Tag Archives: Anna Olsen

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.

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Rhubarb Curd Strawberry Tart and Some Surprising Discoveries

For those of you who have been following my blog for the past little while, you know that I have been suffering from some disc problems that landed me flat on my back in bed for about 8 days. I’m pleased to report that I am continuing to feel much better. But while I lay in bed, in agonizing pain, I became quite anxious about the fact that I was unable to do any of my regular forms of fitness (treadmill, elliptical, weight training and yoga).

I have come to rely on exercise as a stress reliever, as well as a way to allow me to control my weight. A mentally balanced sane person would be more concerned about the errant disc fragment lodged in her spine, pressing on the nerve that connects to her left hip flexor and quadriceps. Yet, I seemed to be more concerned about weight gain.

Surprising discovery # 1: Shockingly in the past 3 weeks I have actually lost 5 pounds! I am not quite sure how that happened. It may have something to do with muscle loss (muscle weighs more than fat) or it could have something to do with the fact that I was unable to get down the stairs to my kitchen, where we keep the food, for 9 days. Now don’t misunderstand me here.  I didn’t starve for 9 days. The lovely family members in my house did bring me food and water at regular intervals. It’s just that perhaps my regular intervals are a bit more frequent than theirs!

Again, a mentally balanced and sane person would look at this weight loss and begin planning healthy meals of quinoa, kale and lentils, so that the pounds do not creep back on. However, I saw a loss of 5 pounds and immediately started planning what I would bake and blog about next.

I knew I wanted to be seasonal and bake something with rhubarb. Of course the obligatory strawberry rhubarb pie was a possibility, but I am not really a pie lover, unless it involves coconut cream. Searching for inspiration I turned to Melissa Clark’s “Cook This Now.” And sure enough, in the May chapter, she had a recipe for a Rhubarb Curd Tart. As I read through the recipe, I made surprising discovery #2: Curds are not just for lemons anymore! You can make a curd from any fruit juice you fancy.

While I love the tangy flavour of rhubarb, I find the stringy texture a bit off-putting. Melissa had come up with a genius way to get all the tang of rhubarb, without the texture. Puree the raw rhubarb in the food processor and then strain the pulp and squeeze out the juice. Use this juice instead of lemon, in the curd. Brilliant!

For the tart crust, I wanted to try a recipe from Anna Olsen. She has a new show called Bake, on the Food Network (Canada). This week’s episode featured desserts made with Pate Sable (tender tart dough). As I watched Anna prepare the dough, I made surprising discovery #3:  A hardboiled egg yolk contributes greatly to the texture and richness of Pate Sable. This European way of making tart dough was created by French pastry chef Pierre Herme.

The final tart was perfect. The crust was reminiscent of shortbread; crumbly and just a little bit sweet with the richness of butter (and egg!). The curd plays tricks on your mind. You see the yellow curd and you think lemon, but once you take a bite your mouth immediately recognizes the tart and tangy taste of rhubarb. Balanced by the sweetness of strawberries, this is one perfect bite. I think that should Anna and Melissa ever meet, they would be quite proud of their collaboration!

The secret ingredient to the rich crust is the yolk of a hardboiled egg! Butter and icing sugar are creamed together. The hard-boiled egg gets sieved and added. Additions of vanilla extract, salt, raw egg yolk and cake and pastry flour  complete the dough. I like to roll out the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Transfer to tart pan with removable bottom. If the dough cracks while transferring, don’t sweat it. It’s a forgiving dough and is easy to patch. Trim off excess dough by running the rolling-pin across the tart pan. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans to bake.

While the tart is baking, prepare the curd. The idea that any juice can be turned into a curd has just blown my mind. I’m not sure why I only thought curd could be made with lemon. I guess I’m just not an out of the box kind of thinker, but now that I know, the possibilities are endless. I am planning a pomegranate curd tart for the fall! I always associate pomegranates with my mom. She used to make us strip down to our underwear and  go outside in the backyard to eat pomegranates, because the fruit stained so badly. Luckily, these days you can already buy the fruit juiced.

When making the curd, Melissa says to stand at the stove and whisk constantly for 18-20 minutes. I did not. I walked away for several minutes at a time and everything came out just fine. Although, I must admit, when I strained the curd, I did see a few bits of scrambled egg in the bottom of my strainer.

This tart would also be wonderful with fresh raspberries, but strawberries seemed like the right choice today.

Click here to print the recipe for Rhubarb Curd and Strawberry Tart.