There is absolutely no reason why kosher food and desserts have to be anything less than what everyone else is eating. Share with me your baking and cooking sucesses, challenges, and disasters. I will share my recipes, shabbat and holiday menu planning and my love of food.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Ugliest Dessert You’ll Ever Love

Every Friday, gorgeous Italian Jewish women and men line up to buy this hideous dessert.  What is the fuss all about?  Recently I visited Rome and, like I do in every city I visit, I investigated the local dessert scene.  When I saw 30 people waiting in line outside a tiny shop, I had to find out what was inside.   When I saw the charred loaves, I thought that the people outside must be waiting for some other dessert.  But no, everyone was buying the black lump.  It was burnt to a crisp, with the raisins puffed and charred beyond recognition.  It also had colorful candied fruit in it, which apparently some people like.  There were pine nuts and almonds sticking out of it, some of them barely recognizable.  It is essentially the dessert equivalent of cholent –  a dish that one dumps everything into.  I use cholent to clean out my cabinets before Passover and put every grain, bean and pasta I find into it.   Now you have a dessert into which you can dump all the small amounts of nuts and dried fruit that are sitting, lonely, at the bottom of their bags and boxes. 

It is called “Pizza Ebraica” and it is a Jewish Roman specialty.  I finally tasted it while I enjoyed my coffee across the street.   It was extremely crunchy.  I liked the taste and aroma of the well-toasted nuts and, like a three-year-old, I picked out the candied fruit.  I packed up the rest to take with me to meet our group in line for tickets for the Forum and Coliseum and gave out pieces to all.   Our group of seven kids looked at it and went straight to the chewy chocolate cookies from El Mundo di Laura, another Kosher bakery in the Jewish Ghetto, around the corner from where I bought got the “pizza.”  As the adults kept breaking off pieces of it, eventually the kids wanted to understand why we kept grabbing for more.  It was absolutely addictive.   I finally got the obsession.

I did some research on this Roman dessert and learned that Saveur magazine had done a story on it back in April 2010.  Despite that, I had never seen it anywhere before.  Really, why would anyone serve something that looks so unappetizing? 

Upon returning, I decided to try baking it.  I found a variety of recipes online and then developed my own, substituting dried cranberries, golden raisins and apricots for the evil candied fruits.  The recipes also called for soaking the dark raisins in sweet wine but I was not sure whether to use red wine or Moscato.  I went with the Manischewitz.  Okay, so the dough came out a bit purple, but my family decided it was so much better than the version we had in Rome.  I still felt it wasn’t crunchy enough and made a second version with more chazerai (Yiddish for junk) inside and less wine, but the troops liked the first batch better.  Either way, it is the perfect dessert to have sitting on the counter during Shabbat, and I can virtually guarantee that folks will be picking off chunks as they pass on by.  For the last two Shabbats before Passover, go ahead and clean out that pantry, bake this ugly dessert and then watch the pretty smiles on everyone’s faces.
The shop, Pasticceria il Boccione, is on Via Del Portico d’Ottavia, the main street of the Jewish Ghetto.

Pizza Ebraica
Serves everyone, until it’s gone
You can use any nuts or dried fruit you like, just follow the amounts below.  You do not need to bake it until it is charred, but well-browned results in a crunchier loaf.

¾ cup olive oil
1 egg white
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup almonds
¾ cup dark raisins soaked in 1 cup sweet wine for ten minutes
½ cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts
¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped
½ cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Place the olive oil, egg white, flour, salt and sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat.  Add the almonds, raisins and wine, apricots, pine nuts, cranberries and golden raisins, and mix with your hands until combined.  You will have a dry dough.  Dump onto your prepared cookie sheet and shape into a large oval or rectangle, squishing in the nuts and fruit so that they remain inside the dough.  Pat down the top. 

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until well-browned.  Let cool.  Store at room temperature for up to three days, if it lasts that long.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Latke v. Hammantaschen Debate: The Solution is Salty-Sweet Caramel Hammentaschen

As a pastry chef who must spend her days tasting all things sweet, what I really want at the end of the day are potato chips.  Some days, even moments after tasting a particularly delicious new sweet dessert component, I find myself literally running for kids’ snack drawer. So if you ask me for my position in the great latke v. hammentaschen debate, it really is a no-brainer; I will want latkes every time.  To bridge the two worlds, this Purim I offer up salted caramel hammentaschen with a black pepper spiked crust.  Recipe below.

Last Sunday, my synagogue, Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, Maryland, convened a formal “Latke versus Hammentaschen Debate” complete with a panel of experts.  One of those experts agreed to share his argument:

“All of us are aware of the cool, Zen-like clarity of design of all things Apple versus the prosaic, workaday efficiency and ubiquity of Microsoft’s Windows operating system for PCs.
But what accounts for this great technological divide?  What was the inspiration for the elegance and simplicity of design that became the hallmark of Apple products such as the MacBook and the iPhone?  And why did Microsoft adopt clunky, virus-prone products that lacked the sleek lines and beauty of Apple?
The true story was mistakenly omitted in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, but secret sources have shown us notes from a meeting that took place between Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the co-founders of Apple.  Let me quote directly from Isaacson’s notes of his interview with Jobs:
*   *   *
Jobs: So Woz [Steve Wozniak] and I were taking a lunch break after putting in several hours designing the GUI (graphic user interface) for the Macintosh.  I was having a turkey club, and Woz had brought a couple of potato latkes and a plate of hammantashen for dessert. Woz was telling me that the guys at Hewlett Packard always ate their latkes with apple sauce, while the guys at Atari always used sour cream.
“Woz,” I said, “forget about apple sauce and sour cream. Look at the latke.” 
Wozniak: “Why?”
“Because it’s beautiful.  It’s perfect!”
“I don’t think the latke is perfect, Steve,” Woz told me  “It’s pretty greasy.”
“No, you dolt.  As usual, you are focusing on the wrong thing.  Look at the latke.  Look at the lines.”
“But the latke is round, Steve,” Woz said.
“Exactly.  Round.  Beautiful in its simplicity.  No extra switches or buttons.”
“Steve, I don’t think latkes need any switches or buttons,” Woz offered.
“Yes, but look at those hammantashen.  Look how angular they are.  Pointy.  And they need that poppy filling.  But latkes don’t need a filling.  They are perfect on their own.  THAT’S IT!  That’s what we need to do with our GUI!  We need to make Apple products look like a latke.”
And I started jumping around the room.  It had taken me so long, but seeing that latke made everything clear.  I saw everything that day – the Mac, and the iPod and the MacBook and iPad.  Everything would have the simplicity, the wholeness and beauty of the latke. 
Just then, the intercom buzzed and the receptionist announced that Bill Gates had come to visit with us. 
“What does Bill Gates want to talk about with us,” Woz asked.
“Isn’t it obvious,” I said.  “Gates is coming here to steal our ideas!  We can’t let that happen.  Quick, hide the latke.”
“What?  Hide the latke!  Why should I hide the latke?  Do you think Gates is going to eat my latke?”
“No, Woz, he’s not going to eat the latke.  But that latke represents everything that Apple products will stand for.  And Gates cannot get anywhere near that.  Just hide the latke and push those hammentashen into the center of the table.  Then just follow my lead when Gates gets in here.”
So Gates sits down and, with that big innocent look in his eyes, asks Woz and me what we’re working on.
I know that he knows we are working on the GUI.  So I told him that.  And he acts all surprised.
“Can I see it,” he asks.
“Sure, Bill, there it is, right there on the table.,” I said, point to the hamantashen. 
Well, Gates has no idea what I’m talking about.  He’s never seen a hammantashen, right?  He lives in, like, Washington state, right?  So I said, “Yeah, Bill, that’s it, that’s our design for the GUI.” 
“’Wow, that’s the design for the GUI?  Can I touch it,’” he says.
At this point, I can see that Woz is about to break out laughing, so I give him a look, and then turn to Gates and say, “Sure, Bill, go ahead.”
So Gates picks up the hammantashen, and turns it over in his hands, and he gets this dreamy look in his eyes, and starts talking to himself.  I don’t think he even knew that Woz and I were in the room.  He says, “Look at this thing. It’s got different layers, and it has a filling.  And it has pointed edges. It’s so . . . complicated.  I bet it would get hard and stale after a few days sitting around, and it would crumble and break.  So the customer would have to come back and buy new ones.  And the next version could have a different filling – maybe cherry or peanut butter.  It wouldn’t taste any better than the original, but the customers wouldn’t know that.”
And just like that, as if in a trance, Gates walked out of the office, still holding the hammantashen."
*   *   *
And the rest, as they say, is history.  It is really no exaggeration that the development of technology over the last 30 years emerged from the basic tension between the latke and the hamatashen.  Apple went on to develop products based on the simplicity of the latke, while Microsoft was mired in the complexity of the hammatashen.  

As for me, I LOVE latkes, but created this hammantaschen to try to bridge the gap between the salty and sweet worlds.  Happy Purim!

Salted Caramel Hamentaschen (Dairy)
makes 4 dozen

3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon orange juice
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting parchment and dough

Caramel Filling
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt

To make the caramel, place the sugar and water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Cook on medium-high heat until sugar melts.  After several minutes, the sugar will start to color.  Stir the mixture so all the sugar browns.  When it is a uniform amber color, turn heat to low, remove saucepan from heat and add the cream.  The mixture will bubble up.  Add the butter and salt and stir.  Return to the heat and cook for one minute, or until mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and let cool.  Chill in the fridge for at least a half hour to thicken the caramel.  Store in the fridge for up to five  days.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment.  You will bake in batches.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, oil, and orange juice. Add the baking powder, pepper and flour and mix until the dough comes together. I like to use my hands for this because it kneads the dough well. Divide the dough in half.

Take another two pieces of parchment and sprinkle flour on one, place one dough half on top, and then sprinkle a little more flour on top of the dough. Place the second piece of parchment on top of the dough and roll on top of the parchment until the dough is about 1/4-inch thick. Every few rolls, peel back the top parchment and sprinkle a little more flour on the dough.

Use a glass or round cookie cutter about 2 to 3 inches in diameter to cut the dough into circles. Place a a little less than a teaspoon of the filling in the center and then fold in 3 sides to form a triangle, leaving a small opening in the center. Pinch the 3 sides very tightly. Place on the prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with the rest of the dough and re-roll and cut any dough scraps you have. Place the cookies sheets in the freezer for ten minutes; this helps the hammentaschen hold their shape and not open up while baking.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned.  Slide the parchment onto racks to cool the cookies.  If desired, drizzle any remaining caramel over the cookies.  Store covered with plastic or in an airtight container at room temperature for five days or freeze for up to three months.