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Archive for the ‘sweets’ Category

Look what I found.

They’re jars.

From Italy!

No, I didn’t bring them back from Italy, though that would have been the type of story I like to tell.

I could tell you about how I visited Rimini with my friend Lau for a beach holiday. How I ran to dip my feet in the Adriatic before we had even started to unpack. How as I walked back to the room, flip-flops in hand, I stopped by a little gelato place, drawn by the scruffy man behind the counter wielding a shallow scoop, caught by the indecision over gianduia versus espresso, satisfied by a double cone, and enchanted by the large jars holding nuts and tiny chocolate chips. How I inquired about those jars and was told that they had been made for the past 150 years by a company only three hours away in Fidenza that began its business making bottles for pharmaceuticals. How I rushed back to my room to find Lau resting on her bed, arm flug across her eyes to block out the ray of sunlight, and how I woke her up to taste that gelato and tell her my plan of renting a car to drive those three hours to the glass manufacturer to see a little history. How I said, “it’s only a three hour drive” with such conviction that she forewent a day on the beach to accompany me.

But, that didn’t happen.

I could tell you about how I visited Venice with my college boyfriend and how after a morning of navigating the canals and pigeons, we took a speed boat out to Murano to see their famous glass. How when ringing up a small decorative plate, the store owner stuffed her copy of the receipt into a glass jar. How I was so enamored by the jar that she emptied it, as she said she did every night, and arranged all the receipts in a neat pile, and handed the jar to me.

But, that didn’t happen.

I could tell you how I was just south of Naples on the island of Capri in the cold of November with a friend who was a serious shopper. How she introduced me to Prada and Gucci. How our little hotel in the cliffs welcomed us to our room with a glass jar filled with biscotti in lieu of a TV. How we took that jar of biscotti with us as we hiked out to the blue grotto (“La Grotta Azzurra”) and snacked on them along the way, holding on to the empty jar as we scooched down in our tiny rowboat to enter the water-filled cave. And how I carefully wrapped that jar in t-shirts to secure its safe flight home.

But that didn’t happen.

Here’s what did happen.

I found the jars in a store not too far from my apartment and I picked up one from the shelf. I went back to the shelf. I brought home five.

The other stories are better, no?

Regardless of how I got them, now I get to fill them. Let’s start with the biscotti that my Capri hotel make-believe baked for us.

Let’s bake them with cocoa and stud them with almonds.

Now let’s tinge them with orange – a little zest, a little blossom water, the smell of citrus.

Perfect for a hike (with espresso in a thermos).

Next, let’s fill another jar with some chocolate and nuts reminiscent of the toppings in the gelato shop with the cute scoop-wielding Italian man who served me two flavors. Let’s make a nutty crunchy sweet concoction that’s less trail-worthy and more I-need-an-afternoon-snack-worthy. Let’s bring in a jar to the office and leave it on the corner of a desk for everyone to snack from.

Finally, let’s fill a jar with receipts.

OK, that doesn’t make sense. But let’s say that I open my own restaurant (the one with the long communal table). And let’s say I keep each day’s receipts in a glass jar at the front of the house and keep a stock of glass jars in the back. And let’s say that if someone comments on the receipt jar, I’ll pull one out from that back room and send him away with a smile.

Let’s just say.

Chocolate almond orange biscotti

I based this recipe off of David Lebovitz‘s chocolate biscotti – he makes one hell of a biscotti. I think these are my favorite biscotti I’ve ever made, and I’ve made a lot. I did make a few changes to give them an orange flavor – I replaced the almond extract with orange blossom water, omitted the chocolate chips, increased the amount of salt, and added orange zest. It’s actually easier to make these by hand than using a stand mixer.

- 1 C raw almonds

- 4 eggs (room temperature) – divided 3 for the dough, 1 for brushing on top

- 1 C sugar

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 t orange blossom water

- zest of 1 orange

- 2 C flour

- 3/4 C cocoa powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 1/2 t kosher salt

- turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

Toast. While pre-heating the oven to 350°F, toast the almonds on a cookie sheet. This should take about 10 minutes. Stay close to the oven – when the scent of almond fills the kitchen, take them out. Let them cool and then roughly chop them.

Beat. In a bowl, beat together the first 3 eggs, sugar, vanilla, orange blossom water, and orange zest.

Stir. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt and gradually stir into the wet ingredients until the dough comes together. Mix in the chopped toasted almonds. The dough will be thick and sticky.

Shape. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Flour your hands a tiny bit and shape the dough into two logs. Lightly brush them with beaten egg white (freeze the yolk for the next time you want to make pâte sucrée) and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes until the dough feels firm to the touch.

Cool. Remove the logs and cool on a rack for about 15 minutes.

Slice. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the cooled logs diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.

Bake again. Lay the cookies, cut side down, back on the cookie sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, flipping them over after 10 minutes to toast both sides.

Eat (or store). In case you don’t finish these all in one sitting, store them in an airtight container for up to two weeks. As if!

I-need-an-afternoon-snack mix

It’s a bit embarrassing to call this a recipe. But I do believe that I have, though extensive testing and customer surveys, developed the best afternoon pick-me-up. Here’s how you do it:

Start with a few handfuls of lightly salted roasted almonds. Bonus points if you then toast them again in your oven until your kitchen smells like almonds. Put them in a big bag. Add in a few handfuls of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Add in one big handful of dried blueberries. Add in one big handful of dried tart cherries. Shake it all around. Pour into an Italian jar. Leave on the corner of your desk.

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our handiwork

For the past two Tuesdays, I’ve left the office early, made a mad dash through  Harvard Square and up Mass Ave, searched for a parking spot, and stood at a long table in a hot room with a bunch of strangers. It’s an exhausting end to a full day at work, but after the first week, I was ready. I brought a pair of ballet flats to change into. I wore a short sleeve dress. I mentally prepared myself to be patient.

Week two was tarts and pies. We skipped the food processor in favor of our hands.

There was squishing cold butter and flour between fingers and crumbling it into little pieces. There was scooping and tossing sandy dough with fingertips to mix it with water. There was pushing dough with heels of hands and smearing it across the counter.

I let my mind wander. I let my hands feel. I let my day slip away.

There was banter as my neighbors and I got to know each other while working the dough and making sure not to overwork it. We checked out each other’s progress, comparing doughs as they just  barely came together. We wrapped up dough and piled parcels into the refrigerator.

There was slicing and stirring and whipping and melting and tasting while doughs chilled and we made fillings.

There was pushing and pulling of French rolling pins, sliding of palms over tapered ends as dough flattened and thinned across the floured counter.

There was divvying up of tart pans and cutting up of dough. There was light pressing of dough into the slides of pans. There was rolling of pins across edges of pans and trimming of excess dough.

There were rogue pie weights to chase as they spun out of reach.

There were tart crusts to check in the hot oven. There were fillings to fill and filled tarts to bake.

We admired our handiwork.

Then I got a parking ticket.

Pâte brisée (short pastry) by hand

The key to makng a flaky crust is to start with very cold ingredients, to not overwork the dough, and to not add too much liquid. I love all the French terminology, so you may find a few quick French lessons thrown into the recipe.

This recipe makes one tart/pie crust. If you are making a double crust pie, you’ll need to double this recipe.

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1/8 t salt

- 4 ounces (8 T) unsalted butter

- 3-4 T ice water

Combine. Combine the flour and salt on the countertop.

Cut. Weigh or measure the very cold butter. Cut it into 1-inch cubes.

Pinch. Place the butter on the counter and cover it with the flour-salt mix. Pinch and gently smush the butter into the flour until you get pea-sized pieces. 

Sabler. Sabler means to reduce into sand. (Sable is sand and French sables are crumbly cookies such as pecan sandies.) Cut into the butter flour mixture with a bench scraper until it resembles sand.

Papillon. A papillon is a butterfly. Spread the sandy mixture into a long rectangle and form a trough down the center. Drip a tablespoon of water all along the trough, and then with your fingers spread, fluff and flutter the sand into the center to gently incorporate it into the water. Using a bench scraper, gather the forming dough and repeat the papillon step a tablespoon of water at a time. The dough will start to come together in shaggy pieces. The dough is ready when you squeeze it and it sticks together. Don’t add too much water, or when you bake the dough, it will shrink down and away from the tart pan sides and your tart will be too shallow. Weather will affect the dough – if it’s humid, add less water.

Fraisage. Gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. The etymology of  fraisage is a little complicated, but here’s my best attempt. The non-cooking definition of fraisage is the act of drilling. The verb fraiser means to sheer. Though it’s spelled differently, I’m convinced that fraiser (and therefore fraisage)) s related to the shear forces of physics. Remember your physics? I remembered just  barely enough to look up the phrase. Essentially shearing is the deformation of a material in which parallel surfaces slide past each other. So, you push the pâte with the heel of your hand, and the flour and butter slide past each other. When I did this, I could imagine the layers of  flakiness starting to form. Check out the second picture – you can see distinct flaky layers on the front left edge of the tart.

Chill. Gather the dough together and press it into a disc (about an inch thick). Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll. Lightly flour the counter. Place the disc of cold dough on the counter and using a large rolling-pin, push the dough away from you, pull it towards you, and then turn the dough 90 degrees. Repeat the push-pull-turn combo until you’ve rolled the dough out into a circle 1/8-inch thick.

Cut. Place a tart or pie pan on the rolled-out dough and use a sharp knife to cut out a circle (or whatever shape your pan is) an inch from the pan edge for a tart or two inches for a deep-dish pie. You want to make sure that the dough will be large enough to go up the sides of the pan.

Press. Lift the dough and place it on top of the pan. Gently press it into the corners and up the edges. Roll a rolling-pin across the top of the pan to trim off the excess dough.

Chill. Chill the pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour or the freezer for 15 minutes.

Blind bake. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Prick the chilled dough all over with a fork, cover it with parchment paper and then fill the pan with pie weights. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the hot pie weights and parchment, and continue to bake for another 5 minutes until the crust is light golden.

Reduce heat. Lower the oven to 350ºF.

Fill. Fill the crust with whatever filling you’re using.

Bake. Bake for 30-45 minutes (will vary from filling to filling).

 Pear and dried cherry tart

After blind-baking a pâte brisée crust, fill it with this pear and dried tart cherry combination. This tart is not particularly sweet and the addition of rosemary provides a savory note. A friend of mine called it a  sophisticated, subtle, and grown-up  tart.

- 6 firm ripe Bosc pears

- 1 1/2 C dried tart cherries

- 1/2 C light brown sugar

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary (1 t chopped)

- 2 T lemon juice

- 1 T cornstarch

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Cut. Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop the rosemary leaves very finely.

Cook. Cook the pears, cherries, brown sugar, and rosemary in a pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently. It should take about 20 minutes until the pears are tender.

Thicken. Whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small cup. Then stir into the cooked pear mixture and bring to a boil for about 1 minute until the mix thickens.

Cool. Let the fruit cool before adding to the tart crust.

Prepare tart crust. Make, roll, and blind bake a tart at 425ºF for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes.

Fill. Fill the tart crust with the cooled fruit.

Bake. Lower the oven to 350ºF. Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes.

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the draw of the oven

You’ll never guess what I did.

No, really. Guess.

I threw a Superbowl party last weekend.

Correction. I offered up my apartment and TV to a few friends who were throwing a Superbowl party. If you want to throw a party, this is the way to do it. The original hosts organized. They brought salad and quesedillas and guacamole and vegetables and dip and beer and rice krispies treats. They brought paper plates. They told me not to make anything.

I tried. I really tried not to make anything.

But I couldn’t resist the draw of the oven and the promise of chocolate chips. So a few minutes before everyone showed up, I started whipping together a dessert.

Correction, whipping is an exaggeration. I did indeed start the recipe with an whisk, but quickly switched over to a spoon. This is a one pot, one bowl deal. The pot is for browned butter. The bowl is for whipping up, I mean mixing up, the blondies. You could even keep your pot hung up on its rack and melt the butter in the microwave instead of browning it. But I’d advise against it. And if I’m telling you to clean an extra pot, you know I’m serious.

Everyone arrived to the nutty scent of browning butter.

As the coats were hung and the table was set, the butter cooled and the oven pre-heated.

During kickoff, I held the glass bowl against my stomach and whisked the butter and sugar together. Then I set the bowl down to watch the first few plays.

In stolen moments between the game and the start of the first commercial, I snuck into the kitchen to switch to a wooden spoon and drop in the vanilla and egg.

A few more plays, a few more turns of the spoon, a few more seconds before a few more commercials, and I added the rest of the dry ingredients.

Back to the living room, I sat on the sofa and continued to stir, watching the game unfold. A fine layer of flour settled on my guests and sofa.

Back to the kitchen, a few handfuls of chocolate chips, a few more stirs, and into the pan and into the oven.

Out of the oven, the blondies stayed in the kitchen during the halftime show.

They made their appearance during the second half. They made their disappearance during the second half.

It was a sad day for the Pats, especially for the fans at a party that was half inhabited by Giants. It was all very civil, no brawls to break up.

When the game was over, we gathered the trash and packed up the leftovers and wiped down the remaining blondie crumbs spread across the table.

Brown butter blondies

I believe I have found the best blondie recipe in the world. And then, risking hubris, I bested it just a touch by browning the butter. The original recipe is from Garrett McCord’s blog Vanilla Garlic. I discovered it in a roundabout way when looking for an easy lemon dessert. I took a lemon mascarpone blondie recipe, contributed by Garrett to Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes, cheated by using bottled lemon juice instead of freshly squeezed, and baked it in a tart pan. While looking at that recipe, I clicked on a link to Garrett’s base blondie recipe and flagged it for future reference. I’ve been making the blondies ever since, and got the idea to brown the butter from the only brownies worth making from scratch.

Makes 16 blondies.

- 1/2 C butter

- 1 C tightly packed dark brown sugar

- 1 egg

- 2 t vanilla

- 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/8 t baking soda

- pinch of salt

- 1 C flour

- 1/2 C milk chocolate chips

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8X8 pan.

Brown. Heat the butter in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. After it has melted, it will froth and the solids will start to brown. You’ll be able to scrape up the brown  bits with a spoon. Once the butter starts to smell nutty and the liquid butter turns a dark golden brown, it’s ready. This takes about 10 minutes. Cool the butter to room temperature.

Whisk. Whisk the cooled brown butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the egg and vanilla extract and keep whisking.

Stir. Stir in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips. The batter will be quite thick.

Bake. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cut. When the brownies are cool, flip them out onto a cutting  board. Using a big chef’s knife or a pizza wheel, cut the blondies into 16 2X2 squares.

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here we go

I’m taking another course! Last time was six weeks of cooking. This time, we’re baking.

I can fairly confidently call myself a cooker. But a baker? Not so much.

Sure, I bake. But serious baking takes patience. I take shortcuts. Baking needs precision. I need to taste and modify as I go. Baking requires a scale. I require … oh wait, I do indeed have a scale.

Well then, I guess I shall try to be a serious baker.

Here we go … let’s talk about serious baking.

Our first class was on pâte à choux.

What? You don’t know what that is? Let me give you a hint.

Need another hint? You fill them with crème pâtissière.

Then you cover them with chocolate.

Éclairs. Éclairs! We made éclairs!

Need another look?

I thought so.

Pictures aside, let’s get down to business.

Pâte à choux is cream puff dough which is the base for cream puffs (duh), éclairs, profiteroles (cream puffs that you fill with ice cream instead of pastry cream and drizzle with chocolate), and gougères (savory cheese puffs).

The main leavening agent in pâte à choux is steam, created by the high moisture content in the dough. You bring a water and butter mixture to a boil before adding flour – boiling ensures that the flour expands to accept all the liquid. But quick, you don’t want the water to boil for too long or you’ll lose some of that moisture, so you have to whip it off the stove the moment it starts to boil. You stir and beat the flour into the dough to strengthen the gluten structure which gives the dough a lot of elasticity. You bake the pâte in a very hot oven so that the steam puffs up the pastry, and then lower the temperature to let the puffs dry out a bit (you don’t want a wet center). When you take the puffs out, you poke a few holes in them to let steam escape and to help them keep drying out as they cool.

The attention to detail here made my head spin.

Here are a few mistakes that you don’t want to make:

- Don’t forget to stir the dough continuously on the stove top.

- Don’t add warm half-and-half to the pâte à choux dough instead of to the pastry cream.

- Don’t scare your baking partners by adding a large pinch of salt instead of a half teaspoon. (They gasped!)

- Don’t get air in your pastry bag.

Oy. Can you tell it was a long night?

By the way, do you know why the dough is called choux? Choux means cabbage  (plural) in French and that’s what my baking partners’ little cream puffs looked like. Want to know something else about choux? A French mother might call her child “mon petit chou” – my little cabbage – when he’s behaving and cute as a button. Probably when he’s asleep like a doll and she’s showing him off to her neighbors.

Look at all mes petits choux!

Pâte à choux master recipe

We made the pâte à choux by hand, but you can cheat and use your mixer if you have one. If you don’t have a pastry bag, use a ziplock bag snipped at a corner to pipe the pastry dough onto a cookie sheet and then a turkey baster to fill the pastries with crème pâtissière.

Makes about 16 small éclairs or 3 dozen small cream puffs.

- 1 C cold water

- 8 T unsalted butter – at room temperature

- 1/2 t salt

- 1 C flour

- 4 eggs

- Optional: 1 egg for eggwash

Boil. Add water, butter, and salt to a large saucepan (you’ll be adding flour to it) and heat over moderate heat until the water comes to a boil. Once it boils, remove the pan from the heat quickly.  At this point, the butter should be just melted. If the water boils before the butter melts and there are lumps of butter, take the pan off the heat and wait for the butter to melt.  Essentially, you don’t want to lose too much moisture by leaving the pan on the heat longer than necessary.

Mix. When you’ve removed the pan from the heat, add all of the flour at once. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it has the consistency of mashed potatoes. Then return the pan to medium heat and stir vigorously to dry out the pastry. This takes about 5 minutes. When you stir, be sure to scape the bottom and sides of the pot. When it has dried out enough, the dough will be a shiny mass that small beads of butter will be on the surface of the pan (the pan will look like it’s sweating). When you stick a finger into the dough, a tiny bit of butter will pool in the depression.  At this point, remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.

Keep mixing. Transfer the dough to a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer) and beat in eggs one at a time. The texture will change dramatically. After the first egg, it will separate into strands. Continue adding each eggs and the dough will start to become more cohesive. With the last egg, the dough will sling to the sides of the pan or bowl and whatever you’re using to mix. If it’s not,  you might need to add a little more egg.

Store. You can pipe the dough immediately (see  below) or cover the surface closely with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t form a skin like pudding. You can keep it at room temperature for a few  hours, in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for up to 4 months. If you are going to freeze the dough, pipe the dough into whatever shape you want, freeze, and then store in a ziplock bag.

Pipe. Line a cookie sheet with parchment (spray the pan with a tiny bit of oil so the parchment sticks. Fit a pastry bag with a large round tip (#9 or 3/4-inch) and then fill it with pâte à choux dough. Hold the tip very close to the parchment, twist the end of the bag, grip the twisted part between your thumb and forefinger, and then use your other fingers to squeeze gently from the end (sort of like toothpaste) to form strips 2-4 inches long for éclairs or round puffs for cream puffs. Use a little water on your fingers to smooth out any mistakes.

Optional: brush. If you are not going to cover your puffs with anything (chocolate, glaze, etc.), use a pastry brush to lightly coat the tops of the pastry with a beaten egg. Don’t let the egg pool around the edges of the dough or it will stick and make it more difficulty for the pastry to puff.

Bake. Preheat the oven to 475º. Place the pan in the oven and immediately drop the heat down to 375ºF. Bake pastries until puffed by double, golden brown, and firm to the touch: 20-25 minutes for éclairs 0r 30-35 minutes for cream puffs. Then drop the temperature again to 300ºF and bake until the pastries completely dry out: another 20 minutes for the éclairs or 10-15 minutes for cream puffs. Remove the pan from the oven and use a toothpick to poke a hole in each end of the éclairs or at the bottom of the cream puffs, move it around a bit to expand the opening,  and cool completely on a rack. Poking the holes helps the pastries to completely dry out.

Fill. Fit a pastry bag with a small tip and fill the bag with pastry cream (recipe below). Twist the end of the bag and, like with piping, squeeze gently from the end to fill the éclairs or cream puffs in the holes you made earlier.

Enrobe. Dip the filled éclairs or cream puffs into the chocolate glaze (recipe below).

Crème pâtissière (pastry cream)

Makes 2 ½ cups

- 1 ¾ C half-and-half

- 1 t vanilla

- 4 egg yolks

- 1/2  sugar

- 1/3 C flour

- pinch of salt

- 1 C cream

Heat. Warm up the half-and-half in a saucepan over low heat (don’t let it bubble or boil). Remove pan from heat.

Mix. Whip the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until very thick and pale yellow. This can easily take up to 10 minutes! Stir in the flour and salt. Very gradually, add the warm half-and-half to the yolk mixture, stirring with a whisk.

Cook. Transfer the mix into a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. When the mixture starts to bubble, lower heat slightly and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Strain. Using a single mesh strainer, strain the cream into a bowl.

Cool. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, placing the plastic right up against the surface of the  cream to avoid the cream forming a skin. Poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to allow steam to escape. refrigerate until cold — this takes about 30 minutes.

Whip. Whip the cream. Fold it into the pastry cream.

Chocolate glaze.

- 4 oz sem-sweet (~55%) or bittersweet (~70%) chocolate

- 1 t vegetable shortening (we used Crisco)

- 1 T corn syrup

Melt. Using a serrated knife, shave the chocolate and put it into a bowl. Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and put over medium heat. Place the bowl on top of the pot, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Once about half of the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the pot.

Stir. Stir the chocolate until it has completely melted. Add the shortening and corn syrup and continue to stir. Let the chocolate cool until it reaches the desired consistency. I found it easiest to dip the puffs into the chocolate when it was lukewarm.

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thank you

Where to begin?

Thank you.

Thank you to my family.

Thank you to the friends who voted and recruited their frends to vote, and their friends’ friends.

Thank you to the colleagues who, when our network blocked them from voting, voted from their home computers, BlackBerries, and iPhones.

Thank you to the loyal readers who found me in the early days and stayed close while I fought my way out of crappy and embarrassing photos.

Thank you to those who serve as inspiration and muse for my cooking, recipes, and writing.

Thank you to the complete strangers who discovered Kosher Camembert through Joy of Kosher’s best kosher food blog contest and enjoyed it enough to vote.

Until I can send each and every one of you these almond and orange croquants (my lucky officemates … you were the first recipients), please accept my gratitude with this recipe.

Almond and orange croquants

Croquants are crispy French almond cookies, normally very sweet and merengue-based. I found a recipe for ones that are similar in shape and texture to biscotti on the blog that inspired me to start this one. If you like biscotti, check out these almond and chocolate ones. These croquants are not too sweet with almonds that are well toasted and only 1 ½ cups of sugar to 4 cups flour. The original recipe calls for half white whole wheat flour, but I prefer to only use all-purpose. If you taste the raw dough, it will taste a little bitter – don’t worry — this is from the orange blossom water and it mellows during baking.

Makes about 4 dozen.

- 12 ounces whole raw almonds (approximately 2 ½ cups)

- 4 C all-purpose flour (or use a scale to measure out 500 g flour) or 2 C all-purpose and 2 C white whole wheat flours

- 1 ½ C sugar

- 1 t baking powder

- ½ t kosher salt

- 2 large eggs

- 2 T orange blossom water

- 1 orange for zest

- approximately ½ C cold water

- optional: sugar in the raw ( also called “turbinado” or “demerara”) and fleur de sel (or kosher salt)

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toast. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheets. Toast in the oven for about 15 minutes. They’re ready when the scent of almonds wafts over from the kitchen. When you take them out of the oven, the inside should  be light brown and the skins should start to crackle as the nuts cool.

Mix. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt (I used my stand mixer). Add eggs one at a time, orange blossom water, and orange zest and incorporate. At this point, the mixture will be very crumbly and will not yet come together. Add the cold water, 2 tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together. Gently stir in cooled almonds.

Shape. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Shape the dough into 2 or 3 long loaves on the parchment. The dough will be sticky – just go with it. I typically make the logs about 3 inches wide. You can make them wider, but make sure to leave enough room between the two loaves to allow them to spread without touching.

Sprinkle. Wet your hands and slide them over the loaves to smooth out the sticky dough. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and sugar in the raw.

Bake. Bake the loaves for 30-40 minutes. I set my timer for 30 minutes and then check the loaves every few minutes . They are ready when the dough sets and turns golden brown.

Cool slightly. Remove the loaves from the parchment (they should come off pretty easily) and cool for 5-10 minutes. If you let them cool for too long, they’ll be too hard to slice.

Lower temperature. Lower the oven to 225ºF.

Slice. Slice the still-warm loaves diagonally into skinny slices, about 1-2 cm (or 1/2 inch) wide.

Bake again. Lay the slices on a cooling rack and place the rack directly in the oven. This will allow the croquants to crisp evenly. Or, spread the slices out on your cookie sheet and flip them over half way through the second baking. Bake again for 20-25 minutes.

Store. Let the cookies cool and then store in an airtight tin. You can always crisp them up a bit on low heat in a toaster oven.

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Remember my mixer? The one that leapt to its death like a goldfish from its tank?

What? Am I the only one who had lemming-like goldfish growing up?

Well anyway, the old  has been been replaced  by a bigger, shinier model. I have not yet had a chance to make (or share the recipe for) the challah that challenged my mixer to a duel and won. But I have used my new toy twice already and I was very glad for the extra room in the big bowl. I broke it in with ka’ak b’sukar (yes, you do need to be careful when pronounching the name of these Syrian butter cookies). A pear frangipane tart quickly followed. The tart is on its way, but let’s first talk about the cookies.

I first tried sweet ka’ak b’sukar (sukar means sugar) in Israel when staying with my friend Zoe’s Syrian grandmother. Her Jedda (Arabic for grandmother) welcomed us into her home overlooking Jerusalem with a plate of pale twisted cookies and a pot of tea. My first impression was that they were a bit bland. By the fourth taste though, I was reaching for a fifth. I was hooked. Before going to bed, I’d find my hand making its way over to the cookie tin next to the stove. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d gingerly tip-toe across the cold ceramic floor, refreshing in the hot August night, and reach into that tin again. While waiting for the water to boil for coffee in the morning, I’d snag a few more. After three days, Zoe’s grandmother had to make another batch. The evening of my flight home, she gave me everything that was left in the tin.

I was so excited to find this ka’ak recipe that I didn’t look beyond the list of ingredients and the pretty cookies staring at me from the right side of the page. I threw four eggs and a cup and a half of sugar into my (new!) mixer bowl and started to beat. As I gathered the rest of the ingredients and finally read past the first step, I saw that the sugar was supposed to be divided – one cup in the mixer, the remaining half cup for coating the cookies.

The fix was easy — I made a larger batch. And it seemed fitting that my mixer’s six quart bowl easily fit the over seven cups of flour.

Ka’ak b’sukar (braided sugar cookies)

This is the recipe that I used, essentially one and a half times the original. If you have a smaller bowl, multiply all quantities by 2/3. Depending on how large you make you cookies, the full recipe makes about 50-60 cookies. They are meant to remain somewhat soft after baking (they’re not crispy at all).

- 6 eggs

- 1.5 C sugar, plus more for finishing the cookies

- 1 orange (to make 1 T zest)

- 1 T vanilla extract

- 1.5 C vegetable oil

- 7.5 C flour

- 1.5 T baking powder

 Mix. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar, zest, vanilla, and oil. Slowly add the flour and baking powder until you get a sticky well-blended dough.

Chill. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes.

Preheat. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Shape. If dough is too sticky to handle when you remove from the fridge, add a small amount of flour and mix everything together with your hands. Keep adding tablespoon by tablespoon of flour and mixing until it  no longer sticks to your fingers. Don’t flour the counter. Take a handful of dough and roll it on the counter into a strand about 1/2 inch thick. Bring the two ends together, folding the strand in half. Holding the folded over side, gently twist the doubled strand several times until it looks like a rope. Cut the rope into pieces that are 2 to 3 inches long. For me, most ropes yielded two cookies.

Roll. Pour some sugar onto a small plate. Lightly roll the twisted cookies in the sugar to coat.

Bake. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment. Place the cookies on the sheet about an inch apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The cookies should remain very pale, with only a tiny bit of browning on the bottom where some of the sugar caramelizes.

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grill? yes I will!

In the months before Christmas, I started a class
of chopping and stirring and cooking with gas.

I dragged myself up every Sunday at eight.
Luck’ly they set out strong coffee to wait.

Knife skills and techniques were taught on week one,
but at home were dull knives that weren’t much fun.

Week two was eggs that we poached, whipped, and scrambled.
We made a soufflé even I could have handled.

On week three, we learned that a good stock should jiggle,
but without salt and acid, soup surely will fizzle.

The fourth week was braising, keep temperatures low,
to make cabbage and short ribs and osso bucco.

When week six was sauces, I made béchamel;
I took home a pear so the recipe I could tell.

But wait! You’ve just noticed — where’s the fifth week?
Oh you smart readers, nothing past you can I sneak!

Week five as you know, was on hot hot hot heat.
For my part, I set forth with grilling some meat.

Other types of dry heat, we also did try,
from broiling to roasting to deep deep fat fry.

You may not have realized, but until that day,
I’d never tried frying or grilling, no way!

I faced deep fat frying just earlier this week,
with sufganiyot – fancy doughnuts, so to speak.

But I think grill cooking and taking out trash
are jobs for a man, and I’ll flutter my lash.

Though I’m planning to try – only grilling, of course -
with a grill pan I own, or another resource.

I’ll start this “man’s task” with a feminine flair,
with fruit and with teacake and other sweet fare.

And, in case you are wondering, although I will grill,
the trash taking out will remain my worst skill.

 

Grilled fruit

A lot of different fruits can apparently be grilled. While my cooking partner and I were waiting for our meat to marinate, we scrounged around the kitchen for other things to grill. We found pears and grapefruits and set to work. We cut the fruit into good sized chunks that wouldn’t fall down the grill grates. For the pears, we made 4 cuts around the core. For the grapefruit, we made about 4 slices perpendicular to the fruit segments. We then brushed all surfaces with a little olive oil (I’m sure melted butter would be great too), a nice sprinkle or two of sugar, and a small pinch of salt (if you want). Fire up the grill. Or, if you are like me and only have indoor cookery, put your grill pan on medium heat. When your grill (pan) is hot, place the fruit on the grill. Let it cook for about 5 minutes on each side for harder fruit (apples, pears) or 2-3 mintues per side for citrus. Just like with meat, the fruit is ready when it releases itself from the grill (pan) – if you have to tug at it, leave it be for a minute more.

Grilled cranberry-orange zinfadel bread with orange mascarpone cream

We made these “breads” as tea cakes in mini loaf pans. They would obviously work just as well in 2 large loaf pans. I think the cake is great as is, but excellent with the extra texture and flavor from the grill. When you make the dough – think of it  like pancake batter – you don’t want to over mix. Instead you want the ingredients to just barely come together.

For the cranberry-orange zinfandel bread:

- 1/4 C oil

- 2 eggs, slightly beaten

- 4 C flour

- 1 1/2 C sugar

- 1 t salt

- 1 T baking powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 1 C walnuts or pecans

- 3 C whole raw cranberries

- 2/3 C fresh orange juice

- 1/2 C white zinfancel

- 2 oz melted butter

For the orange mascarpone cream:

- 1 C (8 oz) mascarpone

- 1 t orange zest

- 3 T fresh orange juice

- 1 T orange liqueur (Cointreau, triple sec, Grand Marnier)

- 1 T confectioner’s sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter/oil and flour 2 loaf pans, 6 mini loaf pans, or 2 dozen muffin tins. Toast nuts in the heated oven for 10-15 minutes – the second you start smelling the nuts, grab them from the oven. Check them at about 7 minutes. When the cool a bit, chop them up into medium sized chunks.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix oil and eggs well. Then add the dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir this all together until it just barely combines — the mix will be a bit crumbly. Fold in nuts and cranberries. Then add juice and zinfancel and stir until just blended.

Bake. Pour batter into the greased and floured pans. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out dry.

Grill. Turn on  your grill (or get your grill pan ready). When the bread is cool, slice it into 3/4-inch slices. Brush with melted butter and grill slices 3-4 minutes on each side.

Make mascarpone cream. In a bowl, whisk mascarpone until smooth. Add zest, orange juice, orange liqueur, and sugar and whisk until well blended.

Eat. Top a grilled cake slice (or two) with a big blob of mascarpone cream.

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between mouthfuls

Happy Hanukkah everyone!

This year, I started celebrating the night before the first night. I didn’t light any candles, but I could have said a shehecheyanu — the blessing traditionally recited on the first night of Hanukkah (and other holidays) and special occasions. This was a special occasion alright. Because I fried.

And fried.

And fried.

An Israeli friend, well-versed in the intricacies of baking and frying, emailed me his recipe for sufganiyot, and I left work a little early to pick up what we needed. A bag of flour. A bag of sugar. A dozen eggs. Yeast. And two gallons of oil.

That’s right. Two gallons.

And then I rushed home to mix and knead the dough so it could rise.

My friend arrived an hour later to check on the rising dough. It needed another half hour.

So we turned on the football game. He watched. I poured the wine and heated up soup. We ate on the floor in front of the fireplace.


One glass of wine in, I checked the dough and we were ready to roll. Literally. I sprinkled flour on the counter. He grabbed the rolling pin and set to work. The slightly soft dough yielded to the pressure, spreading out across the granite. I grabbed a glass from the cabinet and cut circles out of the dough. He gathered the scraps and re-rolled them. I cut out the circles again.

He floured a pair of cookie sheets and gently lifted the rounds from the counter and slid them on to the sheets.

An hour later, the flat rounds had become nice and plump, with a slight jiggle when I reached out to touch their smooth skin.

The oil started to bubble in my new cocotte (thanks, mom and dad!). We dropped the first scrap in. It browned up fast with a flood of bubbles. We lowered the heat. The second and third scraps quickly browned too. We lowered the heat again. And then lowered in another scrap. It floated on the oil, staying pale and wan. We turned up the heat. With the fifth scrap came a flurry of teeny tiny bubbles and slow trickle of larger ones. The triangular scrap puffed up even more, turning golden and then coffee-with-a-touch-of-milk brown.

A quick taste and we knew we were ready for the real deal.

My friend scooched the first doughnut towards the edge of the cookie sheet, helping it along the way with a spatula, and slid it into the oil. A quick bob in the oil and then a float, turning golden to brown, and it was ready to be flipped. A few more minutes and it landed on the paper towel-lined countertop. Four more quickly joined. Four more and then the last few.

Armed with a syringe (that a medical resident friend of mine snatched from the hospital), I pierced the side of one of the surganiyot, gently nudged the tip into the center and slowly depressed the plunger, drawing the tip backwards to the edge, leaving a trail of jam.

We tore open this first sufganiya and, between mouthfuls, filled the rest with jam.

I showered the chubby beauties with powdered sugar.

As we plucked up the sufganiyot, they left outlines behind.

Sufganiyot

These doughnuts are traditionally filled with bright reddish-pink jelly though in Israel they come in all flavors. I used raspberry jam. Next time I’ll try dulce de leche. Using a drinking glass to cut the dough, we were able to make about a dozen doughnuts (but only eight made it to the office with me this morning).

- 2 packets dry yeast (or 2 T)

- 3/4 C warm water (body temperature…I take it from the tap)

- 1 C whole milk (you can make with water if you’d like to keep the sufganiyot non-dairy)

- 3/4 C sugar

- 6 T shortening or margarine (Crisco works great here)

- 1 t salt

- 2 eggs

- 5 – 6 C flour

- 1 gallon oil (vegetable or peanut oil is best; canola works in a pinch)

- confectioner’s sugar

 Proof. Mix yeast with warm water and a pinch of sugar. After about 5 minutes,  it will foam up.

Heat. Warm milk in a pan over low heat until it reaches body temperature.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix sugar, shortening, and salt until creamy (I used my barely-functional waiting-for-the-new-one-to-arrive mixer on low speed and it hobbled along, so you could probably do just as well the old-fashioned way). Add eggs and mix. Add yeast mixture and milk and continue to mix. Add 2 cups of the flour. Beat in the remaining flour a half-cup at a time until the dough is very elastic and no longer sticks to the bowl. I had to add a total of 6 cups.

Knead. Knead dough for 5-10 minutes. I started kneading in my mixer and then finished up the last few minutes by hand on a floured counter.

Rise. Put dough in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk – at least an hour. I heat my oven to the lowest temperature possible (170ºF) and then turn it off and leave the covered bowl inside to rise.

Knead. Once dough has doubled, knead it again briefly.

Roll. Roll the dough out on a floured counter until it is about 1/2 thick.

Cut. Using a drinking glass, cut the dough into rounds. Re-roll the scraps and cut the rest of the rounds. These (the rounds from the re-rolled dough) will need to rise a little bit longer than the others. Keep the remaining scraps to test the oil.

Rise again. Place the rounds on a well-floured cookie sheet (ideally the kind without edges) so the dough is easier to slide right off into the oil. Let rise again until double, at least another hour. The rounds will get nice and round.

Heat. Fill a really wide pot with high sides with oil and heat over low to medium heat. Remember those scraps left over? Gently slide one into the oil. If one side browns in 1-2 minutes, the oil is too hot. If it takes more than 5 minutes, the oil is not hot enough. You’ll probably need to test and adjust the temperature a few times. The oil is perfect when you it forms a lot of teeny tiny rolling bubbles around the dropped dough.  I checked the oil temperature with a meat thermometer – it was 310ºF.

Fry! Once you’ve go the oil at the right temperature, lower the cookie sheet close to the surface of the oil and scootch your first roly-poly round into the oil. Tiny bubbles should surround the doughnut. When the first side puffs up and reaches a nice brown (a bit darker than “golden”), flip it over. It took us about 3-4 minutes per side. And we made about 3-4 per batch.

Drain. Cover your counter or a few plates with several layers with paper towels. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sufganiyot from the oil onto the paper towels and drain off excess oil.

Fill. Load a turkey baster (or 60cc syring if you happen to have a friend who works in a hospital and can snag one) with whatever filling you want to use. Poke it into the side of a doughnut as far as it will go. Slowly and steadily squeeze/inject the filling into the sufganiyah while gently pulling back to the edge of the doughnut.

Dust. Sift confectioners sugar over the top of the sufganiyot.

Eat. The sufganiyot are best fresh, but they will last about 24 hours if well wrapped.

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belle of the ball

Today was the sixth and final class of my cooking techniques course.

But wait, you might be asking yourself, isn’t it a six-week course? And then you’ll calculate, haven’t you only posted four classes? Finally you’ll wonder, what happened to class number five?

I can’t put anything past you guys.

Turns out that one of the recipes that we made today in sauces class was just too good to not share immediately.

I hope you don’t mind that I’ve gone out of order. I’m almost done writing up recipes from our fifth class on dry heat — grilling, broiling, roasting, frying. And eventually I’ll share more about the sauces that we made today — the five “mother” (base) sauces and several “small” (derived) sauces). But for now, let’s just get on with it.

But wait, you might be asking yourself as you scroll past all this text, where are the pictures? Why is there only one?

Turns out, I left my camera at home today. Ironically, as I struggled this morning to wake up, snoozing for 4 minutes and 59 seconds at a time, I dreamt  (nightmared?) about driving to class, left hand on the wheel, right rifling through my purse. Two phones. Two sets of keys. One pair of sunglasses. One wallet. One lip balm. One lipstick. One eyeliner. Zero camera.

Seven snoozes later, I jumped in the shower, threw on some semblance of an outfit, and swung my purse onto the passenger seat of my car. Halfway to class, I glanced over at my purse. No rifling necessary, I knew my camera was sitting alone on my desk. Both hands on the wheel, I sighed.

In class, my partner and I worked on a béchamel sauce that served as the base for potato and zucchini noodle-less “lasagna.”

As the class drew to a close, we filled the center of the table a with a parade of platters. Fashionably late to the table came the belle of the ball: red-tinged pears floating on a lake of vanilla-flecked crème anglaise and drizzled with caramel.

I had been watching this dish come together all morning. Peeking under the parchment at the pears. Sliding a spoon into the crème anglaise. Scraping up the last bits of caramel coating the nearly-empty pan. You know how much I love pears with red wine and caramel.

The table finally set, everyone turned to me. This would make a great picture. Can you photograph my dish? Oh, how about catching it at this angle.

Empty-handed, I shrugged. I forgot my camera at home, I said. I shrugged again. But maybe I can take one or two things home to photograph. If there’s anything left.

I counted as one-by-one my classmates moved towards the pears. One, two, three pears onto plates. Another split between a couple. Four into little bowls. Five more onto plates. Three more swimming on the platter.

Does anyone mind if I take the last few pears home? I just want to take a few pictures. Because I left my camera at home.

What a good excuse.

No one minded.

~~~~~

Before I keep you from the recipe any longer, I did want to thank all of you who have voted for Kosher Camembert as the 2011 Best Kosher Food Blog.I was nominated alongside some of my favorite kosher blogs and websites and you should definitely check out the competition. Of course, if you do like my blog, please do vote, share my blog, and spread the word.

~~~~~

Pears poached in red wine with crème anglaise and caramel

This recipe can be as simple or as complex as you want it.  In a healthy mood? Make only the poached pears. Red wine give you a headache? Use white wine or tea or even water instead of the red wine and adding some cinnamon (or your favorite spice) to the poaching liquid for extra flavor. Want to add a little more sweetness? Freeze the poaching liquid and make sorbet. Love vanilla? Make the crème anglaise. Love ice cream? Double the crème anglaise recipe and freeze it. Hosting a fancy dinner? Make the caramel and crème anglaise.

And then invite me to dinner.

A quick note on making all three recipes in parallel. I’d start by preparing the pears and while they’re poaching, start the crème anglaise. While the vanilla is steeping in the milk for the crème anglaise, finish up the pears. I wouldn’t do anything while making the caramel.

For poached pears: These are generally served chilled and can actually be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

- 1 2-inch vanilla bean

- 2 C light red wine

- 1 C sugar

- 1 C water

- 2 strips orange zest

- 1 strip lemon zest

- 4 small Bosc pears (~1 1/4 lbs.)

Simmer. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into a saucepan (large enough to fit all the pears). Add vanilla pod, wine, sugar, water, and zests and  bring to a simmer.

Peel. Peel, halve, and core the pears (or keep them whole). We used a melon baller to core the pears.

Keep simmering. Add the pears to the simmering liquid (they should be mostly submerged in the poaching liquid), cover with parchment paper, and cook over medium-high heat until just tender – this can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes, depending on the type, ripeness, and thickness of the pears. Our Boscs were pretty firm and cut in half, and they took about 30 minutes.

Chill. Chill the pears for up to a day or two in their poaching liquid.

Optional: Freeze. Taste the poaching liquid – you want it to be really sweet, almost too sweet, for sorbet. Add some sugar if you want. Strain out the citrus and vanilla bean, and throw it in an ice cream maker. Or, freeze the liquid on a flat pan and then use an immersion blender to aerate. Or, do the same with crème anglaise and you’ve got vanilla ice cream.

Optional: Reduce. If you want, reduce the liquid down to a syrup and strain out the citrus and vanilla bean.

For caramel sauce: You do have to watch caramel very closely because it can burn. More importantly, it can burn you. When you add the butter and cream, it will bubble up violently and can splatter. So use a long whisk. Very long. Also, you can use different liquids; for example, you can replace the water with red wine or lavender water. To make lavender water, heat water with dried lavender buds and let infuse for a few hours (or longer) and strain before using.

- 1 C sugar

- 1/2 C water

- a few sprinkles of lemon juice

- 6 T butter, cut into chunks

- 1/2 C heavy cream

- salt

Heat and stir. In a large (2-3 quart, with high sides) heavy bottomed saucepan, heat sugar, water and a few drops of lemon juice over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved (a “simple syrup“).

Stop stirring. Once sugar mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring.

Boil. Boil mixture, swirling pan as needed until a caramel forms – should be a dark golden brown. Remember, don’t stir.

Be careful.  Immediately add the butter to the pan and whisk until melted. The mix will foam up. Once the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat, pause for a few seconds, and then add cream, whisking until smooth. The mix will foam up now too. Once everything is whisked together, you’re done. Add a few pinches of salt. Keep warm over very low heat until you’re ready to serve.

For crème anglaise: Crème anglaise is a cold sauce that’s the base for ice cream. It’s also called English or stirred custard.

- 1 vanilla bean

- 1 C milk

- 4 egg yolks

- 1/3 C sugar

- pinch of salt

- ice

Scald. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into a saucepan with milk, and add vanilla bean pod as well. Scald the milk. The milk is scalded when you put your finger in it and it’s hot (not burning).

Steep. Take the milk off the heat and let the vanilla bean steep for 30-60 hours.

Whisk.  Lightly whisk the egg yolks. Gradually add the sugar and a pinch of salt, and keep whisking until you get a pale yellow sauce that forms ribbons when dropped from a spoon.

Pour and stir. Remove vanilla pod from the cooled milk and slowly pour it in a steady stream into the egg yolks and sugar, while stirring.

Heat and stir. Place the mixture over medium  heat and keep stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth and coats the back of the wooden spoon. DO NOT BOIL – temperature should not exceed 180ºF.

Strain. Strain through a fine mesh seive into a bowl set over an ice water bath.

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to her table

My grandmother – the one on my father’s side – was a school teacher. Kindergarten in fact. She had a smile and something nice to say to everyone. She kept cookies in her car to give to toll collectors. She couldn’t sit in a restaurant without engaging the baby at the next table. She kept a list next to her kitchen phone of birthdays and anniversaries. 

Every time Bubbie  took the train down from Philadelphia to visit us, she would collect piles of paper Amtrak conductor hats for us (and her students). One of my favorite memories is her wearing one of those conductor hats and leading all of the grandchildren in a parade around the island in my aunt’s kitchen. Well, she was the caboose, leading from behind, but the conductor nonetheless.

Before she and my grandfather passed away, we had Thanksgiving at their house every year.

I loved that house. When they bought it, Poppie had two requirements – it had to be made out of brick and its street number had to be 212 – the boiling point of water. He was an engineer and was in the Army Air Corps (precursor to the US Airforce) when he met Bubbie (before she was a bubbie).

Whenever we pulled into their driveway, I would run to the front door. I never had to ring the doorbell or knock because the door was always open behind the screen. I could step right into the living room with its rocking chair, fireplace and potbelly stove. The first floor formed a circle around the stairwell. I used follow that circuit like it was a train track and I was the engine. Through the living room into the den past the bathroom into the pink kitchen around the corner to the dining room and back to the front door.

Thanksgiving at Bubbie and Poppie’s was a family affair on par with Pesach. But with bread and no long prelude to dinner. Food and family was the event. And Bubbie reigned over it. You could say she was the train conductor. At least she had the hat for it.

Bubbie directed my dad to add the leaf to the dining room table. Then we added another table. Every once in a while we added a third, the table chugging through the doorway into the living room, past the front door  towards that potbelly stove.

She directed me to set each place with a dinner and salad plate, two forks, two spoons, one knife, two glasses, and a napkin in a napkin ring.  There were always napkin rings. Bubbie had to remind me to put the napkins on the left next to the forks. Because I always forgot and put them on the right. Sometimes I still do.

Bubbie directed my mother to add fresh dill to the chicken soup. My uncle Michael to stud the sweet potatoes with marshmallows. My aunt Leslie, whom I call Sessie, to cut the vegetables. My aunt Linda to entertain me with stories of when I was younger, like the time when I woke  up her and Michael in the den on the sofabed, holding a diaper and asking to be changed.

Bubbie removed from the fridge the applesauce she had made from scratch. It’s my dad’s favorite.

The first to arrive was always Bubbie’s “kid” brother Sidney who walked in with the tell-tale click-clicking of a box of tictacs in his shirt pocket and a still-dripping bucket of pickles and olives plucked from the barrel at his favorite pickler. He always had always a fresh twenty for each of the kids.

And then everyone else arrived with those kids. Everyone seems to remember my chasing my cousin Gary around the meandering table, shouting, “Gawee…Gawee…” I will deny it if you ask me.

Around this time of the evening, Uncle Sidney would just turn the volume down on his hearing aid.

Before the parade of dishes, we would pour the wine, Poppie would make a toast, and Bubbie would say shehecheyanu – a prayer of thanks for bringing the whole family together to her table.

Dinner started with soup. And then turkey filled with stuffing.  Cranberry sauce from a can with mandarin oranges.  Salad. Green beans. Roasted potatoes. And those sweet sweet potatoes.

We’d clear the table and then the adults would retire to the sofa in the living room for a few minutes and the kids would gather on the floor in front of the TV to watch The Wizard of Oz.

It was only recently that I ever saw the end of the movie, because once dessert was on the table, no one cared about those red ruby slippers anymore.

Dessert started with a fruit-filled jello mold. Really, every year, a jello mold. And then pumpkin pie, and my favorite – my mother’s chocolate chip pound cake.

When Bubbie passed away, we transferred her china and silver to Sessie’s nearby house.

Sessie hosted most holiday meals after that, carrying on the tradition of keeping the family together. Sometimes we fit at the dining room table. Sometimes we need three tables lined up in the living room. Sometimes we set out the good china and silver. Sometimes we set out the everyday dishes.

This year, I offered to help plan our Thanksgiving menu. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

Wild mushroom soup

Green salad

Turkey

Cornbread stuffing

Cranberry sauce from a can *sigh* because my mother loves it

Green beans with lemon sauce

Roasted butternut squash with balsamic onions

Bread – probably something with some combination of cranberry-orange-pumpkin-whole wheat

Fruit platter

Pumpkin pie

Chocolate chip pound cake

So far, our count is at 9. I think we’ll still fit around Sessie’s dining room table to say shehecheyanu.

** A slightly modified version of this post, along with my recipe for roasted butternut squash with balsamic onions, first appeared a week ago on KosherEye. **

Chocolate chip pound cake

This is the cake my mom made most often when I was a kid. She got the recipe from her good friend Helen. It’s a dense cake studded with chocolate chips that I think is best eaten with a cup of tea or coffee. It’s not a moist, fluffy cake, but it’s what I grew up with and I like it this way. Also, we always coat the chocolate chips with some flour before adding them to the cake so that they don’t all sink to the bottom. I’m not sure it makes a difference, but, well, that’s what we do.

This recipe makes a huge cake and I often end up freezing half. Actually, I might like the frozen cake even better, snuck out of the freezer in the middle of the night, unwrapped from its plastic, and cut into a sliver or two with the false hope that no one would notice.  Luckily, growing up with a chocoholic dad meant that generally any sweets theft was assumed to be his. Sorry dad!

- 1 C margarine or butter

- 1 C sugar

- 4 eggs

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 C almond milk, non-dairy creamer, or milk (I use almond milk, my mom uses the non-dairy creamer)

- 3 C flour + a little more

- 1 T baking powder

- 1-2 C chocolate chips

Prep. Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease a bundt (or whatever) pan – this is not necessary if you’re using non-stick…which I highly recommend. Put chocolate chips and a few pinches of flour in a ziplock bag and shake to coat the chips.

Mix. Cream margarine/butter and sugar until light yellow. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in between. Add vanilla. Add a little almond milk, then a little sifted flour and baking powder. Keep alternating liquid and flour mixture until they are both added. I usually do this in about 3 rounds. Add the flour-coated chocolate chips and mix by hand.

Bake. Pour batter into a bundt pan (or whatever you have). Bake 55-60 minutes until golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean. If you’re dividing the cake between two loaf pans, which my mom often does, bake for 30-40 minutes. Note, if you freeze the entire second loaf, no one can really get away with sneaking slivers undetected.

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