Quick: close your eyes, and picture your favorite Jewish foods. What do you see? Brisket, latkes, matzoh ball soup, kugel… What, no cakes or tarts? No scones, pies, or brownies? But take heart. Paula Shoyer, a lawyer-turned-pastry chef trained in Europe, recently came out with a new cookbook, The Kosher Baker (Brandeis University Press, 2010), just in time for Rosh Hashanah.
While some Jewish desserts are, in fact, delicious (I'm looking at you, rugelach), making them taste good can be tricky. The reason is simple: many Jewish desserts cater to a kosher-keeping clientele and are therefore parve, or dairy-free. That means no dairy-based cream, milk, ricotta, cream cheese, and no – gulp – butter. Enter Shoyer and her new book.
I chatted with Shoyer about baking for the High Holy Days.
CSR: What are some traditional Rosh Hashanah desserts?
PS: Apple cake and honey cake are the two most traditional desserts. I have an apple upside down cake and an apple tarte tatin in the book. When I celebrate, I also want to have rugelach and chocolate babka, too – babka means "grandmother" -- so my kids have that connection to their history. Typically, you think fall-themed desserts for the High Holy Days, but the holidays are so early this year, and berries are still in season, so I'm telling people to make berry desserts. The summer fruit galette is really good.
CSR: Aside from those who keep kosher, who else will find your book valuable?
PS: You've got the whole lactose intolerant community. I also have gluten-free recipes in the Passover section, so celiacs will enjoy those, and I have several vegan recipes, too. There's even a sugar-free chapter for diabetics, and nut-free Passover options for those with nut allergies.
CSR: If someone wanted to take an existing family recipe and make it kosher, how would you advise them?
PS: I'd start by subbing margarine for butter, but since margarine is generally oilier, I'd look at the dry ingredients and add an extra tablespoon or two of flour. Also, if you're cutting fat into flour, you'll want to put the margarine in the freezer first so it behaves more like butter. Then sub soy milk for dairy milk. Soy milk is a little sweeter, so you might have to adjust the sugar, and since it's also thinner, you might combine it with a little nondairy whipping cream. It's a trial-and-error process. Just remember this: a failed chocolate dessert can still be eaten.
• Buy the book: The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy, by Paula Shoyer and published by Brandeis University Press. $20.47 at Amazon.
This is the most popular dessert I teach in my classes, and it is the dessert for which I am most famous. I bring this to people when they have babies, when someone dies, or when I just need to put a smile on someone's face. The recipe on which the following is based came from my friend Limor's mom, Aliza Cohen, who used to bake them for me when I was in high school. I did a demonstration of babka at a bridal shower for my friend Katie Wexler because she and her husband had met when he brought a store-bought babka to a singles brunch. Katie opened the door, saw the babka and said "You brought a babka! You are my new best friend."
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 ounce (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
5 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups (6 sticks) parve margarine, softened, divided
2 large eggs plus 1 white (reserve yolk for glazing)
1/2 cup parve unsweetened cocoa
Spray oil, for greasing pans
1/2 cup parve mini or regular chocolate chips
1. Place the 1/2 cup warm water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in a large mixing bowl and let sit 10 minutes, until the mixture bubbles. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar, the flour, 2 sticks of the margarine, and the 2 whole eggs and egg white. Combine by hand with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook in a stand mixer until all the ingredients are mixed in. Cover the bowl with plastic and let rise 2 to 4 hours, until the dough has increased in size at least 50 percent.
2. Meanwhile, make the filling. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups of the sugar with the cocoa. Add the remaining 4 sticks margarine and mix well with a hand-held or stand mixer or by hand with a whisk. You can let the filling sit out covered while the dough is rising.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease two 12-inch-long loaf pans with spray oil.
4. Divide the dough into four pieces. On a large piece of parchment, roll each piece into a 10 x 7-inch rectangle. Spread 1/4 of the filling on one of the rectangles and then sprinkle on
5. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan. Run a knife around the babka and then remove from the pans and let cool.
Storage: Store wrapped in foil at room temperature. If you will not eat it within 24 hours, freeze it for up to three months. Thaw at room temperature for 4 hours before serving.
5 Second Rule
(Images: Courtesy of Brandeis University Press)