September 2010 Note from Marcy & Baker's Stash
I know I say this every September but it is so true. Whether you celebrate the Jewish New Year or not, Rosh Hashanah, coming as it does in fall, always feels like the end of one of year and the start of another, far more than January does. There is that bittersweet mood of nostalgia in the autumn air that has accountability written all over it. i.e. what have I done, where I have I been, what is the score card for another year in the life.
For me, that year ending feeling is stronger this year as my nest is emptying out, traditions are changing and the things that defined my modest world are both broadening and shrinking at the same time. It feels more like a new era than a mere 365 days since last September. The passage of the year that lands me back among falling maple leaves makes me grateful for the things that are still here – like family, friends, and baking and the enduring sweetness of honey and apples.
What I like about this month’s cover shot is that it's all about mood and memory. Not only can you almost taste the ambrosial slice of that apple but the golden sweetness of the honey that awaits it. If there was no baking to be had, just the taste of honey and apples would say Happy New Year just fine. Simplicity is pure and beautiful for a reason. In that photo, apples and honey, done a la photographer Ryan Szulc, become pure art.
Since New Year is early this year, it means you have to really take care to find great baking-worthy apples. Some will be too green or too tangy – for apples need a few chilly nights to transform that sour starchy taste into sweetness and a subsequent great baking performance .I know it seems a bother but I really suggest you bake a small apple cake first (try the Deep Dish one from The Best of BetterBaking.com; it is THE BEST one in the world) and see how the apples fare. As always, I suggest you also try different varieties (new ones appear each year) and/or combine apple varieties in one recipe for the best in taste and texture. Ditto for honey – unless you require kosher honey, suss out some new ones at the local farmer’s market – types like Orange Blossom, Raspberry, Linden, and Wildflower. For very dark honey cakes, use a darker honey like Buckwheat or Wildflower and for lighter cakes or for less pronounced (less gamey) honey cakes consider a lighter honey. I prefer subtle and so am going with Raspberry Blossom honey this year and Orange Blossom, instead of the usual Clover Leaf honey. Whatever you do, honey, like Picasso's colour palate, is one more baker's option to dabble with for inspired baking.
Honey Cake 101
Speaking of honey cake and specifically of my Majestic Honey Cake in my Jewish Holiday Baking cookbook, here are some insights that might help you. Definitive Moist and Majestic Honey Cake is the website version but I really prefer my cookbook version. Actually - I like both. The website version is a slightly larger cake but the original has a flavor that is unbeatable.
The Moist and Majestic Honey cake is well named. It is a very liquidy batter and the cake, regardless of the time on the clock, needs whatever time it needs to not only rise up but STAY up. In other words, it can look done but not be set or totally baked inside. So, even as it seems done, lower the temperature and let it go as long as it needs until when you gently press it, it springs back. Also, depending on the acidity of the honey, the batter might bit pretty active.
Sometimes, there have been reports of over-risen batters that volcano themselves onto the baking sheet (which is the other reason I always ask for a parchment paper-lined baking sheet underneath the baking pan). So – and this is a big so – if you are making this cake for the first time, fill the cake pan up only half full. If you have more batter than that – make muffins or small honey cake loaves. I also put a cake collar on this cake (parchment paper pieces cut and using a dab of batter, put inside the upper edge of the cake pan to form a collar. The collar in turn, makes a cake 'girdle' and extends the pan size and rim or edge).
Get used to this wonderful cake recipe as because here’s the thing. I've changed it at times and added flour to make it more stable and ensure it is not problematic. But those adjustments really change the awesome nature of this awesome cake, which is sweet, moist, indescribably the best honey cake in the world (except for your great grandmother’s). It is worth perfecting or kowtowing to and finding out what pan works best for you. I use a huge, 10 inch angel food cake pan, NEVER a Bundt pan and not an angel cake pan with a removable bottom – big, hefty, hardware store type of angel cake pan that can take a huge amount of batter. Find out what temperature and timing works best for you and then adopt that cake like your kin. (Even honey cake haters convert to honey cake lovers with this recipe).
The cake stays for days on the counter or you can freeze it for 3 months and it still emerges from the sub zero temperatures with a happy, shining honey cake face and crumb. In short, take care of this delicious cake recipe and it will do you proud. Like Matzoh Buttercrunch, Montreal Bagels, the plum tart, My Mother’s Apple Cake, the rugulah, and more – this recipe is worth the price of the cookbook (but the recipe is below).
New Year's Sweet Challah Notes
For round challah, you're better off making smaller breads and you can also, make the braid and put the bread to rise in a large layer or cheesecake pan. I am also using cranberries instead of raisins this year - they're tart and pretty and a break from the 'black' of baking which is beige of course (as in beige crusts and pastries, beige cookies, and beige raisins in sweet challah). You can allow the dough to rise unformed overnight and punch it down, shape it and bake it the day you require it. Or make challahs, shape them and let them rise 20% or so before freezing (and once frozen, wrap them up). Reglaze the breads and let them rise and bake them fresh on the day. (This is especially helpful when planning ahead for Bread-the-Fast on Yom Kippur).
Don't forget challah leftovers make amazing bread pudding (also great for Yom Kippur or anytime) and the birds love challah crumbs almost more than sunflower seeds. In my challah recipes, you will also note I use sugar AND honey. The latter makes for a less tacky dough and just a bit of honey allows for that lovely taste and fragrance that makes a New Year's challah so special but also ensures the bread won't overbrown. For wholewheat challah (recipe below), let the dough stand barely mixed. This allows the bran in the dough to ingest the water and you will use less added flour overall - for a tender, moist, whole-wheat challah. It's a trick French bakers use and New Year's challahs can surely profit with. I am making fresh yeast challah for the holidays - but instant or bread machine yeast is perfect for extra-sweet challahs so stock up. (But fresh yeast makes gorgeous bread. There, I've done it. I've used the word 'gorgeous' to describe food. It's come to that - I've crossed over into Food Network-eze).
Trail Mix and Pluots
On other food notes, I am in love with pluots (it’s a plum/apricot fruit) and I also made a discovery about trail mix. I used to buy it at Costco and I set a big ceramic bowl of it out on my maple table. It’s so hospitable (the trail mix faily screams hospitality but the table does its part too). But then I realized – no one eats the prunes and dried apples. But I would refill it with more dried cranberries and dried mango bits to hide the less desirable dried fruit that wasn't getting picked for basketball. But over time, I realized – I am throwing out one-third of that prepared trail mix each time. So, I trotted over to the bulk food store and hand-picked exactly the fruit I prefer. Now my trail mix is filled with honey-ed nuts, bits of white chocolate, dried mango, dried strawberries, dried cherries, raw almonds, pumpkin seeds, hunks of dried pineapple and California apricots. It adds up to the same outlay but it’s a gorgeous customized mix. Sometimes I add in chocolate coverered blueberries, cherries or yogurt coated raisins. My eldest son says given the name (Trail Mix) and invention (anything goes) he’s amazed I don’t just add an old boot or some chewed up pizza crusts but you get the picture. Make your own custom trail mix and happy trails to you.
August passed in walks and talks with friends, sons and brothers. I discovered the best cup of coffee in the world at Café Normandaise in Montreal’s Plateau. The Plateau in Montreal is where the ghosts of Canada’s first wave of immigrants keep company with 2nd and 3rd generation Montrealers who discovered the neighborhoods of their parents and now give it a new élan. The Plateau is there the women of Montreal dress in a style that is a cross between Cirque du Soleil and Les Miz. It's a cool, family-cum-/Boho world beat sort of place that welcomes everyone and never stops being entertaining, no matter what season. In August, I was honored to hear my brother and son play in an outdoor big band under an August moon, I met a man I wanted to be a thinner woman for, discovered Butter Chicken dry mix, scored a Celtic Rose yoga mat at Winners (TJ Maz) and in August, I also finally found those harem tango pants I have spent 5 years searching out. Hola, I feel like (Dream of) Jeanie gone Latin.
August has also been full of transitions and I didn’t, until the end of it, have a chance to bake much. When I do, I like you, catch up to my regular baking. I recenter myself by baking up breads, a fudge layer cake or two, a golden sheet cake for snacking on (my son Ben is lost without a fistful of a good, plain cake he cuts in huge hunks fresh from the pan. He's decked out in Iphone but in that moment, he's pure farm boy and eats with that sort of gusto), and some experimentation (check out the Special Cheddar Bagels this month).
Lonely Kitchens, Haunted StovesSo, on that floury, you-can-go-home-again note, come join me. Come bake or just read about baking – less calories but all the joy. But if you do bake, bake someone happy. Some few of us bake these days that the taste of home baking is only more mouth-watering and appreciated. It’s seduction in an apron. Make something old-fashioned and timelessly tasty – and see your kitchen come back to life and a new vitality in those that partake of your fare. In September, for some, it’s a new year but for any of us, it’s a new day. It's all laced in honey.
A tale of reunion and reconnection of the hearth and heart....
Photo Credit www.Artlies.Org, from Art Lies, a Contemporary Art Quarterly
There are times when my kitchen and I have a falling out. Like the best of great, enduring couples, even we can grow distant from each other. Sometimes it's a lover's tiff but more often it's change of schedules, different habits, or trivial new loves that tempt us away. In tiny, quiet, unmeasured steps, without premeditation or calculation, we grow apart. Over time, those steps become miles; without knowing it, warily, incrementally, me and kitchen - we begin to avoid each other. We slide by each other in the night without a nod nor eye contact. We don't touch and we don't talk. I come down for a cup of chamomile tea because I can’t sleep. I might notice the cookie jar is empty and the bread box has store-bought baguette in it. When did she move in my place? I refuse to admit I am responsible for the interloper as I am the one replaced. Trophy baguette! And yet I am the one both spurned and did the spurning.
I gaze at the full moon outside the kitchen window and I notice the range is too clean. It’s been untouched – celibate without me. Pining are you, you 500 pound stainless steel brute? Who left who first, I wonder? Was it me that turned away in the night, cold-shouldering the kitchen and leaving the bread unattended? Could I be a neglectful lover-chef? Or did some soufflé fall and using the excuse of an inconsequential lapse, I made my escape. "You never listen" or “I just need to find myself ’, I tell my kitchen. It’s me, it’s not you. But again, like the best of couples, that’s not really true. It’s always about something more. Something unsaid, some hurt that is unarticulated or something too painful to give voice. I leave the kitchen when for whatever reason or season, we stop feeding each other sweet nothings. I leave when I have to and I come back when it's time. If you liked it, you needn’t put a ring on it. The law of love is the law of return.
And so, one day, inevitably, without fan fare but oh-so-prodically, I return to my kitchen. How could I leave my beloved?
The first thing I notice with a wee bit of self-reproach is that the kitchen feels dusty from lack of use. Even in mid-summer, there’s a chill and it creaks and whines. It echoes with blatant neglect; without the baker, the heartbeat of the kitchen is stilled. I feel the ghosts of recipes past. This place needs a smudge stick; perhaps I should burn a piece of challah dough as Jewish bakers ceremoniously do or singe some cinnamon sticks.
Most recently, such was my desertion that the all-purpose flour bin was totally depleted and for the first time in years, there were no eggs in the house – I had to go out to the cash-and-carry and buy a 15 dozen crate immediately. The yeast was old or circa unknown and had to be thrown out. Once you are recommitting, might as well start a new chunk of packet of yeast. New yeast is like a new engagement ring – better karma. I restocked the raisin jar and dug out a new can of baking powder. I loved the conspiratorial hiss it made when I ripped the pull tab and lid off. I decanted a new jug of Nielsen Massey double strength Madagascar vanilla and set some butter to warm on the counter. I gave my trusty Garland oven a gentle wipe down and then fired it up, appreciating the satisfying whoosh of gas as it as it filled the jets and the fire ignited. 350F ma’am, it seemed to ask. Yes, sir! Incense was lit as well as some Apple Rose candles from Yankee Candle, courtesy of Ebay. I trimmed the bushel of pink and peach roses I get from Costco (is there any better deal on the planet than Costco for roses?) and I ground up fresh Columbian and Sumatra coffee beans, as much for aroma as for a fresh cup of Joe. In no time, the kitchen began to hum back to life and the fragrance of forgiveness filled the air. It sang its old happy tune. Like a retriever than just wants petting, this simple space just asks to be of service and be acknowledged. It wants company, the kitchen does. Use me, choose me – like a culinary Chorus Line.
My kitchen; my world – where I create recipes for you and me but also where I ground myself and come back to my senses, as it were. How it missed me and how I missed it! I had forsaken my kitchen (sometimes we have to choice) but as always, it forgave me. It responds to my touch; and the baking, a bit rusty to start (I had some sprawled out oatmeal cookies and some less-than-golden muffins) soon got up to speed. By the third batch of cookies, all was well. But one of my sons strolled in and commented, seeing less-than-perfect oatmeal cookies that I was ‘off my game’ which of course, only spurred me to more baking. Off my game? You dare challenge the baker? And so, in under two hours, there were cheddar bagels, a deep chocolate layer cake, brownies, and oatmeal cookies, bulging with sour cherries and white chocolate, all cooling the warmth of baker’s afterglow. The kitchen purred happily. The light was back on and metaphorically, a pie was cooling on the window ledge. A filled flour canister, topped-off vanilla bottle, pounds and pounds of butter in the freezer and stacks of brown farmers’ eggs – all bounty signifying life had begun again. The baker was back in the house and at the helm. The love affair, a true soulmate connection, resumed and the sweet reunion wafted scents too gorgeous to even tell you about. You have to be there or bake it yourself.
What am I making this holiday? Old-fashioned apple strudel, my mother’s apple cake, my plum tart, tons of mandelbrot of all sorts, round honey challahs (but with cranberries instead of raisins), Majestic honey cake and chocolate rugulah. I mean, that’s the plan. The boys and I are guests the first night so that means I bring dessert and bread. For the second meal, looks like I will be dipping into the gefilte fish and chicken soup route – there’s no escaping the savory and it reminds me I can cook too. (In fact, I should start the horseradish now). And as always, I will be making Paradise Haroses, not that it's Passover, but it's so good, I now make it each Jewish holiday. Turns out it is as good spread on challah as it is on matzoth (p.s. it's in the Recipe Archives)
Shanah Tova, Happy New Year, happy Fall or back to school, here’s to your new hot yoga class, your brand new Uggs or reuniting with friends and habits and recipes for joy.
Author, Master Baker
September 2010 Baker's Stash
Recommended recipes from my cookbooks include Majestic Honey Cake, My Mother’s Apple Cake, Fresh Yeast Sweet Challah (and all the other challot you could wish for) and Shredded Dough Plum Tart. From The Best of BetterBaking.com, I highly suggest the World’s Best Deep Dish Apple Cake. Don’t forget in the Recipe Archives (as well as new recipe chapter in my Jewish Cookbook), there are tons of brisket recipes, kugels, and more, including chicken soup, and the best sweet and sour meatballs ever. For back to school bake sales, check out the Archives and tons of cookies, squares and muffins from The Best of Betterbaking.com or A Passion for Baking (Oxmoor House). I cannot list the entire cornucopia of recipes on the site and in 4 cookbooks but I assure you, there is something to suit your every mood and appetite.
Chocolate Swirl Honey Cake
A swirl of chocolate through a lightly spiced honeycake
Definitive Moist and Majestic Honey Cake
A legend continues
Vanilla Cinnamon Dairy Kugel
This is rich, smooth and sumptuous.
White or Regular Whole Wheat Honey Challah
Sweet, wholesome and easy. Bread machines can knead this for you and leave you free to mix up the honey cake.
Chocolate Velvet Honey Cake
My friend Janet doesn’t think Rosh Hashanah is complete without this cake on the table beside the Majestic Honey Cake.
Granny Smith and Macintosh Apple Buns
This is genius and makes a great dessert or break-the-fast treat.
Apple Challah or Apple Challah Buns
No matter how you make this, it’s a winner. Leftovers (rare but possible) make for a great bread pudding.
Free!! Cranberry Chutney Muffins
Fresh harvested cranberries go wild in this luscious little muffin. Make these tiny to serve in a mixed little breads, or later on, in Thanksgiving bread basket or larger, as a wonderful coffee klatch, dessert muffins. It is a gorgeous assembly of little fruits, cranberries, touch of spice and a out-of-this-world, orange streusel topping.
Honey Cake Bread Pudding
These are comfort food with bistro and fancy bakery flair. Count on making a double batch.
Special Cheddar Cheese Bagels
What could be better than big, rustic, hearth-baked bagels? Unless they are stuffed with sharp cheddar cheese. These are extra chewy and feature a molten river of cheese. Good fresh or days later (in fact, it’s hard to decide if they are better hot from the oven or split, toasted and buttered), this breaks tradition in the best of ways. Again, Tim Horton’s (Canada’s famed coffee chain) inspired me –I saw a billboard for their cheddar bagels and tried one. Good but not cheddary nor chewy enough but what a great concept. And so, back to the betterbaking.com lab I went.
Cheddar Garlic Bialys (or Onion Cheddar)
The bagel's first cousin – made of bagel dough but altogether a different beast .Where I grew up, a flat, crisp, garlic (or vary it with onions) topped roll was called an "onion pletzel". In New York, it's called a bialy (or bialie). It's a disk of bagel dough with a slight depression in its center, topped with diced onions and poppy seeds. However, this is a cheddar bialy in which the classic goes to town by sporting a crown of cheddar garlic topping. It bakes up crusty and gooey and is totally fabulous. If you like bagels, you will adore bialys. If you like bagels or bailys, you will fall in love with these cheddar sensations.
Omega 3 Multi Grain Low Fat Applesauce and Everything Else Good For You Muffins
Just what you need for a healthy fall start.
Hungarian Bean Soup with Sweet Paprika FREE!
September is the official start of hot soup season.
Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy: