Thursday, March 16, 2017

Making Kosher (dairy!) Croissants – A baking dream come true

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Most of the baking I do is pareve, and usually, I don’t mind.  But sometimes, I come across a baking or bread idea that absolutely must use dairy.  Must must must.  No substitutions. 

Naomi Rivka is taking a baking course right now and she bakes a lot of dairy.  She’ll bring home the recipe and excitedly ask, “Can we make this for Shabbos?”  And I look at the kilo of butter or whatever in the ingredients and say, “Not this week, we’re having fleishiks…”  She keeps saying we can use margarine instead, and my standard line for this is:

“Margarine is NOT pareve butter.”

I think you’ll agree.  Margarine can be USEFUL in kosher baking, but it most definitely isn’t butter.  And when what you want is the flavour of butter – there’s nothing like it in the world – then what you need to start with is… butter.

Like croissants.  I read about making croissants years and years ago.  You take a super-thin layer of butter, sandwich it between super-thin layers of dough, and then fold and fold and fold until you have about a million layers of dough-butter-dough-butter-dough (you need dough on the outsides or you just end up with a buttery, sticky glob).

Baking croissants not only takes genuine DAIRY, it also takes a second ingredient I don’t usually have:  PATIENCE.

So you can see why I let it slide for like 20 years, right?  But today, falling as it does during the mysterious period between Purim and Pesach when people are Thinking About Bread Products, I decided to go for it at last.

I didn’t use a recipe, video, article, cookbook… anything.  Just made a quick eggless, sugarless, oil-less dough, rolled out a block of butter, and before I could lose my nerve, combined them into a thousand layers of dairy-baking goodness.

I may have been in some kind of butter-induced trance, because I didn’t even take any pictures until I had gotten well into the process.  I had already rolled the “sandwich” out and cut it twice, I think, stacking up the layers, before I thought to immortalize my creation:

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Looks sort of like a butter sandwich.

Essentially, from this point, I rolled the layers out thin (between parchment), then cut it in 3 and stacked up the thirds.  You can fold it, but I didn’t.  As per my usual, I wasn’t too careful about what shape things turned out in:

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Pretty ugly, right?  You can fix anything with a rolling pin!  Also, it all looks disgusting mushed up together in your stomach anyway, so why even bother, amIright…?

Here’s the next “sandwich.”  You can

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Want to make homemade bread but can’t stand touching flour? Perfect tool for sensory issues (yours or kids’)

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I keep forgetting to write about this and I SHOULDN'T, because this is a very cool product that I’m excited to tell you about.

I actually bought this on impulse and didn't expect to like it so much, but I really believe it offers an interesting solution for some people (not everybody).

Do you adore getting your hands into a fresh, powdery batch of dough?  If so, maybe this post isn't for you.  This post is for people who LOVE fresh bread, but HATE getting flour on their hands. 

You know – like this:

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(if that picture, with all those floury fingers, makes you uncomfortable, you NEED to read on!)

Powdery textures usually make me nuts (sand!!!), although for some reason, I'm okay with flour and bread-making.  But I have known a few people who are totally NOT okay with it, and for them, this product might be ideal.

So… what is it?

It's a silicone dough bag!  I saw these a while ago, first on Amazon and then on AliExpress, my preferred get-things-cheap-from-China site.  AliExpress is great if you don't mind waiting 2 months and even then maybe never getting whatever it is that you ordered at all.  (so, yeah, a pretty limited market)

As it happens, I buy lots of cooking stuff on AliExpress.  It saves me having to figure out what it's called in Hebrew, and the prices are waaay better.  Stuff like my cooking scale, thermometers, even spatulas.  As long as you're willing to wait what seems like an eternity.  No impulse purchases, that’s for sure.

So what is this BAG all about?

It’s made of translucent whitish silicone, but I believe you can get them in a variety of colours.

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It works pretty much how you’d assume it works once you hear the words “dough” and “bag” together.  You add your regular bread ingredients, including yeast, flour, water, and whatever else, to the bag.  Then, you knead as you normally would, except you’re touching soft, velvety-textured silicone instead of dry, powdery flour.

Here’s what the process looks like, the “new-fashioned” way!

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The difference between the silicone dough bag and doing this in a regular plastic bag is that the dough bag is strong enough that you really can give it a thorough kneading.  I did a batch of pizza dough earlier in the week and Naomi Rivka said, after a couple of minutes, “It’s not really mixed.”

I let her peek inside and indeed,

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Sweet, tangy Strawberry (or any flavour) Jello in Israel!

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One of the things I missed most when I started keep kosher was JELLO.  Ooey, gooey, jiggly jello.  Mmm, mmm, good.  And totally, totally not kosher.

A few years later, I discovered a REAL and delicious brand of kosher gelatin, which we used to buy often enough in Toronto to keep me happy.

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However, here in Israel, there’s no such thing, just the insipid brands of kosher jello, which are based on vegetable gel and don’t – in my limited experience – set up properly to a shiny crystal-clear texture.

So I’ve started playing with real gelatin since we’ve been here, because it’s cheap and plentifully available – and, as I think I’ve commented before, mysteriously pareve.  There are two kinds; the red package is meat-source and the blue is fish-source.  From bad experience in Toronto, I’ve found that fish gelatin gives a weird tangy taste to everything you use it in.  This would probably be fine in a citrus-themed dessert (as shown on the box), but definitely not fine in a chocolaty dessert, or, perhaps, a strawberry one.

For me, the only real flavour of Jello is strawberry.  Happily, I have discovered a not-too-hard way to make authentic-tasting strawberry jello right here in Israel using an all-important Secret Ingredient…

Kool-Aid!!!

Okay, sure, you can’t buy Kool-Aid locally here in Israel, at least, that I know of.  In Canada either, for that matter; I searched in vain when I was there in March, but they’ve gone over to those “water-flavour” drops which are pre-sweetened artificially.  Ugh.

Speaking of “artificially” – you can use this method to make delicious all-natural jello as well.  I have made jello before using ONLY strawberries, when they’re in season (you can’t get fresh strawberries out of season here).  I boil them in a heavy-bottom dutch oven with a little sugar until they are completely soft and surrounded by delicious, bright-red strawberry liquid.  Yum!

But this time, I really, really wanted the artificial strawberry taste I know and love so much.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Pareve and decadent peanut-butter cookie dough truffles–EASY!

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It may not be summer yet, but we’ve had a few days so far that have really hinted that it’s on its way.  And for summer Shabboses, what’s really nice is an easy no-bake dessert that isn’t tremendously patchkedik (involved, preparation-wise).

These truffles capture the “cookie dough” vibe perfectly – they’re soft inside and not too sweet for a grown-up palate, but not too peanut-buttery and healthy-tasting (okay, they’re not healthy at all!) that kids will turn up their noses.  In other words, they’re just right.  And you can make them with just FIVE things you probably have sitting around your kitchen the week after Pesach – at least, I did.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Spatchcocking a chicken for Pesach: the secret to moist, juicy, kosher chicken

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Has this ever happened to you?  You’ve been cooking up a storm, roasting a chicken, which fills up the house with all kinds of delicious fragrances while it's cooking, and then you bite into the chicken and...

AAAAAACK!!!!  Dry!  Dry!  Dry!

There are some things that taste as good as they smell.  But chicken is often not one of them.  Dry chicken is like the eleventh plague of Pesach.  (Just tying this in here to keep it seasonal!)

And whole roast chicken is the WORST, hands-down.  The breast (my grandmother used to call it the "keel" to be polite, but I don't know if this ever caught on) is up there, proud and tall (we've bred our chickens to be built like this), while the lesser thighs (lots of kosher stores call them “backs” to be polite) bask in all the juices and generally turn out okay.  (This is the bit I usually eat.)

Another problem with roasting a whole chicken?  By the time the thighs (way down at the bottom) are done, the breast (way up at the top) is overdone.  We do all sorts of desperate things to prevent dryness in our chicken.  Cooking it upside-down.  Cooking it in bags.  With fruit.  Sticking a beer can up inside.

Any cook worth her salt will tell you that if you want things to cook evenly, you should make them all about the same size and ensure that they are in even contact with the heat source (in this case, the heat source is the hot air of the oven).  Flat things cook better than misshapen lumpy things like a whole chicken.  If only we could change the basic shape of a chicken!

Oh, wait, there is.  There’s one quick and easy fix to the dry whole “wrong-shaped for cooking chicken” dilemma:  spatchcocking.

Spatchcocking (I think it’s also known as “butterflying”? – or maybe it should be) will…

  • Give you a flat, evenly-shaped bird
  • Cook your whole chicken faster
  • Ensure even cooking, so no parts are over- or undercooked

There is one caveat, however: it's not for the squeamish. If you like to upend your chicken into a pan and pretend it was never part of an animal (let alone a whole animal unto itself), then this is not the prep style for you.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What's so kosher about kosher salt? Get all the facts, myths, and tips.

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It's taken over the gourmet world.  You pretty much wouldn't write a recipe that includes salt without it.  It's also an annoying fact of life for those of us googling "kosher" recipes - that yummy salt bumps up almost every recipe to the top of the list even if it's a recipe for bacon double cheeseburgers.

First of all, you may already know that "kosher" salt is no more or less kosher than any other salt.  That is, it's kosher, but so is table salt, coarse salt, sea salt, Himalayan pink mountain salt, and every other form of pure salt.

So if you eat kosher and cook kosher, you CAN use kosher salt.  But you don’t have to.

So why is it called kosher?

That’s actually just a mistake.  This flattish crystalline form of salt is actually kosher-ING salt - the kind of salt used to "kasher" meat to make it kosher.

Most kosher salt has air between relatively flat crystals.  So when you're using or substituting kosher salt, use "more" of it - the same amount by weight looks like more on a spoon, so 2 tsp of regular table salt will be just as salty as 1 tbsp or more of kosher salt.  Many people claim it has a “lighter” flavour, but in reality, it tastes the same as any other salt – you’re just using less of it.

Here’s a picture showing a comparison between different types of salt, close-up:

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