Avocado and Roast Beef Salad. Photograph by Dan Peretz.
I spy avocados lying in a crate in the market and am instantly diverted from my original purpose. I pick one up, cradle it in my hands and think about the beautiful tree that has yielded this fruit. Then I pick out a few more, wrap them in paper, take them home and let them continue ripening in a bowl on the kitchen counter. The avocado does not ripen on the tree. It is picked from the orchard when it has become fat enough but is still bright-skinned and firm, and finishes ripening in the kitchens of avocado lovers.
If you’re lucky, at the market you may find some that have already begun to soften a bit, so that you can peel and spread them on some fresh bread that very day. For this reason, I always carry a little paring knife with me, just in case it’s my lucky day. When you come upon that perfectly ripe avocado, you must buy some fresh bread, sit down in a nearby park or just on the curb if need be, spread the avocado on the bread, sprinkle on a little salt and blissfully devour it.
Photograph courtesy of Breads Bakery
I cannot tell a lie: I’ve never made sufganiyot. I feel a little sheepish about this, because when you’re a food editor and a recipe developer, as I am, people seem to expect that you’ve done it all.
I was so impressed when I read Gayle Squires’ story last week about tackling jelly doughnuts for the first time, and her step-by-step recipe sounds fabulous, but aside from a short period when I made my own beer-batter-fried fish, and one or two attempts at fried chicken, I’ve just never been the deep-frying kind.
Torta di zucca, an Italian winter squash and olive oil cake. Photograph by Gayle L. Squires
Admitting this in the days leading up to Thanksgiving might put me squarely in the crosshairs of the long-defunct House Committee on Un-American Activities, but I’m a risk-taker, so here goes: I don’t like pie. I particularly don’t like pumpkin pie. Now that I’ve said it out loud, please let me explain. (Don’t worry, I’ll be brief — and there’s cake at the end if you listen to the whole story.)
I will limit my anti-pie sentiments to three. First, the bottom crust is usually either too hard if it’s blind baked, or too soggy if it’s not. Second, and I know that I’m going to offend our orange-hued mascot of this week’s holiday feast and lovers of spiced lattes everywhere, pumpkin filling has the look and texture of baby food and the smell of a candle. Finally, if your home is anything like mine, after stuffing ourselves with turkey, dessert must be non-dairy, and while butter might be able to save many a pie, parve pie is just sad. After Thanksgiving dinner, I typically fill my dessert plate with the cut fruit.
Before this gets all Debbie downer, I do have a solution to my Thanksgiving woes: cake!
Photograph by Hillary Berkowitz Nussbaum
I’ve mastered my family’s desserts, from the flourless chocolate roll to the sour cream coffee cake, but my husband’s favorite — cheesecake — always escaped me. I couldn’t let it go, and finally mastered it by sticking to my new strategy: Rather than tackling the tried-and-true, I put my own new twist on an old favorite.
This recipe blends the flavors of fall with a more standard Oreo cheesecake, with delightful result. When I served it up recently, my other half declared it “awesome” (though my mother — predictably — went for the flourless chocolate cake instead).
For the crust:
24 finely crushed Oreos
2 tablespoons melted butter
For the filling:
Two 8-ounce packages room-temperature cream cheese
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large room-temperature eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
12 crushed Oreos (can be larger chunks)
1) Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
2) Grease a 9-inch springform pan, or cover a traditional 9-inch cake pan in parchment paper. (Grease the paper and leave the ends hanging over the pan a bit. You’ll use these to pull the cake up and out of the pan.)
3) Toss the 24 crushed Oreos with the melted butter until lightly coated, then press the mixture into the bottom of the pan to form the crust. Set aside.
4) Combine the sugar and spices in a small bowl.
5) Beat the cream cheese and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Continue mixing, and slowly add the sugar mixture. Add the eggs one at a time, beat well, leaving about 30 seconds between each egg. Add the pumpkin, continue mixing until well combined.
6) Evenly pour half the mixture into the prepared pan. Spread the crumbles from the 12 crushed Oreos in a layer over the top, then evenly pour in the remaining pumpkin mixture.
7) Place pan on the center rack in the oven, with another pan half full of water on the oven’s bottom rack (to keep the oven moist). Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cheesecake comes out clean, and the center of the cake jiggles slightly (like gelatin). Let the cake cool, then refrigerate at least a few hours before serving.
Hillary Berkowitz Nussbaum is a freelance writer who likes to cook her way through writer’s block.
Piety’s honey-fig-plum pie (left) and rosemary-peach (right). Photograph by Elizabeth Traison
When it comes to a good pie, there are a few important factors that distinguish the edible from the incredible. Starting with the crust, which should be flaky and light but also capable of both standing up to and also complementing whatever goodness makes up the filling. While there are seemingly infinite possibilities when it comes to fillings, finding the right balance of ingredients — most notably, seasonal fruits and herbs — that marry together in a way that will make your mouth water is no easy task. Piety, Brooklyn’s newest kosher pie bakery, rises to the challenge.
Just from speaking to Rebecca Greenberg, founder and owner of Piety, you know she makes good pies. The patience, tenderness and kindness that come naturally to her personality (characteristics that were further developed by previous careers in education and child care), also make their way into her pies. “Baking a pie isn’t fast,” she says. “It takes time, patience and thoughtfulness” — and you know she’s speaking from experience. Crust and filling can make or break a good pie, but it’s these additional qualities that put a good pie over the top.
A recipe from 1954 holds up pretty well with a few small variations. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein
6 medium-size green winter pears
Water to cover
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
A few slivers of ginger root or crystalized ginger
½ cup sugar
1 cup Concord wine (or to cover)
Wash and pare (peel) the fruit and add just enough water to cover. Cook until tender but not too soft, about 30 minutes. Pour out about 3/4 of the water. Add remaining ingredients (adding more wine so liquid just covers pears) and simmer for about 10 minutes. Chill and serve in the sauce. If pears are large, cut in halve sand core before cooking.
Adapted from “The Jewish Festival Cookbook” by Fannie Engle and Gertrude Blair (David McKay Company Inc. 1954)
Photograph by Liza Schoenfein
I’ve had honey cake on the brain lately. I know: Haven’t we all?
But I can say with confidence that I’ve been more immersed in honey-cake contemplation than the average Jewish woman approaching the High Holy Days.
Not only did I just interview Rose Levy Beranbaum about her glorious version of this Rosh Hashanah classic — the recipe is here — but I was also recently tasked with developing a gluten-free honey cake. And I went through several failed attempts before coming up with one I could be proud of, a cake that was moist and not too sweet, which involved a combination of regular gluten-free flour and lovely, flavorful almond meal.
So there’s been a lot of honey cake happening in my kitchen these days.
This gluten-free take on a Rosh Hashanah classic incorporates Italian plums for a seasonal twist. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein
4 Italian plums, halved lengthwise and pits removed
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon raw sugar, divided
1½ cups almond flour/meal, such as Bob’s Red Mill
½ cup gluten-free all purpose flour, such as Bob’s Red Mill
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup coconut oil or olive oil
3/4 cup honey
¼ cup coffee
1) Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Spray a nonstick bundt pan with cooking spray, and lay plums skin-side down evenly around the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the sugar.
2) Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine eggs, oil, honey, and coffee. Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring to combine. Pour into bundt pan and cook on middle rack of the oven for about one hour, until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes. Slide a thin sharp knife between the cake and the pan before turning cake out onto a cake plate.
Liza Schoenfein is the new food editor of the Forward. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by David Silverman
(Haaretz)— Israel has made great strides in the numbers of patisseries and boulangeries that have opened here, and many of the top pastry chefs have honed their craft abroad, but is there such a thing as a real Israeli dessert? We asked chefs from 12 leading restaurants to describe their most Israeli desserts. Taste and decide for yourself.
The dessert: olive oil sable, blood orange crème, ginger crème, tapioca tuile, buttermilk foam, rose petals and hibiscus dust, olive oil and white chocolate ice cream.
Pastry chef Hila Perry: “The olive oil is Israeli, as is the citrus – the blood orange – that surrounds it. And the buttermilk always reminds me of that childhood treat, Daniela whipped pudding, in its best form.”
2) Herbert Samuel in Herzliya (kosher):
The dessert: Mount Bracha tahini. Tahini sorbet, espresso granite, sesame tuile.
Pastry chef Shlomi Palensya: “We wanted something Israeli that would fit the rules of kashrut and also appeal to tourists. We started with a tahini sorbet then we thought ‘What would make it more interesting?’ So we made a sesame tuile and added coffee granite, and it immediately became one of our signature dishes.”
Photo by David Silverman
3) Kitchen Market:
The dessert: Israeli cheesecake with black olives, strawberries and yogurt sorbet
Pastry chef Yossi Sheetrit: “This cheesecake is something you can find in any Israeli household, except that we’ve added a little twist. The flavors are very Israeli: cheese, olives and olive oil.”
Photo by David Silverman
Ding Dongs hold a special place in my heart. My best friend growing up in Canada was an American. Whenever her family would travel to New York they would bring numerous boxes of Ring Dings back with them and keep them in the freezer. Sure, there were lots of similar sandwich cakes in the great white north, but none had a hechsher. If we were particularly well behaved, we would be allowed to take one from the coveted stash. The memory of the feeling of the frozen squishy cake and its filling, still brings a smile to my face.
With the announcement of the closure of the Hostess brand, the memories of Ring Dings resurfaced. I found myself mulling the loss of an item I have not eaten since before my bat mitzvah. The public discussion of the closure of the Hostess plants centers around the financial challenges the company faced as it sought to restructure. But even without the current financial downturn, the snack cakes may be part of the shifting American foodways.
A popular Italian saying advises: “Dress like a Turk, and eat like a Jew.”
Jews have enjoyed an uninterrupted presence in Italy for more than 2,200 years, producing a delicious cuisine with almost endless regional variations, that profoundly affected broader Italian cuisine. Contrary to the all-too-common American assumption that most Jewish food is bland or boring, Jewish Italian cuisine tends to be seen as a delicacy by non-Jewish locals. Some of the most popular restaurants in Rome serve traditional Jewish dishes, like the famous fried artichokes.
Rome’s unofficial Christmas dessert, cassola, or a baked ricotta cheese cake, was originally a Jewish dish. In the 16th century, while some Jewish communities in Northern Italy made a fresh cheese baked sandwich-like dish sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon called pizza dolce, Roman Jews used ricotta to make large sweet pancakes cooked in a skillet. The dish was called “casciola” (from “cascio”, cheese), says Italian food historian A.Toaff in his “Mangiare alla Giudia.”
Any chef will tell you that the secret to a great Passover dessert is not trying to make kosher-for-Passover versions of year-round cakes. Don’t even think about baking a loaf cake or pie that requires switching out cups of flour for loads of matzo meal or potato starch. Instead, stick to recipes that have little or no flour, or recipes that call for nuts instead of flour.
Flourless chocolate cake is the most well-known Passover-friendly dessert, but we checked in with four talented chefs — a Jewish cookbook author, a Food Network test-kitchen director, a fine-dining restaurateur and a Food Network host — for some more unusual recommendations. Whether it’s a refreshing granita, decadent chocolate truffle, a Mediterranean-style walnut and date cake or the more traditional mandel bread, we think these desserts are winners — on Passover and all year long.