Last week, I accompanied my twins’ sixth grade class on a visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. While the students visited the Daniel’s Story exhibit, designed for young children, I went on a special tour for parents to the permanent exhibit where we discussed ways to discuss the Holocaust with our children. Our guide suggested we talk to them about the rich Jewish communities of Europe that existed prior to the war, the slow rise of Nazism and why it was so popular, the lack of response of bystanders, and the resistance, and less about the more gruesome aspects of the Final Solution. She reminded us that for many of their questions, such as why more Jews didn’t run away or where God was, there are no simple answers.
After our tour, we rejoined the children for a program where they were shown photos from the museum’s collection and asked to comment on them. The first photo was of Italian girls dressed up for the holiday of Purim. They were wearing long white skirts and white hats that looked like chef’s hats. The object was to show the students that before the Holocaust, Jewish kids lived normal lives like they do today.
When I have taken my own children on trips to Europe, we always visit Jewish institutions, such as synagogues and kosher restaurants. There they see European Jewish children running around after services and eating pizza, a picture as normal as the Italian photo in the museum. As they study more about the Holocaust, they will learn that between a thriving community pre World War II and today, many of the European Jewish communities were devastated.
When my family lived in Geneva, Switzerland from 1993-1997, we traveled by car all over France. As the Provence region was only three hours away, we visited multiple times, each time exploring a different area. One of my favorite desserts from the region is called Nougat Glacé (pronounced noogah glacay), a light frozen candied almond dessert, creamy and crunchy at the same time and very refreshing.
Last December while in Paris researching the kosher pastry shops of the city, I ate at several delicious kosher restaurants. One place, Le Chateaubriand, offered a very classic menu, so I started with ordered foie gras, had roasted veal, and finished with their nougat glacé, the traditional French dessert. In Parisian kosher bakeries you will find both classic Ashkenazi and North African pastries. Yet every kosher patisserie in Paris, and there are many, also offers the same traditional French desserts you see all over Paris and beyond: éclairs, fruit tarts, and croissants. I witnessed a thriving Jewish community that doesn’t retreat from French life; rather, it embraces it while retaining its own rich Jewish character.
As American Jews we feel that we have always achieved this balance. We feel entirely American and deeply Jewish. We were raised on apple pie and mandelbread. We even turned bagels into American bread. Friends, you need to visit the Holocaust Museum to fully appreciate how our European Jewish heritage was nearly completely destroyed and that we are profoundly blessed to be living Jewish in America. And when you can, go to Paris, and sometime between the Louvre and the Eifel Tower, eat classic French desserts in kosher pastry shops or restaurants and smile a sweet, triumphant smile. We are still here.
Nougat Glacé gluten-free, dairy-free
Makes 16 servings
This dessert feeds a crowd, but the best part is that you can store it in the freezer for up to one week and slice and serve as desired. I like to serve it with a berry sauce, but puréed mango or kiwi would also look pretty and taste good too. I imagine that a chocolate sauce would make it taste like a candy bar, so let me know if you try that. The recipe is made in two parts and you can make the praline even a week before you finish the dessert, but you will have a hard time NOT munching on it.
Praline (caramelized almonds)
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 cup slivered almonds (long sticks, not sliced)
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
½ cup water
3 large egg whites
2 cups non-dairy (parve) whipping cream
To make the praline, place the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium high heat until the mixture thickens and starts to color. Add the nuts and stir with a wooden spoon. Turn heat down to medium low. The mixture will get dry, but then the sugar will melt again and turn golden. Keep stirring. The praline is done when the nuts are toasted, surrounded by a dark caramel and all the sugar pieces have melted.
Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to spread the nuts and caramel on a parchment-covered baking sheet, and let cool for at least 15 minutes. Store in a bag or container for up to one week. When ready to use, place the praline in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and chop the nuts so that the largest pieces are about ¼ inch; some will have turned to powder, but just make sure there are many ¼-inch pieces which give the dessert the right crunch. Set aside.
To make the mousse, line a 12-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap is sitting in the corners and goes all the way up the sides of the pan to the top. Use two pieces if necessary. Beat the cream until stiff. Set aside.
To make the Italian meringue, heat the sugar, honey and water in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk. When a candy thermometer placed into the honey/sugar mixture reads 225°F, start beating the whites on low speed and then increase the speed slowly to achieve soft peaks and then stop beating. When the cooked mixture reaches 260°F, turn the machine to low speed and add the sugar and honey mixture slowly down the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high and beat for five full minutes, until the mixture is thick and shiny and the bowl is no longer hot to touch.
Fold the chopped nuts into the meringue mixture. Fold in the whipped cream in four parts and scoop into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Lift the pan about an inch off the counter and drop down to remove any bubbles inside. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for 8 hours or overnight. To serve, remove top plastic and turn the loaf out and onto a long, rectangular plate. Serve ½- 1-inch slices. Store covered in the freezer and slice as needed. Serve with a colorful fruit sauce.