Category Archives: Misc. Desserts

The Truth About Chanukah and Pomegranate Sugar-Dusted White Chocolate Doughnuts.

ready to eat 3 625 sqI recently discovered that the “Miracle of Chanukah” story, is just a legend. You know the one I’m taking about, where Judah and his merry band of Maccabees go into the destroyed temple and  discover just enough oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day. But somehow, miracle of miracles, the oil lasted for eight days and the flames of the menorah burned for eight nights. When I discovered that the long lasting oil is not really at the root of the Chanukah commemoration, I felt gutted. Kind of reminiscent of coming home for winter break in first year university to discover that I was the last one in the family to find out that our dog, Heidi, had died!

“Truth” is a word to be avoided when discussing history and religion. Since the victors of a battle often write the history, the facts of what happened in the past depend very much on whom you ask and when it comes to religion, everyone has a different truth.

Chanukah is the only major Jewish holiday not explicitly mentioned in the Torah (Judaism’s written law), since the events that inspired the holiday occurred after it was written. The Rabbis wrote about Chanukah in the Talmud (Jewish oral law and tradition), but that was written over 600 years after the Maccabees revolt. Their version of Chanukah differs markedly from The Books of Maccabees written in the 2nd century B.C.E.

So we have here two versions of the Chanukah story: one from the Book of Maccabees and the other from the Talmud. Both versions agree on the first part of the story. Around 200 B.C.E., Judea (Israel) came under control of the Syrian King, Antiochus III. He was a benevolent fellow and allowed the Jews to continue practicing their religion. Things changed drastically when his son, Antiochus IV, took over.

This evil king outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 B.C.E., his soldiers marched into Jerusalem, exterminated thousands of people and desecrated the holy Second Temple by constructing an altar to Zeus and commanded the Jews to sacrifice a pig upon this alter.

The Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons led a large-scale rebellion against Antiochus and his army. When Mattathias died in 166 B.C.E., his son Judah Maccabee took over. Within two years, the Jews, relying on Guerrilla warfare tactics, defeated the Syrian Greek army and drove them out of Jerusalem.

The Maccabees cleansed the Second Temple, rebuilt the altar, lit its menorah and celebrated the rededication (the word Chanukah means dedication). And thus the eight-day festival of Chanukah was born.  Why eight days? Well, here’s where the story begins to diverge. According to The Book of Maccabee II, while the Maccabees were fighting, they had missed the eight-day holiday of Sukkot, (celebrated in early fall) and so to celebrate the Second Temple rededication, they declared a “better-late-than-never” celebration of Sukkot.

Version 2, as written in the Talmud gives us this spin on the eight-day festival.  Judah Maccabee and his team, who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple, witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames burned for eight nights. This wondrous event inspired the Rabbis to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.

The Rabbis barely mentioned the battle between the Maccabees and the Greeks in the Talmud. The reason for this is unclear. Perhaps they did not want to encourage the celebration of a military battle, or perhaps, as pacifists, they did not want to encourage the Jewish people, who at that time, were living under Roman rule, to be inspired by revolt.

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs, on “Blog Shalom” explains the miracle of Chanukah this way,

“…even without the oil, .Chanukah is still a miraculous story. The Maccabees were a tiny group of Jews who should not have been able to defeat the powerful Greeks.  But they did!  And because of this miracle, Judaism survived and did not become consumed by Greek culture.   This story of miraculous survival repeats itself many times throughout Jewish history.  Despite tremendous powers that have raged against us, nothing has stopped the Jewish people.  This is a miracle.”

Although the miraculous oil story may be just a legend, I refuse to give up food fried in oil on Chanukah! To celebrate my newfound knowledge, I am going to go all out this year and celebrate Chanukah with these decadent Pomegranate Sugar-Dusted White Chocolate Doughnuts.ready to eat 2 625 sqThe idea behind these doughnuts comes from the genius mind of Chef Lynn Crawford. However, after discovering that her recipe called for a pound of butter in the doughnut dough, I decided to use her white chocolate filling and pomegranate sugar coating, but looked elsewhere for the actual doughnuts. Anna Olsen‘s recipe used only  a 1/4 pound of butter. So while these doughnuts are not exactly light fare, they are lighter than originally intended by Chef Lynn!

The pomegranate sugar and white chocolate ganache filling can be prepared a day ahead.making pom sugar 1making pom sugar 2

chopping white chocolateganache mixed with whipped creamThese are yeast raised, not cake doughnuts. The dough comes together in about 5 minutes if you have a stand mixer. Thanks to a quarter pound of butter this brioche-like dough has an amazing silky texture.dough with dough hookdough before first risedough after first rise

cutting out doughnutsMy deep fryer, which normally only gets pulled out once a year to make french fries takes all the guess work out of deep frying. You can of course use a deep pot with a candy/oil thermometer to regulate the temperature.frying 1These babies puff up like little pillows. I can not accurately express the joy I experienced watching my own little miracle here in the deep fryer!frying 2Filling the doughnuts with the white chocolate ganache whipped cream is quite simple. A plain piping tip, inserted into the side of the doughnut makes easy work of the job. filling doughnuts 2filling doughnuts 1These doughnuts are really best eaten the same day they are made. I sent 16 of these beauties off with my husband to share with his hockey team after I made them one Sunday afternoon. He said that they were inhaled very quickly and that they actually brought a few of these strong burly hockey players to their knees as they gushed at how good they were.

Click here to print recipe for Pomegranate Sugar Dusted White Chocolate Doughnuts.

ready to eat 1

Roasted Applesauce and Latkes


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I seem to be a bit out of synch with my Chanukah posts this year. I posted about latkes (with fried eggs and roasted tomatoes) on November 23, almost a full month before the first night of Chanukah. And now, here I am, bringing you latkes with roasted applesauce, on the last night of Chanukah! I meant to bring you this fantastic applesauce recipe a week ago but, I’ve been a bit distracted with this view. so forgive my tardiness!

We are here on a little island, off the coast of Antigua, in the Caribbean. We have rented a house on the ocean for 9 days for a little family holiday. It is so wonderful to have all my children together under the same roof for an extended period of time. It makes me feel contented and complete. My husband’s sister and her family have also come and rented the house 2 doors down from us so all the cousins are together for a mini-family reunion. I say mini, because in addition to a sister, my husband also has 4 brothers. Sadly, they were unable to come down with their families.

There are no cars allowed on the island. The major methods of transportation include bicycles, golf carts and walking. The older kids are loving the golf carts, but my 16-year-old niece is annoyed that she is not allowed to drive the golf carts, as you require a valid driver’s licence and she only has her learner’s permit. She was slightly appeased when she discovered that the legal drinking age on Antigua is 16.

We had a family Chanukah celebration over lunch a few days ago at my sister-in-law’s house. Her kitchen is way better equipped than mine. They had a Cuisinart to grate the potatoes and onions. We just had a box grater! The latke recipe can be found in my Nov 23 post.

The roasted applesauce recipe comes from Food 52. They featured it in their Genius recipes feature. It is the creation of Zuni Cafe owner, Judy Rodgers. I have always made applesauce by just steaming the apples in a pot with a little bit of water and then putting them through a food mill. This takes applesauce to a whole other dimension, by roasting them with a pinch of salt, sugar and butter. Then they are mashed up and finished with a splash of cider vinegar. Genius indeed!

With 17 of us for lunch, there were lots of potatoes to peel and grate. We had 3 frying pans going and within about an hour we had transformed 10 pounds of potatoes into a huge mound of crispy lacy latkes. My sister-in-law has an unusual, and dangerous, method for forming the latkes. She scoops up a small handful of the mixture with her hands, squeezes it to compact the mass and then gently places it in the hot oil! I prefer to use a large spoon, but I have to admit, hers stayed together a bit better than mine. She also had the patience to let them get really brown and crispy.

We had to send my brother-in-law out to forage for sour cream (apparently the way Torontonian’s favour their latkes) and ketchup (an Ottawa thing!). The roasted applesauce was a great unifier, loved by all.

Click here for recipe Roasted Applesauce.

Click here for recipe for Latkes.

A Very Sweet New Year with Caramel Chocolate Dipped Apples

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I know that in my last post, I promised a daily update on “The Best Thing I Ate Today”, while travelling through Umbria, Italy. Unfortunately, the internet service at our villa was knocked out by a tremendous thunderstorm and so I was unable to blog daily. I promise to post about the trip very soon. But in the meantime, a very sweet post!

Tonight at sundown the Jewish New Year  (Rosh Hashanah) begins. On Rosh Hashanah, we traditionally dip apples in honey in order to symbolize our wishes for a sweet year for family, friends and all the Jewish people. While this explanation makes sense, I wondered why specifically apples and honey?  Why not bananas dipped into maple syrup?  (Hmmm, I see a new recipe developing).

In researching this question, I came upon an interesting explanation on the website torah.org.  The insight they offered, regarding the apple part of the equation, goes like this:  “On most fruit trees the leaves appear before the fruit, thus providing a protective cover for the young fruit.  The apple, however, makes a preemptive move by appearing before the leaves.  The Jewish people are compared to an apple because we are willing to live out our Jewish lives even if this seems to leave us unprotected.  We have confidence that God and the instructions in the Torah could never mislead us.”

They explained the choice of honey with this insight:  “A bee can inflict pain by its sting, yet it also produces delicious honey.  Life has this same duality of potential.  We pray that our choices will result in a sweet year.”

While I love apples, honey has never been a favourite of mine. Honey cake can be found on many Rosh Hashanah dessert tables. But not mine. This year I decided to do a twist on the apples dipped in honey. I dipped my apples in caramel sauce and then melted chocolate. Then I covered some of them in mini m&m’s, some in salted chopped peanuts and the rest in skor bits. A sweet new year indeed!

This caramel sauce contains the usual ingredients of butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. However, where it gets interesting is the addition of small amounts of maple syrup and molasses. These 2 ingredients, while small in quantity add a wonderful dimension and depth of flavour to the caramel. A candy thermometer is needed to make these.

Wishing you all a sweet and healthy new year!

To print the recipe for Caramel Apples Dipped in Chocolate, click here.

Betrayal on Big Rideau Lake

 

So this is a story about betrayal, deception and denial. But it’s not all dark and horrible. It takes place in a very bucolic setting. Take a look.

We decided to go up to our cottage last weekend. All this cold weather and snow has been starting to get to me and I figured if you can’t beat it, join it. We were joined by one of my oldest and dearest friends, and her husband. We have been friends since we were 13 years old and now that we live in different cities, we just don’t get to see each other enough.  Leading up to the weekend were a flurry of phone calls and e-mails to discuss, what else, the food! She offered to bring Friday night dinner and I graciously accepted. (YAY!!)

As we were discussing menus we slipped into the obligatory January discussion about overindulgence in December. We agreed that we would not do appetizers before dinner. We always eat too much of them and then by the time dinner is over we both feel stuffed. We would, however, allow drinks before dinner.  Clearly we have our priorities in order. Feeling virtuous we said goodbye and hung up. The next day, she inquired in an e-mail, “If we’re not doing hors d’oeuvre, does that mean we aren’t doing dessert either? I have a banana recipe that I really want to try out.” I shot back a reply, “Bananas are fruit. That’s allowed. I’ll do apples for Saturday night dessert .”

About an hour after we arrived at the cottage on Friday afternoon, it began to snow. Big fat fluffy snowflakes, with no wind at all. My friend said it was as if someone had turned on a tap up above and let these snowflakes fall. And they continued to fall, in their lazy steady way all weekend long. It looked like something out of a Disney movie set. We built a fire and poured out some red wine to let it breathe.

We were vigilant in our no hors d’oeuvre pledge and proceeded to dinner after a glass of wine. I sat back and relaxed as my friends served a beautiful dinner. We all cleaned up together after dinner and reminisced about when we used to rent a cottage together in the mid 80′s. It was a beautiful cottage on Lake Simcoe. The house was set high on a hill, and you had to walk down stone steps through a forest to get to the sandy beach. We spent many happy hours there sunning and listening to the Blue Jays on the radio (Those were the good old days!!).

After doing the dishes we collapsed on the couch and dessert was served. My friend brought out a banana cake. Cake??? I thought we were having fruit for dessert. So either I had been deceived or my friend was in complete denial. Either way, my brain was way too happy humming on a sugar high to care. This banana cake was better than Sarah Lee! You have to understand that this is very high praise as I grew up on Sarah Lee Banana Cake and consider it the gold standard. I feel compelled to disclose that  I also grew up on TV dinners and Swanson’s Chicken pot pies. It was an idyllic childhood.

The next day, those big fat flakes of snow continued to fall. We decided to take a walk on the frozen lake. My friends strapped their snowshoes on (yes, they’re those kind of people), and I got to try out my brand new winterproof boots. We almost fell into an ice fishing hole, but aside from that, the 90 minute hike was beautiful. And I am happy to report that my feet stayed warm and dry.

When we got back, I took a shower and upon entering the living room discovered an empty bowl with a few orange crumbs clinging to the bottom of it. I licked the crumbs from the bottom of the bowl. Aaargh…Honey Barbecue Chips. Betrayal!! In her defense, my girlfriend swore they were the  baked variety. After that, it was a slippery slide into Prosecco and  red wine. I tried to stem the tide by bringing out edamame pods and carrot and celery sticks but it was clear at this point we were into full-scale deception and denial. I did what any self-respecting woman would do and trooped off to the kitchen to make salted caramel sauce.

 

To serve with the caramel sauce…Apple Fritters, from Karen DeMasco’s new book, “The Craft of Baking.”

We dipped the fritters into a cinnamon-sugar mixture and skewered them with a cinnamon stick. Salted Caramel Sauce was drizzled onto vanilla ice cream. Deception never tasted so good!

 

To print recipe for Salted Caramel Sauce, click here.

To print recipe for Apple Fritters, click here.

Doughnuts to Celebrate Chanukah

 

Today is the first night of Chanukah.  When I was growing up, Chanukah meant potato latkes with sour cream and applesauce.  My mother would make them and then complain for days about the smell of oil from frying which lingered in the house for days.

My mother has an incredible sense of smell.  In our family, we joke that she can smell foul odours a day before they actually occur.  My childhood memories are filled with her going from room to room, sniffing and muttering, “What’s that smell?”  One of her least favorite smells was that of food cooked in oil.  She claimed that she could smell the oil for weeks afterwards.  Now I must be honest here and admit that I inherited my father’s sense of smell – that is to say,  his lack of sense of smell.  He had sinus problems and his nose malfunctioned often.

That said, once a year, on Chanukah, we had latkes. My mom’s latkes are fantastic.  They are lacy shreds of potatoes, fried until crisp.  The lingering smell of frying oil was quickly chased away by my mother’s secret blend of cleaning agents, a potent, lethal combination of Joy and Ajax.  Do not try this at home unless you are wearing a gas mask.  I do recall one year, she set up the electric frying pan on the ironing board in the garage, plugged it in with 5 extension cords snaking all the way from the front hall, all so so she could keep the smell out of the house.

When my husband and I first began dating, he took me home to celebrate Chanukah with his family. His family did not shred their potatoes for latkes.  They pulverized them in the Cuisinart so the resulting latkes were thick and creamy, not the thin lacy crispy shredded latkes that I grew up with. And, if you can actually imagine this, they served them with ketchup!!  I almost broke up with him.   After we were married we had our families over for a Chanukah party.  Of course, we could not agree on which kind of latkes to make, so we ended up making both.  The guests were starving by the time the latkes actually appeared at the table so both kinds were gobbled up very quickly.  We have since agreed on a “Compromise Latkes Recipe” that makes us both happy.

 On my last trip to Israel, I discovered that Chanukah there is celebrated with jelly doughnuts  (sufganiyot).   The word, sufganiyot, comes from the Greek word sufgan, meaning “puffed and fried.” In Israel doughnuts, fried in oil, commemorate the miracle of the oil that burned in the temple in Jerusalem for eight days, although the supply appeared to be enough only for a single day.  Most people shy away from making their own doughnuts.  It is usually a fear of frying (too dangerous or too fattening) or a fear of working with yeast, as most traditional doughnut recipes call for yeast.

I have never made doughnuts but not because I fear frying or yeast.  I own a deep fryer, which gets used once or twice a year for French fries.  And I am not afraid of yeast, especially after baking my way through 43 bread recipes in the book “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”  No, I shy away from doughnuts because when I was pregnant with my daughter, I ate too many of them.  I would go for my doctor’s appointment, and then, only after I was weighed, I would stop at Lady Jane Doughnuts for a chocolate doughnut topped with coconut.  Sadly, Lady Jane, is gone, replaced by a Pizza Pizza franchise.  And curiously,  to this day, my daughter, who is now 19 years old,  does not like doughnuts.

But, a lot of years have passed since I overindulged on doughnuts and with Chanukah coming up; I decided it was the perfect time to enjoy them again.  And, I was fairly certain that my husband would not top his doughnut with ketchup.

As doughnuts are best served fresh from the fryer, I wanted an easy recipe for entertaining which did not require too much fussing or time. While doughnuts are traditionally made with yeast, I have uncovered a wonderful recipe which relies solely on baking powder and baking soda for leavening.  No rising necessary.  The dough mixes up quickly and the donuts can be formed and set aside for frying up to 2 hours in advance.  Then all you have to do when guests arrive is fry the doughnuts and serve them fresh and hot! These are old-fashioned doughnuts; crunchy on the outside and tender yet sturdy on the inside.  The addition of buttermilk to the batter helps to create this wonderful texture.

When I started researching doughnut making, every recipe I read, used oil for frying the doughnuts in.  However, Cook’s Illustrated, did a head to head taste off between Crisco and peanut oil and found that the doughnuts fried in Crisco absorbed much less fat than the ones cooked in oil.  The Crisco fried ones also held up better, staying fresh longer than the ones fried in oil.  So although Crisco was not used at the time of the rededication of the second temple, I am recommending it anyways, for superior doughnuts.

Just a little aside here.  If you are planning to use a countertop deep fryer, melt the shortening first in a pot on the stove or in the microwave.  Do not put the entire block of shortening right into the deep fryer.  You will damage the heating coils,  short out your fryer and lots of smoke will fill your kitchen.  Not that I know anything about that.  You will notice in the video below, I just used my Le Creuset porcelain enameled cast iron pot on the stove.  My countertop deep fryer was broken missing.

Yo print the recipe for these doughnuts, click here.

The batter comes together very quickly.  Buttermilk, melted butter, eggs, flour, baking powder, baking soda,  nutmeg, salt.

It makes a very sticky batter.  Flour the counter and your rolling-pin well.

There are special doughnut cutters but I just improvised with a glass and piping tip.  It worked quite well.

A candy thermometer is essential if you plan to deep fry on the stove.  They are readily available, and, if you are going to invest in one, I recommend this one,  by Wilton. It has a foot at the bottom to prevent the thermometer bulb from touching the bottom of the pot.  You want to avoid this as you will get a false reading.

Since I am not a jelly doughnut kind of girl, I just gave my doughnuts a quick bath of sugar and cinnamon.  My husband devoured several (without ketchup, for the record).