My Mother’s Russian Cake

Well, as my dear mother used to say, ‘the best laid plans of mice and men aft gang aglay’. (No, that isn’t Yiddish. I think it may be Welsh which is unusual because my Mom was Canadian born of Polish parents. But she was well read and I recall many of her sayings and quotes and find them coming out of my mouth even before I am aware of it.) I had hoped to get this recipe out to you last week, but found myself unable. Just as well, you’ve probably got more than enough on your plate and need another recipe like you need a ‘loch in kopf’ (that is Yiddish for a hole in the head).

Although you may not have enough time to work this special dessert into your pre Pesach cooking plans-which I’m sure are pretty much underway, try and practice this delicious gateaux a few times through the upcoming year. When next Pesach roles around, you will be able to make it with confidence.

Wishing you a kosher, joyful and healthy Pesach,

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

PS Although this recipe is adapted from one by Kitty Morse and Danielle Mamane, my own Mother used to make one very similar.

My Mother’s Russian Cake

Meringue
6 egg whites
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups superfine sugar (grind the sugar in a food processor)

Ganache
1 ¼ cups ground hazelnuts, toasted
3 Tablespoons superfine sugar
7 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in ¼ cup water
3 cups pareve whipping cream
Preheat oven to 300. Grease 3 x 8” molds. Cut 3 rounds of parchment paper to line the bottom of each.
To prepare the meringue, in a large bowl beat the egg whites with the salt. Slowly add the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Divide the egg whites among the three molds and smooth the tops with a spatula. Place in the oven and decrease the heat to 275. Bake until the meringues are dry, about 1 hour, and let them dry further in the turned-off oven overnight.
Blend the hazelnuts and 1 Tablespoon of the remaining sugar.
Melt the chocolate, coffee and remaining 2 Tablespoons sugar in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Let it cool slightly. Whip the cream. Gently fold in the melted chocolate and half of the ground nuts.
To assemble the cake, peel the paper from the bottom of the meringue. Set one round on a serving platter. With a spatula, spread 1/3 of the ganache over the top. Cover with a second round and repeat. Top with the third round and spread with the remaining ganache, spreading it over and around the sides of the cake. Pat the remaining nuts around the side of the cake and refrigerate.

From Chilli to Chocolate

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As home cooks, one of the things we want to do for our family is to offer a variety of tastes. Restaurants and take out, no matter how much of a welcome break we think they may provide, cannot meet this goal. Store bought food has to be standardized. This is the only way that a business can be successful. It can’t experiment or respond to each customer’s unique preference. This lesson really hits home during the holiday of Pesach when these establishments are usually closed.

Aside from the obvious advantages that making food from home offers, to me, the greatest one is the ability to develop an appreciation for different tastes. It is interesting that the same word, pallet, refers to our array of tastebuds, and also, on what an artist arranges and mixes paint colours.

It is at the times of our holidays, our celebrations, that we can really let loose and take our cooking to new heights. Sometimes we relish in the comfort of familiarity, and we don’t want to ‘fix what ain’t broke’, but in adding a new flavour note, we can liven up a well loved tune. This Pesach, consider adding a surprising element of heat to your repertoire. The sweet-hot flavour that fresh chillis deliver can enhance side dishes and even the humble shnitzel.

I really enjoyed making this unique spread over the last few weeks and trying it in different ways. Keeping it as a thick paste, it can be tossed with simple steamed vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini or cauliflower. Thin it down with a little more oil and hot water and toss it with roasted root vegetables, bake for an extra 30 minutes and you’ve got delicious chilli-nut coated morsels. Thin it down a little more and dredge your schnitzel (turkey, chicken or veal) in it before coating with crumbs and baking.

Here is the basic recipe,

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots or small onions, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup whole almonds, toasted
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2-3 fresh bird’s eye or Thai chillis
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Heat the 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and saute the shallots or onions for a few minutes.
Place the almonds, garlic, chillis and sauteed shallots/onions in the food processor and pulse until the mixture is smooth adding the oil, honey and seasonings until it reaches a pastelike consistency.
This chilli paste can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Use it to add a little sweet spiciness to your Pesach menues.

Next week I look forward to sharing my favourite Pesach dessert, a meringue layered with chocolate and hazelnut ganache-not at all difficult.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

Mashgiach@Home 1st class
PS Here is a picture of the first graduating class of Mashgiach@Home taught by Rabbi Tsvi Heber, our 3 part series, teaching everything you need to know about expertly managing your kosher kitchen.

Not quite ready to say goodbye to Purim and hello to Pesach

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Now that the house is finally cleaned up from all the Purim festivities, we know what’s coming next. But Purim was fun and I don’t want to say goodbye so fast. It was unexpected, surprising and, as one visitor stated, more low key than in previous years. I am getting big on low key. When things are low key, there is room to improvise. Who knows, (“U-me yodea?” as it says in Megillas Esther), what might happen?

I don’t know about you, but for me, in order to ease into a new experience, rather than run smack dab into it, I look for a ‘hinge’, something that two separate events share in common. So let’s say I was looking for a hinge that I could get excited about, that links Purim to Pesach. Hmmm…both holidays share time with family and friends…wine…cleaning (lots of it) and of course, the ever popular Jewish holiday theme of; ‘We were oppressed, we fought and won, now let’s eat.’

But let’s go back to the “U-me yodea?” Mordechai asks. These simple words are posed to Esther when she is reticent to act on the opportunity that ultimately leads to her greatness. But, hold on, this question sounds familiar. Isn’t “Ehad me yodea?” (“Who knows one?”) one of our most beloved Seder songs? We have sung this song at very high speed, complete with hand actions, each year, evidently soused from four cups of wine.

If we stick with this line of reasoning a little longer, both Purim and Pesach are pointing to the same idea, but in a remarkable way. These holidays are all about the question. As the saying goes, a good question shmekts (is tasty). Does the converse hold true? Does a good taste make a question? Do people want to know what makes something taste good? Maybe inspiring curiousity is the inspiring hinge? And, if the question is the thing, how do we spark one? We all know rewards and praise are motivating, but how about the spark of a real question? How do we ignite that?

At this point, I have to say that this year I made a new hamentashen. I was experimenting with a twist on my classic green beans, based on a recipe by Mark Bittman, which called for a dressing of almonds, chilli, garlic and oil. It was thoroughly delicious. Emboldened by working with chilli, and ready to make hamentashen, I thought why not add some to the chocolate hazelnut filling? Cautiously, a small batch was made. Realizing that we had sampled a more-than-needed-to-test portion of the filling, we put down our spoons and declared a victory!

Here is the recipe for the hamentashen filling, which I urge you to make note of for next year.

3 cups hazelnuts, toasted, with the skins rubbed off
a 9 ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips
zest from the rinds of 2 oranges
2 fresh chillis, seeded
3-4 Tablespoons simple syrup (1 cup water simmered with 1/2 cup sugar for 10-15 minutes)

Mix all ingredients except the syrup in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients form a paste.
Add enough syrup to bind the chopped mixture together.
This is enough filling to stuff 2 dozen large hamentashen

Flavours were found that created something unexpected for Purim and that will add a deliciously different spark to Pesach and although I cannot use the chilli almond paste (recipe provided next week) with green beans on Pesach, you can be sure it will show up in a major way. And when it’s prepared, may our loved ones ask “Mmmmmm…What’s in this?”

Shabbat Shalom,
Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

PS Please join us for COR’s Pre Pesach Community Lecture at Clanton Park Synagogue on Tuesday March 5th at 8:00 pm. Please click on the link to view the poster for details
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