Traditional Jewish Baking

As a longtime fan of Anne Taintor and the Brass Sisters, I love anything that combines my love for retro / vintage style with nostalgic and heirloom recipes. Carine Goren, self-taught baker and popular Israeli TV host / cookbook author, combines both of these with aplomb. In “Traditional Jewish Baking,” Carine has taken beloved classics and updated them for modern kitchens. As she writes in the introduction, “If you let me hold your hand, we will master these nostalgic recipes step-by-step. With my detailed explanations and sweet little secrets accompanying them, anyone can do it!”

The book is divided into chapters including “The Crème de la Crème” (cream-based desserts including Black Forest Cake, flan, savarains, kaitaifi and chocolate mouse), “Home-Sweet-Home Cakes” (semolina coconut cake, lekach, coffee cakes), “Grandma’s Special” (chocolate mocha roulade, cheesecake, babka, Gugelhopf), “Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar,” “Where are you at the Holidays” (Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover), and “I Want Candy” (homemade confections like halva, coconut bars, meringues, and sesame caramel squares).

I inherited several of my Polish grandmother’s baked goods recipes including sour cream coffeecake, cheese coffeecake, and poppyseed rolls, and am fairly familiar with (Ashkenazi) Jewish baking such as hamentaschen, rugelach, Gugelhopf, and babka, but I loved the Sephardic and Middle Eastern desserts Carine included here (Malabi, Kataifi, cookies studded with Turkish delight, classic Israeli and Mizrahi bakes).

As I love baking yeast breads, I particularly enjoyed her recipes for lekach and coffee cakes; here is her recipes for Chocolate-Coated Poppy Seed Lekach and Insanely Soft Marble Cake:

chocolate-coated-poppy-seed-lekach

Chocolate-Coated Poppy Seed Lekach

Even though this grandma cake is coated with chocolate, it is still in the have-with-your-tea-or-coffee “simple cake” category. It is so airy that I don’t consider it sinful or decadent (which is just as well, because I can’t stop eating it). Soaking the poppy seeds in water is important, because it makes the cake moist—don’t skip it (see the “Grandma Knows Best” section below).

ONE 10-INCH (25-CM) CAKE

For the Poppy Seeds

1 cup (100g) poppy seeds

1 ½ cups (360ml) boiling water

For the Cakes

7 eggs, separated, at room temperature

½ cup (120ml) vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

2 ½ cups (350g) all-purpose flour

2 tsp (8g) baking powder

1 ½ cups (300g) sugar

For the Chocolate Frosting

½ cup (120ml) whipping cream

4 oz (120g) dark chocolate

To prepare the poppy seeds, in a bowl, combine the poppy seeds and boiling water. Set aside for 10 minutes, until slightly cooled (the poppy seeds will not absorb all the water, and that’s okay).

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Have ready a 10-inch (25-cm) Bundt pan (do not grease).

In the largest bowl you have in your house, whisk together the egg yolks, oil, vanilla, lemon zest and the soaked poppy seeds (soaking water included). Add the flour and baking powder, and whisk for another 1 minute, until all lumps are smoothed out.

In a mixer, beat the egg whites at low to medium speed (if your mixer has a numeric scale of 1–10, on 4–5 at the most) until soft white froth forms. This takes about 2 minutes. While beating, add the sugar 1 tablespoon (12g) at a time, at 10-second intervals. After all the sugar is added, turn up the speed to maximum, and beat for another 3 minutes, until airy, shiny and firm (but still creamy).

Add one-third of the meringue to the egg yolk mixture, and whisk until combined. Gently fold in the remaining meringue, until combined.

Spread the batter in the ungreased pan (this is very important to ensure that the cake doesn’t fall when cooled). Put the cake pan on a baking sheet (not on the rack directly), and put it in the lower one-third of the hot oven. Bake for 1 hour, until the cake has risen and is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in its center comes out completely dry (a toothpick will be too short, because this is a very tall cake). If the cake is not baked all the way through, it will fall when cooled. Take out of the oven and let cool. The cake will deflate a little, but that’s okay—it should resume its pre-baking volume.

To make the chocolate frosting, in a small pot, bring the whipping cream almost to a boil, remove from the stove, add the chocolate and mix until dissolved.

Pass a knife around the edges of the cake to release it. Turn it out onto a serving plate. Pour the chocolate frosting on the cake and put in the freezer for 5 minutes, so the frosting will set. To serve, slice the cake with a knife dipped in boiling water.

Grandma Knows Best

Poppy seed cakes may be too dense and dry, because the poppy seeds “drink up” the liquids during baking. This particular recipe is soft and moist due to a sweet little secret: The poppy seeds are pre-soaked in water, absorb some of it and soften. Soaking the poppy seeds has another bonus—it takes away any natural bitterness. The boiling water may be substituted with hot milk.

Insanely Soft Marble Cake.jpg

Insanely Soft Marble Cake

The name says it all: a soft marble cake. Insanely so. The softness is achieved by the whipped eggs (don’t worry—whole eggs, no need to separate); the moistness comes from the oil and the orange juice; the fragrance from the vanilla; and the flavor comes from the melted chocolate mixed into the batter. Yes, your mixer is going to get dirty, but believe me, the grandmothers had it worse; they had to do all of it by hand . . .

3 LOAF CAKES OR 2 HEART-SHAPED CAKES

For the Batter

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 ½ cups (300g) sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup (240ml) vegetable oil

1 cup (240ml) orange juice

½ cup (120ml) water

2 ½ cups (350g) all-purpose flour

1 tbsp (10g) baking powder

For the Chocolate Mixture

3 ½ oz (100g) dark chocolate, melted

1 tbsp (15ml) vegetable oil

To make the batter, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Grease 3 loaf pans or 2 heart-shaped pans.

In a mixer, at high speed, beat together the eggs, sugar and vanilla for 10 minutes, until the mixture is light in color and thick, resembling a mousse consistency. Lower the mixer to the minimum speed and slowly drizzle in the oil while beating. Add the orange juice and water in the same way. Add the flour and baking powder, and beat slowly, until the batter is smooth. Put three-fourths of the batter into the pans.

To make the chocolate mixture, combine the melted chocolate and oil. Add the chocolate mixture to the remaining quarter of the batter and mix until combined. Spoon the chocolate batter over the white batter in the pans. Insert a knife in the batter, all the way through, and swirl to create the marble effect. Repeat in the other pan(s).

Bake for 40–45 minutes, until the cakes are springy and a toothpick inserted in their centers comes out almost dry. Let cool before serving.

Grandma Knows Best

Find another marble sponge—of the dense and buttery kind (in a good way)—on page 62.

Carine’s wonderful “Grandma Knows Best” tips will truly help you to turn out grandma-approved baked goods, whether you grew up on these classics or are experiencing them for the first time. Although I was already familiar with some of my grandmother’s Eastern European recipes, I discovered many new favorites like Medovik (layers of honey, sour cream and crumbs), Gerbaud (Hungarian Layered Cake), jam and crumb squares, sfogliatella, and more. I also discovered homemade versions of classic Israeli treats like Krembo, Egozi bars, and Choco-Pie, and various cookies and pastries. Even if you’re new to baking, Carine’s clear instructions and helpful hints will help your recipes turn out picture-perfect every time. Ingredients are listed in metric and US, and most ingredients should be readily available from your grocery store (a few such as Turkish delight, rosewater and orange blossom water may require a trip to a Middle Eastern grocery or online shopping, but these are few and far between).

Whether you’re looking to recapture the bygone flavors of your grandmother’s traditional baked goods or are just looking to branch out and try new baked goods, you’ll find much to love in “Traditional Jewish Baking!”

 

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