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Name that cooking implement

Every once in a while, I have to ask someone to pass me something in the kitchen… and sometimes, I get stuck.  Consider, for example, the humble spatula.


Oh… unless you mean


Or – did you mean


Yeah, it’s hard to tell.  What?  You call this last one a RUBBER spatula?  Well, good for you, but doesn’t that mean you think it’s a spatula?  “Rubber” is just an adjective, after all… it shouldn’t have the power to make you hand me the totally wrong implement.

A few years ago, I started noticing another entrant in the spatula competition.  Happily, the world seems to have acknowledged the confusion and informally dubbed it the SPOONULA.  You could also call it a SCOOPULA, because it’s scoopier than a regular spatula.  But in my head, I admit… it’s always going to be a SPLATULA.  (Why?  It holds more stuff… and stuff goes splat.)


Some people call the first kind of spatula a TURNER, like as in a “pancake turner” or “fish turner”.  But to me, THIS is turning.


What you do with fish and pancakes isn’t turning, it’s flipping.  So you can call it a FLIPPER if you like, I suppose.  But I don’t, and neither does anybody else.  It’s a SPATULA (but so are the others).

I’ve noticed that in some circles, the third gadget from the top has come to be called a BOWL SCRAPER.  Especially the ones that are a little rounder and bowlier shaped.


But once we’ve entered the category of things that are called SCRAPERS… well, here are my two favourite scrapers in the kitchen department.


Silicone BOWL SCRAPER, bought from Breadtopia.  Also known as a dough scraper because, you know, nothing’s simple.  I like how it has a hole so if I were a professional, I could mount it on a lanyard and carry it around on my neck.  It’s made of silicone, but it’s full of steel in the middle; like a good pair of steel-toed boots, it can take a licking.

My other main scraper is this guy, sold as a PAN SCRAPER.  but why can’t you use it for bowls?  It’s stiffer than the silicone one, so you can also use it to cut stuff if you want.


In the “scrapers I’ve always wanted” category (doesn’t everybody have one of these?) are these Matfer nylon scrapers, touted in this Bon Appetit article I read years ago as “the only kitchen tool you need.”  You have to dye them yourself to get this kind of colour, but I would… I really would.


Here in the scraper category is also where I find my… BENCH SCRAPER. 


Also known as a “bench knife,” this guy is one of my Three Essential Tools if you’re working with wet dough of any kind.  I usually just call it a SCRAPER, causing no end of confusion.

“Pass the scraper,” I say, to anyone who will listen.  “Which one?” they ask, in perplexity.  “Oh, you know,” I’ll answer, although they probably don’t.  Perhaps this is why nobody helps out in the kitchen?

In fact, I forgot two newish entries in my current scraper collection… these stiff polycarbonate CAST-IRON PAN SCRAPERS I recently bought from Lodge.


I adore cast-iron, which is as non-stick as anything Teflon, T-fal or Calphalon ever made, and far less toxic, but every once in a while, they need a bit of help to get back to squeaky-clean, and these scrapers are very, very useful.


Speaking of cast-iron, I have to admit that I absolutely can’t stand using plastic, silicone, or any other kind of implement in cast iron. 

I will use them if I have to (I admit, nothing has a sharp, clean edge for getting under fried eggs like a plastic spatula), but by far, my favourite implements to use with cast iron are wooden spoons.  As Alton Brown says, basically the only thing that can go wrong with a wooden spoon is if you set fire to it. 


If you can get hold of a really BIG wooden spoon, it’s great for stirring all manner of things.  I used to have one but it seems to have gone missing years ago.  I had no problem coming up with a name for that gadget.  It was always, from Day One, known as…


(I hasten to add here – this was absolutely NEVER used for spanking, or even just as a threat.  I would never condone such a thing… in case it’s not completely obvious.)

Beyond spoons, I also like other wooden shapes of things.  They feel warm and organic in your hand, and take on a nice dingy-grey patina with age.  I especially this one last tool that I admit I don’t have a name for.  Coming full circle, it’s shaped a bit like a spatula.  But it’s made of wood.  Plus, unlike most things that are called a spatula, it’s flat.  Which leaves me, woefully, in my head, never out loud, calling this last critter – one of my favourites…


If you can think of a better name for any of these gadgets… please leave a comment and let me know!

From “too-wet” dough… to perfect no-knead challah


Okay, I will spoil the surprise with a great shot of the finished challahs and the message that there is NO such thing (short of cake batter) as a too-wet dough.  Are you cut out for no-knead challah baking?  Maybe!  Read on to find out.

When people find out I bake challah, their first question is usually, “do you use a mixer?”  The assumption here is that making bread is onerous; so onerous that we need heavy-duty motorized tools to accomplish it. 

Um, hello?  For thousands of years people baked bread without mixers.  Okay, they also did laundry without washing machines… so maybe that isn’t as good a point as I thought.

But here’s my point:  making bread dough is easy, and you don’t need a mixer.  Heck, you don’t even need to mix the dough at all.  And if you play your cards right, your bread will be even moister and more delicious for the experience.

Aside:  You do, however, need one important tool:  a dough scraper.  This is almost exactly like a paint scraper.  You can see it in the picture of my dough, just down there below.  I think this one cost about $10 in Kensington Market a few years ago when I was down there looking to buy something else.  You could probably use a dedicated paint scraper, in a pinch, but it has to have a firm blade, not a bendy one.

Last night, I dug my good old dough bucket out so I could make no-knead challahs for the first time since our move.  I used this "do-not-knead" challah recipe.  I decided to halve the recipe, but then got so distracted and tired that I dumped in all the sugar and salt before I’d noticed.  So then I upped the flour, water and oil so it’s more like 3/4 of the full recipe.  You can play with challah dough; it’s forgiving that way.

Here’s what it looked like when I dumped it out of the bucket in the morning.  This is the “slime blob” stage.


When you see your dough in this state, flopped out all over the table, don’t worry!  It just means it’s time for the Stretch n’ Fold!  This operation toughens up the dough, but gently,  without losing all those great bubbles it’s been working to build up overnight.  (Click here to find out more about the process.)

Here I go – wheeeee… took a minute to get back into it (at first, I just used the scraper), but then I remembered how much I love getting my hands right in the glop.

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Here’s what it looked like when I was done.  Sort of looks like it’s straightened its shouders, squared its jaw… nearly ready to face the world.


No?  Well, anyway, it’s a definite improvement. 

Now it’s time to rise again, back in the bucket.  I took this picture to show you that even after I was done, there were still bubbles in the dough.  You NEVER want to punch out all those bubbles.


After a rest, it’s time to roll it out.  I don’t just pull off hunks of dough – this dough isn’t nearly strong enough to just roll them out that way.  You can see the process a bit better in this post, but essentially, it goes like this: 

My process:

Big ball o’ dough –> small balls o’ dough (I weigh them out on the scale) –> pancakes –> slugs –> snakes –> braid. 

These are names I made up in my head for each of the stages, not some official baking-school terminology.  You can see a few “slugs” in the top-left corner of the picture below, along with a finished braid that came precariously close to the edge of the table.  By handling the dough in stages this way, you build up the “structure” of the bread so that it’s capable of holding the braid shape as it rises:

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As you can see (scroll up), they turned out fantastically well.  (A little squished because I had to fit them 4 on a pan, as you can see above.  Our oven is tiny and I sometimes lack the patience to bake them in 2 batches.

As always on a Friday, I have to blog the bread before I taste it.  Sure, I could wait ‘till after Shabbos to post, but let’s just assume they’re delicious!

If you’re wondering whether no-knead challah will “work” for you, the answer is:  Probably.  But be prepared (and prepare your family!) to endure a few weeks of experimentation, getting down and dirty, so to speak (it’s not dirt!  it’s dough!), for the cause.  Even this basic recipe that I call my Reliable Challah tends not to work the first time you use it, for whatever reason.  Or people try it and say it tastes great, but they can’t get their challahs to look nearly as nice as mine.

The truth is that we endured years and years and YEARS of pitiful-tasting, gruesome-looking challahs.  As a young newlywed, even my husband could make better-looking challahs than I could.  His looked magnificent, like bakery-quality (he bragged that his experience with leatherworking had made him an expert braider!), while mine looked like flopsy, infested toads.

And guess what?  It never stops, maybe because I love to experiment (or simply get bored).  We still get a loser challah every once in a while, such as oh, 2 weeks ago, when I forgot to add the YEAST.  So if yours turns out awful, laugh it off and then get back up on that challah horse and try again the next week.

If you’re as fascinated by no-knead challah as I am, you might also want to read…

Good Shabbos from sunny Kiryat Shmuel, Haifa!

Yom HaAtzmaut – Independence Day Challah

imageLooking for pictures to go with a blog post about Israel’s Independence Day, coming up this Tuesday, I discovered a beautiful “new” (to me) challah tradition:  the Yom HaAtzmaut Challah.

(photo credit:  רותי רוטשטיין, via wikimedia)

According to the note that came with the picture, there are a few explanations for the unique design of the challah:

“The center of the special holiday meal is a challah made ​​of twelve parts, which reminds us of the 12 tribes, symbolizing the unification of all parts of the nation and in memory of ancient days.”

The shape of the challah is also reminiscent of a crown… intentionally so.  And, of course, there are charming little flags poked into every single segment to top it off.


The photographer says:

“We have adopted the custom of baking a special Independence Day challah from the Pri-Chen family who lived in the village. We've passed this practice to the next generation and it’s been accepted as part of our regular Independence Day meal.  The late David Pri-Chen z”l wrote a special song to be said before eating this challah, and the photo shows this song in his handwriting, on the holiday table.”

The song ends with the blessing that King David will accept his crown and renew his kingdom, and we will all stand like brothers together, here in the land.


May this festival of Kacholavan (blue and white), our first in Israel, be a sweet and peaceful one, a crown for all of bnei Yisrael.

The secret to kichelicious kichel

IMG_00004495 What are kichel, you ask?  Whether you know them as “bow-ties” or “nothings” or “eyer-kichel” (my Bubby’s version) or “keekle,” they are cookies, but they are so much more than cookies.  Actually, they are both more and less than cookies.  They are puffed-up egg and air trapped in a gluteny web of flour.  They are not themselves sweet, but coated in sugar so eaters think they are.  Good kichel are addictive:  like popcorn, you can’t eat just one. 

Though heavy and Jewish and rich and filling, they are also just that little bit zen.

And now I have learned the secret to making good ones!

Growing up, I was fascinated by everything about my mother’s new mixer.  Yes, even ten years later, it was still her new mixer.  It was special:  it was a Kenwood Chef.  She had to special-order it from England, and after she did, spent the next ten years correcting people who thought it was a Kenmore.  Kenmore was a cheap Sears brand you could get at Fairview Mall; Kenwood was NOT.

I thought this mixer was the most beautiful thing in the world… and now, here in Israel, I find myself the owner of pretty much the exact same one.

How did this happen?

Well, I found it in the trash.

Not the TRASH trash, exactly.  The pile of used clothing and junk that people donated to the Merkaz Klitah (immigrant absorption centre) where we were living.  I spotted it there in the pile one day and grabbed it to haul up to our apartment.  There was a grocery-store bag that contained only the meat-grinding attachments; I took those, too, though I had no interest in ever grinding meat with the thing.

Up in the apartment, I blew off the dust and plugged it in.  It worked!  Well, it made a loud, loud grinding noise, probably the result of not being oiled in 30 years (oops; I still haven’t).  But the motor worked.  The little blender thingy on top spun, as did the mixer part underneath.

image So I visited ebay and ordered a brand-new bowl and K-beater.  I loved the K-beater as a kid.  As my mother explained it to me, not only was it the initial of the product (like Superman’s shirt logo!), but it was also the perfect shape to mix ANYTHING.

Ha.  And my mother thinks I don’t listen to her… in certain areas, if I was interested enough, her words will stay with me forever.

And now, as an adult, living in Israel, the K-beater seems to be the secret to perfect kichel.  Maybe not just the K-beater, but I should back up to explain that I have never had a good mixer before.  Only an assortment of hand mixers, one of which was destroyed trying to make kichel a few years ago.

(here’s another post I wrote about making kichel, showing the process step by step)

Although I mentioned a few weeks ago about the frustrations of baking in Israel, and how nothing comes out quite right here, kichel has been the exception. 

Like the recipe I use says, you have to have the ability to mix it HARD for five minutes.  The more gluten in the flour, the better.  You are practically making bread out of the stuff.  And that’s where my “old-new” mixer comes in.

It’s so quick!  So easy!

Dump everything in the bowl:

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Cover it with a towel (I couldn’t find a bowl cover on ebay for this model… but ha ha, as long as I make sure the towel doesn’t get caught inside, I don’t need it!).  I tried a couple of times without the towel, but the initial whomp of the motor sends a LOT of flour flying around.


Once the dry flour has been mixed in, I can uncover the bowl:


And five minutes ON HIGH later… it’s done!


When I slipped these into the oven, I inadvertently discovered Secret #2 to Kichel-icious kichel:  convection oven.  Somehow, we happened to end up with a convection feature in our teeny-tiny bare-bones Israeli oven (the model I ordered was out of stock, so they substituted).

And it turns out convection is perfect for kichel.  Baking them in a regular oven, the essence is to “toast” them lightly to dry them out without burning.  Because of the increased air flow of the convection feature (you’re supposed to also turn down the temperature a bit so things don’t burn), the kichel dried out beautifully and puffed up even more than usual.

So there you go – two secrets for the price of one.

Yummy, yummy, yum!  Good Shabbos!

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