doing some cooking. And after 35 years of preparing three meals a day, I’m very happy for him to occasionally cook a meal for us. He started helping me to bake bread when the arthritis in my hands got bad and now he has become the challah maker every week. Our son also is making his family’s challah and I couldn’t be prouder. And while I am always on hand to give advice and check the dough, I have to give credit where it is due. My husband is way better at braiding than I ever was and he creates a beautiful and consistent challah week after week.
Lisa’s Challah Revisited
I am including this recipe exactly as my husband has written it down. Since he was a complete novice at bread baking, he needed to have the recipe make sense for him. If he could learn to make THE best challah, you can too. We enjoy this bread every shabbat and all week long. Left-overs make great toast with butter and cinnamon or honey or french toast. You can also make next week’s dessert using left-over challah for the best bread pudding. This recipe makes one large loaf. It can be doubled or divided into two small loaves. If you do the latter, you will have to reduce your baking time by about 12 to 15 minutes,
Yield: 1 large loaf
2.25 teaspoons active dried yeast
1/3 cup warm water (It should feel warm to your finger, but not burning)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ cup warm water
2 X-tra large eggs, at room temperature
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup canola oil
1/8 cup honey
3+ cups flour – either all-purpose, unbleached flour or bread flour (I prefer to use bread flour, but all-purpose will work too)
1/3 cup raisins, tossed with ¼ tsp. all-purpose unbleached flour (Optional)
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten for the glaze
Place yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/3 cup warm (to the touch) water in a large bowl and mix well. Allow the yeast to proof for 8 to 10 minutes.
Once the yeast is bubbly, add the remaining 1/2 cup warm water, eggs, salt, oil, honey and 1 cup of flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture for 100 strokes.
Add 1 more cup of flour and the raisins and stir through.
Add 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and one more cup of flour and mix using a wooden spoon or a dough scraper until there are no more visible shreds of dough. If the dough still looks wet, add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup of flour and stir or knead to incorporate. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 12 minutes. (This allows the gluten to begin to form and prevents you from adding more flour than is needed, which would make for a heavier bread.)
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, adding flour by the tablespoonful only as needed to keep the dough from sticking (usually about 1/4 cup). You want to use as little as possible to produce a supple, unsticky dough. You know you have kneaded enough when you poke two holes in the dough with your fingers and it springs back quickly.
Form the dough into a tight ball and place back in the bowl which has been coated with about 1 to 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Roll the dough in the oil to coat and then cover the bowl. I use a towel, but plastic wrap also works.
Place the dough in a draft-free spot like the microwave and allow it to rise for about 1.5 to 2 hours. The dough will have doubled and you know it is ready when you poke two fingers into the dough and the holes remain.
Punch down the dough, removing any air bubbles. Turn out onto a clean surface and pat the dough into a rectangle. Using your dough scraper or a knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise and then cut each half lengthwise in half again until you have 4 mostly equal strands. Try not to stretch the strands too much.
Lay the strands lengthwise next to, but not touching one another. Place the top ends of the strands together.
Braiding the Challah
There are many videos and instructions out there on how to braid challah using 3, 4, 5 and 6 strands. Find one that works for you and go with it. My husband followed this video and so far it has consistently produced a beautiful 4-strand braid.
We now have four strands of dough. The left-most is in position 1, the next one is in position 2, the next is in position 3, and the right-most is in position 4. When we say “pick up strand 1 and move it to position 3” we mean that you should pick up the left-most strand (at position 1), move it to the right – jumping over two strands – and then put it down. The strands you jumped over are now in positions 1 and 2, your strand is now in position 3, and the right-most strand is in position 4.
Without pulling (just lift) pick up strand 1 and move it to position 3. Then pick up strand 4 and move it to position 2. Finally, pick up strand 3 and move it to position 2. Keep repeating this pattern until you come to the bottom.
If it starts to narrow too much, simply fold the dough underneath.
Press the bottom strands together. Press the top strands together. Carefully move the braid (using the dough scraper to help) onto a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicon mat. Spray lightly with cooking spray, cover with a tented piece of waxed paper and allow to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
While the bread is rising, heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg.
When the dough has risen, paint it several times with the egg mixture. If you are adding sesame or poppy seeds, sprinkle them across the painted dough. Then carefully paint them one more time to be sure they adhere as much as possible. Discard any remaining egg. Place the dough in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, turning halfway if your oven is uneven like mine. Bake until the bread is a beautiful brown and sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. Remove the bread to a cooling rack.
This Garlicky Beet Spread has attitude! The small amount of horseradish lends a delightful piquancy without punching you in the face. Great as a dip and perfect with vegetable fritters or latkes (a crispy oniony potato pancake eaten on Hanukkah). And it’s sooooo pretty! You can whip this up in minutes, especially if you use prepared beets. And let’s face it, why make more work for yourself when there are perfectly good time-savers available?
I LOVE beets in just about any form. In fact, when I was pregnant the only craving I had in nine months was for pickled beets. So when I saw this recipe by Melissa Clark, I knew that I was going to try it. Since I happened to be cooking salmon for my Shabbat dinner, I was able to use this dip as an accompaniment. It did not disappoint. I made a few minor tweaks, both to clarify and suit it to our tastes. With Hanukkah almost here, I just might use this as an alternative to sour cream and applesauce with my latkes. Then again, why mess with tradition!
About 8 to 9 ounces of prepared beets (roasted and peeled)
2 Tablespoons EVOO
1/2 cup of lightly toasted walnuts (See note on toasting)
1 very large clove of garlic or its equivalent
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup of Greek-style yogurt (Use one that is at least 2% fat)
2 Tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (1/2 of a juicy lemon)
1 Tablespoon of fresh dill plus more for garnish
1.5 teaspoons of prepared fresh horseradish (I happened to use beet horseradish which only enhanced the color of the dip)
Using a food processor, grind the walnuts, garlic and salt until very fine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add all of the remaining ingredients. Pulse until mostly smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon or salt, if needed.
Note on toasting nuts
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Place the nuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for about 12 minutes or until you just begin to smell the nuts. You can shake the pan once during the cooking. Alternatively, you can toast nuts in a dry pan on your stove. Watch them carefully, jiggling every few minutes. Nothing will happen until it does. The second you smell the nuts, remove them from the heat. These methods work with just about any nut. I always toast more than I need and use up extras in salads or for munching.
To say that I have been doing some Indian cooking lately is like saying that I picked up a granule of sand on the beach. Indian cuisine dates back over 5000 years and each region has its own traditions, religions and culture that influence its food. Hindus tend to be vegetarian and Muslims tend to have meat dishes, although pork is forbidden. Indian food has been influenced by Mongolian, Persian and Chinese cuisine, among others. It is rich and varied and I love it.
While I have done some Indian cooking before, I had only made Kheer as a dessert. I was intrigued by what I had read about Halwa – not to be confused with the Middle Eastern halva.
Like semolina cakes in the Middle East, there is no one single recipe for making Halwa. They all share the same basic ingredients of carrots, ghee, sugar, cardamom and a dairy milk, but the quantities, cooking times and additions make each one unique. And probably each Indian family believes that their version is the best. One thing that they all have in common is patience.
This is not a difficult recipe but like Indian rice pudding (Kheer), it takes time and almost constant stirring to end up with an amazingly velvety, fragrant and utterly satisfying treat. Make this when someone is around that you want to share a nice long chat with while you stir. It is so worth it.
While I think this is a perfect dessert anytime of the year, in India, it is especially relished during Diwali and the colder, wetter months. It is the perfect comfort food.
In order to come up with this version, I read at least 4 different recipes from Indian and vegetarian cookbooks and watched over 6 YouTube videos. Some versions were made with sweetened condensed milk and others were cooked down to form almost a cake-like consistency that was cut into little diamond shapes. I’m sure that they are all wonderful and I’d be happy to eat any of them. However, this version is my amalgam of what I believe to be the best halwa and one that made my husband incredibly happy. Okay, it made ME incredibly happy too! It won’t disappoint.
Yield: About 8 servings
6 cups peeled and finely shredded slim carrots (DO NOT use large, thick woody carrots. They are fine for soup and feeding horses, but will not have the sweetness and tenderness needed here.)
3-4 Tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
3/4 cup raw or granulated sugar
About 1.25 cups of whole milk (Exact amounts are not essential. Pour in enough to almost but not quite cover the carrots. You can always cook this longer if you added a bit more than you had intended.)
1/4 cup half and half (or additional whole milk) mixed with about 1/8 teaspoon of saffron threads
In a large, preferably non-stick skillet, melt 2 Tablespoons of the ghee. Add all of the carrots and mix through. Add up to an additional Tablespoon of ghee, if needed to coat the carrots.
Cook over a low heat, stirring FREQUENTLY for 40-45 minutes. This is tedious but necessary to prevent burning and to get the carrots to a velvety texture.
Now add the milk and half & half mixture and stir through. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom and mix through. Cover the pan and on low heat, cook the carrots for 20-25 minutes more. Stir OCCASIONALLY. You want to cook until the milk is just absorbed but the carrots are not dried out
While the carrots cook, melt the remaining ghee in a small skillet and lightly cook the nuts, raisins and remaining cardamom. You just want the raisins to swell and the nuts to release their oils. Set aside.
Uncover and add the sugar and mix through. Now add the nuts and raisin mixture and stir through. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes more. The resulting mixture is incredibly moist, velvety and unctuous. It can be eaten warm or at room temperature. This is quite rich and satisfying and 3-5 ounces per person is more than enough. While the halwa does not need any garnish, you can add a little lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving.
So we are now in the in-between days of the Passover holiday, which lasts eight days in the Diaspora and seven days in Israel. I could simply broil or roast some meat or fish, make a salad and potatoes and call it a day. However, I like to make the holiday special and there are certain dishes that I only make during Passover even if I could serve them at other times.
This Sephardic dish is wonderful because it is so flexible. The simplest version of it is ground beef or lamb, mashed potatoes, matzah and eggs with a bit of seasoning. But with a little bit of imagination and time this dish can become something really special. And a little bit of meat will feed a family. I guess you could say that it is a Sephardic Shepard’s Pie.
If you are not feeling ambitious at all, then just use the basic technique that is given and season it to suit your tastes.
Yield: 4-6 dinner servings or more if used as part of a multi-course meal
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
3 large eggs
Paprika for sprinkling (optional)
If using the roasted eggplant, make this first and set aside to cool. Chop it coarsely.
I don’t bother to peel my potatoes. The skins not only have nutrients, but they are relatively thin and add extra flavor, in my opinion. Simply cut each potato into quarters and then each quarter into half so you en up with eight pieces. Place them in a 3 quart saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook them uncovered for 20 minutes or until quite tender. Drain the potatoes well and then mash them with a potato masher or a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the potatoes aside to cool.
Place some warm tap water into a deep 9-inch square baking dish and then add the whole squares of matzah. Allow them to soak for about 1+ minutes. You want them flexible but not falling apart.
Carefully lift each sheet of matzah out of the water and place it flat on paper or a tea towel to drain. Then dry the baking dish and grease it well with the margarine and then 1-2 Tablespoons of the oil. If you only use the oil the matzah won’t crisp up and it will stick. Set the pan aside.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, add one Tablespoon of the oil and brown the ground meat, chopped, roasted eggplant, if using, the onions and the garlic. Break up the meat as you brown it. I used a very lean meat so I did not have any extra fat or liquid to pour off. Add your spices, about 1 teaspoon of salt and some cracked black pepper. Add the chopped fresh herbs and mix everything through.
Lightly beat 2 of the eggs and add it to the mashed potatoes. Stir about 1/2 cup of the potato mixture into the ground beef mixture to bind it together.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Beat the remaining egg and pour it into a platter with a slightly raised edge. Coat both sides of one softened matzah sheet lightly with the egg. Lift it out carefully and allow any excess egg to drip back into the platter. Place the matzah in the bottom of the prepared pan. Use part of a second slice of matzah, if necessary, to cover any gaps so that the bottom is completely covered. Repeat with a second layer of matzah. Reserve any left-over egg. (I didn’t have any.)
Spread the meat mixture on top of the matzah in the dish. Spoon the potato mixture over the to and spread it evenly. Pour any left-over egg onto the potato mixture. Sprinkle with some paprika.
Bake the Mina for about 40 minutes or until the top is browned and the filling is firm. Remove the Mina from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Cut it into large squares. I serve mine with a large tossed salad.
It is traditional in Ashkenazi Jewish homes to eat gefilte fish as a first course for Shabbat and most other holidays, including Passover. While it may be heresy, I never was a huge fan of this dish, even when I had it homemade rather than from a jar.
Gefilte literally means “stuffed.” The fish mixture was stuffed back into the skin of the whole fish. It was a great way for thrifty – and often poor – families to enjoy this delicacy. Because the fish was mixed with other inexpensive ingredients like onions and eggs, a little bit of fish could feed an entire family.
It later became popular to make the equivalent of individual fish quenelles. So although the fish was no longer stuffed, the name stuck.
For several years now, I have made Egyptian Fish Balls in a savory tomato sauce. This year, however, I am making both! The Sephardic fish balls for the first Seder and the gefilte fish loaf for the second Seder. My recipe comes from two wonderful cookbooks: The Gefilte Manifesto by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern and The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.
As long as you start out with good quality, fresh fish, you can’t go wrong with either of these recipes. If you didn’t see this in time for the Seder, remember that there will always be Shabbat!
Yield: One 8 x 4-inch loaf (About 8 slices)
1 smallish onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot
1 pound (net) whitefish fillet, skin and large bones removed [Any light-colored fish such as cod, pike, carp or haddock can be used.]
1 Tablespoon vegetable or grapeseed oil
1 large egg
About 3 Tablespoons, coarsely chopped fresh watercress or baby spinach
2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons water
1/4 cup matza meal
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper or fresh cracked black pepper
1 Tablespoon granulated cane sugar
1/2 red, orange, yellow or green pepper (or a mix)
1 small carrot, peeled and cut crosswise into thin circles
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Oil an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a rectangle of waxed paper, cut to fit. Then oil the paper.
Using the pepper strips and the carrot circles, create a simple and attractive design on top of the waxed paper in the prepared pan. The design will be inverted when the loaf is turned out of the pan.
Use a food grinder or a food processor fitted with the steel blade to to chop the fish, onion and carrot until they are finely minced. Add the egg, oil, water, matza meal, watercress or baby spinach, dill, salt and pepper. Process until everything is very well combined.
Gently spoon some of the fish mixture around and over the decorative vegetables in the pan, being careful not to disturb the design. Using the back of a spoon or your hands, press the mixture into place, leaving no air spaces. Then add the remaining fish mixture to the pan, spreading it evenly.
Cover the fish mixture with another rectangle of waxed paper that has been oiled on the side that will touch the fish.
Bake the loaf for about 50 minutes or until firm. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Carefully peel off the waxed paper from the top of the loaf. Then run a knife around the sides of the loaf to loosen it. Invert the loaf onto a serving dish and lift off the pan. If the second piece of waxed paper is still attached to the loaf, carefully peel it off and throw it away.
The loaf can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. Cut into 1-inch thick slices. Serve with prepared horseradish or wasabi sauce.
As someone who has hosted Thanksgiving dinners for over three (YIKES!) decades, I can tell you that in order to be successful and to also enjoy yourself, it takes a battle plan. You don’t have to be like me and start dreaming about what you will make six months in advance, but it makes all of the difference in the world if you are organized and plan to have a menu that mixes do-ahead dishes along with make-the-day-of dishes. It is the only thing that keeps you sane and relaxed, particularly if, like me, you have a small kitchen and limited storage.
Everyone who comes to my house has their favorite dishes and I do try to always have some if not all of them on hand. I can’t even imagine having a Thanksgiving dinner that didn’t include my Curried Butternut Squash Soup, Orange Cranberry Relish or Vegan Pumpkin Pie and, of course, my Bourbon Pecan Pie. However, I don’t want to get bored and this year I am not only hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the family, but the Shabbat dinner the next night. So I make a point of slipping in something new every year. One thing I have learned over the years is that no matter what mistakes you may make in the main part of the meal, all will be forgiven – and forgotten – if you have great desserts. So in addition to the pumpkin and pecan pie, I will have an Apple Almond Paste Tart and this Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake that I am trying out this year. Sounds like a lot? I guarantee that with 13 people over two nights, there won’t be a crumb left!
The beauty of this apple cake is that it is best made at least one to two days ahead. That allows the Bourbon, sugar, lemon glaze to really penetrate the cake and it will bring out the apple, ginger and spice flavors. And while I may be using some of those same flavors in other desserts, they appear in different guises with a different emphasis in each case. By using a palate of ingredients, you guarantee that everything will complement everything else.
You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to make this lovely cake, but definitely keep it in mind for the holiday. It takes a little work but there are no special or difficult techniques involved. Just follow the steps and even a novice baker can have success.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. (Or use one of those cooking sprays that already has the flour in it.) In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons bourbon and the candied ginger. Let stand 10 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the brown sugar and remaining butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining flour with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream and vanilla. Pour in the bourbon from the ginger mixture (reserve ginger) and whisk until smooth. Stir in zest.
With the mixer on medium speed, add the dry mixture and sour cream mixture to the wet mixture in three additions, alternating between the two. Fold in the ginger, apples and pecans. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out dry, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool in the pan 20 minutes, then run a paring knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake, if necessary; cool, flat side down, on a wire rack.
While the cake cools, combine the 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup Bourbon in a small saucepan. Over low heat, gently stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the lemon juice and take off the heat.
While the cake cools, make 10 slits on top with a paring knife and pour half the Bourbon-sugar mixture on the still-warm cake. When the cake is fully cool, flip it and pour the rest of the glaze on the other side, then flip again to serve.
NOTE: While the cake is wonderful on its own, adding a good dollop of freshly made whipped cream or vanilla ice cream makes it amazing. Did I mention that you could even add a bit of Bourbon to the whipped cream??
* To toast the pecans (or any nuts), preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lay the nuts on a baking sheet or pan in a single layer. Toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the nut used. You should just begin to smell the nuttiness. You should check the nuts about halfway through and jiggle the pan a bit.
I am a true advocate for eating bread. There is nothing that beats the aroma or taste of bread that has just come from the oven. The entire house just smells delicious and warm and safe. As soon as the temperature outside begins to cool down, I turn my thoughts to cooking big pots of soup, stews and fragrant bean dishes. I love to make these things and to eat them. And best of all, they only improve with rewarming so that I always make enough for left-overs during the week ahead. This relatively simple but hearty fare really only needs some good bread to soak up the pot liquor and to fill my home with the most wonderful smells.
I own several books on artisan bread baking but a book that I often return to is a slim volume called Betty Crocker’s Breads. I have owned this cookbook for decades and it is completely unpretentious with zero snob appeal. It also is entirely accessible and when the simple instructions are followed, the result is always a perfect loaf of bread. This is a perfect book for the novice or anyone who wants to bake without intimidation. Unfortunately, it appears to be out of print with only ridiculously priced copies available online. However, if you manage to come across a copy in a used bookstore – grab it!
Try this bread for a family Sunday supper or surprise your guests for Thanksgiving. No one has to know how easy it is to make.
Yield: Two 8-inch round loaves
4.5 teaspoons of active dry yeast (2 packets if using packets)
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F. or simply water that feels quite warm but not hot to your fingertips)
1 envelope onion soup mix (about 1.5 ounces)
1/4 cup additional fried onions (the kind from a can) (Optional)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 large egg
1/3 cup (5 Tablespoons) solid shortening
About 6 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
About 4-6 Tablespoons of melted butter
Dissolve yeast in warm water in the bowl of a large standing mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add soup mix and stir to dissolve. Add the sugar, molasses, salt, egg, shortening, fried onions (if used) and 3 cups of the flour. Beat for about 1 minute on the lowest speed, scraping down where necessary in order to mix.
Add 3 cups more of flour. Increase the speed to 2 (or the next lowest speed up) and continue beating with the dough hook, scraping down the dough as necessary, for about 7 to 8 minutes more. I did not require any additional flour, but if your dough seems too sticky, add up to another 1/2 cup, a Tablespoon at a time until the dough no longer sticks. The dough should be gathering up on the dough hook and will be smooth and supple (elastic) to the touch. [You can, of course, make this by hand, in which case you will have to knead the dough for 10 to 12 minutes.] Turn the dough into a greased bowl and roll it around to cover all of the surfaces. Cover the dough and allow it to rise until doubled in a warm, draft-free spot. (I use my oven, turned off, of course.) This takes just about an hour. The dough is ready if an indentation made with two fingers remains.
Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Roll each half into a rectangles that is 24 x 5 inches. Tightly roll up each rectangle (I do them one at a time.) from the long side. You want to end up with a long, even log.
Grease two 8-inch cake or pie pans. Beginning at the outside edge of the inside of the pan with the seam facing down, coil the rope of dough ending in the center of the pan. Brush each coil with melted butter. Allow to rise uncovered on a draft-free counter for 50 minutes or until doubled. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. while the dough rises to ensure a nicely heated oven.
At the end of the rising, bake the turbans for about 40 minutes or until they are well-browned and sound hollow when rapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. Remove the breads from the pans to a cooling rack and brush with additional melted butter if desired.
There used to be an Israeli restaurant in Chicago that made Cornish Hens similar to these. I always ordered it whenever I was there, so when it went out of business, I was forced to find a way to recreate the recipe at home. I came across this recipe in Food and Wine and used it as a jumping off point. The original restaurant version used to stuff the birds with some of the dried fruit and nuts instead of having the birds simply sit on top of them. While this still is not quite as wonderful as what I recall eating, this version is close and is absolutely delicious.
Cornish Hens available in the grocery store often seem to run around 2 to 2.5 pounds each, which is huge. I was fortunate to come across these Cornish Hens which are only about 1.25 pounds each – the perfect size. The were available in the freezer section and because of their size, they will defrost quickly. This recipe only requires either a wild rice or bulghur wheat pilaf to accompany it and, of course, a salad. While the amount of meat isn’t huge, the richness of the fruit, nuts and sauce means that a little goes a long way. This can easily be doubled or tripled. If you don’t observe Sukkot, just enjoy this dish as the perfect autumn meal.
2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and diced
2/3 cup dried apricots, cut into thin slices OR half apricots and half prunes
2/3 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each ground: cumin, turmeric, coriander, ginger, cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup apple juice [If you don’t have apple juice or cider, you can just as easily use orange juice.]
2 tablespoons honey or date honey
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
About 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 Cornish hens (about 1 1/4 pounds each), halved
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 400°. In a roasting pan, combine the apples, apricots, prunes, raisins, walnuts, spices, garlic, and butter. Spread the mixture over the bottom of the pan.
In a small bowl, combine the apple juice, honey, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt to make a glaze. Sprinkle the Cornish hens with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper and set them breast-side down on top of the fruit-and-nut mixture. Brush the hens with some of the glaze and then cook for 20 minutes.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Stir the fruit-and-nut mixture and turn the hens over. [I found that this worked best if I placed the hens on a platter while I stirred through the fruit and nuts.] Brush them with more of the glaze, return the pan to the oven, and cook for another 10 minutes. Glaze the birds again and continue cooking them until just done, about 10 to 15 minutes longer. Glaze the hens one final time and serve them with the fruit-and-nut dressing and a bulghur wheat pilaf.
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
Yield: About 10 to 12 portions
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.
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.
Cook the noodles according to the shortest cooking time on the package directions – usually 8 minutes. Drain the cooked noodles very well.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees F.
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!
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!
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.