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At the end of last year, I baked from and wrote about The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook and never posted the link or photo here. So, this afternoon, just a mere few days before Passover, I’m remedying that with author Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez’s bialys. Sorry folks, I know it’s cruel, but if you keep scrolling down, I’ll link to a few of the Passover sweets that I’ll be bringing to the seders.

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But first, let’s talk about this cookbook and the bialys. The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook combines so much of what I love about the food industry in one place and is a reflection of the great work that Hot Bread Kitchen does. HBK is a commercial bakery that turns out a variety of breads reflecting the ethnic diversity of the largely immigrant staff who participate in and graduate from the Bakers in Training program, the social enterprise side of the business. HBK also houses an incubator that helps build out new food companies. HBK is all about great food driven by a mission and supportive of entrepreneurship.

As further proof of its special-ness, the cookbook won Food52‘s The Piglet tournament of cookbooks this year, edging out some of my other faves including those that have showed up on these very pages: Modern Jewish Cooking (Leah Koenig‘s hamantashen dough is the best I’ve ever worked with) and Zahav: A world of Israeli cooking (salads! laffa!).

As for the bialys, before I even attempted to bake a batch, I read Mimi Sheraton‘s The Bialy Eaters, the story of the author’s journey across the world to find a truly authentic version of these onion- and poppy seed-flecked rolls. Rodriguez and her team used Sheraton’s parameters to develop their signature bialy and, shortly after launching this product, the bialy aficionado called with praise.

Like many recipes in the book, the one for bialys had several sub-recipes, which can be (and was to me) daunting. Nonetheless, I overcame my intimidation, set aside a day when I could work on other things at home while the dough was undergoing multiple risings, and followed the detailed instructions. The result: a dozen airy bialys with a crisp crust and a deep well of golden onions and poppy seeds. I burnt my fingertips on the first couple, brought a few to a friend’s shabbat dinner (I was unabashedly stingy and greedy when it came to my bialys), and stashed away the rest in the freezer. My frozen supply has dwindled, and Friday morning I plan to pop the last one into a warm oven, slather it with salted butter, and enjoy my last bite of leavened bread for a week.

In the interim, I’ll be baking up a slew of Passover desserts: these macaroons with lime zest instead of orange, chocolate hazelnut cake-lets, and some version of Claudia Roden’s almond orange cake (more on that later once I get the recipe right). And don’t forget matzah brei.

And for a little bit of Passover reading, check out Dan Barber‘s piece in last weekend’s NY Times: “Why Is This Matzo Different From All Other Matzos?“.

Bialys

Adapted from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez.

This recipe requires some advance planning since the first step is to make a pâte fermentée – a pre-ferment dough and allow it a slow rise in the fridge overnight. The bialys really are best straight from the oven, but after a day or two, I just pop them in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up the outsides. They freeze nicely too. 

When I spoke with HBK’s Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, she recommended dipping the flattened dough disks (step six) into a bowl of cornmeal before placing them on the baking sheets. This will result in extra crunch along the bottom and sides of the bialys, achieving an ideal texture.

Makes 12 (5-inch) bialys

Bialy dough 
1⅓ cups/320 g lukewarm water
3½ cups plus 2 tablespoons/465 g bread flour, plus more for shaping
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/150 g (risen and deflated)
Pâte fermentée (see below), cut into walnut-size pieces
¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Filling
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium yellow onions, finely diced (6 cups/900 g)
½ cup/60 g fine dried bread crumbs
1½ tablespoons poppy seeds
½ teaspoon kosher salt

1) To make the bialy dough: Put the water and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, and mix for 2 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes.

2) Add the pâte fermentée, yeast, and salt and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are completely combined. Add a little more water if this hasn’t happened in 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium to medium-high and mix until the dough is smooth, pulls away from the sides of the bowl (and leaves the sides clean), has a bit of shine, and makes a slapping noise against the sides of the bowl, 5 to 7 minutes. Do the windowpane test* to check to see if the gluten is fully developed.

3) Dust a clean bowl lightly with flour and transfer the dough to it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or put the whole bowl in a large plastic bag) and let stand at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

4) Meanwhile, to prepare the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring now and then, until they just begin to brown and have reduced to about a third of their original volume, about 20 minutes. Transfer the onions to a bowl and stir in the bread crumbs, poppy seeds and salt. Set aside to cool.

5) Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (each weighing about 2¾ ounces/80 g). Form each piece into a small bun, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 5 minutes. Proceeding in the same order in which you shaped the pieces into balls, flatten each ball with the heel of your hand into a disk about 4 inches/10 cm in diameter.

6) Line the backs of 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Put the disks on the baking sheets, evenly spaced and at least an inch apart. Loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let stand until the rolls are very soft and hold an indentation when you touch them lightly, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.

7) Put a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 500°F. Let the stone heat up for at least 30 minutes.

8) Uncover the bialys and, using the pads of both your index and middle fingertips, make a depression in the center of each disk of dough. Put about 2 tablespoons filling in the center of each bialy, spreading it out so it fills the center.

9) In one swift motion, slide the bialys and the parchment onto the pizza stone. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes (discard the parchment).

10) Serve immediately. Leftovers can be kept in an airtight plastic bag at room temperature for 2 days.

* Windowpane test: Whether you mix your dough in a mixer or by hand, the final check to make sure the gluten in your dough is properly developed is called the windowpane test. Tear off a small piece of dough about the size of a golf ball. If it is sticky, dredge it through a little extra flour to make it easy to handle. Use your hands to gently stretch the dough from all sides until it forms a thin, nearly transparent layer that you can see the light through if you old it up to an actual window or light. If you can stretch the dough to that state, it means the gluten is developed and your bread is ready to rise. Simply press the small dough ball back into the large one and proceed. If, on the other hand, your dough tears before you can stretch it thin enough to see the light through it, keep kneading it until it passes the test.

Pâte Fermentée

Makes about 1¼ cups (risen and deflated)

Pâte fermentée is an ingredient in many recipes in the lean and enriched doughs chapters. You need to make it eight to twenty-four hours before you bake your bread. This extra step extends fermentation time and allows you to achieve a light, flavorful loaf with less yeast. Pâte fermentée contains the ingredients of simple French bread dough—flour, water, yeast, and salt—so, in a pinch, you could bake and eat it. Unlike other types of pre-ferments, such as levain, pâte fermentée does not impart a sour flavor to the bread. Instead it adds depth of flavor and extends the shelf life of your bread. If you make bread often, you can save the trimmings from lean doughs to use in your pâte fermentée. More likely, if you are making a rustic batard, traditional challah or any number of the breads in “The Hotbread Kitchen Cookbook,” you will mix a batch of the pâte fermentée the day before, then refrigerate it until you are ready to bake.

½ cup plus 1 teaspoon/120 g
Lukewarm water
⅔ teaspoon active dry yeast
1⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon/180 g bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1) Put the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, then add the flour and salt. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes until combined into a shaggy dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2) Refrigerate the mixture for a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 24. (There is no need to return it to room temperature before using.)

3) If you’re measuring the pâte fermentée rather than weighing it, be sure to deflate it with a wooden spoon or with floured fingertips before measuring.

 

 

 

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One afternoon last week, I walked uptown to a doctor’s appointment. (No worries, nothing’s wrong – it was just an overdue checkup.) The air was supersaturated, the sky overcast, and the humidity forced me to remove first my scarf, then my jacket until all I was wearing was jeans and a T, the scarf stuffed in my purse, the jacket tied around my waist like a college ex-boyfriend’s flannel button-down. It wasn’t my best look.

I arrived at the office and plopped down in the waiting room, piling my superfluous winter gear onto the chair next to me. The receptionist fanned herself with one hand while she entered my insurance information with the other. Eventually I made it into the examination room, where the air conditioning was blasting and where, of course, I had to remove the rest of my clothing and slip into a paper gown.

An hour later, reclothed, I walked outside to find the pavement darkened with the rain that had fallen while I had been inside, oblivious. The air was cool, the sun bright, the sky blue. It felt like another day.

While this might be an overshare, this snippet of my day made me think of two dressings that I’ve been alternating between. They’re united in their use of turmeric, but otherwise couldn’t be more different. One feels like a winter dressing: its base is tahina and it has so much turmeric in it that it looks like a cheap mustard. I’ve been drizzling it over baby kale, sumac-pickled onions, and chicken breast (pound thin a few room temperature boneless skinless breasts, douse with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and roast at 450°F for about 15 minutes).

The second is more spring-like and a close relative of the carrot-ginger dressing that is probably the only reason that iceberg lettuce is still sold. While the turmeric deepens the dressing’s golden hue, its really the miso that makes this a star. I love it over arugula or a salmon filet (broiled for about 12 minutes). Or, if I’m being completely honest here, slurped from a spoon.

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Turmeric-tehina dressing

Adapted from Bon Appetit. I doubled the recipe and added some honey to round out the bitterness of the large amount of turmeric in the dressing.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

– 1/2 C tehina
– 6 T fresh lemon juice
– 1/4 C olive oil
– 1 T honey
– 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
– 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
– 1-2 t kosher salt
– 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper

Mix. Whisk together tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, turmeric, cayenne, and ¼ cup water until smooth. Add 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add more salt to taste.

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Miso-turmeric dressing

Adapted from Bon Appetit. I didn’t have mirin, so I increased the amount of rice vinegar and added a spoonful of sugar to balance the acidity and bring a sweetness that miring would have supplied. I used a small cheese grater for both the carrot and ginger. 

Makes about 1 cup

– 1/2 C unseasoned rice vinegar
– 1 t sugar
– ¼ C vegetable oil
– 2 T finely grated carrot
– 2 T white miso
– 1 T finely grated peeled ginger
– ½ t ground turmeric
– 1 T toasted sesame oil
– A few drops hot sesame oil

Mix. Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl.

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I thought I’d go Russian with the head of cabbage that had been rolling around in my fridge. Tall stems of dill lounged on the door, ends wrapped in a dampened towel, spiky fronds snuggled in a plastic bag. My initial thoughts veered towards a sharp vinegary slaw, with perhaps a pile of thinly shaved cucumbers à la The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Basic, simple, easy. But also a little predictable.

Then I contemplated cabbage soup – maybe shchi, which might possibly be as fun to say (think of ski, but with an sh) as to eat. But it was snowing out and I was in kitchen-clean-out mode and didn’t want to have to buy additional basics, though next time I have a spare carrot or two and a handful of potatoes, I’m coming after you, shchi.

Friends suggested other, more ambitious projects: sauerkraut, kimchi, stuffed, poached and roasted. Or slaw, sans dill, to top fish tacos. These days, simple seems to be the name of the game, though I owe you a bialy recipe that makes for a fun Sunday activity, if your idea of a fun Sunday morning is waking up 5 hours before everyone else wants brunch (sneak peek over here and here).

I carefully considered all of my options, thanked my friends for their contributions and inspiration, and as is typical for me, went in a completely different direction. I turned to Ottolenghi and found a miso-braised cabbage with only a handful of ingredients that I had (or had close-enough options) within easy reach. Like most braises, this is a pretty set-it-and-forget it recipe; you may recall that the trick with braising is low and slow. So with my current work-from-home schedule, these types of dishes do the trick with a gently warming oven and snow outside.

Ottolenghi introduces the recipe talking about the magic of this type of cooking as one “of simple transformation – of an ingredient changing from one thing to another as a result of little more than the application of time and heat.” Cabbage is sliced into wedges and bathed in a miso-broth mixture.  After several hours, the cabbage is a study in contrasts – spoon-tender core with thin crispy leaves that Ottolenghi likens to delicate, flaky, paper-thin phyllo dough.

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Miso-braised cabbage

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian. Bear in mind that the recipe is mainly hands-off, but does take about four hours start to finish.  

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of brown miso which has a very intense umami flavor. I used the milder white miso that I had in my fridge, and increased the amount to 3 tablespoons. I also drizzled the end product with soy sauce to up the umami factor. One morning, I topped a few wedges with an egg and called it breakfast. 

Makes 4 servings as a side. 

– 1 small white cabbage, trimmed and cut into 2-inch wide wedges (approximately 8 pieces)
– 1 1/4 C unsalted vegetable broth
– 3 T white miso paste
– Salt
– 1 lemon, quartered
– optional: 3/4 C sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
– optional: soy sauce

Heat. Heat the oven to 390F. Put the cabbage wedges in a small high-sided roasting tray or baking dish, so that they are packed closely together.

Boil. Pour the stock into a small saucepan with the miso paste and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Bring up to a boil, stirring constantly so the miso dissolves, then pour over the cabbage: it should come halfway up the sides of the pan.

Roast. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast for 20 minutes.

Lower heat. Turn down the heat to 300F, and cook for two hours more, turning the cabbage over halfway through. Remove the foil, baste the cabbage and cook for an hour and a half longer, until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed and the cabbage is crisp and a deep golden-brown.

Eat. Serve the braised cabbage warm, with a dollop of sour cream alongside and a wedge of lemon, to squeeze over. Drizzle with soy sauce to taste.

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We got quite a bit of the white stuff around here this weekend with a little over two feet in Central Park. It started snowing much earlier than expected (or at least much earlier than I expected), so I ended up having to struggle home from dinner Friday night in a pair of high heels. Not my best move. I’ve now swapped them out for boots, so I’m all good. My home town of Maryland was also hit pretty hard, from what I can tell, my friends are are still digging out, schools are cancelled, and government offices are closed.

In the days leading up to the storm, I’d been working from home, laid up with a case of the sniffles and a sore throat and a general achy-ness, and I made a soup that helped me muddle along and, since it’s one of those clean-out-your-pantry dishes, I figured it would be good for those of you still stuck inside with limited access to fresh anything until the stores restock. I intended to post it before the storm, but, well, sometimes life gets in the way, so you can think of this as preparation for the next snowfall.

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This red lentil soup is admittedly not dissimilar from one that I made on this blog almost 5 years ago. I even photographed it in the same bowl! You let the lentils melt in piles of onions and tomatoes and spike the whole lot with cumin, coriander, and a healthy pinch of cayenne. I amped up the tomato flavor using estratto di pomodoro – an intense tomato paste made by concentrating tomato pulp in the sun – that I toted home from Sicily. You can obviously use regular tomato paste if you didn’t have the luxury of having one of the best vacations of your life over the summer. This soup is a savior if you’re sick or holed up or just want dinner.

Red lentil tomato soup

Adapted from the New York Times. I didn’t have whole cumin and coriander seeds, so I used about half the measure of ground. 

Makes approximately 3 quarts

– 2 T vegetable oil
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 4 garlic cloves, minced
– salt to taste
– 1 1/2 t ground cumin
– 1 t ground coriander
– 1 1/2 t curry powder
– 1/2 t cayenne
– 2 T tomato paste
– 1 28-oz can chopped tomato with juice
– 1 lb red lentils, washed and picked over
– 8 C vegetable stock or water (I actually used half stock, half water)
– 1/4 – 1/2 t ground black  pepper
– juice of 1/2 lemon
For garnish:
– yogurt
– chopped parsley or cilantro
– lemons, cut into wedges

Cook. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin, coriander, curry powder, and cayenne. Stir together for about a minute, until the garlic is frangrant. Lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice.

Simmer. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Add salt to taste (I added another 1/4 teaspoon).

Simmer more. Stir in the lentils and stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, covers and simmer 30 minutes. Add salt to taste (I didn’t feel like it needed any more at this point) and continue to simmer for 15 to 30 minutes,  until the lentils have fallen apart and thickened soup.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Add the pepper, taste, and add cayenne if you want more spice. Taste and adjust salt. Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve. Top each bowl with a swirl of yogurt and a generous sprinkling of parsley or cilantro. Squeeze a lemon wedge over top.

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I just lit the candles on my menorah and want to wish you a happy Hanukkah if you’re celebrating. You can make latkes or sufganiyot if you’re feeling traditional, or, you can fry up something a little different this year. Recently I made panelle, chickpea fritters eaten as street food all over Sicily, often stuffed into a bun for an on-the-run lunch. Sounds a little like falafel, right?

panelle sandwich

I first learned of panelle when I was in Sicily over the summer, taking a food writing workshop at Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School. We made these crispy snacks during our last kitchen lesson and ate them with abandon as a pre-dinner snack. With wine, of course.

panelle

For more on our cooking lesson, head over the Forward where I’ve written about the experience. Otherwise, just jump right in with the recipe below.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Panelle chickpea fritters

You can prepare the recipe (adapted from Fabrizia Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily) in advance cutting the dough into wedges and then refrigerate the raw panelle in a zip top bag with a few paper towels to absorb any moisture, pulling out the dough when you’re ready to fry.

Serves 6

– 2 1/3 cup chickpea flour, preferably Sicilian (or Bob’s Red Mill)
– 3 cups cold water
– Fine sea salt
– Black pepper
– Vegetable or olive oil for frying

Cook. Combine the flour, water and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium saucepan and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens considerably (like a very stiff polenta). Reduce the heat if necessary to keep from burning. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Dry. Working quickly, spread the mixture with a wooden spatula onto 4 or 5 dinner plates so that it is about ¼-inch thick. Cool for 15 to 20 minutes.

Cut. When the dough is cool, loosen the edges with a small, sharp knife. Peel the dough off the plates and place on a work surface, stacking one on top of another. Cut the stack into 12–16 wedges.

panelle, ready to fry

Fry. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the chickpea wedges in batches, and fry, flipping occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Serve hot.

panelle

 

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Sukkot starts tonight and I’m excited to be meeting a few friends for dinner in one of the many temporary buildings that have popped up in parking lots all over the city. I wrote another piece about my time in Sicily for the Forward. I’ve pasted it below along with a recipe for casatelle – ricotta-filled turnovers that I fried up a few weeks ago.

Pavillion in the edible garden

Living in an apartment 20 stories above the streets of Manhattan can make relating to the holiday of Sukkot and its harvest celebration somewhat difficult. But spending time this summer in Sicily, an island with a dramatic and rich agricultural heritage, re-acquainted me with the agrarian setting in which so many of our holidays originated.

During my week at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, we picked lettuces for our salad, drank wine from the vineyard just up the street and ate ricotta from neighboring sheep. One morning, awakened by cooing birds outside my window, I spent a pre-breakfast hour writing in a small pavilion situated in the edible garden just a few stairs from my room. Surrounded on three sides by blue and white striped canvas walls, I scribbled away. As my stomach signaled time to eat, lazy plops of rain hit the bamboo roof. I took it all in — the temporary shelter, the vegetation, the gentle scent of fertilizer — and felt a sense of being tied to the land and at the mercy of the weather. I left my sukkah and ran to the kitchen for coffee.

Our final cooking lesson included cassatelle, fried turnovers filled with ricotta made by the shepherd we had visited earlier in the week. They reminded me of the Sukkot tradition of cooking stuffed foods to signify the abundance of the harvest. Back in my own kitchen, I prepare for the holiday by rolling out dough and wrapping it around soft blobs of cinnamon-scented cheese, frying up the pastries in sputtering oil and eating them warm with just a dusting of powdered sugar. As I lick my sweet fingers, I’m thankful for the abbondanza of my own life.

cassatelle

Cassatelle

Adapted from Fabrizia Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily. Cassatelle are ricotta-filled turnovers common in the eastern part of Sicily, and Mario, Executive Chef of the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, attributes their origins to Arab and Spanish flavors and techniques. The dough uses semolina flour and feels like fresh pasta. Wine in the dough provides both flavor (a bit of sweetness) and texture, helping with the formation of bubbles in the pasties as they fry; dry Marsala works well.

The recipe calls for a pasta machine to help knead the dough and roll it out to a uniform thickness. Alternatively separate the dough into five pieces and roll each out into a 9-by-9 square before cutting out circles.

These pastries are best fresh, but you can freeze the filled turnovers and then thaw and fry them up when you’re ready to eat.

Makes about 20 pastries

– ½ C white wine (or dry Marsala)
– ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
– 2–4 T water
– 2 C semolina flour
– Pinch fine sea salt
– 1½ C whole-milk ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk
– 5 T granulated sugar
– 1 t ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish
– Vegetable oil for frying (several cups, depending on size of pan)
– Powdered sugar, for garnish

Warm. Combine the wine and oil in a small saucepan and heat until just warm (not hot). You can also use a microwave.

Knead. Mound the flour on a work surface or in a very large bowl (the latter is my preference), and make a well in the center. Add the wine-oil mixture and salt to the well, and with a fork, carefully incorporate it into the flour. Knead the dough with your hands, adding drops of water until smooth and elastic, about 8–10 minutes. The dough should slowly spring back when you poke it with your finger.

Rest. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and rest for 30 minutes on the counter.

Mix. In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Roll. Set a pasta machine to the widest setting. Run a piece of dough through the machine about 5 times at this setting, folding the dough in half each time before rolling it again. When the dough is very even, move the dial to the next setting and roll it through 2 to 3 times more, folding it each time. Move the dial to the third setting and roll it through 2 or 3 more times.

Cut. Lay out the dough on a floured work surface, and cut out circles with a 4-inch round cookie cutter.

Fill. Place a spoonful of ricotta just off-center, then moisten the edges of the dough with water and fold over. Pinch or use a fork to seal. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Fry. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven (higher sides will limit splattering). Drop in a scrap of dough — the oil is hot enough when the dough floats and oil rapidly bubbles around it. Add the cassatelle in batches and fry, flipping occasionally, until deep golden, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.

cassatelle

Serve. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm.

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I had my last piece of this cake for breakfast this morning.

apricot amaretti cake

It’s the apricot cake I made for shabbat last week and after I shared it with my guests, I made another one for myself. All for me!

It’s a variation on the cake I’ve started calling my “back pocket cake” – I wrote about it for the Forward this week and it’s a cake that’s so incredibly simple and versatile that I make it all the time with whatever fruit looks good. I’ve even developed a super cheesy mnemonic so that I no longer have to refer to the recipe. I quote (myself): “So far, my best attempt has been counting it out like a bandleader revving up his crew with a few snaps of his fingers: a 1, and a 2, and a 1-2-3-4. If you squint and cock your head to the side and use a little imagination, you’ll remember this stands for a one (cup flour), and a two (eggs), and a one-half (cup oil) three-fourths (cup sugar). It’s a bit of a stretch, but once you make it, you’ll never need the recipe again.”

I first made the cake with apples just a few months into this blog when I was hosting my first ever Rosh Hashanah dinner. It is, I believe, the most linked-to post on my blog and the recipe that my friends make year after year for their own families. Some actually refer to it at Gayle’s apple cake. I’m blushing.

Today’s version is apricots with amaretti. Amaretti are crunchy little meringue cookies that have an almond flavor but are actually made with ground up apricot kernels (which are sometimes known as the poor man’s almonds because they taste like the nut, only slightly more bitter). Clearly a perfect match for the apricots I found in the market.

Now, up until last week, I’d never tried a fresh apricot and I’m not really sure I was missing much. I twisted one open and it tasted like a lesser version of a peach, as if it was unwilling to share itself with anyone. But I had made up my mind to bake them into a cake, so I went ahead with my plan. Worst case, I had ice ream.

Now fresh apricots might not be much to talk about, but cooked? Whew, cooked is where they shine. The heat loosens up their greedy grip on flavor and they transform. In the cake, they slump into the batter and release syrup that pools in the wells left by the pits and leaks into the cake.

Out of the oven, the cake has a dense crumb – just the way I like it – with pockets of sticky apricot and the crunch of almond-flavored cookies. A little reminiscent of coffee cake, which, again makes me feel justified eating it for breakfast.

apricot amaretti cake

Apricot and amaretti cake

This is a variation on my any-fruit back-pocket cake (see below).

Serves 8-10

–  1/2 C canola oil
–  3/4 C sugar
–  2 eggs
–  ½ t vanilla extract
–  ½ t almond extract
–  1 C flour
–  1 t baking powder
– ½ t kosher salt
– 7-8 apricots, sliced into halves or quarters
– 3 T crushed amaretti cookies (6-8 cookies)

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform.

Mix. Mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, and extracts until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and continue mix by hand until the ingredients just come together.

Arrange. Tip the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the fruit however you want. Halves skin-side down make a dramatic cake as the fruits sink quite a lot and you end up with a craggy cake moonscape. Quarters balanced on their sides allow the cake to rise more evenly, resulting in a more, well, traditional cake. Sprinkle with the crushed cookies.

Bake. Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch the fruit to make sure its juices don’t burn.

Back pocket, any-fruit cake

This recipe was adapted from Marian Burros’ plum torte published in the New York Times. I replaced the butter with oil to make it parve and like to use different fruits depending on what’s in season. The batter is thick but still pourable; a few swipes of a spatula gets it right into the pan. The fruit juices ooze all over and dribble beautiful color throughout the cake. Any type of juicy fruit works.

A few suggested flavor combinations:

apple or pear, vanilla, cinnamon
– blueberries or raspberries, vanilla, lemon zest
plums, rose water, lime zest
– peaches or nectarines, vanilla
– apricots, almond extract, cardamom, amaretti cookies crumbled on top

Serves 8-10

–  1/2 C canola oil
–  3/4 C sugar
–  2 eggs
–  1 t extract (vanilla, almond, rose water, orange blossom water)
– 1 t citrus zest (lemon, lime, orange)
–  1 C flour
–  1 t baking powder
– ½ t kosher salt
– 2 cups fruit
– Optional: 2-3 T raw sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform.

Mix. Mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, extract, and zest until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and continue mix by hand until the ingredients just come together.

Arrange. Tip the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the fruit however you want and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake. Bake the cake for 40-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Apples and pears take close to the full hour; stone fruits burn more quickly, so I take them out around 45 minutes.

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Just a super quick hello and a garlic scape dressing before these curlicue young stems and buds disappear from the market.garlic scapes

Last time these funny little guys showed up here was pesto, my first foray into scapedom. Since then, I’ve played around a bit, notably folding them into eggs, but these days I’ve been whirring them into a bright green dressing with a soft garlic flavor and a bright splash of lemon juice. I cannot stop eating it. I’ve added the dressing to a kale and radicchio salad – I know, kale is the old black, but I still love it, particularly the young leaves that one of the farmers at my local greenmarket sells – and a provençal-style salad of roasted potatoes, blanched green beans, radishes, and eggs (think salade niçoise, but warm and all mixed together). I made a similar version at Meira’s as a marinade for grilled vegetables and, just today, dipped some cherry tomatoes in it for a quick snack.

Now hurry up, scape season is almost gone.

kale and radicchio with garlic scape dressing

Garlic scape dressing

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

– 3 oz (about 4) garlic scapes, roughly chopped

– 1/4 C lemon juice (approximately 2 medium lemons)

– 1/2 t salt (or more, to taste)

– freshly ground black pepper

– 3/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

Puree. Using an immersion or regular blender, puree the garlic, juice, salt and a few grinds of pepper until relatively smooth. Slowly pour in the oil while continuing to puree until you have a bright, nearly fluorescent, green emulsified dressing.

***

If you are going the kale and radicchio route, I suggest making croutons. I typically have a few slices of unseeded rye in the freezer, so I pull out a pair and cut them into rough cubes. Heat some olive oil in a pan, shake the bread into an even layer, sprinkle a nice pinch of salt and let the cubes toast on one side – this takes a minute or two if the pan is really hot. Then, sauté: here I’m using the original French term – sauter, to jump – quite literally. Using a smooth forward and back motion and a little pop at the end, help the the bread cubes jump out of the pan for a sec and flip onto their backs. You might lose a few until you get really practiced, but I just pluck the runaways off the stove (or, more likely, the floor) and thrown them back into the pan.

rye croutons

Croutons

I like to use a nice big crusty rye boule, but any fairly sturdy loaf – think sourdough or pullman – should work well.

Makes 1 heaping cup

– 1 1/2 T extra-virgin olive oil

– 2 slices bread, cut into cubes

– pinch of kosher salt

Heat. Heat oil over medium high heat until shimmering in a pan with sloped sides.

Sauté. Spread the cubes in the hot pan, sprinkle with salt, and let toast on one side until lightly golden. Using a forward and back motion with your hand, toss the bread crumbs over the edge of the pan and catch them in the middle. Do this a few times until most surfaces of the croutons are golden brown.

quickie croutons – 1-2 slices rye boule, slice into cubes. heat olive oil, drop in the cubes, sprinkle on salt, salute – let the cubes jump!

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Looking for some summer reading recommendations? I’ve got a few for you.

First off, Stir. It’s the debut book – a memoir with recipes – of Jessica Fechtor whom some of you might know from her blog Sweet Amandine. It’s about life and illness, food and cooking, hosting and guesting, love and identity. I say debut because I think we’ll be reading a lot more from Jess: when we discussed the book for an article I was writing for the Forward, she told me that her PhD dissertation is about representations of food in Jewish literature and she is hoping to span academic and popular readership.

Jess Fechtor's butter almond cake

Next up, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. David Leite is organizing a virtual book club and this is our first assignment. I’m about a third of the way through this book that takes place in France and Germany during WWII and I’m really loving it so far. Bonus: if you want to know what the author is reading, check out this New York Times interview with him.

For those of you who keep a pile of cookbooks on the nightstand, one of my writing teachers in Italy, Rachel Roddy, recently published her first cookbook. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and ordered the British version, Five Quarters; it comes out in the US early next year under a different title. Rachel moved from England to Italy a while back and created a life for herself in Rome. She is a vivid story teller and I hear Rachel’s animated accent when I read her essays and musing on living in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome and her instructions for the food that she turns out of her kitchen. Just the other day, I found myself chucking chickpeas and white beans into a grocery cart, making plans for paste e ceci soup (it might be a very soupy summer) and bruchetta con cannellini. No surprise that I have Italy on my mind, having just spent nearly two weeks in Sicily, but Five Quarters is filling my dreams with images of linguini con zucchine (which is where my bookmark currently resides and rhymes in a lovely way when you say it aloud) and riding around on a motorino. 

Speaking of Italy, I’m reliving my meals at Case Vecchie, drooling my way through Fabrizio Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily. I think there’s a crema di limone pudding in the very near future.

During our workshop, we read various passages, articles, and book chapters to help us explore different ways of beginning a piece of writing. A couple on the food of Sicily have made their way to my library queue (You do have a library card, right?): Mary Taylor Simeti’s Pomp and Sustenance and Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow.

And one more book that has come highly recommended by many friends: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

In case you want more immediate gratification, here are a few articles that are just a click away:

Tamar Adler’s A Philosophy of Herbs. Perhaps this is the article I had in mind when, after reading the whole pea-camole brouhaha, I ignored the published recipe and made my own pea mash with avocado, mint, lemon juice and salt.

How cookbook author Paula Wolfert is using food to keep Alzheimer’s dementia at bay.

The story of The Day Jacques Pépin Saved My Life.

Now that I’ve adjusted back to a quotidian life without wine at lunch, The Guardian on drinking in the middle of the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And finally, to fuel all that reading, I give you cake.

Marcella’s butter almond cake

Reprinted with permission from Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor.  

This cake was created by Marcella Sarne, who entered it in a baking contest sponsored by C&H Sugar and won, to the tune of a grand-prize custom kitchen. Sprinkling salt over the batter together with the toasted almonds and sugar is genius. Covered and stored at room temperature, this cake keeps well for several days.

Serves 8 to 10

Butter and flour for the pan
3 heaped tablespoons sliced almonds
¾ cup (1½ sticks; 170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for finishing
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure almond extract
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
A pinch of sea salt flakes, like Maldon, if using (see headnote)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F, and butter and flour a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Spread the sliced almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in a preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until fragrant. They should color only lightly.

Whisk together the melted butter and 1½ cups sugar in a large bowl. Add one egg, whisk until fully incorporated, then add the other and whisk some more. Add the almond extract, vanilla and salt, and whisk well, until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and scatter the toasted almonds, sea salt flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon sugar over top. Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake peeking through the almonds takes on a faintly rosy color (this cake blushes more than it browns), and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack until nearly room temperature, then ease the cake out of the pan and cool the rest of the way.

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It’s well past midnight and I’m sitting in a boxed-up apartment, unable to finish packing and unable to go to sleep. The bookshelf is empty, the furniture sold or given away, the art propped against the wall. It must sound funny to you that I’m about to wax nostalgic about an apartment that I’ve lived in for a mere handful of months. But I will. And I hope you’ll indulge me.

4F is Julie‘s apartment and has always been a vortex of social gathering. It’s located in a complex of buildings spanning three square blocks and surrounding an outdoor space, now more concrete than green, that we came to call Melrose Place for its centrality to dozens of friend and the high probability of running into one of them on the way home. 4F faces that urban courtyard of sorts and from its fourth floor perch, you can take in the comings and goings. Julie’s place is where we gather for shabbat. For leftovers. For birthday partying. For pre-partying. For hey-I-made-too-much-soup-so-come-over. For I’m-coming-into-town-and-need-a-place-to-crash-tomorrow.

I moved to New York after graduate school knowing no one. 4F is where I made most of my friends.

This time around, after five years in Boston, I took over Julie’s lease for a few months. That was in October. When I carted my suitcases of clothing and boxes of too-heavy pots into 4F with an air of uncertainty about the future – my future – I felt welcomed immediately by the comfort of Julie’s home.

The lease ends tomorrow and Julie came over this morning to pack up more of her stuff. In between knocks on the door and visits from neighbors, I slid a batch of granola into the oven.

Maple pecan granola

I’ve  been slow to jump on the homemade granola bandwagon. That all changed when, just a few days into the new year, I went to dinner at Eleven Madison Park – a  restaurant about as far a cry as you can get from granola’s hippy-dippy connotation of my youth – and they sent me home with a jar of their house-made cereal. The next morning, I showered EMP’s granola over plain yogurt, tasting the embodiment of hospitality as dinner extended to breakfast and the meal continued from the restaurant into my own kitchen. I was hooked.

Maple pecan granola Maple pecan granola

The scent of maple and toasted pecans linger as I continue to sit here – so well past midnight that it’s more morning than night, really. I have a jar of granola ready for Julie to pack up when she comes by tomorrow. I mean today.

As for 4F, it’ll be in good hands. My friend Jessica is moving in later this month.

The old joke goes that that Jews say goodbye without  leaving and I’m no exception, so rather than letting this elegy to an apartment go on and on, I’m gonna ghost.

Maple pecan granola

This recipe is a hybrid of  Eleven Madison Park’s granola and Megan Gordon’s general granola guidelines. The flavors are inspired by the most breakfast-y scones I’ve ever made. I recommend throwing a big handful atop a bowl of plain Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup. Also, it’s not so bad with vanilla ice cream. Just in case you were wondering.

There is a fair amount of salt in my granola, which may not suit everyone’s taste, so I’d suggest starting with only 1 teaspoon for your first batch. If you like your granola clumpy, don’t stir it while it’s cooking. And if you like it really clumpy, add an egg white to better bind everything together. 

Makes about 6 cups

– 3 C rolled oats

– 1 ½ C chopped pecans

– ½ C sliced almonds

– ½ C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

– 2 T flax seeds (mix of dark and light)

– 1 – 1 ½ t salt

– ⅓ C brown sugar

– ½ C maple syrup (Grade B)

– ⅓ C olive oil

Prep. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts, and seeds.

Warm. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat.

Mix again. Fold the liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

Bake. Spread the granola in a thin layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking and stirring the granola every 10-15 minutes. It’s ready when the oats have darkened to a golden brown and the mixture is no longer sticky. As the granola cools, it will harden.

Store. Allow the granola to cool to room temperature and transfer to an air-tight container. It should keep for about 10 days.

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