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Getting “back” to normal… On baking in Israel.

Decorating challahs with kids makes me feel "normal," like we're at home, no matter where we happen to be living...

We are starting to get into a bit of a routine, but things are still difficult.  I don’t know; the ingredients are all the same, for the most part, but a lot of what I bake just doesn’t turn out “normal.”  I had a few weeks of making lemon bars that were just awful, like practically inedible. 

Part of the problem is the pan size – you can’t get 8 x 8 or pie pans here, so you have to adapt recipes or they will turn out wrong.  The lemon bars, for instance – I was making them in a bigger pan and it just didn’t work.  They were too thin and overbaked.  Last week, I hauled out my one 8x8 pan, which is dairy, and made the whole lemon bars dairy just so I could use the pan.  (Well, they were pareve, but used dairy things for cutting and squeezing and grating and mixing the lemons.)

Other things just taste weird, or disappointing.  I made blueberry buns a few weeks ago, and they looked beautiful, but the only blueberry pie filling you can buy here is just awful.  Like chemically-tasting instead of good.  So I couldn’t eat these either.  (No, you cannot buy fresh or frozen blueberries here to save your life.)

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If I want to make blueberry buns again, I will have to figure out another filling.  We have lots of nice fresh strawberries right now… but somehow, “strawberry buns” doesn’t have the same ring.

There are other little problems, like the fake baking chocolate known as Cimcao or Tsimcao:

To quote a pithy description I found on a baking group:  “tzimkao is a revolting mix of sugar and a bit of cocoa. maybe some fake vanilla as well. not only is it nothing like unsweetened baking chocolate, but it's not even bittersweet chocolate. it's soft and *very* sweet, with a slight cocoa aftertaste. yeeeeech.”

Of course, most of the vanilla here is fake, which affects the taste of things, and I’m almost out of my imported Canadian vanilla, but you can make your own easily enough with vodka and a vanilla bean. 

The maple is also fake, which made it fun when we went out for a nice Chinese restaurant meal in Haifa last week.  For dessert, I ordered the fried banana, which was yummy, but they served it with a fake-maple syrup dip. 

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Well, obviously, as a Canadian, that’s not something I was going to stand for!  I had seen several honey-based things on the menu, so I requested that they replace it with plain honey.  Here’s what they brought:

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I think even from a picture, you can tell that it’s not honey.  It was very watery, and also (when I hesitantly tasted it to see what they’d brought!), it was quite salty.  “Zeh lo dvash ragil,” I said.  (“It’s not regular honey.”)  “Well, that’s what we have,” argued the waiter.  “But it’s salty,” I said.  “Regular honey isn’t salty.”  He took it back to the kitchen and ended up bringing me two little disposable packets of honey from the hotel’s dining room (the restaurant was in a hotel). 

Once they got it right, it was yummy!  Which is how I feel about everything I bake here.  It’s frustrating, starting from scratch, when recipes I’ve used for years simply don’t turn out, for one reason or another, or for no reason at all.

The challah, at least, seems to work every time.  And that’s why it’s so comforting.  Something I can make, using the regular recipe, and it tastes… like home.

Here’s how “his” challahs turned out, by the way.  I let him go a little crazy with the poppy seeds… fortunately, when that happens, most of them get knocked off in the baking / transferring process.

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I wish you all a very good Shabbos and, if you are new to baking in Israel or any other new place… a klitah neimah, a pleasant absorption.  Which always makes me think about the Borg, but okay. 

A little absorption is probably a good thing, except when it comes to liking that blueberry filling, baking with Tzimcao, or accepting fake maple syrup when the real thing is so very, very awesome.

Good Shabbos!

Which are you: moon or prune?

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There are only two kinds of hamentaschen for those who don’t mess around:  moon and prune.

This is a truth I learned as a small child, growing up in a home where, for whatever reason, the Two Kinds (let’s capitalize them for convenience) were the Only Kinds.

Moon = poppy seed.  Prune = dried plums.

(the word moon = my father’s variation on the Yiddish/german mohn)

A few years back, my sister, who’s a baker, offered for sale a pastry she’d made with “dried plums” because it sounded way classier than saying “prunes.”  It sure does.  In Hebrew, there’s no distinction.  “Dried plums” is the only thing you can call them.

But they do mess around a LOT, with all kinds of flavours, from chocolate (okay) to halva (kind of okay) and many others… but they also don’t call them hamentashen – they’re called oznei haman; haman’s ears.  For those who don’t mess around, they’re hamentaschen – haman’s pockets.

My way or the highway.  A lesson I learned from my father, who considered every type of ice cream that wasn’t vanilla “polluted.”

IMG_00004007As a kid, I had to learn the difference between the Two Kinds very early because they look so similar.  Both kind of dark and almost chocolatey-looking.  But poppy tastes of horror and disgustingness, while prune tastes fruity and bright (thanks to citrus, which is added in almost every recipe to boost the dried-plum taste).

Despite all the different kinds of hamentashen in bakeries around here these days, prune are seemingly impossible to buy… while the dank, disgusting moon hamentashen are everywhere.

Folks here LOoooove their poppy seeds on the inside of everything, it seems.  For me, poppy is strictly an “exterior” phenomenon.

So this is me, toiling away to pit two bags of prunes (dried plums), boil them with some lemon zest and fresh Jaffa orange juice, and purée them in my Israeli blender into some semblance of lekvar, the jammy filling that tomorrow will become part of my annual hamentashen.

With two of my children gone, I’m still not sure who-all is going to eat them.  You have to be careful, when it comes to the eating of the prune hamentashen.  There’s only a dollop of filling in each, but you don’t want to venture into the “too much prune” territory. 

One year, my first husband decided that prunes’ reputation was ill-deserved and that he’d take a few to snack on.  He loved them!  He ate a whole bunch!  And discovered, miserably, that it really was true what they say about prunes.

Not wanting to discover this for myself, I always a) urge moderation, and b) make some other type of hamentasch that I can snack on freely without incurring the Wrath of Prunes.  No idea what kind it will be this year, but a search of my past posts reveals some mighty tempting prune alternatives…

Whatever hamentaschen you’re making, moon, prune, or one of the heretical varieties, I wish you all the sweetness, light and joy of this happy, happy Purim season.

Giant Cinnamon Bun for Shabbos

It’s no secret that I’ve been searching years for the perfect pareve cinnamon bun.  When I saw this recipe, for a Giant Cinnamon Roll Cake, mentioned on a facebook group last week, it looked sort of perfect – simple, low-key and kind of pretty, to boot.

I didn’t use the dough recommended in the recipe – I just made my regular challah dough a bit sweeter than usual.

ROLL IT OUT. 

Roll it out into a “rectangle” (okay, not exact, but you can tug at the corners gently to make it prettier).

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SPREAD YUMMINESS. 

The cinnamon spread was easy, and I was impressed that it didn’t have a ton of margarine in it.  I used butter-flavoured.  Use fresh cinnamon, if at all possible!

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TIME TO STRIP.

Now, you’re supposed to cut the dough into nice, neat strips.  Theoretically, the recipe asks you to use a ruler and make sure they’re equal so your “cake” doesn’t look all lumpy and bumpy.  My philosophy is that it all tastes the same anyway (probably not true, exactly, because if you have lumps sticking up, they may burn, which then won’t taste the same at all… but anyway).  Here are how my strips turned out.  (I used my handy-dandy bench scraper to cut the strips sharply – I don’t know if you’d want to run a pizza cutter, as recommended, over any table surface you really liked!)

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READY TO ROLL!

Start rolling!  From the inside, coil each strip to form the cake, adding the next strip when one runs out.  The recipe author says “I always crimp the ends together with my fingers to press them together as I’m coiling.”  That is why hers turns out looking so gorgeous.  Mine didn’t, but still.  Here’s what it looked like when I was done coiling.  It sure didn’t look like I had enough to fill the pan.

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PROOF SOMEWHERE WARM.

I almost never proof in a warm place.  It just feels like cheating.  But in this case, I wanted monstrous growth, to fill up the pan, and I was also in a bit of a rush.  I had just turned off the oven, aired it a bit so it wasn’t scorching hot, then popped the “cinnamon roll” inside.  Tada!

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BAKE IT UP.

Don’t ask me for how long.  I pulled it out just when I figured it was about to start burning on the parts that were sticking up.

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GET FROSTED.

You’re supposed to let it cool for a while before drizzling with frosting,  I used icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) mixed with coconut milk to make the frosting (coconut MILK, not coconut water, as my husband always helpfully suggests!).  At first, I made it too thin; you can see that the frosting looks watery on the “roll.”

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After I thickened it up a bit with more icing sugar, the frosting was perfect.  Yes, it had a bit of a coconut taste, but nothing bad or offensive, and it certainly didn’t clash with the cinnamon of the roll.  If I wanted a more neutral flavour, I suppose I could have used either pareve whipping cream or a pareve milk, though my experience with pareve milks and frostings has been disappointing so far.

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Mmm, mmm, mmm… Shabbos!

I hesitated to bite into this after Shabbos dinner.  I have been disappointed too many times by cinnamon buns that were overly dry, overly bready, or just missing the certain desserty je-ne-sais-quoi.  But I am happy to reveal that I was NOT disappointed!  Maybe because I was super-generous with the drizzle, but every bite of this was absolutely perfect, and I’m excited not only to recommend this giant cinnamon bun but to try it again sometime soon.

Now.  What about me?

I suppose if you’re a longtime reader seeing this, my first post in about seven months, you may wonder what I’ve been up to.

Life has been busy.  No, scratch that – life has been CRAZY.

In case you haven’t noticed, we moved to Israel over the summer and haven’t quite bounced back.  I don’t know if we’ll ever bounce back… given that there’s no “back” to bounce to.  I’m not homeschooling, I’m working full-time as a freelance writer, and have severed so many connections to our old lives that I’m left wondering, most days, what’s left. 

I am baking – back to my once-a-week challah routine, and have been for months.  The good news is that my sourdough starter made it across the ocean alive!  I used it for a while and perfected some nice sourdough challahs, but then it went smelly and got shelved until I had the proper care and attention to give to it.  And I never blogged about any of it.  Most weeks, there’s only time to bake the challahs… and no time to blog about them.

But I’m coming back.  I’m on my way back.

Until I get all the way here, please join me over at…

Feel free to leave comments letting me know what you’d like to see when I do get back!!!  Or just to say, “hi, it’s nice to see you!”

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