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It's the Holidays! (December 10, 2004)

All New Yorkers remember the large subway poster, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Rye bread," featuring a rainbow coalition of grinning models chomping down on thick, delicious sandwiches...

And we echo the phrase with two wonderful cookbooks – A Blessing of Bread by Maggie Glezer and Marcy Goldman's A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking – that, no matter your background or beliefs, are going to meet your winter baking needs! A third cookbook and perennial favourite of ours is A Holiday Collection 2004 from our good friends, the Home Economists in the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen in Alberta, Canada.

A Blessing of Bread presents for the first time the diverse bread-baking traditions of the Jewish people. So what's your pleasure? Babkas, honey cakes? Perhaps a bite of bagel or matzoh or just that delicious deli rye bread. Maggie Glezer worked with bakers from Guatemala to Russia, endlessly testing each recipe, as many had never been written down and were simply part of riveting oral histories and ancient legends. Glezer reminds us that there is a special urgency to record, learn and pass on culinary history if we are to preserve our traditional foods and customs. A Blessing of Bread grew out of an interview that she conducted with a rabbi's wife about the symbolism of challah, that bakery staple deeply rooted in Jewish traditions. Captivated by the myriad meaning in every twist of the bread's braid, she spent many years doing research and testing. Thank you, Maggie; Ron confesses that he's always wanted to bake a really great bagel, while Helen can't wait to try the anise-, almond- and sesame-studded Moroccan Purim bread!

Moving right along, we have A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking now in soft cover. First printed in 1998, the Treasury has become a sought-after classic. It's a lovingly assembled, comprehensive collection of delicious, fail-proof baked goods for the Jewish holidays and throughout the year. We fell for the hamantaschen pastries and then found the double fudge cake, and we know why this book is a perennial bestseller.

A lovely variation on the theme is just in, and you still have time to snag your copy. A Holiday Collection 2004 is available by mail, and what a terrific little book it is! This annual tradition from the Home Economists with the Alberta utility company never fail to give us wonderful recipes and ideas not only for the holidays, but for the coming months as well. We glanced at the contents, and were delighted to see everything from Great Beginnings with beverages and hors d'oeuvres, In the Christmas Tradition and The Day After, to a totally practical as well as delicious chapter on Casserole Cuisine! It's not just the holiday season, for this is a year-round book with recipes for every occasion and palate... Try Roasted Tomato Bruschetta, Pomegranate and Jasmine Rice Salad with Oranges, Individual Christmas Puddings, Trade Winds Beef Stew, and one that really caught our eye and tummy, Asparagus Cordon Bleu! This is a marvellous book for the experienced cook as well as the beginner; you'll want to order more than one for this holiday! Details below.

So... all you have to be is a gourmand who enjoys a little baking and some good cooking to love these fine books. Whichever holiday you celebrate, you'll want to give and receive A Blessing of Bread, A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking and A Holiday Collection 2004 from the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Home Economists! Trust us, we know!

Many happy meals, everyone!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (87 KB)


 

Crackling Thin Iraqi Whole Wheat Matzot
from A Blessing of Bread

You've spotted this one on the cover of A Blessing of Bread and, if you're like us, you've always wanted to do a tasty flatbread. This recipe needs care, but it's worth it. Matzot is probably the oldest and most iconic of all Jewish breads. It's mentioned numerous times in the Bible, and not just in the context of Passover. The original was probably made from barley, but with wheat being the preferred grain, for centuries almost all matzot has been made from the best wheat flour carefully guarded since harvest.

During Passover, observant Jews do not eat any grain or bread other than this unleavened flatbread, to connect in a tangible way with the Exodus.

Whatever your feelings, this is a wonderful crisp cracker of a bread. It stands alone or is perfect topped with almost anything you want.

Glezer comments that Matzot is never rolled out with any flour, so it's important to get the consistency of the dough just right so it rolls out easily; if the dough is too soft, it will stick; if it's too firm it will resist extending. Most matzot must be docked, punctured or pierced, but these are thin so they do not need it.

If this sounds complicated, not to worry – Glezer has rated the skill level as "Beginner".

Makes: 16 9-inch matzot

Recipe synopsis: Mix the dough. Divide the dough and roll it into the thinnest circles possible. Bake the matzot for 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Time required: about one hour.

  • About 5 cups coarsely ground whole wheat flour
  • About 1½ cups water

Preheating the oven: Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower third positions and preheat the oven to 450°F.

Sifting the flour: Using a very fine mesh strainer, sift the flour into a large bowl; reserve the bran for another purpose. (This step can be skipped if you like, but you will need to add extra water to the dough.)

Mixing the dough: Pour the water into the sifted flour and mix until a rough dough forms. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and knead until it is smooth, adding more flour or water as necessary to make a firm dough that can be easily stretched but is not at all sticky and does not stick to the kneading surface. Divide the dough into sixteen small balls.

Rolling out and baking the matzot: Roll out and bake two to four matzot at a time, depending on the size of your baking sheets. Using no flour, roll out each ball with a heavy rolling pin into the thinnest possible circle, about 9 inches across. (If you cannot roll out the dough that thin, be sure to pierce the dough all over with a fork.) Place each matzoh (two if they will fit) on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it curls up at the edges and is browned and dry. Transfer to a rack to cool. Store the matzot in a large tin or airtight plastic bag.


 

Hamantaschen
from Jewish Holiday Baking

Sometime in March (or, in the Hebrew Calendar, on the 14th day of Adar), Jews around the world celebrate the "Festival of Lots" based on events found in the Book of Esther that occurred around the fifth century BC. It's quite a story of courage and triumph. Esther was Queen of the Persian ruler, King Ahasuerus, who was unaware that his queen was Jewish. An advisor to the king, Haman, was secretly planning a mass murder of all the Jews in the kingdom. Esther got word of the plot from her uncle and informed her husband of these sinister maneuverings. She presented her case in such a convincing fashion that her husband the king was moved to intercede. Queen Esther's intervention saved the Persian Jews! What a woman! Celebrations today include rambunctious parties punctuated by colourful costumes and music, with platters of fruit-filled hamantaschen served with sweet kosher wine, which one is encouraged to consume in copious amounts.

Why wait? Celebrate today with your own delicious batch!

Makes 4 to 6 dozen pastries

  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or unsalted margarine
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup orange juice or milk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Approximately 4 cups all -purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Golden egg wash (recipe below)
  • 3–4 cups store-bought fillings: cherry, apricot, prune or your choice
  • Regular or coarse sugar (optional)

Golden egg wash
This all-purpose glaze brings a golden glow to most pastries and acts as a "glue" when sealing pastries.

  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1–2 Tbsp milk or water
  • Pinch of sugar

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Use a pastry brush to glaze or brush on prepared unbaked hamantaschen.

In a mixing bowl, cream the shortening, butter and sugar together.

Add the eggs and blend until smooth. (If the mixture is hard to blend or seems curdled, add a bit of the flour to bind it.)

Stir in the orange juice or milk and the vanilla. Fold in the flour, salt, and baking powder and mix to make a firm but soft dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a smooth mass. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 2 or 3 flattened discs and work with one portion at a time.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter and cut as many roughs as you can. Brush the round with egg wash. Fill with a generous teaspoonful of the desired filling. Draw 3 sides together into the center. You should now have a 3-cornered or triangular pastry. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling. Brush the pastries with additional egg wash. If desired, sprinkle with regular or coarse sugar, and bake in the center of the preheated oven until golden brown (18 to 25 minutes.) Cool on the baking sheets.

If you prefer this dough can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped in plastic, for up to 2 days, or frozen (either as a disc of dough or as already formed and filled pastries) for a couple of months. If refrigerating, allow the dough to warm up before rolling out. For frozen pastries, bake without defrosting.


 

Chanukah Gelt Double Fudge Chocolate Layer Cake None Better!!!
from Jewish Holiday Baking

Marcy Goldman says, "A boastful title to be sure, but absolutely true. You just don't get cakes like this every day; easy to make, moist, almost half a hoot high, non dairy but very flavourful, stays fresh for days, can be frozen for months."

Oh, my what else is there, we answer. And... this cake won't ever make it to the freezer!

Makes 12 to 16 servings

    Cake
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1¼ cups vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1½ cups warm, flat cola soda
    Chocolate icing
  • ½ cup chocolate chips, melted and cooled
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable shortening
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter or unsalted margarine
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3–4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • ½ cup water, cola, or half and half
    Topping
  • Coloured sprinkles
  • 20–30 gold coloured chocolate coins
  • Miniature decorative plastic dreidels

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 9-inch layer pans and line them with parchment paper circles. In a large mixing bowl, blend the sugar and oil. Add the eggs and vanilla and combine until the mixture is well blended. In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Fold them into the wet, and mix, drizzling in the cola as the mixture blends. If using an electric mixer, use the low speed and mix for about 3 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom once to incorporate all the 8ingredients. This is a thin batter.

Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 34 to 40 minutes, until the cakes spring back when lightly touched.

Chocolate icing: In a bowl, cream together the melted chocolate, shortening, butter and vanilla with the cocoa and 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar. Add the remaining confectioners' sugar and whip on high speed, adding a bit of water, cola or half and half to get a light, fluffy consistency. If you're not frosting the cake right away, rewhip before using, adding additional warm water, a tablespoon at a time, to achiever the right consistency.

Note: we did not have a photograph of this masterpiece, so called Kraft Kitchens for help. They provided us with a lovely "ungelted" iced chocolate cake; use your imagination or Marcie's directions that follow to decorate!

To decorate: Place one layer on a cardboard circle. Ice it with about ½ inch of frosting. Cover with the second layer and ice the sides first, then the top. Coat the sides with coloured sprinkles. Garnish the bottom edge with gold covered coins. Garnish the top with gold-coloured coins, making any arrangement you want, placing the coins either flat on top of the cake or standing up, sticking them in the icing to hold. (You may cut some of the coins in half to garnish the border of the top layer.) Place a couple of miniature dreidels in the center if you wish, or Hanukkah candles. (They can be lit when the menorah is lit.)


 

Mincemeat Pies and Tarts
from A Holiday Collection 2004

Once you've got the mincemeat made up, you can do almost anything with it, and it keeps beautifully in the freezer for up to one month. We love the ATCO version of little individual tarts with a star topping. Simply make up pastry for a double-crust pie; divide in half and use one part for the tart shell, the second half for the star topping made from a cookie cutter or free hand!

How many can you eat? Oh really? Well... me too!

Makes 4 cups or enough mincemeat for one 9-inch pie

  • 3 cups diced peeled Golden Delicious apples
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 2¾ cups dark raisins
  • 1 cup toasted slivered almonds, chopped
  • ½ cup brandy
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp grated orange peel
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel

Combine first 7 ingredients (apples through nutmeg) in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes or until apples are tender. Add remaining ingredients (raisins through lemon peel). Simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15–20 minutes. Cool. Spoon mincemeat into a freezer container. Cover and freeze for up to one month.

Baking mincemeat pies and tarts
To bake mincemeat pies, bake at 425°F for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350°F and continue baking for 40–45 minutes or until mincemeat is bubbly and pastry is golden. To bake mincemeat tarts, bake at 375°F or 17 to 20 minutes or until mincemeat is bubbly and pastry is golden.


 

We wish to thank the following for permission to publish material and photographs:

A Blessing of Bread by Maggie Glezer and Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. © 2004 by Maggie Glezer. Photograph © by Jim Scherer.

A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman and Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. © 1998 by Marcy Goldman. Photograph © FoodPix/Steve Cohen.

A Holiday Collection 2004 from the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen. To order, call 800-840-3393 (in Canada) or 780-420-1010. Price $5.00(Canadian funds) plus postage. For more terrific recipes and ideas, go to www.atcoblueflamekitchen.com.

Kraft Kitchens Canada for the chocolate cake photograph. For more information, ideas, and to sign up for your free subscription to What's Cooking Magazine, go to www.kraftcanada.com.

 

Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (87 KB)

 

 

 

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