Dear Bakers and Friends,
Good morning and welcome to April 2020 issue of Betterbaking.com. I wish I could say happy April Fool’s Day because that would mean all this ‘stuff in the air’ would be either a joke or a collective bad dream. But when everyone is having the same yucky dream you know it’s not a joke.
This is a difficult time for all of us and I know for some it is more difficult than others. In the meanwhile, reach out as much as you can and bless a world that has the Internet, especially Skype and creative apps to keep you connected while we cozy in or WFH, aka Work From Home.
Work-from-home is something I’ve done since 1981 when I began as a food writer. Those were wonderfully creative, albeit sometimes lonely days. I was finding my way as a self-employed wholesaling baker and food writer. Everywhere I looked, my peers were on a different route becoming teachers, accountants, lawyers and nurses and becoming part of traditional 9–5 work life. There was no road map for someone like me who liked to bake and write and whose formal job history included more than a couple of lay-offs and mis-fit positions. It took a few years and three years of hotel school, becoming a pastry chef and professional baker to finally settle in. Eventually as I found my pace and path as a food and cookbook author, then as a working mother and then as a solo parent. Time and tenacity smooths a lot but I also drilled deeper and took authority of my life/career as a solo practitioner.
As we shelter from home and socially distance ourselves, I remember I am long accustomed to shopping when the stores are quiet and everyone else is ‘at work’. In the prime of my twenty-something years when everyone seemed up and on their way I made friends with quiet streets and vacant parks on my break times; I structured my days with work deadlines and domestica. In the 90’s, I observed my land line telephone and fax machine grow still as email (which makes no sound) and then texting, took over. The world of freelancers got ever more outwardly silent but a sub-terrarium bustle increased as work continued and just became more compressed. I no longer pitched by phone (or snail mail) but instead sent query letters with an efficient click. Trips to Fed Ex to courier typed out (not even printed out!) features to editors was replaced by email and WeTransfer or Google Docs. No longer did telephone book sized boxes, holding my book manuscripts back from the publisher with edits, arrive at my door. Technology made my work ever easier; I was, as I am now, able to hear directly from readers of my work and that actually increased my sense of connection as time has gone on.
This somewhat solitary journey is an inherent part of the territory of any creative endeavour as well as that of an entrepreneur. One learns to accept that and doing what you love becomes your companion and chases away the alone-ness. You fill up from the inside out and that tactic has become my ballast. I have a tool kit of what I need to stay centered and I am using each of those tools right now.
I’m as social, if not more, than the next person. I’ve learn to attune that balance of solitude with reaching out to friends and family and simply getting out into the world. I can do yoga at home but I already so miss the gentle communion of being on my mat in a room of 40 people all breathing the same ins and outs breaths. It’s comforting and I miss that along with tango, coffee with friends, urban adventures and even an innate feeling of safety walking about my neighbourhood without darting away from strangers. Most of all, I miss hugging my sons.
Elizabeth Gilbert is on Insight Timer app with a free chat about feeling fear these days. She talks about the rug being pulled from under us, then the floor from under the rug and then the ground from under the floor. But they can’t take the inside ground away from us — at least not forever. I pay more attention to the birds chirping in the morning, the snickering of the squirrel outside, the rainbows on the windows of my neighbour and the palatable beauty of my country as it hunkers down together. Like all of us, I have had to find new ground to anchor myself in — the things that don’t change and cannot be split asunder.
And now onto the recipes of the month!
I doubt I’ll be getting the Passover staple ingredients to do the usual Seder but I trust that the powers that be will take a benevolent attitude about this. With that in mind, I’m sharing recipes with you that use pantry ingredients that hopefully you have on hand. At the top of the list is my recipe for homemade matzoh, made the way it once was –perhaps made the way the Israelites themselves did in their hasty flight from bondage.
Homemade matzoh is fast and easy. Traditionally it’s made from a special crop of wheat, carefully guarded, and especially milled for Passover so we’re taking some liberties here using regular unbleached flour and tap water. Just make sure you don’t let your matzoh dough sit around beyond 18 minutes allowing any fermentation to take place because that turns it from the flat bread of affliction into plain old crackers. That said, nothing beats the hearty, rustic taste of matzoh made at home and not from out of a box. On the other hand, this homemade matzoh is not suitable to make my Matzoh Buttercrunch, aka Matzoh Crack recipe.
Aside from Homademade Matzoh, there’s a fabulous Passover Baklava Cake that is as amazing as it sounds. My sweet-potato Truffle Torte is matzoh-free and will satisfy chocoholics. Last is a Maple Walnut Cookie that is good with any sort of nut and is naturally gluten free.
Stay safe as you can, stay close to hearth and home. Have faith that this too will pass and as impossible as it seems, some day you will, I will, feel safe again.
Happy baking with love from my kitchen to yours,
Author, Master Baker
Homemade Passover Matzoh
Passover Baklava Cake
Passover Truffle Torte
Maple Walnut Cookies
Baklava Passover Cake in Soaking Syrup
A Middle Eastern tone is a definite part of this cake’s appeal. A very nutty cake is suffused with honey-citrus soaking syrup, much like baklava in its concept but flour-free, making it suitable for Passover. This is a rich, sweet cake and a small one, as this one is, goes a long way.
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup oil
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (1/2 teaspoon for a more pronounced cinnamon flavour)
1/2 cup matzoh cake meal
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Honey Soaking Syrup
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Generously grease a 7 inch round layer cake pan (if you do not have one, you can use a round, foil pan of the same or similar size available in the supermarket bake aisle)
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, using a wire whisk, beat the sugar, oil, and eggs. Beat very well until mixture is thick and a pale yellow. Stir in orange juice, zest, salt, cinnamon, cake meal, and nuts. Turn batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 35–40 minutes or until top is light brown and set. (Cool at least twenty minute before adding syrup). Meanwhile prepare Soaking Syrup.
Soaking Syrup: In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar, honey, orange juice, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Heat to dissolve sugar and simmer 5–10 minutes until mixture becomes syrupy. Cool well.
Pour syrup over cooled cake, poking holes in cake with a fork, to permit syrup to penetrate cake. Allow to stand 2–4 hours to absorb syrup. I prefer to refrigerate this cake so that while it is absorbing liquid, it is also firming up. Also, the chilled cake offsets its innate sweetness and makes it easier to cut. Serve it on muffin liners, splayed out as pastry or confectionary cups.
Homemade Passover Matzoh
When my kids’ were in nursery school, I made it my business to sign up for the “make your own matzoh” field trip at the local matzoh factory. Actually, the “factory” was a seasonal endeavour/pop shop. Special Passover matzoh bakers leased a space in a large synagogue kitchen and prepared the morar matzoh. As a community courtesy, they also took the time to teach avid young bakers the secrets to homemade — or non-commercial matzoh.
This matzoh is not quite in accordance with Passover law. Some highlights of Passover matzoh is that the wheat grown for it comes from special, well-guarded fields, special flour mills, and the process of making the matzoh dough itself, must not take more than 18 minutes. Longer than 18 minutes would have fermentation occur, the natural rising of the dough. Even void of commercial yeast, this dough, as all doughs, is an invitation for wild yeast spores) and then the matzoh would be leaven, instead of unleavened.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
Preheat oven to 450 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix two flours together and add water until you have a soft, kneadable dough. Knead about five minutes. Cover dough and let rest 8 minutes.
Break off egg-sized portions of dough. Stretch as thinly as you can before rolling into thin, oval slabs that are as thin as possible. Prick each slab with a fork or pastry docker. Place on baking sheet and as soon as sheet is filled with matzos, place in oven, and bake until crisp and blistered, about 3 minutes.
Decadent Passover Truffle Torte
This makes a rich but surprising light, sophisticated torte. Mashed, sweet potatoes makes a great contribution as the understudy for the traditional pureed chestnut paste.
l0 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 1/2 cups mashed sweet potatoes, fresh or canned
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Passover vanilla sugar, optional
½ cup unsalted butter unsalted Passover margarine
6 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
Sifted cocoa powder
Curls of semi-sweet chocolate
Prepare sweet potatoes by boiling and draining very well. Rub off skins and mash well or puree. Allow to cool. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F. Line a nine-inch springform pan with baking parchment. Melt chocolate over a double boiler and set aside to cool.
Cream the butter or unsalted margarine or butter with the 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla sugar. Blend in the egg yolks, then mashed sweet potatoes and cooled chocolate.
In another bowl with clean beaters, whip the egg whites gently to allow them to get a bit foamy. Then add in the salt and whip on a higher speed, slowly dusting in the sugar to form stiff, glossy, but not dry, peaks. Fold one third of egg whites into sweet potato/chocolate mixture and work in well to loosen. Then, gently fold in remaining two-thirds of egg whites, blending well but taking care not to deflate the mixture. Spoon into prepared pan and bake until done, about 40 minutes. Cake rises and looks dry, and slightly cracked on top when done. Middle should be soft but firm. Cool in pan twenty minutes, and then remove to a wire rack. At this point, cake can be frozen until needed. Even if serving same day, chill cake for an hour or two before finishing with ganache glaze.
Chocolate Glaze: Bring the water to a gentle boil and add in the chopped chocolate all at once. Remove from heat and stir briskly, using a wire whisk, until all of the chocolate melts and you have a thick, glaze or sauce-like topping. Refrigerate for an hour or so.
Invert cake onto a cardboard circle or cake board (so that smooth, flat bottom faces up). Do not be dismayed if this is not a high cake — it is a torte and is meant to be a little less than statuesque. Pour glaze over cake, using a metal spatula to even out glaze and spread along sides. Instead of glaze, you can also simply sift some cocoa over top of cake or curls of chocolate (using a vegetable peeler and a warmish chocolate bar). Cake can garnished with chocolate shavings some strawberries.
Serves 14–18, depending on serving size
Passover Maple Cookies
Gluten free, beautiful gourmet cookies for Passover or anytime!
1 cup ground almonds or walnuts
½ cup ground walnuts
¼–1/3 cup pure maple syrup
Confectioners’ sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine ground nuts. Add in maple syrup and salt and mix with hands to make a paste-like dough. On another piece of parchment paper spread out the dough. Place parchment paper on top and with a rolling pin, roll or press out to a thickness of 1/8 or a bit more. Carefully remove top sheet of parchment. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet. Using a pastry wheel, score into 1 ½ by 1 ½ inch squares.
Brush tops lightly with more maple syrup and place a small walnut chunk in the middle.
Bake until lightly browned around edges, 12–15 minutes. Remove and re-score cookies so that they can be separated apart as they cool. You can also dust these with confectioners’ sugar (not at Passover though)
Makes 2–3 dozen