Friday, February 22, 2013

Potatonik (Potato Pudding-Bread)

Potatonik is related to kugel, except that it contains yeast, making it a hybrid between a potato kugel and a potato/onion bread. It used to be available in Jewish bakeries in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side (I would imagine in the Bronx as well, but we rarely went to the Bronx). It's a runner up to latkes in my opinion, and better than kugel, which tends to get hard and heavy if you don't eat it immediately.

When we lived in Stuart, Florida (not a mecca for Jews at the time we lived there), there was a retired Jewish baker who worked for the Jensen Beach Publix. The way I was introduced to him was noticing one Friday afternoon that there was fresh potatonik at the bakery counter. I asked one of the bakery ladies how in the world they came to carry this product and they introduced me to the baker, who had retired to Port St. Lucie and didn't like being retired. He brought some of his New York style Jewish (Ashkenazi) recipes to the little Publix where the few Jews living there were always amazed to find these kinds of food items. The bakery ladies were very kind - they made sure to save 2 challahs on Friday and always had a hard roll for Eli.

The recipe is simple and straightforward, it's much easier if you have a food processor to grate the potatoes and onions. The dough is mixed by hand.

The dough requires a sponge.  This recipe is adapted from Secrets of a Jewish Baker, by George Greenstein (I never got the recipe from the baker at Publix).

8 oz warm water
1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
7.5 oz all purpose flour (for the sponge)
3/4 lb potatoes - washed, unpeeled (I use Yukon Gold or Red Bliss)
6-7 oz yellow onion
1/2 c bread crumbs (make it from left over stale bread if you have any)
2.5 oz all purpose- or bread- flour (for the dough)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 c neutral vegetable oil
2 ex large eggs
spray oil for greasing 2 loaf pans, bread crumbs to sprinkle in the pans

Make the sponge:

  • 8 oz warm water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp yeast (I haven't tried this with instant yeast)
  • 7.5 oz all purpose flour 
In a large non-reactive bowl, mix the ingredients well, you'll have a gluey mass. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a draft free place for about 30 minutes. 

Prep for making the dough: 
  • In the bowl of a food-processor, grate the potatoes and the onion together 
  • Grate 2 thick slices of left over bread (to make bread crumbs) or measure out 1/2c breadcrumbs to add to the potato/onion mixture when you assemble the dough 
  • Stir 2.5 oz all purpose flour with 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, pepper and heaping 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Mix together 4 oz oil with the eggs in a large measuring cup or a small bowl 
  • Grease 2 loaf pans, sprinkle with breadcrumbs 
  • Boil 2 c water (which will be used for the steam bath in the oven) 

Dough Assembly: 
1. Stir down the sponge
2. Add the potato/onion mixture, mix well. Add the breadcrumbs (which will absorb the liquid from the potatoes and onions). 
3. Add the oil/eggs and flour/baking powder/salt/pepper. The dough will be very sticky, thick and lumpy. Mix well in the bowl (don't try to turn out of the bowl- you don't knead the mixture). 

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pans. The potatonik will rise, so make sure that you do not fill the pans beyond 1/2 of the way up the sides. 

5. Pre-heat the oven, 360-370 degrees. Place an empty metal pan on the floor of the oven. When the oven reaches temperature, pour the boiling water into the empty pan. Be careful- you will be generating steam. 

6. Place the prepared pans with the potatonik into the oven and bake for approximately an hour. The top will be brown and crusty.  

7. Cool completely before removing.  Potatonik is best when eaten warm. You can serve it with applesauce, like a latke, but you'll find that it's richer and almost bread-like, making the applesauce almost unnecessary. 

You can wrap it in foil and store in the fridge for a day or two, but make sure to warm it before eating.  It can also be double wrapped and frozen for several weeks. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Korn Bread (Kornbroyt)

I baked this recipe because Bubby has been dreaming about how delicious it would be to have fresh kornbread. I don't know if it will live up to her imagination when she tastes it, but it looked very pretty coming out of the oven. This is not corn bread made with maize (corn) - it's a type of sour dough rye.

This bread was started with the sour dough culture described in the posting outlining the process for starting a sour dough culture. In addition to rye flour, "first clear," a flour that is not readily available in the retail market is part of the recipe. First clear refers to the stage at which the flour is collected during the milling process. First clear flour is less refined than all purpose flour sold to the retail consumer, it is  higher in mineral and specs of bran and is commonly used in darker breads and in combination with rye flour, like it is in the korn bread. It is a high gluten flour, thus helping heavier rye breads rise.  My source for both the rye flour and first clear flour is King Arthur flour (, however, Stanley Ginsberg (co-author of Inside the Jewish Bakery, the book from which I took this recipe) has a website called The New York Bakers ( and has many interesting baking ingredients, including a variety of flours, for sale. 

Ginsberg and Berg have a wonderful section on rye flour in Inside the Jewish Bakery and if you want to know more about how rye reacts in dough it's worth the read. 

Even though the bread takes two days to bake, I adapted the process in the book so that I could work on the bread in the morning, go to work and continue when I got home. 

The choreography for the bread is a bit more complicated than breads requiring shorter rising times:
1. You need a starter culture. If you do not have one bubbling away in the kitchen, this takes about a week. 
2. Mix a portion of the starter with flour, water and salt in the morning of day 1. I left this starting "sponge" (it's not loose like a typical sponge and is actually a stiff pre-ferment) covered loosely on the counter until the evening of day 1.

3.The sponge will rise, just about doubling in bulk, although it looks heavy and is not a bubbling -type of dough. Place the sponge (covered with a pot lid or plastic wrap) in the fridge until the next morning. 
4. On the morning of day 2, remove the dough from the fridge and allow the dough to come to room temperature for about an hour. It will be lumpy and still thick (see picture to the left).
5. Complete making the dough and chill during the day (for about 8-9 hours). 
6. Remove the dough from the fridge on the evening of day 2. 

7. You'll need to move the dough from the bowl in which it has been rising onto a baking surface and bake the bread on the evening of day 2. Near the end of the baking you'll need to make the glaze, which will be applied to the hot bread immediately after you remove the bread from the oven. 
8. The dough needs between several hours through overnight (morning of day 3) to cool. Try to refrain from slicing the bread while it is warm because rye flour does not have gluten and behaves a bit differently - the bread might feel, look and taste "gummy" if you slice and eat while it is warm. 

For the "sponge"
  • 2 oz mature sour dough culture (from your "mother" culture)
  • 8 oz warm water -not too warm- around 80-90 degrees
  • 10 oz medium rye flour 
  • .05 oz kosher salt (don't use table salt, additives can interfere with the yeast)
On day 2, for the full dough you'll be adding:
  • 9.5 oz warm water
  • 19 oz first clear flour (if you don't have first clear flour, Ginsberg & Berg say to use a high gluten flour, which would include bread flour)
  • .6 oz instant yeast
  • .3 oz kosher salt 
  • 3 Tbsp caraway or nigella seeds (optional). I used caraway seeds, it gave the bread a wonderful "bite."  Mix the seeds into the dough after you have mixed in everything else. 
  • cornmeal for dusting the surface of the parchment that you use to line a baking sheet
At the end of the baking, a glaze is applied to make the bread shiny
  • 6 oz water, boiled 
  • 2 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 2 oz of cold water
On day 1:
1. In the morning of day 1, in a nonreactive pot  or large bowl mix the mature culture, warm water, rye flour and salt
2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or the pot lid and place the mixture in a draft free place and let proof (rise) until the evening
3. In the evening of day 1 place the covered sponge in the fridge until the morning.

On day 2: 
4. On the morning of day 2, let the dough come to room temperature for 30-60 minutes. 
5. Mix together the flour, yeast and salt and set aside. Mix the water with the sour sponge and then add the flour mixture. You won't be able to knead this dough- it will be heavy, but will also be sticky. Make sure the entire mixture is hydrated by mixing well. Cover and place in the fridge until the evening.

6. On the evening of day 2, remove the dough from the fridge, it will have risen to not quite double the size

7. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a dry metal pan on the floor of the oven. This will be your "steam" pan- you'll add a cup of boiling water into the hot pan just before you load the bread into the oven. 
8. Line a baking pan with parchment, sprinkle the parchment generously with corn meal. 
9. Be very gentle when  you handle the risen dough-  you do not want to deflate it. 
10. Wet your hands (this will help prevent the dough from sticking to your hands- rye dough is sticky) and gently roll the dough onto the prepared pan. Don't lift it out of the pot or bowl, doing so will deflate it. 
11. The dough will be a thick disk, you can use your wet hands to smooth it out a bit, slash the top of the bread with a single edge razor blade or lame (pronounced lah-may). A lame can be ordered on line at either of the two websites I mentioned. Slashing (or docking) the dough will help increase surface area and helps the dough rise a bit more. 
12. Pour about a cup of boiling water into the hot steam pan.
13. Slide the baking sheet with the dough into the oven, be careful there will be hot steam!
14. Bake at 450 for about 10 minutes and then lower the oven to 365 degrees and continue to bake for about an hour. 
15. Check at the end of the hour, the bread should have a dark crust. In our oven the baking took another 10 minutes.  Cooked bread can be deemed finished visually (crust color), tapped to sound hollow (I have never been able to hear a hollow tap) or checked by temperature (185-195 degrees). 
16. During the last few minutes of baking, boil 6 oz of water and mix in 2 tsp of cornstarch suspended in 2 oz of cold water. Cook the mixture for a minute or two, it will thicken.
17. Remove the bread from the oven and immediately brush the cornstarch mixture in a thin coat on the entire bread. The heat of the bread will dry the cornstarch fairly quickly and it really will take on a shine. 
18. Cool thoroughly- for several hours at least, before you slice. 
19. The bread stays well for a few days if stored at room
temperature in a plastic bag.  The bread, like most breads will 
freeze well for a month or so - just make sure to double wrap. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Starting a Sour Dough Culture

I am, admittedly, a novice at working with sour dough. I have had some fairly successful sour dough breads and I believe I understand the process and even some of the chemistry, but I know I have a long way to go. Sour dough starters generally make use of "wild" yeasts - yeast that naturally lies on the surface of flour, grape skins, air in your kitchen and other fruits and vegetables. I did find several recipes for sour dough starters that used cultured bread yeast, but there is no reason to do this- with patience you'll be able to coax a starter from nothing more than flour and water.

Starting and feeding a starter reminded me of how complicated, time consuming and important starters were to bread baking  in the not so distant past. Modern cultured yeast was not in production until the turn of the last century.

I believe that baking is something you learn as you go; therefore there was no need for me to master the entire art and science of sour dough and wild yeast before I start experimenting with this technique. I am encouraging you to try baking with a starter - you never know, you may find you love the challenge. I imagine that this process is somehow related to my son's interest in beer-making.

My daughter, Mikah, was in Denmark last year and mentioned a dark very heavy rye bread she ate there. I think I found this bread at Breads Bakery near Union Square in Manhattan, but germane to this posting is that I believe this bread requires a sour dough starter.

This is the second winter I've started a sour dough starter. Our kitchen is way too hot in the summer to bake very often and I was busy with the garden, so I discontinued the starter I was nursing along last winter/spring. The starter I used this week is about two months old. It lacks heritage, but I baked a very respectable "Korn Bread" (a type of rye bread that has no corn in it) this week using the starter. I will be uploading the photos and recipe for the Korn Bread in another posting.

At some point I may be comfortable enough to know how to create starters with subtle differences, but at this point it's a success to me to feed and keep one starter going.

If you are reading bread baking books you may notice a few techniques using dough preparations that are mixed and allowed to ripen (pre-ferment) prior to mixing the entire batch of bread dough.  Sour dough starter is one of these pre-ferments; it is a ripened paste of flour and water that has captured wild yeast from the surface of the flour and the air in the kitchen. A sour dough culture takes about a week to "build."

The following method is a digested version of several sources. I've worked out a simplified method of attending to the starter and bread baking around my work schedule- meaning that I "bake" (or engage in baking-related activities) early in the morning and after dinner. Because I have almost always been a working mom and I've wanted to bake, I've worked out a schedule that allows me to bake "around" my work day: early morning and after dinner.

The starter needs to be attended to on approximately 12 or 24 hour cycles, so if you start it at 7 am on day 1, the next time you attend to it will be either 7 pm on day 1, or 24 hours later at 7 am on day 2. You'll need rye flour or a combination of rye and unbleached all -purpose flour for your starter. Don't worry about yeast, the flour has yeast on it, rye flour also has sugars that are more easily fermented than wheat flour.  Water should be de-chlorinated, meaning that you should fill a glass of water and let the chlorine evaporate over a 12 hour period or use room temperature filtered water from your Britta.

Mix your sour dough in a non-reactive container: a ceramic crock, very large glass jar or a stainless steel bowl. Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to mix the starter.  The process of fermenting this pre-dough will produce lactic acid and acetic acid. The mixture will be bubbly and smell yeasty, it will have a color similar to oatmeal, although it will have the consistency of a thick gluey mass when you mix it. When you "feed" the mixture with flour it will look lumpy; however, after several hours the lactic acid will help smooth out the mixture to resemble a thick smooth gluey mass.  In a healthy active starter the liquid should not separate from the solid portion.  If the liquid begins to look dark grayish and the smell is very sour and unpleasant, throw it out and start again. I did have a batch of sour dough starter go bad last year, for reasons I could not figure out. After searching the internet, my husband,Fred,  suggested that  I contact the Bakers Hot Line at KA Flour and the baker that answered my e-mail said that the starter may have spoiled and that it should be thrown out.

NOTE: Sour dough is living and breathing, don't store or let rest in a sealed jar (with a screw cap). Carbon dioxide gas is being produced and you don't want to create a mess on your counter or in the refrigerator. 

Temperature and hydration affect the culture. The balance of the yeast and bacteria create a good sour culture and there are times when the  the two types of organisms will fall out of balance.  The flavor of the sour dough itself is affected by the temperature, hydration and bacterial colonies that inhabit the flour. The ambient temperature of the room or space where the culture is resting will affect the taste of the culture. Cooler, slower proofing will result in a more "sour taste."  Not all "sour dough" breads need to be sour, they will create a wonderful chewy textured bread or bread-type product anyway (think: pancakes, muffins and biscuits).

Recognize that this technique is thousands of years old; ancient bakers didn't have a degree in chemistry or food science when they discovered this cooking method. You too can make sour dough successfully - have fun and experiment (and keep giving away samples).

Starting a sour dough culture:

  • Day 1:  2.5 oz rye flour, mixed with 2.5 oz of room temperature water. I used the same weight of flour and water in the initial mix. My method uses a slight difference in later feedings. Mix the ingredients, place in a warm area (70-75 degree room) and allow to ferment for 24 hours. You can cover loosely with waxed paper laying on top of the container. After 24 hours the mixture may or may not have small bubbles. It may not look very active, but if you use rye flour, in all likelihood it will have bubbles along the surface.
  • NOTE: the mixture will be emitting gas and alcohol - do not seal- if you use a crock the top is not air tight, so don't worry, but if you use a jar do NOT screw on the top- you can use wax paper initially and plastic wrap when you store in the fridge. 
  • Day 2 - first "feeding" : You'll use the entire batch from day one. Add 2.5 oz of flour (you can use 1/2 rye, 1/2 unbleached all-purpose flour) and 2 oz water.Mix the combination of the day old mixture and the new flour and water. You might see some activity, with bubbles starting to form in the water as you stir.  Cover loosely with waxed paper, allow to stand for 12 hours. 
  • Day 2- second "feeding" : The mixture should look bubbly, but if it doesn't continue anyway. Divide culture in half, discard one half (if you don't discard it, you'll keep increasing the amount of sour mixture you have and it will become unmanageable) and use the remaining half of the culture. Add 2.5 oz flour (either rye or wheat or a combination of both) and  2.4 oz of water.  Adding slightly less water than flour has worked better in my kitchen. Most recipes you read will instruct you to use equal weights of both flour and water. This is something you can experiment with. Cover loosely and let stand 12 hours.
  • Day 3 : feed twice over 24 hours, dividing the dough in half, using half, adding 2.5oz new flour and 2.4 oz water. By day three you can use wheat flour entirely (all purpose or whole wheat), this is entirely up to you.  By day three the mixture should be actively bubbling. When you add the flour and water to feed and refresh the mixture the bubbles should increase. 
  • Day 4. 5 and 6: Repeat the pattern for 2 feedings (divide in half save half, add the flour and water) 12 hours apart. 
  • After the 2nd feeding on Day 6 you will have a mature starter. A healthy sour culture is actively bubbly, smells yeasty (but clean) and will almost double in bulk 4-5 hours after a feeding. If you are not going to use it, cover and place in the fridge. Chilling will help slow down the yeasts' activity and you can keep it viable by feeding (divide, add new flour and water) about once a week. Keep it covered or the culture will dry out (and die).  This mixture is very much like glue- I found it helpful to place a piece of waxed paper between the crock and lid so that the lid wasn't "sealed" by the bits of gluey culture that might have gotten onto the edge of the lid. This is your "mother" culture. 
  • Reactivating a chilled sour culture: Take the culture out of the fridge, feed it immediately and then divide and feed twice over 24 hours. The next feeding (12 hours later) should use the entire mother, add the new flour and water.  The starter will be ready to use after the third feeding/refreshing.  Again, the starter should look bubbly, smell yeasty and be roughly the color of oatmeal. 
  • Remove the amount of starter you need for the recipe you are using. Since your "mother starter" has been recently fed, you can take the remainder (which will be about a cups worth), cover and place it back in the refrigerator if you are not planning to bake again for a week or more. 
  • I have, on occasion forgotten to feed the chilled mother starter for a couple of weeks and have been able to salvage it by going through a divide and feed cycle for 2 days. I keep the container of starter in the back of my refrigerator, where it is less likely to be affected by temperature shifts caused by the door opening and closing. 
  •  Remember, if your ripe starter has separated, has turned grayish or any other off-color, and if it smells rotten - throw it out, and thoroughly wash the crock, jar or container you use before starting again. 
  • I recently read on another baking blog that if you are using anti-bacterial dish-washing liquid be extremely careful to thoroughly wash and rinse the container. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Traditional Hamantachen (Baking Powder) - apricot, raspberry and haroset filling

A non-yeast recipe, but I promised my kids that I would get it on the blog.

This is my traditional hamantachen dough, it's adapted from Chocolate Chip Challah & Other Twists on The Jewish Holiday Table by Rauchwerger (UAHC Press, 1999).  It's easy and doesn't require chilling time (a huge plus when you have kids baking with you &  it's hard to plan in advance).

The choreography is straight forward:

  • Make the dough, it can be used immediately (wrap and chill or freeze before rolling out and fill if you want) OR continue
  • Get jars/cans of filling (or if you want to, find a recipe for home made fillings
  • Divide dough into 4 or 5 pieces, keep the unused portion covered
  • Roll out dough (to about 1/4") on a flat surface that has been lightly dusted with flour, cut circles, fill, form cookies
  • Place on a parchment lined baking sheet
  • Bake 375 degrees for about 18 minutes (check after 12 minutes)
  • Allow to cool on the pan for a few minutes (you can burn yourself if the hot filling drips 
  • Move cookies to cooling grid, allow to cool. Package in air tight container, the cookies stay well for 2 days or so, but will stay up to a week if you keep them in the fridge.  If you want, double wrap and freeze, they will stay well for several weeks.
The Dough:
  • 1c shortening (Fred assures me that since I don't use margarine often, we won't be poisoned from trans fats)- I haven't tried this, but coconut oil doesn't work well  NOTE: See February 2013 comment below re: coconut oil.  Note, 2019, used 1/2 Crisco stick, 1/2 c margarine, worked well 
  • 1.5 c sugar 
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 4 - 4 1/4 c all purpose flour 
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp orange juice 
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp orange rind 
1. Sift flour and baking powder together, set aside 
2. Cream the margarine and sugar (you can do this by hand or machine)
3. Add the eggs, juice, extract and orange rind 
4. Add the flour/baking powder in several additions, mix well. If the dough is very sticky, you can add up to 1/4 c more flour 
5. Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap. Cut off a portion of the dough

Pre-made Filling: Since my daughter loves muhn filling best,   Love and Bake has pareve poppy seed filling in a can.  You can find it at whole food or on-line. (Love and Bake also has lekvar.)

 Haroset filling (the cookie is NOT kosher for Passover).
My husband, Fred, makes a huge amount of charoset, we freeze about half for use after Passover.
Charoset ingredients:
  • About 20 oz sweetened grated coconut
  • 1 lb finely ground nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts in any combination you like)
  • 6 cups water (approximate amount, you have to check the haroset as it cooks)
  • 2 lb assorted dried fruit, chopped (definitely include pitted prunes, apples, dates. Skip figs, the seeds won't work well here)
  • 1 lb white raisins
  • 1lb dried apricots, chopped                                                      
  • 2-3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 24 oz cherry preserves
  • 1 1/2- 2 c sweet kiddush wine (or grape juice)
1. Combine (and mix) the coconut, fruit, ground nuts and water in a large pot. Simmer over low heat until fruit starts to break up and the mixture begins to thicken and look somewhat like a cooked cereal mixture
2. Add water if needed to keep the mixture from burning or sticking to the pot, keep stirring to prevent scorching. Be careful to keep stirring and watching- Fred may not admit this - but he has (slightly) burned the bottom of a pot while cooking this.
3. After the fruit has begun to break down (about 45 minutes) add the preserves and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes. The mixture will be thick. Let it cool, it should remain moist, but will be very thick.
4. Stir in wine, cover and chill. 
5. The haroset stays well for the entire week of Passover. It can be frozen in smaller 8oz packets, double wrapped, and keeps well for several months (we've kept it for up to 11 months).

Forming the cookies: 
6. Roll out on a flat surface that has been dusted with flour, dough should be about 1/4: thick.  Use a 2" cookie cutter, biscuit cutter or a glass to cut out circles. I use an old Welch's jelly jar glass (a Pokemon glass! Look closely at the picture, you can see it) 

7. The circles of dough will begin to puff a little bit,  you can flatten with your fingers and stretch out a bit. These cookies are a bit smaller than typical hamantachen when baked, if the dough is initially rolled out a bit thicker you can flatten and stretch to a larger circle of dough. 
8. Place about 1/2 tsp of filling in the center of the dough, fold up at one edge and then make 2 more folds to create a triangle. Make sure the seams are tight- they will open if you don't really seal the cookie folds.  
9. You want to make sure the dough encases the filling, the filling will bubble in the hot oven and run over if you (a) have too much filling or (b) don't fold the dough high enough around the filling.  This takes practice, keep at it. The "rejects" make very good snacks for brothers who walk into the kitchen and want samples. 
*** Keep your hands clean - when you have dough stuck to your fingers you may have trouble getting the seams to seal....
10. Place on the baking sheet lined with parchment, bake in an oven, pre-heated to 375 degrees

Repeat the process with another piece of dough, if you have 2 or 3 baking sheets you can keep the process going..... 

11. Bake for approximately 18 minutes, but check to see how they look after 12 or 13 minutes
12. Don't handle the cookies immediately after removing the tray from the oven. The hot jelly will run and can burn you- give the cookies a few minutes to set.  After 3-4 minutes, move the cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.  Hot cookies will burn your tongue- be careful when you sample!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Yeast Hamantachen

Yeast Hamantachen
 Purim is coming in about 2 weeks, time to bake hamantachen.....

MEA, you'll notice these are not the regular hamentachen I've been making with (or without) you over the years. Mikah, I'll include another posting with the other reciepe.  Those hamentachen are leavened with baking powder, these are made with yeast. Fred remembers yeast hamentachen at a particular Jewish bakery in Chicago and after making many many experimental cookies this past week Fred thinks I've hit on something he likes, albeit not exactly the cookie he remembers as a kid.  Thank you to Fred's medical students, Judy and Sydney, staff in my office, colleagues of Adam's at TJ Maxx for eating the cookie "seconds" and helping ensure that we didn't eat them all at home.

The shape is crucial, although I'm not sure why. Like kreplach, hamentachen must be triangles, obviously it has nothing to do with the Trinity, but for some reason the shape does seem to be important. If anyone knows why, please let me know.

The symbol of the cookies are tied to the hidden messages (the jam/filling is "hidden" within the cookie) of the Book of Esther. Things are not always what they seem to be....

I would think, without any real research, that yeast was the original leavening agent for hamantachen and then as baking become the purview of specialized shops, baking powder, which simplifies the entire process took over as the preferred ingredient. The yeast cookies were more time consuming and the dough required several rest periods.  Fred murmured "hmmm, good," on the final batch, he assured me that they approached what he remembered and I said that that's good enough for me, so I'm going to document the baking of the last batch.  It was a fun process to work out, but I can see why a baker wanting to turn out many cookies as quickly as possible would opt for baking powder.
Here is my version of yeast dough hamentachen; the dough is made in several stages and the shaping of the cookie differs slightly from baking powder dough.

This recipe starts with a sponge, I mix the entire dough by hand.  Sponges are a bread baking technique that used to be used to ensure that the yeast being used was active, but also to affect the texture of the final dough.
The choreography is as follows:
  1. Make the sponge (let it proof /rise 30 minutes)
  2. Complete making the dough (let it proof/rise about 45-60 minutes)
  3. Roll out the dough, cut circle shapes - I used a glass that was about 3 1/4 inches in diameter
  4. Re-roll out each circle so that it is about 4 inches in diamter (and about 1/4 inch thick)
  5. Wash surface of cookie with egg wash- use a silicone brush or a small fork (one egg, slightly mixed). The egg wash helps seal the seams of the folds. You can wash the outside of the cookie as well to make it shine (I didn't do this on these particular hamentachen). 
  6. Add filling- I use canned or jar fillings including: poppy seed (muhn), apricot preserves, prune filling (lekvar), Israeli chocolate spread, chocolate chips, sweetened peanut butter. See the posting on ingredients for filling ideas. 
  7. Close up the cookie to "hide" the jam (in a triangle shape). Leave very little of the jam showing, the cookie rises in the oven, the opening will widen. 
  8. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and let the cookies rest for about 10 minutes
  9. Bake - for 18- 20 minutes at 375 (a bit warmer than usual for cookies)
  10. Cook and cover well (these hamentachen will not stay as well as the baking powder variety)
  11. Freeze the cookies if you will not be using within a day or two. I stored them in the fridge for the first 2 days, they stayed well
The Sponge:
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 c soy milk or almond milk or rice milk (you can use milk, but my baking is almost exclusively non-dairy)
  • 4.5 tsp instant yeast (if you have it, I used SAF gold- meant for sweet dough), mixed with 1 Tbsp white sugar
  • 5 oz (1c) all purpose flour
  • 3 oz brown sugar
1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl
2. Add the yeast and 1 Tbsp sugar to one side of the bowl
3. Pour the water around the yeast to make sure it is hydrated
4. Add the brown sugar
5. Mix, you should see some bubbles
6. Mix in the soy milk (slightly warmed to make the yeast happy)
7. Cover the bowl (don't allow covering to touch the mixture - it is wet and will stick!). Place in a draft free, warmish place ( cold oven is a good place) and allow to proof /rise for about 30 minutes
8. After 30 minutes it should be bubbly (it may not be wildly bubbly like bread dough) .  Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
Finishing the dough:
 Directly into the bowl, with the sponge, mix in the following:
  • 5.5 oz  (3/4c)  white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon extract
  • 3 extra large eggs (slightly beaten)
  • 1/2 c neutral oil (I use canola)
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (don't use table salt, the measurement is different)
  • 22.5 oz  (4 1/2 c cups)  all purpose flour - added in 2 parts
9. By the time you mix in the 2nd part of the flour you may need to turn the dough out onto a work surface, it will resemble bread dough but it will be sticky.  Flour your hands if you need to- but try to ignore the feeling that you want to add more flour - you can always correct the amount of flour later on.

 10. Knead for 3-4 minutes (with heel of your palm, stretch away from you a few times, fold toward center, reform the ball and continue the process).
11. Form into a ball.  Pour about 1 Tbsp oil into the bowl (use the same bowl, don't worry about washing it, this is enough of a project without creating more cleaning for yourself).
12. Roll the dough so that it has an oily covering. Cover with plastic wrap (this time the wrap should lay against the dough, don't make it tight, the dough needs to rise).
13. Place in a warm, draft free place and let proof/rise for about 45 minutes. It will not be double, but will be visibly puffier.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Some things to know about measuring flour and working with yeast

 A bit of what you need to know about kneading :
get yourself a scale to weigh flour and some other ingredients
(say it three times fast and then make sure you do it)

You want to measure flour when you are using more than a tablespoon for two.  You know that I am not inclined to be exact in many of my activities, but this is important.
Flour differs - not only type and brand, but most importantly for the success of your baking,  how dry or humid your flour is. This factor differs at various times of the year and the conditions under which the flour was grown & milled.  So invest in a digital scale, the same way you would a measuring cup or measuring spoons.

If you have measured the ingredients and kneaded the dough and it's still sticky, flour your hands before you start adding additional flour to the dough. Be judicious about continuously adding flour, the end product might be too heavy and dry.  Remember, as well, that during the proofing the flour will continue to absorb liquid- so work against your instinct to add more flour - especially if you have weighed the flour.

4.5 oz is 1 cup of all-purpose or bread flour.

If you just refuse to weigh the flour, don't dip the measuring cup into the flour, you'll pack the flour and, knowing from experience, that the "cup" of flour you dug out of the yeast bag can weigh 6 or 7 ounces, you'll mess up the recipe. "Fluff up the flour with a cup, and gently fill a measuring cup (not a glass measure, use those for liquids). Take the flat edge of a knife or dough scraper and bring across the top of the measure.  If you want to prove to yourself that this is close to 5 oz, go ahead, I tested myself a few times to see if this was real.

Hand kneading is not an attack on the flour, you're looking to incorporate ingredients & air, stretch the gluten in the flour and prepare the mixture to proof. Use the heal of your hands, once or twice in the same direction, the dough will start to form an oblong, fold it back over itself to re-form in a roundish shape and keep repeating. Dust the work surface, especially at the start so that dough won't stick.  4-5 minutes of this repetitive motion is usually enough, especially for dough that will get a long rise on its own. If it doesn't feel stretchy, knead it another couple of minutes. Don't knead dough made with bread flour by hand, you won't be able to get the higher gluten flour really going. Use an electric dough hook for the high-gluten flours.

After kneading, grease the bowl you initially mixed the flour in. I cannot imagine for the life of me why you have to grease a clean bowl to proof dough- the yeast and flour that was in that bowl, and the remnants left in the bowl after you turn out dough onto a board cannot possibly interfere with the proofing. It's like using a million pots to make a particular dish rather than cooking in stages and not making a huge number of dirty pots and utensils to clean. A sink full of dirty bowls is enough to make me want to forget baking.

Grease the bowl with a tablespoon or two of oil, turn the dough over and around so that the outside is covered with an oily film and use plastic wrap to cover. The wrap can lay against the dough, no need to leave an airspace by attaching it to the top of the bowl - you are doing nothing more than leaving an air pocket to dry the dough and allowing additional space to loose the heat that the yeast is generating as it ferments. The wrap will rise around the dough as it proofs.

Yeast is a single cell fungi - there are hundreds of types of yeast-  it's everywhere, including in bags of flour and on the skin of grapes (interesting connections to the ancient world). It's needed for fermentation (Eli - beer!) and bread making.

The few forms of baking yeast used are described as- fresh/compressed (hard to work with, de-activates,  harder to find these days), active dry (in packets, jars and by the pound), rapid rise (I don't like using rapid rise),  instant (in larger packages by the pound).  "Wild yeast," can be "caught" by mixing flour and water and left out on your counter to ferment. Grape skins can also be used to gather wild yeast.  This type of baking (sourdough) is a partially different and more time consuming process.

Yeast both requires and over-activates itself by consuming carbs (sugar) and has its growth regulated by both sugar and salt in bread recipes.  Oils and fats (including eggs, which have fat content) will inhibit it's growth. 

Yeast is activated by the introduction of water and aided by the addition of a bit of sugar or other carbohydrate (flour, for example).  It likes to replicate in warm conditions, which leads to a whole other dicussion on health problems (not the same yeast).

Baking yeast is actually engaged in a few processes as it ferments. The carbon-dioxide that is released during fermentation stretches the dough (stretching strands of gluten - the protein that forms gluey-strands that allows dough to stretch and makes gluten-intolerant individuals sick).  Another by-product is alcohol and acid, all which tenderize and create a texture to the dough and baked bread.  The third important component that yeast adds to bread baking is flavor and aroma- but like sugar and salt, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing - too much yeast is not pleasant.

My recipes use active dry or instant yeast.  They are both measured the same way.  My preference is for SAF instant yeast, but that has more to do with convenience than a belief that the resulting product differs with the use of instant yeast. SAF gold is an instant yeast with added citric acid. The citric acid boosts the activity of yeast in the presence of high-sugar content. Once you open the package, keep all yeast well-wrapped,dry and chilled. Dry yeast keeps well for prolonged periods of time when stored in the refrigerator.

Instant yeast, as the name implies, instantly mixes with liquids, flour, sugar and salt. There is no "proofing" required.  Active dry yeast however should be activated prior to mixing with any other ingredients.  The proofing process adds about another 10 minutes to the dough making process. Measure the water and  1 Tbsp sugar and mix with the measured amount of yeast. The water must be warm - about 110 degrees in order to activate the yeast. The yeast will begin to bubble almost immediately and in about 5 minutes it will look like a grayish bubbling mass. At this point the yeast is ready to be worked into the flour. I have found that instant yeast prefers that the water temperature be a bit cooler, 100- 105 degrees.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chinese Steamed Buns (meat fillings)

Meat Fillings for Chinese Steamed Buns
BBQ brisket filling (filling 1)
1 lb-  2nd cut brisket (the fattier the better) marindated (between 1 hour through overnight) in the following mixture:
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 3Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 Tbsp good quality soy sauce
  • 1 finely chopped scallion
  • freshly ground black pepper (about 1/8 tsp)
  • 1/2 tsp chinese 5 spice powder (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 Tbsp Sherry  (dry would be better, but the only kosher Sherry I know about is Kedem - not great quality and sweet)  
Marinate the meat for a minimum of 30 minutes up to overnight (in fridge) .
Pour the mixture into a disposable aluminum pan, place the meat in the marinade and cook in the BBQ, over indirect heat for about 90 minutes (the meat needs to be well done)
While the meat is cooking, dice (finely) 3 scallions and 3-4 cloves garlic. Set aside
Remove the meat and grill for several minutes on each side, reserve the marinade
Place meat on a cutting surface, allow to cool until you can comfortably handle. 
In the meantime: pour the marinade into a small saucepan, add the scallion and garlic.  Boil slowly for 2-3 minutes, add 2 Tbsp hoisin, 2 Tbsp sherry and boil a bit more.

Thicken the sauce  with 1 heaping Tbsp cornstarch  (dissolve the cornstarch into 1 tsp cold water, pour into boiling marinade, mix and continue to cook for a minute or so and then turn off the heat.
Chop the meat into very small pieces, mix into the sauce.  Use the mixture for the steamed bun filling.  Wei-Chun's Cookbook also recommends that you accompany the meat mixture with rice (and in that steamed buns!)
Chicken Filling (filling 2)
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1-2 Tbsp diced scallion (1 stalk?)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
  • 1-2 Tbsp neutral oil, mixed with 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp rice wine or sherry
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 c diced canned bamboo shoots
  • 1/2 c diced button mushrooms
  • 1 tsp good quality soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Heat the oil, saute scallion, garlic and ginger. 
Add the chicken , cook until the chicken is white (no pink left)
Add the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, soy sauce and black pepper
Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tsp cold water, mix with the sherry or rice wine and pour into the chicken mixture.
Mix and cook for another minute or two.
Cool to the point where you can handle and use for filling in steamed buns.