Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake

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.

Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake by Melissa Clark in The New York Times

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake4

INGREDIENTS

2 sticks unsalted butter 226 grams, at room temperature, plus more to grease pan

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour 315 grams, plus more to dust the pan

3 tablespoons (30 grams) plus 1/2 cup (80 grams) bourbon 

½ cup (90 grams) candied ginger, chopped

1 ¾ cup (330 grams) brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder

1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons (3 grams) ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon (5 grams) fine sea salt

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup (227 grams) sour cream

1 tablespoon (15 grams) vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons (5 grams) finely grated lemon zest

2 medium Granny Smith apples (about a pound, 454 grams) peeled, and coarsely grated

1 cup (120 grams) coarsely chopped, toasted pecans*

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon (20 grams)

PREPARATION

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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??

Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake1 (2)

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.

 

Onion Turbans

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.

Onion Turbans

Yield: Two 8-inch round loaves  Onion Turbans

Ingredients

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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Cornish Hens with Fruits, Walnuts and Honey Apple Glaze

This recipe is lovely any time of the year, but it seems particularly appropriate for the holiday of Sukkot, a harvest festival which is one of three great Jewish Pilgrimage festivals. According to rabbinic tradition, these flimsy sukkot represent the huts in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt.

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.

Cornish Hens with Fruits, Walnuts and Honey Apple Glaze from Food and Wine, September 2012 and tweaked by me

Yield: 4 portions

Ingredients  Cornish Hens with Fruit, Walnuts and Honey Glaze3

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  Cornish Hens with Fruit, Walnuts and Honey Glaze2

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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Cornish Hens with Fruit, Walnuts and Honey Glaze1Brush the hens with some of the glaze and then cook for 20 minutes.   
  3. 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.

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.

 

 

 

Death by Chocolate Vegan Passover Cake

I LOVE Passover. I love that it means Spring is here. I love the story of my People’s deliverance from slavery to freedom. I love sharing our table with family and friends and I love the food. Baking for Passover was always challenging but not insurmountable and I make wonderful cookies and cakes that would be delicious anytime, but which I save for Passover to keep them special. However, our godson is deathly allergic to eggs and THAT is a real challenge.

Sephardic Jews i.e. Jews who originated from Spain, always considered legumes (pulses) and rice Kosher for Passover, but Ashkenazi Jews i.e. Jews from Eastern European traditions considered these foods forbidden. Thankfully in the last couple of years this has changed if you follow the Conservative or Reform Jewish traditions. Some Orthodox Jews now eat quinoa during Passover and others do not. Yes, it’s complicated, so before you get too excited about this cake, find out if your community’s traditions allow for the use of quinoa and aquafaba (the liquid from cooked chickpeas). Some allow one and not the other. I am not a rabbinic authority. However, if you follow Sephardic traditions or the Conservative or Reform movement then this cake may just be a revelation to those of you who cannot or do not eat eggs but wish to observe Passover traditions.

I saw a recipe for Paula Shoyer’s Chocolate Quinoa Cake on the Food52 website and was intrigued. I wondered if I could take the recipe and “veganize” (is that a word?) it. I made the cake 3 times until I was able to get what I wanted. And unlike the original, I did not make this in a bundt pan but chose to make it as a layer cake. I then went on the hunt for a vegan Kosher for Passover option for a chocolate mousse and purchased a Passover chocolate spread. Just follow the steps and this works. There are no tricks or special skills required, but it does take some patience. Thankfully I worked out all of the kinks for you. I made the cake layers a few days ahead of when I needed them but I didn’t assemble the cake until the morning of the Seder. Please use only the best baking chocolate and cocoa. There are many excellent Kosher chocolate options available now. I used a 70% cacao chocolate from Elite but there are others. I wouldn’t go below 60% cacao or above 70% for best results. Assuming you have any left-overs, they will last refrigerated for several days. This can easily be made a couple of days ahead.

I wish that I could have had this recipe ready sooner, but keep this in your file for next year and/or make it during one of the remaining nights of Passover. Why do you think there are 8 days in which to celebrate?!

Death by Chocolate Vegan Passover Cake (Good anytime!)

Death by Chocolate Cake1

Yield: One 8-inch layer cake (It’s rich so this should feed at least 10 people.)

Ingredients

For Cake:

3/4 cup (130 g) quinoa

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) water

Coconut cooking spray or melted coconut oil, for greasing the pan

2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa, for dusting the pan

Zest of one large orange (optional)

1/3 cup (80 ml) orange juice

Aquafaba from one 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, beaten until it turns white and has begun to thicken but before real peaks form

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (or other vanilla if for Passover)

3/4 cup (180 ml) melted coconut oil

1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar

2 Tablespoons of strong black coffee

1/4 cup matza cake meal

1/4 cup almond or hazelnut meal (ground nuts)

1 cup (80 g) dark unsweetened cocoa

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3.5 ounces (100 g) bittersweet chocolate

Vegan Chocolate Mousse by the Minimalist Baker and tweaked by me

1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder

3/4 cup chopped cocoa butter 

3.5 ounces dark chocolate (64-70%)

1 14-ounce can of full-fat coconut milk or coconut creme

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of Kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon of Powdered or Confectioner’s sugar (Kosher for Passover)

6 pitted medjool dates (you could substitute maple syrup but the mousse will be thinner)

Garnishes (Optional)

2 Tablespoons 70% dark mini-chocolate chips

2 Tablespoons finely chopped walnuts

Directions

For the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 8-inch cake pans (preferably non-stick) and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa powder. Set aside.
  2. Either use quinoa that has already been rinsed or rinse your quinoa. If you don’t, there can be a slightly bitter aftertaste. Place the quinoa and water in a small pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to simmer and cook covered for about 15 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Open the pot and allow the quinoa to cool. This can also be made a day ahead.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Give it a stir and then microwave for an additional 38 seconds. Set aside.
  4. Place the quinoa in the bowl of a food processor and process until the quinoa is broken down almost to a paste. Now add the sugar and pulse a few times. Add the zest, if using and coffee and pulse a couple of times.
  5. Add the cocoa powder and pulse about 5 times. Then add in the baking powder and salt and pulse twice. Add in the orange juice, melted chocolate and vanilla extract and pulse a few times. Now add the melted coconut oil and pulse until incorporated. Lastly add the matza cake meal and nut meal. Just leave everything in the food processor, covered while you prepare the aquafaba.
  6. In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the strained liquid from a 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas. I like the ones that have salt. It just always seems to work better for me. Using the whisk attachment, beat the aquafaba on high until the liquid turns completely white, has increased in volume and begun to thicken. This takes about 15 minutes so be patient. You do not need to beat until actual peaks form.
  7. Add the aquafaba to your food processor and process until it is completely incorporated. This can be done by hand if your processor isn’t big enough. Divide and pour the mixture into the prepared pans and bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with just a couple of crumbs on it.  Remove the cake to a cooling rack and allow it to cool in the pan for about 12 minutes or until you can touch the rim of the pan with your fingers.
  8. Place a cooling rack over the pan and flip out the cake. Allow it to finish cooling completely. This can be made a couple of days ahead or even earlier if well-wrapped and frozen. If frozen, defrost the cake layers before assembling. 

For the Mousse

  1. In a small saucepan, combine cocoa or cacao powder, cocoa butter, chocolate, salt, and (180 ml) coconut milk. Begin warming over medium-low heat, whisking to combine.
  2. Once the mixture is melted whisk until fully combined. Then remove from heat and add vanilla and confectioner’s sugar to taste (or just add more dates). I found 3/4 teaspoon sugar to be perfect.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a blender. Add dates and blend on high until creamy and smooth. 
  4. Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more cacao powder for rich chocolate flavor, dates for sweetness, or salt for saltiness.
  5. Transfer to a bowl and cover. Refrigerate until cold and thickened – at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  6. To serve on its own, divide between serving glasses and top with coconut whipped cream, raspberries, and chopped vegan dark chocolate or cacao/cocoa powder (optional).
  7. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator up to 5 days. 

Assembly

  1.  Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cake board with the flat side facing up. (The flat side will have sunk slightly as it cooled but don’t worry since it will be filled with mousse and won’t show.) Spread with softened chocolate or chocolate hazelnut spread. How thickly you do this is between you and your cardiologist. I used about 10 ounces. 
  2. Now spread half of the chocolate mousse over the chocolate spread. If you like, you can sprinkle about 2 Tablespoons of shopped walnuts and 2 Tablespoons of mini-dark chocolate chips over the chocolate spread for a bit of extra decadence. Place the next layer with the flat side facing up over the first layer and the fillings. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining mousse. Using an off-set spatula, just smooth around the sides of the cake to catch any bits that may have oozed. You should see the filling, but it shouldn’t be oozing out. You need to refrigerate the cake at this point to keep things from softening and to make cutting the cake easier.
  3.  Add chocolate curls or sprinkles or piece of candied orange to the top if you wish but frankly nothing more is needed. Take the cake out of the fridge about an 45 minutes to an hour before you wish to serve it. This incredibly rich and decadent cake reminds me of a Chocolate Marquise cake that a wonderful French Bistro in Chicago used to make. No one eating this will think that they settled either for a Passover dessert or for a vegan dessert. This is  one INTENSE chocolate experience.

Spiced Apple Cake

I grew up with a mother who cooked and baked and while we did, of course, buy things from a wonderful neighborhood bakery, there was nothing like walking into a house with that smell of fresh baking. I wanted my son to have this experience as well and so even though I volunteered and went back to graduate school and then eventually worked full-time while he was growing up, I still tried to bake as often as possible. When I had time, I might make something more difficult but I always had some easy recipes up my sleeves for those days when time was at a premium. Since both my husband and son were – and still are – such appreciative audiences, it was a pleasure to make this extra effort.

I found this recipe in a wonderful cookbook that I have gone back to over and over again and it was one of my first gifts to Frances and Matthew when they had their own apartment. Not only are the recipes incredibly accurate and easy to follow, but the stories that go along with the recipes are fun – and often enlightening – to read. This is a great cake to make any time but is a wonderful last minute dessert for Shabbat. You could also prepare the topping (except for the apples) the night before along with measuring out your dry ingredients. It will be a snap to throw this together before dinner. Left-overs are great the next day with a cup of coffee, tea or milk.

Spiced Apple Cake by Gloria Kaufer Greene from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook.

Yield: About 9 servings

Ingredients

Filling and Topping

2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon

A pinch of Kosher salt

1 large or 2 small/medium sweet baking apple(s), like a Golden Delicious, peeled, cored and thinly sliced. Squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon juice over the apples to keep them from darkening.

Batter

1/2 cup of unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup apple cider or richly-flavored apple juice

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour (or half whole wheat flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease or spray a 9-inch (preferably non-stick) square baking pan.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients for the topping. I found that throwing the spices, sugar and nuts into a blender and pulsing the mixture to chop the nuts makes fast work of this. Set the mixture and the apple slices aside.
  3. This can be done by hand but I find it makes for a lighter batter if I use an electric mixer. Cream the butter and 3/4 cups of sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. one at a time and stir until well-combined. Add the spices and beat well. In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the baking soda, baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Alternately add the cider and flour mixture to the batter, beating well after each addition.
  4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the batter with half of the nut topping. Arrange all of the apples over the topping. Spread the remaining batter carefully over the apples and sprinkle the remaining topping over the batter. Gently press the nut topping into the batter with your fingertips.
  5. Bake the cake for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire cooling rack. Cut into large squares. This can be eaten still warm, but not hot. Cover any left-overs with foil. For extra decadence, serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

 

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.