Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Almond Cake (Non-Dairy)

This cake is a non-dairy version of Amanda Hesser's Almond Cake, found in the New York Times Essential Cookbook and earlier in her column in the New York Times, August, 2001. Not all cakes can make the jump from dairy to non-dairy without suffering for it - but this one, which I've made several times, really stands up to the modification. This cake looks much like a nut torte, but does contain flour.

Amanda Hesser credited the recipe to her mother-in-law, Elizabeth. She wrote that her mother-in-law described the cake as, "The Shar-Pei of cakes."  Assuming that her mother in law meant ugly but delightful, it's an apt description. The cake crumbles a bit along the edges and doesn't always slice perfectly; however, it's rich and very yummy.

The cake is assembled without any special tricks: creaming fat and sugar, adding other fat ingredients (almond paste and egg yolks) and moving onto liquids and solids.  The leaving agent is a combination of four egg yolks and baking soda. The original recipe incorporates the baking soda into sour cream, since I use coconut milk "yogurt" mixed with a bit of white vinegar, I mix the baking soda into the flour and not into the liquid mixture.


  • 2 - 8inch round cake pans (the original recipe calls for springform pans, I use regular cake pans successfully 
  • parchment paper to line the bottom of the pans
  • electric mixer or stand mixer 
  • measuring cups, spoons
  • kitchen scale 
  • silicone spatula
  •  9 oz (just a bit over 2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening or margarine
  • 1 1/3 c granulated sugar 
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 7 oz almond paste (I use Love 'n Bake, which comes in a 10 oz can. Weigh the required 7 oz and wrap the remainder and store in the freezer) 
  • 4 large egg yolks 
  • 1 tsp almond extract 
  • 1 container (6oz) coconut milk "yogurt" (plain or vanilla) 
  • 1/2 tsp white vinegar
  •  1/2 cup sliced or diced almonds (optional) 

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease the 2 pans, line the bottom of each with parchment paper.  
  2. Combine the flour and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside. 
  3. Cream the margarine and sugar until fluffy. Add the salt and almond paste, a small chunk at a time. Keep mixing until well blended.
  4. Add the yolks, one at a time, continuously mixing. The mixture will be creamy. Add the extract.
  5. Combine the coconut milk and vinegar and pour into the mixing bowl and continue to blend.
  6. Gradually add the flour mixture at low speed and mix until just blended. Don't over mix, you are not looking to develop gluten. 
  7. Divide and pour into the prepared pans. The mixture will be thick, use a spatula to smooth out as well as you can. The batter will not pour in nicely, it will look a bit rough around the edges - don't worry- it will mostly smooth out in the oven. This cake does look a bit rustic after baked- that's ok. 
  8. Top with almonds if desired. (The original recipe suggested a sprinkling of powdered sugar over the finished cake.)
  9. Bake for 1 hour. The cake will brown slightly, feel firm but soft in the center. Cool completely and then use the parchment at the bottom to help you lift the cake out of the pan. The cake crumbles easily. 
  10. This cake is best when left to age for a day or two before serving. Amanda Hesser notes that it stays well for a week or two, I've never had that experience, the cake gets eaten too quickly! 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Egg Kichel (Bow Tie Cookies)

Egg Kichel 

Recipe, thanks to Inside the Jewish Bakery by Ginsberg and Berg.

Kichel  (Bow Tie cookies) often tastes like sugar coated cardboard. As a kid it was one of the few sweetened carbs that I could skip. With the advent of packaged "bow tie" cookies I think the product got even worse; however, leafing through Ginsberg and Berg's Inside the Jewish Bakery  a few years ago and reminiscing about many of the baked goods displayed I suddenly had an unexplainable yen for the kichel I never cared for. We delightfully found that home made kichel is delicious: crisp and not too sweet. I will make a comparison that some people will understand: it's like eating a sweetened version of chow-mein noodles (the wide kind). light, airy, crisp and way too easy to eat too many. 

Egg kichel, along with less than delicious honey cake and tasteles chiffon cake was, at one time, a mainstay of the "basic" Saturday kiddush at the end of synagogue services.  The odd thing is that although the "shul cake" as many people call it was often tasteless, if not stale, Jewish bakeries, whether European or Middle Eastern produce wonderful baked goods and sweets. Why an entire category of poor quality baked goods became the center of the table, celebrating the Sabbath bride, is beyond me. 

By the time I decided the bake the cookies (and go from the nostalgic reading of Ginsberg & Berg's narrative to reading the actual recipe) I had a "duh" moment - the full name of the cookie: eier kichel (egg cookie) of course means that this is an egg-ful cookie. Unlike an "egg cream," which has no eggs, egg kichel actually uses many eggs- they serve as the dough leavening agent. Think of it as Passover baking with flour. (There are Pesach kichel recipes, but they remind me of....yes......sweetened cardboard). 

Don't consider making Egg Kichel unless you: 1. are able to consume a great deal of cholesterol (there are 13 yolks in the recipe), 2. have a powerful electric mixer (the dough really needs to be kneaded until thick and stretchy) and 3. want to re-imagine an old fashioned food that is much better than the reputation it has. 

Assembly was similar to making bread with one short rise. Mix the ingredients, beat (knead) until a stiff stretchy dough results (sort of like thick silly putty). Rest. Roll out, cut, twist, place on baking pans and bake. Kichel must cool completely before storing. I'm freezing the batch pictured by double wrapping and placing in the freezer (for six weeks, which will still be fine). 

heavy duty mixer or stand mixer 
measuring cups, spoons
kitchen scale 
baking sheets
parchment paper (for lining the baking sheets)

1.5 oz (3Tbsp +1 tsp) granulated sugar
1 tsp table salt (NOT kosher salt)
4 large eggs
9 large egg yolks
6 oz (3/4c) neutral vegetable oil 
1.5 tsp vanilla 
16 oz (4 scant c) all purpose flour
18 oz (2.5 c) granulated sugar for coating 

1. Pour eggs into the mixing bowl and on low speed blend the whole eggs and egg yolks
2. Add remaining dough ingredients and mix at low speed (KitchenAid speed 2) until the dough is very stretchy and shiney (this will take about 20 minutes).  I stop occasionally and use a flexible dough scraper or silicone spatula to scrape the dough and push down into the bowl.  

NOTE: the dough will resemble still "silly putty,"  very shiny and stretchable and pulling away from the sides of the bowl - keep mixing until you reach that point. 

3. Scoop up the dough, pat it into a ball, place onto a floured surface and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes - this rest helps the gluten relax and will make it easier to roll out. 

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. On the floured surface pat the dough into a rectangle. Spread out approximately 1 cup of sugar on the work surface and roll the dough directly over the sugar.  The dough should be rolled to approximately 1/4 inch thick. Liberally sprinkle the remaining sugar over the top of the dough. 

6. Cut small rectangles  (approximately 2.5x1)  using a pizza cutter, bench knife or knife. 

7. Taking one portion at a time, twist the dough piece at the center and set on the baking sheet.  The dough will resemble a "bow tie." Repeat until the baking sheet is filled. Scoop up some of the sugar from the work surface and sprinkle onto the unbaked bow ties. The sugar will form a white sparkly- frosty crust over the baked cookie. 
Press each dough piece at the point of the twist, this will help prevent
the dough from untwisting as it bakes

8. Bake, one pan at a time, in the top 1/3 of the oven for approximately 20 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through the baking if the cookies are browning unevenly.  The cookies must be starting to puff and turn slightly brown before you remove them from the oven - otherwise they will deflate. 
9. Cool the cookies completely and store in a closed container (or double wrap and freeze). This recipe makes 6-7 dozen small kichelach (plural of kichel). 

These cookies are perfect when paired with a cup of tea....or something a bit stronger. 

Memories of eating kichel are welcome! Please leave comments below.