The Saga of the Babka

The first time I ever made babka, I was in summer camp in the Catskills and we had a baking activity (because nice religious girls have to know how to bake for their husbands of course) and we learned how to make challah, chocolate cake and other traditional delicacies. One of the other things we learned was babka. Babka is a traditional Jewish yeast cake that is often served on Shabbat morning.

I used to make the babka recipe that I got from camp for a while, but it was a huge “patchke” (effort).  The recipe also called for over a whole pound of butter/margarine which is a bit much for me, and you had to let the dough rise for six or seven hours total which basically takes up a whole day.  Also, the recipe is on a paper inside the cover of one of my mom’s cookbooks, and not in Israel with me. I more or less forgot about it and that was that for many years. (That wasn’t much of a saga, was it? I guess in my mind, I added on all the years in between into the story.)

Chopped Walnuts
Chopped Walnuts

Last week was Shavuot and though the entire holiday is so dairy-centric, i was asked to make a non-dairy dessert for dinner.  I had no idea what to make.  Not even the slightest idea. So I pulled out one of my first cookbooks, The Perfect Cake, that was given to me by a classmate in high school. In high school I had a thing where I made a cake for everyone in my grade’s birthday.  We are not talking about fancy cakes here, but basic yellow cakes, maybe with chocolate chips or something. In twelfth grade, one of my classmates gave the book to me as a present but it has not gotten as much use as it should have.

Adding the dates.
Adding the dates.

So during my dessert decision making I pulled out this cookbook so that it wouldn’t feel lonely.  I was in the mood for a yeasted cake for some reason, and I had a package of yeast that needed to be used up before it expired. The Perfect Cake is basically a cookbook that provides basic recipes for various kinds of cakes – yeast, sponge, genoise, cheesecake, etc. and then a whole bunch of variations and flavorings. The recipe for the basic yeasted cake also came with a richer variation besides all the optional fillings. I went for the richer variation because I was worried that the dough might be dry, and as the cake was not going to be served with coffee, I wanted it on the moister side. What I most did not want was a recipe that would require more than two hours of total rising time because we had to leave to our friends’ by noon.  (We ended up being a bit late anyway as Rocker Dude had to paint the Little Rocker’s nails – fingers and toes! She wanted alternating pink and purple on her fingers and alternating green and blue on her toes.  It looked great!)

Cutting the roll to expose the filling.
Cutting the roll to expose the filling.

The dough was easy to mix up and did not have a whole pound of margarine, it rose really nicely and was easy to roll out.  The filling was another decision.  I like cinnamon babka best.  This hearkens back to the days when I did not like chocolate at all (what?!?!?) and I would not eat chocolate cakes or anything.  The only exception was Hershey’s and Reese’s.  Since then my tastes have matured somewhat and my father can again claim me as his daughter (He is a chocolate person.  One of his favorite ice creams is Death by Chocolate.) But for the babka I decided to go cinnamon anyway. I filled it the way I normally fill cinnamon buns, and rolled up the dough.  In retrospect, I should have used more filling because it was kind of lost in the dough.

One roll all done!
One loaf all done!

Instead of following the shaping instructions in the book, though, I followed the instructions on the back of the yeast package. I know, I am such a rebel. Basically, instead of just twisting two rolls together, I made one roll, and then cut it in half down the middle.  This gave me two half rolls of many layers.  Then I twisted these together and put them in the pan. I think it helps the filling get out and makes the cake a bit more appealing.

Two loaves ready to go.
Two loaves ready to go.

After this cake working out, but the filling not making me happy, I made the dough again and tried different fillings.  I made a date nut filling for the Little Rocker’s friend’s birthday party, a brown sugar and cinnamon that is now in the freezer, and a chocolate (yes Abba, a chocolate) that has since been completely finished. I used a lot of margarine before putting on the fillings and that definitely helped make the cakes a bit gooey-er. Rocker Dude did not want to even try the date-nut babka as it had nuts, and he does not get nuts in food. He is just unclear why they have to be there in the first place. I loved it.  We had organic barhi dates that I had ordered a few weeks ago from our csa and they were super-sweet. That version was a success.  A bit messy, but a success.

All done
All done

I made the brown sugar one and I enjoyed that one a lot, so did Rocker Dude. A basic sweet dough with a sweet filling. The chocolate was an afterthought as after the two loaves I still had some extra dough.  I didn’t want to just take chocolate spread and use that as a filling because I thought it was kind of a cop-out, so I mixed cocoa and sugar (you know, so it would be sweet), and sprinkled that over the melted margarine. Rocker Dude asked to use for filling.  He said that there should be so much filling that he has to lick it off his fingers. He has a point.

Three kinds of babka - top right - brown sugar, bottom - chocolate, and top left- date-nut.
Three kinds of babka – top right – brown sugar, bottom – chocolate, and top left- date-nut.

While this is not a quick recipe, it is simple and just requires some rising time.

P.S. I just finished watching the first season of Nashville, and who knew that Hayden Panettiere could sing?? Also the two main characters keep doing the stupidest things – so frustrating!! Can’t wait for the next season :).

Recipe:

Dough:
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 oz. active dry yeast, or 25 grams fresh yeast
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp. salt
1 cup yogurt or soymilk with a little vinegar
2 eggs
1 tsp. grated lemon or orange zest
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 butter or margarine, melted and cooled to room temp.
4 to 6 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

Egg Wash:
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. water

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast. Let sit for five minutes until the mixture looks bubbly (if you are using fresh yeast, then you don’t have to wait). Add the other ingredients except for the flour. Whisk until blended.  Add in the flour, one cup at a time until the dough forms a soft ball. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for a few minutes adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. When the dough feels smooth, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours.

The dough can be refrigerated at this point overnight. Bring to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the dough is finished rising, divide into three parts. Roll the first piece of dough out to 1/4 inch thickness.  Using a pastry brush, generously brush the dough with some melted butter. Sprinkle on the desired filling (recipes below). Roll up the dough lengthwise into a tight roll. Slice the roll down the middle with a sharp knife. Twist the two halves together, with the cut sides facing out. Place in a 9×5 inch loaf pan or in a 9×13 inch pan (with room for another one). Brush with egg wash.

Let rise again for forty minutes or so, until not quite doubled in bulk. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake sounds hollow when you tap on it. Cool on a wire rack.

Fillings:

Chocolate Filling:1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar

Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Filling:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon

Date-Nut Filling:1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
8 dates (I used barhi dates), pitted and finely chopped

Brownie-Swirl Cheesecake

Hello again to all my friends, I’m glad you came to play. Our fun and learning never ends, here’s what we did today! (Bonus points to anyone who remembers that show from childhood.)

Well we are back with another cheesecake recipe.  Here is something for you chocolate lovers – brownie and cheesecake – together! Doesn’t get much better than that.  In this version, we have a brownie layer and a cheesecake layer which are then swirled together – somewhat – and then chocolate chips are sprinkled on top.  My version did not get so swirled as the brownie layer was much denser than the cheesecake layer (possibly because I used white cheese instead of cream cheese – but those are my limitations here). So it ended up more as a fudgy-brownie layer (the best kind) and a cheesecake layer.

Brownie Swirl Cheesecake
Brownie Swirl Cheesecake

I have to say that it was really easy to make.  Only required one bowl (which I washed in the middle) and in the oven it went. I actually doubled the cheesecake part of it because I was making the cake in a 9×13 pan instead of an 8×8 as the recipe calls for. The recipe below is the original.

I was actually up to one am last night as one of my customers decided to have a conference call event at midnight Israel time, just to be sadistic, and I had to stay up for it.  So if I was going to need to stay up anyway, might as well accomplish something.  So I made this cheesecake to take to our friends at whom we will be staying for Shavuot, and a blueberry cheesecake for Rocker Dude, because it is his favorite.

Chocolate chips!
Chocolate chips!

Shavuot is kind of a crazy holiday because it is only one day long (or two outside of Israel) and there is so much preparation for it because everything has to be dairy.  Most people I know cook primarily meat for holidays, so everyone tries to get in all the fancy dairy food that they have always wanted to make and it sometimes makes for some really heavy meals. I planned on practicing restraint this year, but now we are going away for the holiday, so I don’t have to do anything but provide dessert.

Have a bite.
Have a bite.

Shavuot is when we celebrate receiving the Bible. As a result, one of the customs on Shavuot is to learn Torah all night.  Usually it’s the men who do it, but some women like to join in as well.  Once you have kids it is harder because those kids will be up at 6:30 in the morning, so you better be functional at that time of day. Going to bed at 4 am – not so conducive.  So Rocker Dude plans on being up all night, and he needs good food to keep him going – so, cheesecake!!!

All done!
All done!

Squeaker is squeaking, so I have to run.  Here is the recipe.

Recipe (from Smitten Kitchen):

Brownie batter
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Cheesecake batter
8 ounces cream cheese, well softened (or equivalent amount of white cheese – gevina levana)
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Heat butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, whisking occasionally, just until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined and spread in baking pan.

Whisk together cheesecake batter ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Dollop over brownie batter, then swirl in with a knife or spatula.

(You can use a butter knife because the tip of it is round enough that you can use it to fold bits of the brownie batter over the cheesecake batter for a more visibly marbled effect.)

Sprinkle chocolate chips over cheesecake/brownie batter swirl.

Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust – Bring on the Dairy!

Hello everyone.  Here we are two days before Shavuot – the holiday during which we eat tons and tons of dairy to make up for all the other holidays in which we eat meat. Rocker Dude, being of a lactose intolerant nature, does not enjoy this holiday as much as other people, and this year, due to Squeaker’s sensitivities, I will be joining him in the non-dairy consuming club. But don’t worry, to make up for this, when I do stop nursing her, we will have a make-up Shavuot filled with all sorts of dairy delicacies.

In any case, at this time of year, the interwebs are filled with tons of cheesecake recipes of all varieties.  As we were having a cheesecake celebration at work, I wanted to make something different, something new. I spent a morning exploring options for possible flavorings, and settled on two options – something caramely or a brownie cheesecake. I knew that I would only have a few hours to make the cake on Saturday night as I did not want to stay up past midnight, so I decided to go with the caramel cheesecake for work.

Caramel cheesecake with caramel goodness all over.
Caramel cheesecake with caramel goodness all over.

I bounced around possible versions in my head for a few days and finally on Saturday I finalized how I would go about making it. I had bought dulce de leche to mix into the cheese, but then I read on the container that it is not suitable for cooking in high temperatures, so I freaked. What was I supposed to do now??? Do I just make a standard cheesecake and put the dulce de leche on top? Do I scrap the idea completely? Major dilemma.

I wanted to get the caramel flavor into the cake itself, so in the end, as I was measuring the sugar to mix into the batter, I decided to caramelize it first. I threw the whole cup and a half straight into a pot and set it on the fire.  I knew that it would be hard when it cooled, but that I could probably use the cheese to smooth the caramel out.  When the caramel was ready, I put in half of the cheese because I didn’t want the consistency to change too much. After much stirring, the caramel smoothed out and became usable in the cheesecake. I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients and into the oven it went.

The whole cake. (Sorry for the poor photography, I did not have fancy dishes at work to really show this cake off).
The whole cake. (Sorry for the poor photography, I did not have fancy dishes at work to really show this cake off).

My one issue with this whole affair was that I would not be able to taste the cheesecake when it was done – how would I know if it even tasted good?? Well, we put our faith in God.

When the cheesecake cooled, I spread the dulce de leche on top so that this cake would have a double whammy of caramel flavor.

Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust
Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust

I brought the cake to work the next day and let me just say, God delivered.  It was a hit all around, the consistency was perfect, and the caramel flavor was there. I even snuck a bite (hope it doesn’t come back to bite me later when Squeaker wakes up crying at night because her tummy hurts), and it was delicious.

Shavuot cheesecake spectacular
Shavuot cheesecake spectacular

If you need a cheesecake pick-me-up – here you go. Also, just because I am curious, do you say car-a-mel or car-mel?

Recipe:

Crust:
50 g tea biscuits, crushed into fine crumbs
50 g butter or margarine, melted
1 tbsp. brown sugar

Cake:750 g white cheese (gevina levana) 5%, or equivalent amount of cream cheese
5 eggs
3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

400 g dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C/320 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients for the crust and press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan, or a 9×13 rectangular pan (the crust will just be a tad thinner). Bake the crust for ten minutes until it is lightly browned.

Place the sugar in a pot over medium-low heat. Without stirring, let the sugar heat up until it dissolves. You can use a wet pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pot from any sugar crystals that might creep up. When the sugar starts browning, take it off the fire to ensure that it doesn’t get too dark.  It should stay a light amber color. The sugar will still cook after it is removed from the fire. Once you have reached the desired caramel color, add half of the cheese to the pot.  The caramel will seize up and bubble, but keep stirring the mixture over the medium-low heat, and it will soften and mix into the cheese. Set aside to cool (or refrigerate for 10 minutes or so.

In a bowl, mix up the rest of the ingredients, being careful to not incorporate too much air.  Add the caramel mixture and mix well.  Bang the bowl firmly on the table or counter to pop any air bubbles that might have gotten in. Gently pour the batter over the crust and place the pan in the oven. Because I usually cook my cheesecakes in my toaster oven I don’t have space for a water bath, so I just undercook the cake slightly – it should still be jiggly in the middle, and usually that is enough to prevent cracking. Also, covering the cake with a topping helps.

When the cake is completely cool, spread the dulce de leche over the top of the cake. Slice and serve!

You can also melt some chocolate with some heavy cream and drizzle it on top of the cake and that would be delicious too.  I just didn’t have time for it.

Think Spring – Strawberry Pavlovas with Vanilla Bean Cream

Okay, I know in Israel we are a little ahead in our growing season than the US, so this recipe might not be as useful for my Israeli compatriots as the strawberry season is almost over, but it is just starting in the US.  On Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) we finally went strawberry picking. Well I went strawberry picking with the Little Rocker and Squeaker and with my friend E and her daughter S. I heard of this strawberry field that was only about 20 minutes away and they didn’t charge for picking, just for the actual strawberries themselves.

I was a little worried about going anywhere on Yom Haatzmaut because the whole country is out and in all the parks and recreation areas. I was warned by native Israelis to not try to go any more than 10 minutes from my house because otherwise the amount of traffic would just make the whole trip not worth it.  I was also warned that if I wanted to barbecue in a park (the official Independence Day pastime), then I should stake out a spot and picnic table the night before and have someone stay in the park the whole night. Soooo, that was out.

The barbeque process, everyone with their drink of choice.
The barbecue process, everyone with their drink of choice.
The Little Rocker hamming it up for the camera.
The Little Rocker hamming it up for the camera. Look at that wind!

We had already planned to get together with E and A on Yom Haatzmaut and I was just looking for something to do during the day before the barbecue.  So I decided on strawberry picking before the season ended.

The meat.
The meat.

On the morning of the big day, all we saw were grey clouds and I was a little apprehensive. It was also really windy. I had heard that the rain was supposed to be spotty so we set out anyway in the hopes that it would be nice and sunny when we got there.  As we drove to the field (and with a few wrong turns ;) ) the sun came out and the weather turned lovely.  Bright and sunny, but a cool breeze too. We got to the field and picked the freshest strawberries I have had in this country. The Little Rocker did all the bending down for me which was awesome as I had Squeaker in a backpack on me. And we ended up with some really bright and sweet strawberries.

Kite Flying
Taking advantage of the windy day and the open soccer field.

We got home and continued with our plans and had an amazing barbecue with great fresh fruit for dessert. But afterwards we still had all those strawberries.  I made a strawberry pie with some of them, and it was great.  But then I made these strawberry pavlovas and they were the bomb-dizzle.

Adding strawberry sauce.
Adding strawberry sauce.

I had a ton of egg whites saved up in the freezer from some time when I made lemon curd or something. I didn’t want to make more meringues, because they always took so long and then I always ate them because Rocker Dude doesn’t like them.  So here is something to do with all those extra egg whites.

The finished product.
The finished product.

I ended up making individual pavlovas as opposed to one big one, because if I have a choice, I prefer to make individual desserts as opposed to family style, and this is one chance to do that without shaping individual pie crusts.

I wanted to really have the strawberry flavor pop, so I also made a strawberry sauce to be drizzled over the cream. The Little Rocker was really excited to try these and though she usually does not like the desserts I make (no taste that one, I don’t know what to do with her) she loved this one.

Strawberry Pavlovas
Strawberry Pavlovas

We had a bunch of people for dinner and these came out wonderfully, though in the future I might make the pavlovas themselves a little smaller as some felt that there was too much sweet on the plate.

This is a wonderful dessert for warm spring or summer days as it is sweet and refreshing.

Recipe (serves 12):
Pavlovas (from the Pastry Studio):

6 egg whites at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp.  cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and line two baking sheets with baking paper.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites on medium-low speed.  When they are foamy, add the cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating until egg whites are opaque.  Slowly dd the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until continue whipping until the egg whites are stiff and shiny.

Drop the meringue by spoonfuls onto the baking sheets, using about 1/3 cup per pavlova. Smooth the tops with the back of a spoon, leaving an indentation for the filling. Bake for about 1 1/2 -2 hours or until the meringues are dry and can be released easily from the baking paper.  Remember to rotate the baking sheets halfway and if you have them on two racks then to switch the pans as well. When they are done, turn off the oven and let the meringues dry out for another 30 minutes in the oven.  After 30 minutes, place the meringues on a wire rack to cool.

Vanilla Bean Cream:

250 ml whipping cream
2 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

In a clean mixing bowl, begin whipping the cream. As the cream thickens, add the sugar and the vanilla. Continue beating until stiff. Chill in the refrigerator until needed.

Strawberry Sauce:

15 strawberries, washed and hulled
2 tbsp.-1/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the strawberries are

In a food processor or blender, combine the strawberries with the sugar until you have a uniform sauce.

Washed, hulled and sliced strawberries for garnish.

Assembly:

On each plate, place a meringue.  Add a generous spoonful of cream on top, followed by some sliced strawberries.  Then drizzle some strawberry sauce over the whole thing. Serve immediately.

Empty out your fridge breakfast muffins

A few weeks before Passover, I was home with Squeaker, trying to make the most of the last of my maternity leave. Apparently, 3 months is shorter when you are living it than when you think about it beforehand. One of my projects during my maternity leave was to clean the apartment for Passover – i.e. removing any and all crumbs and food droppings from anywhere in the house and cleaning all the appliances and other surfaces more extensively than is done all year.  Usually, Rocker Dude does most of the cleaning as he has vacation for a week and a half before Passover starts (don’t hate, teachers work super hard!), so this year I decided to give him the year off. Part of this process is finishing up all the not-kosher-for-Passover food that is in the house.

Muffins for breakfast.
Muffins for breakfast.

So one day, while searching through the freezer and cabinets, I found 1 cup of frozen pumpkin puree and a few dates left over from Purim, and a ton of self-raising flour that needed to be finished up.  I used the wonderful tool that is Google and I searched those ingredients and got to this recipe. At the time I even had a couple of bananas so I could have made the muffins as they were supposed to be made, but those bananas soon disappeared. I was super excited to make this recipe for breakfasts because due to Squeaker’s sensitivities, I can’t have dairy or coffee (!) as long as I nurse her, which has made breakfast a particular challenge for me.

In an amazing bit of foresight (totally by chance) I had asked my parents to bring a whole Cosco-sized box full of Quaker Instant Oatmeal.  You know, the oatmeal that you just have to pour hot water on it and it comes in maple and brown sugar, apple and cinnamon, cinnamon and spice and original flavors? That stuff seriously made breakfasting much easier, especially as Squeaker usually fell asleep in the sling while I took the Little Rocker to nursery and I didn’t want to move her. So pour packet into a bowl, pour boiling water on top, cover and wait five minutes. Done. Healthy (mostly) breakfast. And, as it was the winter, warm and yummy. The best was one stormy morning when Squeaker was about a month old.  It was the first day of a week long rainstorm. (Something that rarely happens in Israel, and contributed to a major rise in the level of water reserves in the country, ending a seven-year-long drought.) I had taken the Little Rocker to nursery and we got soaked on our way back home. Squeaker didn’t even notice and slept through it all. I walked home, made me some oatmeal, and oh did I enjoy it! So worth it.

Have a bite!
Have a bite!

Either way, back to muffins for breakfast. When I was ready to make these muffins, there were no more bananas, so we had to modify the recipe a bit. I also substituted ingredients that I had for the rice bran oil and oat milk. The batter is really quick to mix up (Imma this is for you) – just pour everything into a bowl and mix well.  It also does not have a lot of sugar in it – a lot of the sweetness comes from the bananas (if you are using them) and the dates.

Unfortunately, these muffins are not so low calorie if you eat more than two in a day :(. Ooops.  Well, in my defense, we had to finish all the flour before Passover started…

Pumpkin Date Muffins
Pumpkin Date Muffins

Enjoy!

Recipe (based on the recipe on food.baby.life):

2 cups self-raising flour, regular or whole wheat
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk or soymilk
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (optional)1/2 cup dried date

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper liners and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon and sugar in a large bowl.  Add the milk, oil and egg. Mix well until just combined.  Fold through the pumpkin and dates being careful not to overmix.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tray and bake for 18-20 minutes or until cooked. Let the muffins rest for 5 minutes before cooling them on a wire rack.

Ganache Truffles

Something new for me – tempering chocolate! Tempering chocolate has been always a bit intimidating, especially as I don’t have tons of counter space to start folding chocolate over and over on a marble slab. The reason that one would temper chocolate is that it allows the finished chocolate to set at room temperature and does not need to be refrigerated in order to stay firm.  It also gives the chocolate a nice snap when you bite into it.

Chocolate Ganache Truffles
Chocolate Ganache Truffles

This week I was asked to make something chocolatey for dessert at a friend’s house.  I saw a recipe for banana truffles online and I decided to try it.  It was meant to be a ganache mixed with mashed bananas which are then dipped in tempered chocolate to form a hard shell. In order to change it up, I caramelized the banana before I mashed it in with the chocolate ganache. I have to say that the banana flavor was not at all discernible. I was hoping that it would taste all bananas-foster-y but that didn’t happen.  Oh well.

Bananas sliced for caramelizing.
Bananas sliced for caramelizing.

I decided to use a truffle mold that I had bought years ago. It has been sitting in a drawer since the day I bought it, except when the Little Rocker took it out to play with.

Then I searched the annals of Google for the best way to temper chocolate. I wanted to use the seed method which basically means that you melt half of the chocolate and then slowly add some of the non-melted chocolate in and mix really well. The non-melted chocolate helps the melted chocolate form a crystalline structure and reach proper temper.

Making the truffles was a pretty hands-on, and I learned a few things about the process. Here is what I should have done, instead of what I did.  I should have used a paintbrush to brush the chocolate onto the sides and bottom of the truffle molds in order to leave a perfect thin layer of chocolate all around the edges.  Then, when that chocolate hardened, put in the ganache filling and then pour more tempered chocolate over the ganache to fill in the mold. But I figured that people would not want chocolates flavored by the Little Rocker’s paints, so I had to improvise. Instead, I just dripped in chocolate from a spoon and used the ganache to kind of push the chocolate all around the edges. A lot of the truffles ended up with gaps along the sides and were not so beautiful looking.

Truffles!
Truffles!

I used really good 60 percent cacao dark chocolate to make the truffles because they always say to use quality chocolate when you want the flavor to stand out.  So since I had been asked to make food for chocolate lovers, I wanted a strong tasting dark chocolate flavor. The one complaint that Rocker Dude had was that the chocolate flavor was too strong and rich, the irony.

Speaking of Rocker Dude, he just celebrated the fifth anniversary of his radio show last week.  Yay Rocker Dude! Check out the show at http://www.rock4rookies.com.

The one thing about this recipe is that it is super time consuming.  It was a good thing that I didn’t have too much else to make for Shabbat because I spent a lot of time on these chocolates. Rocker Dude was lucky that we had no guests for Friday night because I got to make him steak for dinner!  It was the first time that I have ever made steak and it turned out really good. I personally don’t like steak that much (I usually order chicken at restaurants), but Rocker Dude loves steak.  So I consulted the all-knowing Google once more to figure out how one actually cooks a steak. I went simple and just pan seared the steaks until they were almost medium, as I would have to keep them warm for a couple of hours before we would be able to eat them.  It worked out really well, and the steaks were moist and juicy and went great with the mashed potatoes.

But back to the chocolate. Here is the recipe, based on the one from Love & Olive Oil.

Recipe:

Ganache:
6 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 ripe bananas, sliced
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Coating:
8 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp. butter or margarine

Warm the cream until it is steaming, and then pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts completely and the ganache is smooth. Melt the margarine in a frying pan and add the brown sugar.  When the margarine is completely melted, lay the banana slices in the frying pan in a single layer.  After two minutes, flip the banana slices over and caramelize the other side. When they are done, mash the bananas and place them, the ganache and the vanilla into a food processor and pulse until completely blended. Put the ganache in a container and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

You need to do the chocolate coating in two stages. To temper the chocolate, melt two ounces of the dark chocolate and half of the margarine.  Then slowly add two ounces of the non-melted chocolate while mixing vigorously. Keep mixing until the chocolate cools slightly. Then take a paintbrush (one that has not been used for paint), and paint the cups of the truffle mold so that all the sides and bottom are completely covered with chocolate. When that has hardened, take some firm ganache and put it into the molds.  Temper the rest of the chocolate the same way and fill the molds completely. Quickly take an offset spatula and scrape the tops of the molds so that they are smooth. After a few minutes, the chocolate will have hardened and you can remove them.  If the chocolate has been properly tempered, then you won’t need to refrigerate the truffles.  If they start getting soft, then the chocolate was not properly tempered and needs to be kept cold in order to stay firm. Enjoy!

Lemon Meringue Hamantashen

It is Purim!  My favorite time of the year.  Now, it may have something to do with the fact that my birthday is always around Purim, but I think it is similar to how people think about Christmas.  Everyone is happier around Christmas time, and it makes for a general cheer all around. In fact that is what many American ex-pats miss when they move out.  Here in Israel, now is the general happy time.  Everything is silly and people really try to step outside their comfort zone in order to get into the holiday spirit.  Everyday for the past couple of weeks, the Little Rocker has come home from kindergarten dressed as something else.  One day it was a ladybug, another day, masks they drew themselves, on other days her face was painted with various animals.  It’s really a fun time. I love seeing people dressed up, though I am not such a fan of dressing up myself.

Lemon Meringue Hamantashen.
Lemon Meringue Hamantashen.

So I am finally getting around to making something that I have been thinking about for over a year.  Lemon-meringue hamantashen.  Hamantashen are my favorite holiday-related food – even more than honey cake for Rosh Hashana and matza brei for Pesach. In Israel hamantashen season starts right after Chanuka, so already in December, the stores started stocking freshly made hamantashen.  The one issue I have with it is that in Israel, they are not so creative with the fillings.  They always have the traditional poppy seed filled ones (eew), date filled ones (quite good), walnut filled ones (eh), and chocolate filled ones (eh). None of the usual strawberry, apricot or other fruit filled ones.  This actually led to a long discussion at work between the Americans and the Israelis.  All the Americans were deploring the lack of fruity hamantashen that we are used to, while all the Israelis were shocked that anyone would put jelly in a hamantashen. Just another culture clash that may never be resolved.

The Little Rocker and her friend making hamantashen together.
The Little Rocker and her friend making hamantashen together.
The fillings they chose.  The Little Rocker chose raspberry jam and chocolate and her friend chose plain chocolate.
The fillings they chose. The Little Rocker chose raspberry jam and chocolate and her friend chose plain chocolate.

So every year I make the usual hamantashen, strawberry, blueberry, apple, etc. and last year, I though about trying something new – lemon-meringue. Last year I started planning it, and it was going to be really awesome as Purim fell out on my birthday, but then Rocker Dude had to leave me on my birthday and go do his army reserve service.  Apparently the army doesn’t accept “Sorry, it’s my wife’s birthday” as an excuse. So as I was alone with the Little Rocker and not in the mood to put effort into anything (my usual hubby-in-the-army situation), so I shelved the idea.

This year, I am on maternity leave, so I have tons of time (sort-of) and free hands (mostly) so this is the year that we make lemon-meringue hamantashen.

I usually use my sugar cookie recipe for the base of the dough, but I feel like the end product always comes out a bit too sweet. In Israel, the cookie recipe is less sweet and I think complements the filling more. So I looked around on Israeli sites to see what people were using.  To give you an idea of what the difference is between the recipes, my sugar cookie recipe calls for two cups of sugar to three cups of flour.  The one I ended up using from Aviva Pibko (a contestant on Master Chef here) has one and a quarter cups of sugar to four cups of flour.

Ready circles of dough
Ready circles of dough
Filled circles.
Filled circles.
Ready to bake hamantashen.
Ready to bake hamantashen.

I made a lemon curd as the filling and with the leftover egg whites, made  a meringue that I toasted in the oven. The end result is a tart cookie with a pillow of sweetness on top.

Hamantashen just after toasting.
Hamantashen just after toasting.

Of course Rocker Dude tasted the cookie and said, “What’s that in the dough?” When I said “Lemon,” I got a sour face in response. Now he will deny that he said that, but we all know that he wanted regular sugar dough instead ;).

Don't you want to try a bite?
Don’t you want to try a bite?

If you are looking for some more interesting hamantashen ideas, check out this link.

Here is the recipe for the hamantashen.

P.S. I also used regular raspberry preserves as a filling and they came out great. There was a nice contrast between the lemon in the dough and the sweet jam.

Recipe:
Dough (based on this recipe from Aviva Pibko):

250 g butter or margarine
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or paste
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
grated zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp. salt

Cream the butter or margarine with the sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture for a full minute between each egg. Add the vanilla and the zest. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add them to the wet ingredients, mixing only until the dough is combined.  Put the dough into a plastic bag and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.

Filling (from The Art and Soul of Baking):

3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup minus 1 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tbsp. cold butter or margarine

Meringue:

3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar

Prepare a double boiler, or a pot with a heat-safe bowl on top.  In the bowl (off the heat), mix the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice until well blended. Place the bowl over the boiling pot and heat the lemon mixture.  Make sure to keep whisking the mixture, and scrape the sides of the bowl to keep the mixture from curdling.  After about 7 minutes, the curd should thicken (it will hit 180 degrees).  Pour the curd through a strainer.  Then add the butter or margarine, making sure that it is completely melted.  Press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface of the curd and refrigerate the curd until it is needed.

To assemble the hamantashen: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the chilled the dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness.  Use a round cookie cutter (four-inch diameter) to make circles.  Place a scant teaspoonful of the curd in the center of each circle and pinch the ends together to form a triangle.

Place the finished cookies on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.  If you notice that the triangles are opening while baking, refrigerate the formed hamantashen for 20 minutes before putting them in the oven.

While the cookies are cooling, beat the egg whites on high speed while slowly adding in the sugar.  Whip the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Place a heaping teaspoonful on the center of each hamantashen and either toast the meringue with a butane torch or set the oven to broil and toast the cookies for a minute in the oven. Watch them carefully because they burn quickly.

The cookies will keep (without the meringue) for 4 days in a sealed container.  Once you add the meringue, eat the cookies within the day.