kosher kitchen

Chanukah: it’s more than just latkes

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Chanukah is all about the latkes — or is it? My grandmother made latkes once during Chanukah, and so did my mother. I make latkes once, or sometimes twice, if I have a new idea I want to try. No one I know makes latkes more than once, or maybe twice. So how did they come to be the iconic food for Chanukah? In my family, they were anything but. They were just a side dish for brisket, garnished with applesauce, or for fish, in which case we used sour cream. 

In house of my grandmother, the matriarch of all holidays, it was all about sweets. From rugelach to cheese Danishes, almond cakes, coffee cakes, chocolate candies and more, my grandmother baked every single day of the holiday — or so it seemed. She made so many pastries that we 11 grandchildren wanted to live in her apartment for the entire holiday! Years later, my mother took up the role. She made apple crisp, chocolate chip golden brownies and these little refrigerator cookies that had an indentation filled with raspberry jam. She topped them with a chocolate drizzle. Each day, after candle lighting, we got to have one of the treats.  

I did come to understand the connection between oil and the holiday, which explained the latkes and, years later, the sufganiyot, but I never could make the connection between the eight days and an unending baked goods. Why so many kinds of pastries? My family invented all kinds of stories to explain, but none were true: my grandmother said it was because she wanted her grandchildren to have something sweet each day, but she always baked for us. My mother said it was “just because it’s a holiday.” But she baked every Shabbat — the only day we got dessert other than fruit. My aunt said there was no reason, she had no idea who started the tradition, and as long as someone saved her some of whatever they baked, she didn’t care. 

So here we are. It’s almost Chanukah and, a few weeks ago I was thinking about whether I have the energy this year to make the same old sufganiyot. I had kind of lost my sufganiyot mojo. Then a friend sent me a gift. As I opened the box, I saw the word “Sweet,” printed in gold letters across a picture of a rather unusual-looking fruit tart — or was it a pie?

Sweet is Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book. Like his others, it is unique, enticing, and worth a month or so of devoted kitchen time.

This book is not for anyone looking for traditional or common desserts. The 100-plus recipes by Ottolenghi and his long-time collaborator Helen Goh are exquisitely new and exciting!

This beautifully photographed book is for the lover of unusual pairings and groundbreaking tastes. It is for a baker who savors the feel of piecrusts and cake batters and more. The recipes, often long and detailed, are not necessarily difficult, but are written to explain and teach every step of the way. I cannot wait to try every one of them.

Roasted Strawberry and Lime Cheesecake; Honey, Macadamia and Coconut Caramels; Custard Yo-Yos with Roasted Rhubarb Icing. The names are enough to excite my imagination and taste buds.

Coconut, Almond and Blueberry Cake (Dairy, Pareve)

1-1/2 cups almond flour

2/3 cup finely shredded coconut

1-1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. self-rising flour

1/4 tsp. salt

4 large eggs

3/4 cup unsalted butter or pareve margarine, melted and cooled

1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

1-1/4 cups fresh blueberries

1/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan on the bottom and sides. Line with parchment and make sure the parchment rises 1 inch above the sides of the pan. Press the parchment into the pan sticking it to the bottom and sides. Set aside.

Place the almond flour, coconut, sugar, flour and salt in a large bowl. Whisk to mix well.

Place the eggs in a separate bowl and whisk lightly. Add the melted, cooled butter, the vanilla, and the lemon zest, and whisk until well blended. Fold into the almond flour mixture and whisk until completely blended. Fold in 1 cup of blueberries.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining blueberries on top along with the almonds. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Set aside for 30 minutes to cool. Then invert pan over a plate, remove the pan and then the parchment paper. Invert onto another plate so the cake is right side up. Serves 8 to 12.

Brown Butter Almond Tuiles (dairy)

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed

1-1/4 cups sliced almonds

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar

1/4 cup unbleached flour

2 large egg whites

1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.

Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. As the butter melts, swirl the pan gently from time to time to allow even browning of the solids. Continue to let the butter bubble until the solids turn a rich, deep, golden brown. Remove from the heat and let the pan sit for 5 minutes so the solids can continue to brown.

Pour the butter through a fine mesh strainer or one lined with cheesecloth. Discard the solids. You need 3/4 of an ounce or 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter, so discard any extra or use for another purpose. Let cool completely.

Place the almonds, sugar, flour and butter in a medium bowl and mix until combined. Add the egg whites and vanilla and mix completely, but gently.

Drop tablespoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet, placing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each tuile with dampened fingers so that each one is about 2-1/2 inches across.

Bake for 18 minutes, rotating the pan once. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack or to a rolling pin so that they can cool into their traditional shape. Makes about 20