A few weeks ago I was visiting my folks (and getting some snow time in- Ski Alta!) and as I was packing up to go home my mother handed me a bag of what looked like chocolate muffins and said that I should take them to my kids. Upon arrival back in California I opened them up and discovered that they were bouchons, which are like chocolate brioche. When we had eaten them all a few days later I sent my mom a note thanking her and she sent me back the recipe. In the interest of letting my Jewish mother share her baking skills with the world, I present you with her version of this very tasty treat. You should have a batch on hand when Passover ends later this week.
Category Archives: Goyish
Babke, is Polish for grandmother. Which is odd because these tasty yeast cakes bear no resemblance to little old peasant women. Rather, it resembles brioche, the bread with the butter baked in and a dough so rich you cannot really make it by hand. Babka are part of the shared culinary legacy of both Jewish and Catholic communities in Eastern Europe. Among the Poles, a babka was prepared for Easter using fruit or rum. The Jewish version however leans towards chocolate. This preference is immortalized by Elaine in Seinfeld season 5 with the line “(the cinnamon babka is) a lesser babka” (this is after they see the last chocolate one get snapped up).
While all of this is terribly interesting, it does not explain why I had to ransack several Jewish and non-Jewish cookbooks to find a recipe for this dessert. One thing I can tell you is that in many cookbooks the first entry in the B’s is bacon (including the ’31 edition of the Settlement Cookbook, written mostly by Jewish housewives). After a fair bit of digging I was able to find a few recipes to work from. The one that provided the most help oddly was the new Gourmet Today published just on the eve of that fabled magazine’s demise.
Recipe after the jump
What does a Jew do for Christmas? Well this Jew travels to cold weather (which we lack around the Bay) and enjoys the holiday in the company of his non-Jewish relations. I actually did some of the cooking for Christmas dinner this year. I made a roast turkey, gravy from turkey fat, and a Bailey’s Irish cream cheese cake.
But, how could I journey to the heartland of America, Wisconsin and not talk about beer. Now, California has a great beer culture with dozens of small craft brewers offering their wares at Whole Foods and Bev Mo. But during a quick two day run from Racine to Lone Rock took us past several small breweries, all worth the trip.
Most of these places don’t even Pasteurize their beer. This means it cannot not be stored at room temperature and therefore generally doesn’t get shipped more than an hour’s drive away. But if you ever get out to Madison, then point the car west and make a beer and cheese run.
I have to admit I am a little burnt out on Jewish food after the hefty string of Hanukkah posts so I though I would cure that with a little bit o’ trayfe for Christmas. I also thought, what better way to do that than to simultaneously reinforce the stereotype of Jews eating Chinese food for Christmas. Like most stereotypes this one is based in some truth, being that in the past, Chinese immigrants often didn’t celebrate Christmas either and Chinese restaurants would be open on the holiday. These days, especially in the Bay Area, people are significantly more integrated (and inter-married, for that matter) and the majority of Jewish and Chinese-American families have some sort of celebration to attend with family or friends on Christmas, but I still know of some Jewish families who hold on to the tradition of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. I still had some wonton wrapper in my freezer heading toward freezer burn that were leftover from making Aushak, the Bay Area is smack in the middle of dungeness crab season, and I really didn’t get in enough frying over Hanukkah so I decided to make some crab cheese wontons for my Chinese food for Christmas edition.
Crab Cheese Wontons or Crab Rangoon has it origins in Oakland, and originally appeared as an appetizer at Trader Vic’s (now in Emeryville), in 1957. I, on the other hand, developed an affinity for them after spending countless nights as a teenage hanging out, after hours, at Hunan Chef Wong (now The Hunan Chef) in Pleasanton. A friend of mine from high school’s family owned the restaurant, so he usually worked until closing there and I was waiting table at a pasta place in town and would usually drive past on my way home after my shift to see if he was still there. This was a pattern for a number of people and on any given weekend night there would be anywhere from 4-20 people hanging out, drinking beer and playing cards or dominoes. At some point, due to the various substances consumed, we would get the munchies. Sometimes we would just wander over to the 7-11 or Jack-in-the-box for snacks, but on occasion we could convince my friend would cook for us. This restaurant was not only a fun place to hang, but they actually have really good Chinese food and if we were really lucky he would make us our favorite… crab cheese wontons. I have never been able to recreate his recipe (mostly because he would never tell me what it was), but even the passable facsimile I make conjures up warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia. My friend still owns the place, although I haven’t been there since I moved from Pleasanton. From the website it looks like they remodeled and I immediately thought of the night a bunch of us created a bizarro time-capsule out of a recently emptied Patron tequila bottle and hid it under one of booth seats. I imagine it was found by a very confused contractor.
recipe after the break
Liverwurst, or liver sausage is a Midwestern staple. When I was a kid we would go one town over to Cedarburg (not that i lived in a town per se, Mequon in those days had 62 square miles, 15,000 people and 4 stop lights) to buy meat. Paules’ Market (long gone sadly) was the place to get local meat. I can still recall the liverwurst, made from pork liver wrapped in a opaque casing that had to be peeled away. A quick lunch on the farm could be made from a few slices, sharp mustard and two slices of wheat bread.
The flavor of liverwurst is very distinctive, as opposed to liver pate or chopped chicken livers. It was this distinctive flavor that lead me to think that I could recreate it with beef or calves’ liver (which would make it kosher, if you use kosher meat). So a little internet research combined with consultation with Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and I was ready to give it a try.
Some notes on materials and process. This takes a while to make. Leave yourself plenty of time and keep everything well chilled. If you break the emulsion (meaning the fat and meat separate) what you end up with is very tasty dog food. Also there are several options for casings. I used muslin cloth. You could also use a beef middle or hog bung.
Recipe after the break
When I think of pretzels, I think of a Sunday afternoon at the ballpark, with a hot dog in one hand and a pretzel in the other. The pretzel is really scrumptious, though not so nutrious. I’d bet though, you have no idea why it is called a pretzel or why they are usually in that shape…
The pretzel was “invented” in 610AD in southern France/northern Italy. The folded section symbolizes a child’s folded arms during prayer and the three different section symbolize the Trinity. Pretzels, or Pretiola in Latin as they were originally called, were given by monks to children who did well is Bible school. Over the next few centuries the Pretiola migrated to Germany and became the “Pretzel.”
So what does this have to do with Jerusalem (aka Jewish) Pretzels? To be honest, I have no idea. In doing research, I could not find the historical origins of the Jerusalem Pretzel. I found the recipe in Janna Gur’s cookbook, and have eaten them many times in the Old City. She claims post-the-Jews-regaining-Jerusalem, the Jews discoverd that their Arab friends had a tasty treat. Jeruslaem Pretzels, though, are shaped in an oval, presumably because the Arabs and Jews knew the historical roots of the “normal” pretzel. Also, in my research, I discovered the beigeleh, which in Yiddish would mean little bagel. It looks similar to me, but not quite the same. So in sum, pretzels taste good, so just eat them!
Today, I tried making this recipe using weights instead of volumes (ie, 500g and not 1/2 cup). It worked really well, and I recommend it, but I will include the volumes in case you don’t have a scale. So the pretzels are fairly easy to make, but the true ones use no salt and plenty of yeast. They can be enjoyed alone, dipped on olive oil, or even zatar. They are coated with generous amounts of sesame seeds. I recommend eating them immediately; or once they are cooled, freeze them in a ziplock bag and they can be reheated at 350F in the oven.
It would come as no surprise to the guys I grew up with that I like sharp pointy objects. Growing up in rural Wisconsin (nearest neighbor, 1/2 mile away) I had ample time to learn the finer points of hunting, fishing and carpentry. When I was in high school my buddies and I would tramp around the woods on the weekend trying to kick up rabbits amongst the old mink cages that were part of the large abandoned fur operations that littered the area. Once in a while we got lucky and managed to actually hit a fast moving rabbit (on white snow no less) and bring something back. Now, we had an ethos of everything you shot- you ate. So even if it didn’t become lunch it went back to someones freezer skinned and dressed.
In a moment like that you quickly realize that the blade on your Swiss army knife is not sharp enough or big enough to do that job well. You need a real hunting knife. Not one of the huge Rambo things, they only look good in movies. But a medium sized competent blade that was exceedingly sharp. Twenty years later I find myself doing a lot of meat trimming in the course of learning to make sausages so I revisited my knife collection looking for that exact combination of sharpness, ease of use and comfort.
So, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to offer my endorsement (not sponsored in any way) of the Buck knives Woodsman. I’ve had mine for at least 25 years and its still razor sharp makes short work of even the toughest connective tissue. Remember, good tools make for better food.
“Just how Jewish is that?” Good question, the answer is not very. After all there weren’t any Jews on the Mayflower. But it is downright American. Pumpkins (along with their fellow squashes not to mention peppers, tomatoes and bison) are native to the Americas. This baked custard has been a holiday classic for decades and since my family has been here for over 100 years, I think we can safely embrace our native culture with the same relish we took on potatoes in Poland (after all, Jews aren’t really from Poland and potatoes aren’t either).
My take on pumpkin pie starts with a good pumpkin. This year I found mine at Perry Farms. I asked about a good pie pumpkin and they suggested a variety called a Sweetie Pie. Now there is perfectly good pumpkin available in cans, but I like the sense of starting from scratch. I also had my still new(ish) grinder and it made the work of pureeing the roasted pumpkin as simple as feeding the chunks down the tube- as opposed to a good half an hour of hand cranking my food mill. My other personal touch is the addition of Bourbon whiskey (Jefferson’s Reserve this year). I like the oaken note it adds to the mix. I don’t use cloves, although it is popular in many pumpkin based recipes I find it too strong.
Of course when I got around to making my pie on a busy Friday afternoon my sense of “from scratch” was at war with my sense of “cook everything before dinner” and that’s when I caved in and bought a frozen crust. While it lacks the charm of personal touch, it saved me an hour of work and prep. It also looks so much better than any crust I have managed to pull off.
Recipe after the break
The thermometer is climbing toward 90 so tonight the only heat source I’m turning on today will be outside on the grill. I’ve got some chicken thighs brining in the fridge, took a cue from Gordon and started my own dill pickles this morning, and picked up some cabbage for one of my favorite summer side dishes: coleslaw. This dish always make a great accompaniment to such Jewish deli classics as reubens or pastrami sandwiches. It also inspires a lot of controversy, namely… to mayonnaise or not to mayonnaise. Mayonnaise seems to be a long running debate among Jews in general. You often hear mayonnaise dismissed as goyisha food, but I have also heard that Jews invented it. This rumor seems to have originated from the fact the Hellmann’s (or Best Foods for us west coasters) brand mayonnaise was created at a NYC deli, and while I haven’t been able to confirm it, Hellmann sure sounds like a Jewish name. At any rate, despite my father’s protests, I am a mayo-on-the-coleslaw girl.
more after the jump