Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Easy and Meaningful Fast

I would like to wish you one of those - don't we all say that, and hope that it's real?  But is an easy fast a meaningful one?  Or are we meant to suffer?  Deep thoughts...

As always, I prefer to think about the before and after, and not so much the during.  We have a curous minhag of two meals before the fast, both with washing for challah.  The first is gefilte fish followed by chicken soup with Lola's favorite kreplach, and the second, after mincha, is the "main course" - chicken, potato kugel, challah kugel, and green beans (something green in the second meal!! Yay us!).  Then maybe dessert, while drinking a good amount of water all the way through, and that will be it for 25 hours.  Delightful.

After the fast?  Zucchini-potato soup (a pareve variation of the one found here), and of course bagels.  Then sukkah building, and cookie baking.

Hope this did not make you hungry, or anxious, or anything else unhelpful.  Wishing you a G'mar Chatima Tova!


Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Baking Powder Brouhaha

Last month, I contributed an article to the Joy of Kosher website about adjusting your baking for Israel.  I thought it would be a fun way to share some of what I learned in my six years since aliyah.  I addressed about 10 different ingredients, one of which was baking powder.  Here's what I had to say about it:

Baking powder – this is a tricky one. Avkat afiyah is sold in little envelopes, which is annoying, but the real problem is that it doesn’t work the same as American baking powder. There is a scientific explanation (double acting versus single), but bottom line, you have to use less or your cakes will collapse after baking. It is generally fine for cookies, though. If you don’t want to refigure all your recipes, make this one of the few things you import.

Did I know that this one paragraph was going to raise so many eyebrows - and tempers?  For every response I received that said "Now I know why my cakes were not turning out right until I started using American baking powder again,"  I got another one that said, "My recipes come out right every time, and you have no idea what you are talking about!"

So let's take a few calm steps back, and discuss this rationally.

1. Israeli baking powder is single acting.  That means that the release of carbon dioxide, which is what leavens the cake, occurs as soon as the wet ingredients meet the dry.  If you leave your batter on the counter for a little while, you may lose the leavening effect.

2.  Almost all American baking powder is double acting.  It contains an additional acid that does not release the CO2 until heat is applied - about 70% of the leavening power is on reserve until you actually bake the batter.

Conclusion A: there is NO QUESTION that the two kinds of baking powders, American and Israeli, are different, and thusly may produce different results.

3. There is a difference of opinion among various baking authorities about whether or not the two types of baking powder can be interchanged in even amounts.  Some say yes, some say use 1 1/2 times as much single acting in a recipe calling for double acting.

4. Some folks think double acting is healthier, because it contains phosphate of calcium.  On the other hand, most brands also contain aluminum, so hmmm....

5. To a man, everything I have read indicates that a batter mixed with single acting baking powder must IMMEDIATELY be put into the oven, or the leavening will flop.  For someone like me, who works with volume, that just does not work.

6. I think it's fair to say we all have different expectations of our baking.  In general, "Israeli" cakes have a different type of crumb than typical American recipes.  I also find, through informal surveying, that Israeli bakers tend to use more beaten egg whites for leavening than American cooks.  That could mitigate the leavening issue.  It may just be a matter of taste.

Conclusion B: If you are happy with your baking results, by all means, STICK WITH IT!!!  But if you have been using Israeli baking powder and you are unhappy with what has been coming out of your oven, be it tough, dense, or collapsed, try the American baking powder.  Our local purveyor of American products (also the local baking supply store) sells it, and I would bet that any Anglo-heavy area has a store that sells many of the things you miss from the alte heim.

Final disclaimer:  My initial discovery of the baking powder issue was when I made a chocolate torte that I had made before, but always with American baking powder.  When the stash from my lift ran out, I started using the Israeli kind.  The chocolate torte would bake up properly, rising, baking through, testing clean, but when I removed from the oven, it sank a few minutes later.  This happened to another friend as well.  I had also noticed that a classic yellow cake recipe I had been making for years no longer had the right consistency.  When I looked it up in Rose Levy Berenbaum's Cake Bible, the entry on over-leavening described my trouble nearly perfectly.  So my impression was that the Israeli baking powder was over-, not under-leavening, and one would need to use less.  Scientifically, that may not be right, but it helped me to pinpoint the failed variable.  So whether you need to use more or less or just buy the Duncan Hines mix (wash my mouth out with soap!), there is a difference.  Maybe let's just leave it at that.

Wishing happy and successful baking to you all, no matter where you may be!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

For a Sweet New Year - Kosher Connection Recipe Linkup

It's time for the next round of the Kosher Connection Recipe Link-Up!  This month's theme is "Honey," which is especially appropriate for the time of year - the run-up to Rosh Hashana.  In addition to my grandparents' honey chiffon cake, which I suggest you make because it makes me happy ;-),  I am contributing a newly developed recipe for Spiced Honey Sticks with Lemon Glaze.  I can't exactly call them mandelbroit, because there's no mandel (almonds) in the recipe, and they are not biscotti, because they are not toasted after baking and slicing.  The texture is soft and chewy, just the way I like them.  They have a tasty honey flavor without being cloying, the spice adds interesting notes, and the honey-lemon glaze brings it all together.  Feel free to bake and freeze. The honey in the recipe keeps the bars moist and chewy for several days, stored in a sealed plastic container.  A great recipe to prepare in advance of the holiday.

Here in Israel, we don't call it a run-up to chag for nothing.  All over the country, people are running around and FREAKING OUT over the impending TWO DAY CHAG!!!  When we first made aliyah, I vacillated between thinking that (A) everyone here was crazy, I mean good grief, I could prepare two day yom tov in my sleep and (B) how wonderful it was that everyone is preparing for the same holiday.  Six years down the road, I am slightly less enamored of the supermarket chaos that ensues two full weeks before yom tov.  If you saw the creative parking that goes on in the lot at our Rami Levy (think drunken sailors and illegal mid-lane car abandonments), you would understand my frustration.  But it is still truly beautiful that we are on the same page, gearing up for Rosh Hashana.  And I just have to keep telling myself that.  Even if I am now enough of an old-timer to think two days of yom tov is really, really long.

Fear not the crystallized ginger -
 but do try sprinkling a little flour over it while
you're chopping so it doesn't stick to your knife

So what are the keys to getting ready for Rosh Hashana?  Here's my take:  Shop early.  Get whatever you can buy in advance, things you can freeze like chicken and meat, dry goods, items with long shelf lives.  Start preparing early.  Bake and freeze, if you have the room.  Make recipes that are quick and require little patchke-ing.  Like this one. Mix it up, chill just a bit, bake in two long loaves, cool, glaze, and slice.  I considered giving you two variations, one with crystallized ginger and one without, because I thought the ginger flavor might be a bit much for some people.  The flavor is indeed quite pronounced shortly after baking, like when you can't wait for the bars to cool and you slice off an end and you burn your fingers and your tongue just a little, but it's worth it.  The next day, though, the flavors meld and mellow perfectly.  Even if you've never tried it,  be adventurous - add the crystallized ginger.  But if you don't have it on hand, or don't feel like chopping it up (I can't resist a little patchke!) but still want a spicy kick, add an additional 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger. Or just omit the crystallized ginger, and it's still a delicious honey dessert for a sweet New Year.  Definitely a step up from your traditional honey cake.

Spiced Honey Sticks with Lemon Glaze

100 grams or 1/2 cup margarine at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely diced crystallized ginger

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, optional
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar

Cream the margarine with the sugars until smooth.  Beat in the egg, then the honey and vanilla.  Add in the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.  Mix in crystallized ginger.  Chill dough at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Divide dough into two and, with oiled hands, roll each into a long, narrow log about 13 inches long, and place on the sheet, leaving space between the two rolls.  Flatten slightly.

I cheated - I used two separate pans.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool.

Not so impressive without the glaze, but still yummy.

Mix together glaze ingredients. Drizzle diagonally across loaves with a disposable decorating bag, a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off, or even with a fork. 

Allow glaze to set, then cut into slices, somewhere between a half and three-quarters of an inch. Enjoy!

With best wishes for a Shana Tova U'Metuka - a Good and Sweet New Year full of blessings for us all.


Now check out all the other recipes featuring honey from the September Kosher Connection Recipe Linkup!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Letting you in on a secret or two

When we first made aliyah, there was a transition period wherein I went from woman who knew how to run a kitchen, to a sad lady who could not make anything come out right.  The food I served on our first Rosh Hashana continues to haunt me.... For whatever reason, the ingredients, the climate, the oven, the water, the air - WHO KNOWS?! - nothing came out the way it did in the US.  It took nearly a year until my chocolate chip cookies came out the same every time.  Part of the solution was learning not to fight against the ingredients, but to work with them.  I could not expect everything to be the same as it was in the US.  Once I mastered that, it was smooth(er) sailing in the kitchen.

Recently, cookbook author and kosher food guru Jamie "The Bride Who Knew Nothing" Geller made aliyah with her husband and children.  My article this month on her Joy of Kosher website is about making baking work in Israel, and I hope you will all enjoy it, either because it is useful to you or because someday it will be ;-).

Also included, a brand new Apple Oatmeal Cookie, adapted from Joy the Baker, and my challah recipe, adapted from Carine Goren with tweaks for the American-Israeli palate, which has appeared here before, but is worth looking at if you haven't previously.  It's the ideal recipe for Israel, as it includes a great ingredient available here, granulated fresh yeast, but it is also a simply delicious, simple-to-make sweet challah.  US/dry yeast substitutions are included.  These recipes will be wonderful on your holiday table!
So head on over to Joy of Kosher, and I'll let you in on a few of the secrets I've learned the hard way, so it will be a little easier on you.  I hope these recipes and tips will be helpful to you no matter where you live, and will be a welcome addition to your yom tov tables.

With wishes for a happy, healthy, and SWEET New Year,

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