Sunday, September 28, 2014

Waldorf Salad (with a twist)

I received lots of hits on  the Instagram photo of this salad, which was a last minute addition to our Rosh Hashana table this year.  It was popular enough in our home this week that Eli ate the leftovers and I made another bowl for the second night of the holiday.

Waldorf Salad is something many of us suffered through making in "Home Ec" class in high school - too much mayonnaise made for a yuck factor. This version is just as simple, but updated, dried cranberries instead of raisins and much less mayonnaise than the original.

Ingredients are approximate, adjust it to your liking. You'll have enough to serve 6-8 as part of a mezza course.

Mix the ingredients together in a bowl, cover and chill for at least an hour before serving:

4-6 apples, peeled, cored and diced (I used Honey Crisp and Jazz, but use any apple you like)
1-2 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 c finely chopped walnuts
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4- 1/3 cup mayonnaise , mixed with approximately 1/4 tsp curry powder (if you don't think it's creamy enough, add a bit more mayo).

That's it!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Semolina Cake with Honey Citrus Syrup (Tishpishti, non-dairy)

Sephardic Semolina Cake with Honey- Citrus Syrup 

Tishpishti (Sephardi-Jewish) Revani (Greek or Turkish) Basbousa (Egyptian) 
Namoura (Lebanese) Torta di Semolina (Italian) Shamali (Armenian, Rhodes)

Honey Cake, as baked in the Ashkenazi tradition, is either a delicacy a person delights in or is the equivalent of the Christmas Fruit Cake that can't be re-gifted quickly enough. People love it or hate it. Bakers are always sharing secrets on how to keep the cake from tasting dry and crumbly. Recently a friend who lives in Connecticut sent the recipe for her mother's honey cake made with whiskey; I haven't given up on finding an Eastern European honey cake we'll like, so I'm planning to bake it for Sukkot. 

This year however, for Rosh Hashana, I decided to bake a Sephardic honey cake. The cake's ancestry and community associations are incredibly complex and finding one recipe that sounded like the perfect version was tough. There are versions of semolina cakes, soaked in citrus-honey-syrup mixtures from every country touching the Mediterranean basin and throughout the Middle East, each having a slightly different twist in the recipe that makes it a product of the location. 

The recipes have ancient roots, semolina meal having been used in biblical times. Versions of this cake is eaten as a well-loved ordinary street food or as the ending to a holiday meal.  Many contain milk products (yogurt, sour-milk, whole milk), some have nuts or nut-flours added (pistachio, almonds, walnuts), more modern versions may also contain flaked coconut.  Mastic, a sticky resin, with a flavor reminiscent of licorice is sometimes used, as is vanilla, cinnamon or cardamon. A history of the cake and the associated variations could go on forever, but that is not the point of this posting. The version posted here is non-dairy (pareve).  

Members of Sephardi and Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) communities typically eat this cake for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. There are flour-free variations that can be baked for Passover. Honey, the ubiquitous symbol of a Sweet New Year is an ingredient in the syrup. Stella Cohen, a descendant of the Rhodes Community and cookbook author recommends serving the cake with berries and whipped cream. Other suggestions include dusting with confectioner's sugar or, as Janna Gur, an Israeli cookbook author suggests, shaved coconut. This recipe is a modification and combination of cakes by Stella Cohen and Janna Gur.

The cake is sweet and sticky and is typically served in small pieces like many Middle Eastern sweets. Some bakers will strategically place almonds, almond pieces, dates or figs pressed into the batter after it is spread in the pan. The fruit or nut pieces will serve as markers for cutting the cake squares or diamond shaped pieces after the cake has been baked and cooled. I've used dried apricots for this purpose. I also opted to use Hodgson Mills  "pasta flour," a mixture of semolina and regular wheat rather than the traditional method of measuring flour and semolina separately. The end product has a slightly smoother crumb when prepared this way. There are several flour companies that make this product, it is easily available on-line and some supermarkets with large baking sections stock the combination flour.

Like soup, this cake improves after the flavors have melded; therefore, it's best to bake the cake a day or two before serving.

The cake, although not difficult to prepare, requires a cooled syrup. Therefore, make the syrup first, prepare the batter (mixed by hand), bake, score while warm, douse with syrup and allow to cool completely before serving. Waiting at least 24 hours will improve flavor and texture.  Serve in small pieces.

A useful hint when making the syrup: include a piece of lemon or lime rind while the syrup is simmering. Once the mixture is clear and the rind appears translucent, the syrup is finished.

The cake itself is mixed by hand in a large bowl, but after reading through many semolina cake recipes and trying a few, I settled on the technique of separating the eggs and beating the egg whites to lighten the texture of the cake. I mix the whites in a stand mixer.

Have all the ingredients measured and ready to mix. You'll need bowls, measuring spoons and cups. A sharp knife for scoring and cutting the cake.

I find it easier to weigh dry ingredients and therefore use a kitchen scale. The recipe has both weights and volume measurements.

A rectangle baking pan, approximately 10 x 15 x 2. I like the way a glass baking pan (e.g. pyrex or anchor hocking) looks for serving.

For the syrup:
7 oz (1c) sugar
8oz (1c) honey
8oz (1c) water
1 medium cinnamon stick
1 inch strip lemon rind
1/4 tsp lemon oil (preferred) or 1 Tbsp lemon juice (as a second choice)

For the cake:
6 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites beaten with 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
4oz (1/2c+ 1 Tbsp ) sugar
1oz (barely 1/4c) coconut flakes
5 oz (1c) almond flour (or use finely ground almonds)
15 oz (3 full cups) pasta flour (a combination of semolina and regular flour)
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp baking powder
8 oz (1c) vegetable oil
8 oz (1 c) orange juice
1/4 tsp orange oil (optional)

12-16 dried apricots

1. Make the syrup by combining all of the ingredients except the lemon oil, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for several minutes. The lemon rind will begin to appear translucent. Remove from heat, add the oil or juice and allow to cool.

2. For the cake, measure all of the ingredients. Grease and flour the pan.

Combine the dry ingredients, except for the sugar in a large bowl.
Combine the oil, juice, eggs and oil in a bowl or large mixing cup.
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees. Place the rack in the top third of the oven.

3. Whip the egg whites at a high speed until they begin to hold peaks. While still beating, add the sugar in several additions and the cream of tartar. The whites should be stiff, hold peaks, but not look dry.

5. Mix the dry ingredients. Pour in the liquid ingredients and keep stirring with a large spoon. The mixture will be thick.

6. Take approximately 1/4 of the batter and gently fold it into the beaten egg whites.

7. Add the whites into the remaining batter and mix together gently. The batter will be thick. 

8. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Place the apricots on top of the cake and slightly press into the batter.  The raw batter will be very thick and springy, the fruit will not settle into the cake.

9. Slip the cake into the oven. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 35 minutes. The cake will turn golden along the edges. Test by slipping a cake tester, or toothpick into the cake, if not done, bake another few minutes.

10. Score the cake into squares or diamonds.  The cut should go about halfway through the cake (don't pierce completely).  Pour the syrup evenly over the entire cake. Use all of the syrup.

11. Cool the cake completely before serving in small pieces. In lieu of apricots, you can try dates, almonds, walnut pieces, or sprinkle the top of the cake with ground nuts before baking.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pumpkin Apple Challah

A beautiful fall-inspired bread

Pumpkin Apple Challah is made with my basic challah recipe   with a variation in the amount of eggs (3 large) and a specific final shaping and proofing. 

I use 3 kinds of flour in the recipe, you can make this challah entirely with all-purpose flour and it will be very good; however, the combination of white whole wheat, bread and all purpose makes a delicious loaf with a fantastic texture in the crumb.  Use instant yeast as described in the procedure OR if you prefer active yeast, activate the yeast in the warm water with a bit of sugar for several minutes until very bubbly and then add to the flour and knead together.  For more information about yeast, check out my blog entry. 

The dough is mixed, rises, deflated and shaped before placing in a pan for the final rise.  The process can be completed in about 4 hours or you can choose to "retard" the proofing (rising) time by placing the dough in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours. 

Equipment: you can make this challah by hand, but it's much easier to use an electric mixer.  We use a kitchen aid stand mixer, it's the workhorse of the kitchen.  You will need measuring spoons, cups , and a kitchen scale if you weigh flour. When mixing by hand, I do not wash out the bowl out after kneading, but rather just pour in a bit of oil, put the dough back into the bowl and turn so that the surface is covered with oil.  Cover with clear plastic wrap and allow to rise. If you avoid the use of plastic wrap, make sure the dough has an oily surface and use a flat weave dish towel that has been dusted with flour to prevent sticking. 

Dough ingredients: 
4.5 tsp yeast + 1tsp sugar
1.5 c warm water
8 oz whole wheat flour (2 scant cups)
8 oz bread flour (2 scant cups)
20 oz all purpose flour (5 scant cups)
3 large eggs 
2.5 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c olive oil
1/2 c honey
additional olive oil for greasing the bowl (for rising/fermentation)

3-4 oz dried apples, chopped into small pieces (if you can't find dried apples in a local store, has a wide selection of high quality dried fruit and nuts) 
1 1/2 c pumpkin butter (I use Muirhead Pecan Pumpkin butter )

2 Tbsp honey mixed with 1 Tbsp warm water for brushing on shaped unbaked loaves 

In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the dough hook:
  • 8 oz white whole wheat and 8 oz bread flour 
  • 4.5 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp white sugar, sprinkle over the spot where you have distributed the yeast
  • 1.5 cups warm water (not too hot, the instant yeast is finicky) - pour the water around the yeast, so you know the yeast has been hydrated, the sugar will be around it to feed it immediately.
Slowly mix the flour, water and yeast. You'll see the yeast bubble immediately.

With the dough hook on slow speed, add the following:
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (the olive oil gives the bread a subtle taste, you can use any vegetable oil, there will be subtle difference)
  • 1/2 c honey or liquid sweetener (I usually use mild honey- like orange blossom, but you can use darker stronger honey, grade B maple syrup, a mixture of molasses and mild honey, etc.).  I once, in a pinch used karo syrup, the kids didn't like it
  • 2.5 tsp (not quite a tablespoon) kosher salt (easier if you mix it into the honey before pouring into the bowl)
  • 20 oz bread flour (added in two additions)
Mix for 3-4 minutes, it will be loose sticky dough

  • Keep mixing until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The dough will be sticky, avoid an urge to add more flour. Once the kneading is finished, add 1-2 tsp oil to the bowl, turn the dough so that the surface is covered with an oily sheen and cover with plastic wrap. 

  • As the dough proofs the flour will absorb the liquids and you'll have a dough with a beautiful texture in about an hour. 
  • Prepare 2 round cake pans (9 or 10 inches) by spraying with oil and generously dusting with cornmeal.  The pan I've used is a disposable paper pan - wonderful for baking and freezing.  I order them from Plastic Container City, an on line source for baking supplies. 

  • Divide the dough in half  and then half again. You'll use two portions of dough for each dough. 
  • Gently shape the pieces of dough into short logs (you'll be helping the strands of gluten position along the length of the dough piece. ) 
  • Roll the dough along the edge, increasing the length of the log to between 12- 16 inches.  Roll along the width, forming a rectangle that is approximately 6 inches wide. 

  • Using approximately 1/4 of the filling, spread a thin film of filling on the rectangle, stopping within about a half inch of the edges. 

  • Sprinkle on approximately 1/4 of the chopped apples on top of the pumpkin butter. Roll the dough along the length of the rectangle.

  • Once you finish rolling the dough, take a sharp knife and pierce the roll about halfway through, drawing the knife down the length of the roll. 
  • Repeat with the second log. 
  • Attach the logs at one end by pressing together and loosely twist one over the other until twisted along the entire length. Attach the edges, bring around and form a circle. 

Along with the photos, here is a very short video showing the process:

  • Repeat with the second half of the dough and allow to proof (rise) in a draft free place for about an hour. A slightly warm oven (around 90 degrees) is a perfect place to let your bread rest and rise.  The dough will double in size in about an hour. 
  • Brush with honey-water mixture. 

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees . Place the bread on the center rack and bake for approximately 35 minutes. Honey causes the crust to darken quickly- check the bread after 25 minutes and if it appears to be darkening too quickly lower the heat to 350 and continue to bake until done. 

Enjoy !!